Famine Where Blessing Should Be

Genesis 12:8 - 13:4

(c) Copyright 2004 Rev. Bill Versteeg

In the fall we studied the beginnings of Abram's journey of faith. We learned how Abram's journey is a journey that is shared by all who place their trust in God, a journey that we want to continue studying, a little less often, in this new year.

Genesis 12:8-13:4

8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. 9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.

17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!" 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

13:1 So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

3 From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.

Abram following God's call to blessing, started from a place called Ur of the Chaldees, with his Father, and probably under the leadership of his father, he went to Haran with Sarai his wife and his nephew lot, after his father died, he traveled into the land of promise. We have to understand that in every way, Abram anticipated that his journey and destination was blessing, after all, God said

2 "I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."

He expected abundance, blessing, shalom, life going well, after all, he had stepped out in faith, he had followed God's command, he was obedient. What else should he expect but that the promises God gave would be true? So as Abram continued his travels toward the Negev,

Notice verse 10

10 Now there was a famine in the land.

To Abram this is unexpected. It doesn't follow logic. There is famine where blessing should be!

Now it may be that you can identify with Abram, I'm sure I'm not the only one that can.

You are a person who has committed your life to Christ, you did confession of faith and you certainly meant it. Your hearts hunger and determination is to follow Jesus, grow in him, grow in to understanding the truths of scripture, grow into the blessings of the Spirit and what happens...

You discover that there is famine where you expected blessing.

Maybe you're young and in faith, you trusted God with your future and believed that God was sending you in a certain direction only to discover that the direction you went in was fraught with difficulties. Maybe in faith you entered into a marriage relationship, both of you trusting God for love and a future together and you discovered how hard marriage can be. Maybe it's a business venture you started in faith, maybe its retirement you looked forward too in faith serving God with your retirement only to find the future you entered into a wasteland. Maybe you're a person who choose to step out in faith, choosing to serve God with all your heart, even a career, only to discover that the joy of service is sometimes a very barren place to walk.

One couple I have deeply loved and appreciated entered their relationship and the project of parenting with an uncommon faith and faithfulness. You could not wish more faithful loving parents on anyone. In obedience to God they parented, and yet it was some of their children struggled with addictions and brokenness. They also expected blessing, they discovered famine.

So often, when we discover famine in our journey - our first response is "Lord, where did I go wrong?"
"Lord what happened to the reliability of your promises?"
"Lord, I thought I could trust your word?"

What has been your famine? As you reflect on that, I invite you to notice something. Famine is normal for the journey of faith. Not only did Abram discover famine where blessing should be, so did Israel as they in faith stepped out of the security of Egypt only to discover the harsh realities of the desert. So did Jesus, immediately after his baptism, scripture tells us that the Spirit of God led him into the desert.

Why would God, once we have started the journey to blessing, lead us into famine?

Let me suggest to you two reasons, but let me say that if you are right now experiencing famine in the journey, none of these reasons does a lot to sooth the pain. And if today, you are in the middle of a wasteland, whatever that wasteland may be, I encourage you to take advantage of our prayer ministry teams as they will support you in prayer in your journey.

The first reason that helps us to understand the famine is the nature of faith. Hebrews 11:1 says faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

It is the very nature of faith to hold onto what God promises even though the reality of those promises are not at the moment experienced. If every time we pray, our prayers got answered the way we wanted them to be answered, there would be little faith in our hearts. But if we become people who pray, and pray and pray, being certain of God's faithfulness even though all we experience is famine - that is faith. Blessed are those, Jesus said, who have not seen, and yet believed. The patriarchs were commended, many of them, not because they achieved so much, but because they remained strong in faith even though they walked about in famine! The very nature of faith trusts God even though the promises as of yet have not been fulfilled.

The second reason why we experience the wasteland is because God leads us there to test the faith he is growing within us.

Strength is developed by exercise or testing. We do not grow unless we are stretched, pushed to our limit. We will not develop as athletes unless we experience some agony. When we like Abram set out on a journey of faith, our faith is going to be tested, and those tests often come in the desert. Abram's test happened in the desert, Israel was tested in the desert, Jesus was tested in the desert. We can't expect any different. Will you believe God in spite of the fact that the promises cannot be seen, that all you can do is hope for a better future?

It is normal for our journey of faith to involve tests that will try our faith. And sometimes those tests can come at extremely painful times in our lives when the foundations of the earth seem to fall into the heart of the sea, when Satan's attacks are voraciously vicious, where life becomes a whirlwind of grief and pain, almost to the point of destroying the faith that God has placed within us. I know some of us here can identify with that all to well. God sovereignly even uses the worst things that can happen to us, even Satan's worst, to mature the faith he has within us. The journey through famine can be long and hard.

I don't have a lot more time but notice what Abram does. His faith young, not mature, not yet placing his confidence in God promises not seen but anticipating instant results, he goes from the southern end of the land of promise and he heads to Egypt, a land of plenty. It was a very understandable journey, after all, the land of promise was barren, and as you can see on this aerial photo, the Nile River delta (triangular shape) was watered by all of Northern Africa. The delta was a place of abundance even though it was not the promised place, it was outside the promises of God. Abram heads to where the food is easy to come by. It is the place of least resistence. He walks by sight...

But like so many excursions from faith, when we choose the easy road, compromise has consequences, stepping outside of the promises of God has consequences. As it did for Abram, as it did for Israel in the desert at Kadesh Barnea, as it would have for Jesus (and all of us) if he had failed the tests in the desert.

For Abram, this easy road led him to potentially compromise his marriage to Sarai. Pharaoh saw her beauty and wanted her for his harem, which was OK after all, she was Abram's "sister." A little lie, a little incomplete truthfulness. Abram gets dowry payments, becomes rich in cattle and belongings at the expense of the women he loved. And finally God steps in and inflicts Pharaoh and the palace with a disease that Pharaoh attributes to Sarai. Abram, rebuked by a man who knows nothing of the one true God is sent on his way rich, but ...with a lot of marriage repairing to do.

When the Lord tested you, how did you respond? Abram went on an excursion to Egypt, away from the famine filled land of blessing, only to return back to Bethel to worship God some time later. It is as if this whole journey led no where in terms of his faith.

Israel came up to the edge of the promised land. Only Joshua and Caleb had the faith to lead into the land. 10 other spies disagreed, Israel had not grown enough to trust God, so they went on a journey to nowhere, in the desert.

In one of the previous churches I served, a man choose to start his own business working in construction. He believed this is what God wanted him to do. But the first months, even the first year was hard, and so he became partners with another fellow, also in business for himself and then business took off. But the yoke was unequal. There are consequences in working with someone who is not a Christian. He ended up working numerous Sundays. Over time his relationship with the people of God became more and more distant. He choose the easy road and the consequences were spiritually very expensive.

Let me conclude this morning with a post script. What is very clear in this passage is that on the level of passing the test of faith, Abram failed. He in the end had to go back to the place he started from. And from there the journey would continue. But notice something. Even though he failed the test, he was not rejected, he was not forsaken, he was not abandoned by God. One of the fears that we often have is that if we fail, God abandons his project in our lives.

But the truth of scripture is that God is always faithful. Even though our faith may fail, God's promises to us will not. He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion. The scriptures abound with illustrations of God's faithfulness even to a failing people. And so to his faithfulness is to us.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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