“Now there was famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.” – Genesis 12:10
My husband and I have come to seasons in our life where it seems we are walking through famine. It feels like every shekel in the house has to be used up before God releases the next inflow. Principles from financial wisdom – even that of Christian organisations – seem to fail as every shekel set aside for savings is drained dry. So I started to seek God and ask him for a book or a testimony from other believers who had been through this. I heard him answer, “why not try a testimony from the Bible? Look up the circumstances of the first occurrence of lack in the Bible and you will learn much.” Genesis seemed the obvious place to start…
Genesis 12 opens with the great call of God on Abram’s life. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” And so Abram sets out and comes to Canaan. He explores the land from the North to the South and at Shechem God appears to him again and confirms his word. All is good, so it seems. Abram is at the right place at the right time. He is walking out in obedience to the word God has spoken to him. He continues down into the Negev and then famine hits the land.
We expect, as did probably Abram, that when we are doing God’s work and acting in obedience to a clear word from God that everything will go well for us. We expect God’s provision to be right there. After all, we are doing God’s work, why should famine hit right then?
Famine was pretty common in the Bible. Abram experienced it as did his son Isaac. Jacob lived through the great seven year famine with the provision of God who had sent Joseph ahead to Egypt. Throughout the time of the judges there was famine and hardship caused by raiding invaders. There was famine during the reign of King David and during the times of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. However, the testimony of David is unique among all of these famines. 2 Samuel 21:1 states that there was famine in the land “so David sought the face of God” and he received a reason for the famine and a resolution.
Abram, being an experienced herdsman, led his flocks down to the fertile regions of Egypt where the land is watered by the annual flooding of the Nile and not just by the seasonal rains. Some commentators question whether he was doubting God and stepping out of his call, others emphasise how he went onwards to Egypt rather than back towards Ur of the Chaldeans. I like to think he was simply checking out his borders. A few years later, God made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:18-21)
But the famine was also to test Abram. To reveal something deep inside him that was not in agreement with the truth of God. When he had left his father’s household, he had asked something of his wife Sarai. “And when God caused me to wander from my father’s household, I said to her, “This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”” Genesis 20:13) Sarai was in truth his half-sister – the daughter of his father but not his mother. Abram asked Sarai to use one truth (or half-truth) to conceal another truth (that she was also his wife). This was an agreement they made as they started on their journey with God and also at the start of their journey of marriage as Genesis 2:24 states that a man will leave his father’s household and be united to his wife.
So at the start of their journey of faith and also their journey of marriage, Abram and Sarai had a half-truth which could lead others to believe a lie (that they were not married). This half-truth had remained unchallenged throughout their journey to Canaan and also as they had explored the land. Maybe the local customs had been similar enough to their own for strangers to be able to tell by the way she was dressed that Sarai was married? But as they entered Egypt, the situation changed and Abram’s motives were revealed. “As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife.” Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.’” (Genesis 12:11-13)
Abram feared for his life. And that is the root of all of our fears. In the end they all come down to fear of death. As yet, Abram did not fully know the God who has power over life and death. He needed to surrender this fear to God – “there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
Even though Abram acted deceitfully, God continued to bless him. He kept Sarai safe in Egypt and the flocks and herds prospered. (Genesis 12:16) But God inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because Pharaoh had taken Sarai into his palace. Pharaoh discovered the truth and sent Abram and Sarai away.
But Abram was still not free of his fear. Abram and Lot separated, God renewed his covenant, Abram had a son through Hagar who was Sarai’s servant. Abram received the covenant of circumcision and his name was changed to Abraham, and Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah. God promised to give Abraham a son through Sarah. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed. And then God brought the issue of truth and half-truth up again. Abraham and Sarah moved to the region of Gerar, and Abraham said of his wife Sarah “she is my sister.” Again, God sovereignly protected Sarah and the truth was revealed in a dream.
This time, the issue is settled and Sarah goes on to become pregnant with Isaac.
Famine reveals issues of the heart. It is a time of cleansing of the roots so that God can bless with new life. At times of famine, we need to invite the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and reveal lies or half-truths on which we have relied.