Abram and Sarai had already been called to go to Canaan (which will become the Promised Land) in Gen 11:31. Life happens and they got stuck halfway in Haran. So often we start things and when difficulties come, we give up. And then the Lord reminds us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and get on with what He has called us to do in His strength and power.
At the start of today’s reading the Lord speaks, calling Abram to go where he will show us. We are all called to go, and Jesus clarifies in Matt 28:18-20 that the go for us, is to go and make disciples, baptising and teaching them to obey. We are called to go, whether it is to another nation, the next town or the garden fence to our neighbour. Who are you going to? Who will you do 42 with this year?
The promise that Abram goes with is that God will make him into a great nation, who will bring blessing to all the nations. This shows us that the call on Israel as the people of God was always to bless the nations.
The promise isn’t just fulfilled in Abram having many descendents. His life is like a scale model of the whole nation. He is a “type” of what is to come. He is a picture pointing towards what is coming – Jesus! One of the scholarly papers I read on this passage talked about Hebrew thinking – “what happened to the Fathers is a sign for future generations” – Paul continues that thinking in 1 Cor 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…”
Later in this passage we see a prototype Exodus that points forward to the Exodus where Israel was set free from Egypt to worship God, which points forward to the real exodus where Jesus sets us free from sin to know and worship God. It’s like a set of Russian dolls pictured above, where not only do they look similar, they fit inside each other – there’s an internal unity to Scripture. As they fit inside, the story gets bigger and so we also see how Abraham points forward to the entire nation and then Jesus. We also see how Israel’s identity comes from his. Our identity does too, because by faith we are Abraham’s seed too.
As we get to v10-20 we come to a strange story (that has similar almost repeats in ch 20:1-18 and 26:6-11). On one level it’s a bit weird because after the high point of God speaking to Abram and giving him amazing promises, he gets scared and lies about his wife being his sister because of fear. God has to rescue him through the integrity of Pharaoh! Huh? Abraham the model of righteousness by faith has less moral courage and integrity to the Egyptian baddie! Some commentators think it is there to show that Abraham was flawed and that God is always the hero of every text. Yes! Others think it is there as a legend to amuse. Mmmm, no! Often the Old Testament gives us a morally ambiguous story without comment for us to ponder.
It is also an example of typography, parallel stories that get bigger, like our Russian dolls.
- Abram leaves Canaan for Egypt because of famine v10, his descendents willdo the same in 45:9-11, Mary & Joseph escape to Egypt too (Matt 2:13)
- Egypt is a place where the men of Israel are threatened with death and women risk being taken as captive brides both here and later after Joseph.
- Pharoah sees Sarai as beautiful, taking her reminds of the Fall where the “sons of God” see the beauty of the daughters of men and take them.
- Sarai being taken into Pharaoh’s reminds us of the Infant Moses taken into Pharoah’s house Ex 2:2
- Abram prosper in Egypt, just like Israel later (Exodus 1-2).
- Pharoah is afflicted with plagues Gen 12:17, as is the later one in Exodus 7-12.
- When both Abram and Sarai and Israel go, they take many gifts with them.
This strange story of Gen 12:10-20 foreshadows the Exodus where Israel is saved by the blood of the Passover Lamb from death and set free from slavery to go and worship God. They go through the Red sea and come out again finally free. The Gospel, that final doll, sees us slaves to sin set free by the death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. He rises again and sets us free from the power of sin and death. We put our faith in Him just as the Israelites trusted the blood of the Passover lambs on their doors to save them. We go through the waters of baptism into the enjoyments of freedom in Christ and worshipping our great Saviour!
Isn’t it amazing how the Bible over 4,000 years builds towards the initial climax of Christ and Crist crucified as we head to the final consummation of all things – a new heaven on a new earth enjoying the new Eden forevermore just like God intended for Adam and Eve.