Genesis 12:10–20: The Captivity of Abram
When Abram responds to Yahweh’s call in faith and obedience (Gen. 12:1–9), he sets an example for us. All the days of our lives, we should seek to follow in Abram’s footsteps of faith (Rom. 4:12), taking God at his word and obeying him even when there is no way (humanly speaking) that God’s promises could possibly come to fruition. Of course, we often fail at reaching this high bar that Abram sets. It may surprise us, then, to discover that Abram himself does not always follow his own, godly example from the first part of his story. Immediately after such a faithful display of obedience, Abram takes the preservation of both of Yahweh’s promises into his own hands in Genesis 12:10–20. When the Promised Land fails to produce food, Abram leaves the land to sojourn in Egypt. Then, when Abram worries about his life as the recipient of Yahweh’s promises, he conspires with Sarai to lie about their marriage. While Abram ends up eating well and preserving his own life, these foolish plans bring great guilt, shame, and dishonor on the household of God.
What should we make of the disobedience and faithlessness of our forefather, Abram? On the one hand, we cannot use this story to justify or excuse our own sin. On the other hand, we also cannot self-righteously condemn Abram in this matter, since we fail in all the same ways. Almost immediately into the story of Yahweh’s work to redeem the world through raising up this one man, we find that Abram is not worthy to the glorious task to which Yahweh has called him. Nevertheless, Yahweh shows the same grace toward Abram that he continues to show toward us. This story does not whitewash Abram’s sin, but neither do we find Yahweh nullifying his promises in the midst of Abram’s disobedience. While Yahweh has not formally instituted his covenant (cf. Gen. 15), he acts with an eye toward that coming covenant by addressing Abram’s faithlessness with scandalous grace. In this story, we see another side of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Abram’s faith. Yahweh does not love Abram because of Abram’s perfect obedience. Instead, we find the source for Yahweh’s faithfulness to Abram somewhere else: God’s covenant corrects our conspiracies.
1. Under what kind of circumstances have you found it most difficult to believe God’s covenantal promises? What are the pressure points where pain causes you to take matters into your own hands most quickly? Why do you think God tests our faith in these areas? Where do you need to repent from your conspiracies by believing God’s promises again?
2. What do you make of the heavy use of typology in this passage, so that the basic pattern of this story will be played out again in the story of the Exodus? Why do you think God uses repetition with patterns, shadows, and types in his word? How does this use of typology help us understand the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament?
3. Why does God allow Abram to gain so much wealth through this conspiracy? Does wealth necessarily reflect God’s approval with our actions? Do you ever wonder why sinful people become wealthy when faithful people struggle with such hardship? How does God’s word help us to nuance our view of what God’s favor looks like?
4. Why does God bail Abram out of this situation? Does Abram come through this experience consequence-free? In how many ways does God’s covenant correct Abram’s conspiracies? What is the cost of this correction for Abram? For Pharaoh? For God? What do we learn about God’s covenant promises and his grace for our own lives from this story?