Tests After Triumphs
Text messages from Pastor X to Jennie Allen concerning Afghanistan.
“Jennie, as you know we reach and raise up locals that carry the work in the countries we serve.
Things drastically shifted for our teams in Afghanistan overnight.
Believers are scattered and literally running for the hills. Hiding in the mountains and caves with just the clothes on their back. Winter will be approaching and we are working on getting aid and relief to these teams ASAP.
Taliban is taking girls 15 years and younger from their families and raping then trafficking them. Also killing husbands with young wives and doing the same. Taliban has a ‘list’ of Christians and churches. Believers are being hunted.
Most of our leaders there are indigenous so they are Afghan. Which means they can’t leave unless they flee as refugees but unfortunately the surrounding countries are closing the borders.”
The Afghan Christians’ faith is being tested like never before. There is real fear of death for young husbands and fear of being violated by young wives and girls.
Doubts and fears
You’ve been learning a lot over the past several weeks about our faith journey in to full-time pastoral ministry
You’ve heard that we moved a lot during our 30 years of marriage
I’ve shared that we had to take steps of faith during some of those moves
Obviously we had fears and doubts and our faith was weak sometimes
Our dog, socks
When we were getting ready to move from OH to MO, we had to decide what to do with our dog, Socks
We were certain that we were going to have to rent either an apartment or house when we got to MO and we didn’t want to have to figure that out with a dog
We were trying to find a new home for him, because we didn’t want to take him to the pound
During the time that we were trying to figure this all out, Socks didn’t listen to Judy’s verbal command to stop and he was hit by a minivan and killed
While this was not the hoped for outcome for our dog, the decision about what to do with him had been made
That obstacle to our move had been removed
When I look back on that situation now, I can see that our faith was weak
When we got to MO, we realized that there were very few apartment complexes where we were going to live and there weren’t many houses for rent
We were able to buy a home
We could have kept Socks, since we purchased our own home, but we didn’t realize that at the time
Had we trusted God by faith, things may have been different
Ultimately, God is in control and will accomplish His plan, even if that plan may bring us or others heartache
Every one of us can probably recall a time when we knew that God was faithful to us, through a difficult time
Our faith may have wavered during that time, because we couldn’t see how God was going to pull us through – how God was going to provide
We’re not alone in our doubts, fears, and weakened faith
Abram was about the face some difficult situations in his life. Would he trust God by faith to take care of him and his family or would he try to work it out in his own strength? Abram was going to learn a very important lesson about God’s faithfulness. It’s a lesson we have to learn as well. That lesson is . . .
BIG IDEA – When we’re faithless, God is faithful.
GOD (Genesis 12:10-20)
Deception (vv. 10-13)
There was a famine in Canaan while Abram was traveling through the land
We’re told that is was severe
It was a heavy, grievous, burdensome famine
It wasn’t a minor famine that would pass quickly
It would not have been uncommon for famines to hit Canaan, because the climate depended on rainfall to sustain any kind of productivity [Walton, The NIV Application Commentary, Genesis, 395]
Egypt was different, because it depended on the Nile River to sustain its productivity, and the Nile River flooded every year [Walton, 395]
Abram decides that he will travel down to Egypt to live there for a while since the famine was so heavy
When I first read the update from Afghanistan about how the Taliban is killing husbands with young wives, it made me think of what Abram was feeling and experiencing
He knew how beautiful Sarai was and he told her
Guys, make sure to tell your wives how beautiful they are – trust me they will be encouraged to hear it
Sarai was 65 years old at this point, which would have been midlife for her since she lived to be 127 years’ old
In our culture we think about 65 year olds (men and women) as being grandparents and retirement age
The old adage, “beauty is more than skin deep,” probably applies here
There were other aspects, including her physical beauty, that would have been attractive, such as her dignity, bearing, countenance, the way she carried herself, etc. [Walton, 397]
One commentary states, “The phrase used here is also used to describe a fine specimen of cow (Gen. 41:2).” [Walton, 397]
I know that livestock were an indicator of wealth in the Ancient Near East
I’m not sure if comparing a beautiful woman to a fine cow was a compliment during that time or not
I’m warning husbands today that comparing your wife to a fine cow is not considered a compliment in our day and age
Abram is fearing for his life – he’s afraid that as Sarai’s husband he will be killed and she will be taken as some Egyptian’s wife
“Abraham’s fear demonstrates a lack of trust in God’s recent promises.” [Waltke, Genesis, A Commentary, 213]
Has Abram forgotten the Lord’s promises?
The Lord promised to make him into a great nation
The Lord promised to make his name great
The Lord promised to treat others the same way they treated Abram
Fear can cause us to not think clearly
Abram was only thinking about himself at this point
Tell them you are my sister, so that . . .
They will treat me well
My life will be spared
PRINCIPLE #1 – Human wisdom is flawed.
Proverbs 14:12, There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
Proverbs 21:2, All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Read Proverbs 16:2-25
Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
James 1:5-8, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we would admit that we often try to use our own wisdom and strength to resolve the difficulties we’re facing
Calling on the Lord seems to be our final step instead of our first step
Most of the time it’s true that with age and life circumstances come wisdom
The older we get, the more we turn to the Lord first instead of last
The Lord’s wisdom is far greater than ours
He is all-knowing and all-powerful, so He knows what’s best for us
When we seek His face and His wisdom, He promises to guide our steps
#1 – My Next Step Today Is To: Seek the Lord’s wisdom first in every difficulty I face.
Perhaps you’re in the middle of a difficult situation right now and you haven’t sought the Lord’s wisdom yet
It’s not too late, do it right now!
Abram’s wisdom was flawed – he was only thinking about himself
He was allowing fear to guide him, instead of faith
Focusing only on himself, meant that he was not thinking about Sarai and how his human wisdom and plan would affect her
That’s where the complication comes in
Complication (vv. 14-16)
Abram knew how blessed he was to have Sarai as his wife
What he didn’t count on was who would be taken with Sarai’s beauty
The Egyptians saw how beautiful she was and the officials praised her when they told Pharaoh
Pharaoh obviously agreed with their assessment and took her into his palace, meaning she became part of his harem – she was another one of his wives
Powerful leaders in the Ancient Near East, like Pharaoh, would have had multiple wives as a status symbol [Goldingay, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament, Pentateuch, Genesis, 219-20]
“Rulers did not see marriage as a means of fulfilling their lust for woman (though that may occasionally be the case), but often as a means of fulfilling their lust for power. Their harems were filled with those whom they had married to cement political alliances.” [Walton, 397]
Marriage between ruling families of various nations was a common practice, to solidify peace and treaties
A bride price was always paid to the father or in this case, “brother”
Pharaoh treated Abram well as the “brother/guardian” of Sarai
“Wealth in the ancient Middle East was not measured in gold but in animals, slaves, and land.” [Gangel & Bramer, Holman Old Testament Commentary, Genesis, 122]
Abram received animals and slaves
He received flocks (sheep and goats), herds (oxen, bulls, and cows), donkeys (both male and female), and camels [Goldingay, 220]
Male donkeys were used to carry things
Female donkeys were used to carry people
Camels were used to carry both things and people
Camels were also a sign of wealth, because they were rare during this time
He received servants
Both male and female
Keep this in mind as we continue the narrative on Abram, especially as it pertains to Hagar and Ishmael
Even though Abram doesn’t plan for the complication of Sarai becoming a part of Pharaoh’s harem, he benefits greatly from this half-truth about her
PRINCIPLE #2 – God is faithful even when we’re faithless.
Abram wasn’t trusting the Lord to provide for him in Canaan and to protect him in Egypt
Yet, God still blessed Abram in spite of his faithlessness
God kept His promise to Abram to bless him
This narrative is more about God’s faithfulness than Abram’s failures
It highlights God’s attribute of faithfulness
It’s so reassuring to know that God’s faithfulness to us is not based on our faithfulness to him
He is still faithful when we fail Him, when we doubt Him, when we allow fear to control our thoughts and actions
He still blesses us in spite of our failures
This is something we can and should worship and praise the Lord for
#2 – My Next Step Today Is To: Thank the Lord for His faithfulness and blessing even when I fail Him.
We should never neglect to confess to the Lord that we have failed Him and allowed our doubts and fears to control our thoughts and actions
#3 – My Next Step Today Is To: Confess to the Lord my failures, doubts, and fears.
While Abram’s faithlessness created a complication, God was in control and had a resolution ready
Resolution (vv. 17-20)
God’s protection (v. 17)
PRINCIPLE #3 – God is in control!
Even when Abram was driven by survival to make decisions on his own (going to Egypt and telling a half-truth), God’s plan for he and Sarai would not be thwarted
God would keep His promise of providing a great nation through Abram and Sarai, not Pharaoh and Sarai
The Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household
We’re not told what the serious diseases were
“‘Diseases’ translates the Hebrew for ‘plagues,’ which is the same word describing the ten plagues against Pharaoh (Exod 11:1). The term refers to skin disease in Mosaic legislation (Lev 13), and the verbal form describes the leprous judgement by the Lord against Uzziah (2 Kings 15:5).” [Mathews, The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 129]
Perhaps the diseases were sexual in nature, which enabled Sarai to be preserved from dishonor and for God’s plan to remain intact
God is in control of your circumstances
Even if you have been driven by survival to make decisions on your own, God’s plan for you cannot be thwarted
He has a resolution ready
#4 – My Next Step Today Is To: Recognize that God is in control and trust Him to accomplish His plan for my life.
God protected Abram and Sarai even in their failures
“Abram’s sin brought God’s judgment on Pharaoh’s house. But in a true demonstration of biblical grace, God overcame Abram’s sin, forgave his lie, and sent him back to the land.” [Gangel & Bramer, 122]
Pharaoh’s rebuke (vv. 18-20)
Abram’s fear caused him to doubt and question the ethics of the Egyptian people
He thought he knew and understood their ethics, but in reality he was not aware of their ethic of absolute truthfulness
He learned two pivotal spiritual lessons – truth and trust
He learned that he could trust the Lord to take care of him, no matter what
He also learned that truthfulness is important, but, as we’ll see later, he struggled with truthfulness one other time in the future
When Pharaoh learned the cause of the serious diseases that he and his household were experiencing, he confronted Abram
We’re not told how Pharaoh found out
Perhaps the Lord spoke to him
Maybe Sarai came clean and explained that she and Abram were actually husband and wife
However it happened, he immediately summoned Abram
What have you done to me?
Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, “She is my sister,” so that I took her to be my wife?
Here’s your wife, leave, and take your stuff with you!
Pharaoh restores Sarai to Abram
He then tells Abram to take her and go
Pharaoh didn’t take any chances that Abram would remain in Egypt
Instead he instructed his men to make sure that Abram left the country (Abram’s own personal escort)
Notice that Pharaoh did not demand that Abram return the flocks, herds, donkeys, camels, and servants
God was blessing Abram even through his failures
When we’re faithless, God is faithful.
We can trust that God has a resolution to our problem and that He will protect us and provide for us
Seek the Lord’s wisdom first when confronted with any difficulty.
Thank the Lord for His faithfulness even when I fail Him.
Confess to the Lord my failures, doubts, and fears.
Recognize that God is in control and trust Him to accomplish His plan for my life.
We need to encourage one another to seek the Lord’s wisdom, to express our gratitude for His faithfulness, to confess our failures, and to trust God to sovereignly control our lives.
“The Count of Monte Cristo tells the story of Dantes (James Caviezel) who is unjustly accused and sentenced to life in France's most dreaded prison. After 13 years he escapes, becomes wealthy, and then seeks revenge on those who ruined his life. Throughout the movie Dantes struggles deeply with his belief in God, moving from a simple faith to a loss of faith, and finally to a mature faith.
During his years in prison, Dantes' makes friends with a wonderful priest, whose godly influence has a huge impact on Dantes' spiritual understanding. Together they dig a tunnel to escape, but just before it's completed, a cave-in injures the priest. As he lies dying on the stone floor of his cell, the priest gives Dantes a treasure map that he'd hidden all his years in prison, which ends up making Dantes wealthy. But it's the priest's final words that stick with Dantes forever.
‘When they asked me about the treasure of Sparta, I lied,’ the priest confesses.
‘You lied?’ Dantes asks.
‘I'm a priest, not a saint.’ [Then he tells Dantes how to use the map to find the treasure.]
‘When you escape,’ the priest continues, ‘use the treasure for good. Only for good.’
‘No,’ Dantes says angrily. ‘I will surely use it for my revenge.’
‘This is your final lesson. Do not commit the crime—[the priest struggles for a breath] Do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, ‘Vengeance is mine.’’
Dantes says, ‘But I don't believe in God.’
‘It doesn't matter,’ the priest responds with a smile. ‘He believes in you.’
Moments later the priest dies, and Dantes escapes. Not only do the priest's words help Dantes discover the treasure—by the end of the movie they help Dantes rediscover the God who is faithful even when we are faithless. God believes in the worth of fallen humanity. As Romans 8:31 says, ‘God is for us.’”
Content: Rated PG-13 for some violence and sensuality
Elapsed time: 00:52:56 to 00:54:07 (DVD scene 13)
Source: The Count of Monte Cristo (Touchstone Pictures, 2002); story by Alexandre Dumas, screenplay by Jay Wolpert, directed by Kevin Reynolds