Genesis 12:4-12:20 Altar, He Go

Abram departed… the LORD appeared… an altar… God revealed Himself… Egypt… felt outside God’s protection… wrong on so many levels… becomes a curse… missed our chance to transform the world

Genesis 12:4-12:20

So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram [was] seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

Well, Abram (not yet Abraham) gets off to a good start by obeying the Lord’s command and departing (yalak). And, unlike Terah, he makes it all the way:

and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

So far, he seems to be doing pretty good, as God appears (ra’ah) and expands upon his promise:

And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

Abram replies with an altar (mizbeach), which seems to be becoming a habit:

And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, [having] Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.

Altar-building often makes me think about “Hind’s Feet in High Places “, a parable where the heroine builds tiny altars at critical points along her pilgrimage. She saves a stone from each altar, and at journey’s end finds them transmuted into fine jewels. In some ways, I think of Abraham’s story as a kind of altar, built to commemorate a significant place where God revealed Himself to mankind.

Alas, Abram fails to stay close to that altar:

And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine [was] grievous in the land.

Whether or not this was a good idea, or broke God’s command to dwell in the land, one gets the distinct impression that Abram felt that he was outside God’s protection. Thus, fearing Egyptian (Mitsray) jealousy:

Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This [is] his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.

he asks Sarai (Saray) to lie on his behalf:

Say, I pray thee, thou [art] my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.

This is just wrong on so many levels. Yet, to be fair, things transpired pretty much as Abram predicted:

The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.

It sure doesn’t sound like Pharaoh (Par`oh) asked her (or his) permission, and Abram’s fears of being killed appear quite plausible. At one level, one can appreciate both a) Abram’s prescience, and b) the Bible’s brutal honesty. But, then we come to the payoff:

And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.

It just feels wrong that Abram should prosper for his deceit. And, Pharaoh — who arguably was only acting in accord with established custom, not realizing the extent of his wrong — pays for it on both sides:

And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife.

Far from being a blessing, Abram becomes a curse; though, God certainly fulfills His promise of cursing those who curse him. Interestingly, Pharaoh soon figures it out, either through revelation or Sarah spilling the beans:

And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What [is] this [that] thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she [was] thy wife? Why saidst thou, She [is] my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take [her], and go thy way.

So, what are we to make of this? One way of looking at it is that if we fail to trust in God’s justice, we will fail in our ability to act as blessing. Yet, God Himself will still be faithful to His promises. We may be saved through it, but we will have missed our chance to transform the world around this.

The implication is that if God could curse Pharaoh after the fact, despite Abram’s deceit, could He not have saved Abram beforehand, if he had told the truth? And, might not God’s display of power have had a redemptive impact on Pharaoh, and prosper both him and Abram, rather than making it a zero-sum game?

I don’t know. Yet, the juxtaposition of this story so soon after God’s enormous promises seems to at least raise the question. Perhaps we’ll find more answers as we move forward.


God, forgive me for being a coward like Abram, and for the ways I’ve lied and cheated to protect myself, rather than trusting in your justice and my calling to be a blessing. Save me from my hypocrisy and petty prides. Grant me a deeper vision of your power and providence, that I may be unleashed to have a positive impact on the world, including — perhaps especially — those who would do me harm. Amen.


I’m going to be a little slower while my wife’s family is visiting — which is a wonderful blessing, but somewhat disruptive to my schedule. 🙂 Hopefully I’ll still keep making forward progress, and then pick the pace back up after everyone leaves in mid-August.