Robert Jeffress - When Godly People Do Ungodly Things
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. The Bible calls Abraham a hero of the faith, but that doesn't mean he never made a mistake. Abraham was flawed just like you and me, and Abraham made some embarrassing blunders as well. Today we'll look at one of Abraham's greatest mistakes. It involves an unwise detour to the land of Egypt. My message is titled "When Godly People Do Ungodly Things" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Mark Twain once said, "Each of us is like the moon. We have a dark side we hope nobody ever sees". Unfortunately, that dark side in each of us is eventually exposed, and the greatest catalyst for that exposure is an unexpected disaster in our life. At least that's the way it was for Abraham. If you have your Bibles, turn to Genesis chapter 12 as we look at what happens when Godly people do ungodly things. Last time we began our study of Abraham. He is the example of that one quality God desires most in all of us, and that is faith.
Remember the definition of faith? Faith is believing that God will do what he's promised to do and acting accordingly, and Abraham did that. Remember Abraham picked up everything and he made that 400-mile trek across the desert until he arrived in Canaan, and he built an altar there. He hadn't talked to God in 15 years, but he built an altar there. And when we finish that story, we find Abraham kneeling at the altar. He was finally in the land of promise Canaan, what would be Israel today. But what Abraham didn't know was right around the corner there was waiting for him a test.
Look, if you will, about how this test led to Abraham's, first of all, his disbelief. He had just received this tremendous promise that he was going to be the father of a great nation. Now look at verse 10. They've arrived in Canaan. "Now there was a famine in the land". Isn't that interesting? God had blessed Abraham with this great promise and then all of a sudden out of nowhere there comes this gigantic trial in his life. I want you to mark this down, circle it. Remember it forever. Wherever there are great blessings... a great blessing is usually faced by a great trial. It's just that way. Great blessings are followed by a great trial.
You see that in the life of Elijah. Remember Elijah had that battle with the gods on the top of Mount Carmel, 1 Kings 18? God demonstrated himself powerfully. It was a high point for Elijah. Next chapter, he has to run from Jezebel who's out after his life. Or think about Solomon. The high point for his life was the dedication of the temple, and yet after that dedication he fell into disobedience as he allowed foreign. That means unbelieving wives to turn his heart away from God. Or look at Jesus. The high point of his ministry was his baptism when the heavens parted and God said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I'm well pleased".
But that was followed in Luke 4 immediately by a time of testing in the wilderness by Satan. Why is it great blessings are followed by a great trial? We'll see when we get to Genesis 22 that God sends tests, not temptations but tests into our life not to destroy our faith but to strengthen our faith. James said it this way: "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance". God tests us to strengthen our faith. That's one reason he sends tests. But I want you to notice something that I just noticed this week. There's another reason God sends his blessings. Many times God's blessings are not a reward for past obedience. They are a preparation for a future test.
Now, that's profound enough to write down. I don't say many profound things, but that is worth thinking about. Let me say it again. God's blessings are not always a reward for past behavior. They are a preparation for a future test. God knows what is coming in our lives, and many times to prepare us for this trial he will give us a great blessing so that when we're in the maelstrom of hurting and questioning we can look back on God's past blessing and say, "The same God who brought me to the Promised Land is going to keep me in the Promised Land".
I think that's what was going on with Abraham. There's a reason the blessing of verses 1 to 9 precede verse 10. For Abraham, he had a trial and the trial was very specific. The trial was a famine that was in the land. A famine meant that there'd be no water, there'd be no vegetation. Abraham would have no way to feed his family and his livestock. This was a very real need. Now, we shouldn't fault Abraham for being concerned about his family. That's natural.
1 Timothy 5:8 says if any man does not provide for his own, especially those of his own household, he is worse than an unbeliever and has denied the faith. How did Abraham respond to this famine? Unfortunately, he received a giant F, and that F isn't for faith. He fell into disobedience, despair, disaster, and ultimately disgrace. And so that we don't make the same mistake Abraham made, I want you as we begin this message to picture right now a challenge you're facing in your life. It may be a challenge with a child or a grandchild. It may be a financial need. It might be a physical problem with you or somebody you care about.
Do you believe the same God who's been faithful in the past to you will be faithful to you now? Is God still alive? Is God still working? Can you really trust in God? Be thinking about that as we go through the story of Abraham. Abraham concluded God wasn't capable and so his disbelief turned into disobedience. Look again at verse 10. "Now there was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land". Abraham went to Egypt. Now, God had commanded Abraham to come to Canaan. There's no record that God said to Abraham, "Go down to Egypt". That was his idea. That's interesting.
In the Bible Egypt of course is a real country, but it's used as two symbols of two very different things. Sometimes Egypt was God's provision to care for his people. For example, Abraham's great-grandson named Joseph would end up in Egypt and through Egypt he was able to provide grain for the entire world. Fifteen hundred years later, Joseph and Mary took their new baby, baby Jesus, to Egypt to hide from Herod and his edict to kill all the Hebrew male babies. Sometimes Egypt was a representation of God's provision, but other times Egypt is used as a symbol of unbelief, of trusting in man instead of God.
Throughout the Old Testament, God warns the Israelites against making peace treaties with Egypt, thinking that by aligning themselves with Egypt instead of with God that they can find peace and safety. That's why I had you read that verse, Isaiah 31, verse 1, this morning. "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor do they seek the LORD".
Please note, again, Abraham's motive was pure. He was trying to provide for his family so he honestly assessed the situation. No rain means no food. No food means no animals and eventually no us. That was an accurate assessment. He also used logic. He said, "You know, we're in this strange land surrounded by Canaanites who don't want us here anyway. So it's logical to conclude they're not going to help us get food". There's nothing wrong with assessing your situation, whatever the challenge is. There's nothing wrong with using logic, but here's the mistake Abraham made that we all make at some point. He calculated without God. Anytime we assume responsibility that belongs to God, we're going to be led to do ungodly things, and that disobedience led to Abraham's despair. Disbelief turns into disobedience and disobedience leads to despair or fear.
Now listen to me. When you conclude that God's not capable of meeting your need, of taking care of you, then you feel like you're all by yourself. And if you feel like you're all by yourself in this universe, you're going to be frightened by any and everything that happens because you realize we live in a random universe, or you think we do. You realize you're just subject to whatever anybody or any circumstance wants to do to you and you become fearful because you don't want to live alone in this world.
I think of Jonathan Edwards' comment: "The unrighteous tremble at the rustling of the leaves". People who aren't trusting in God, who aren't convinced of God's power will tremble at everything that happens. That's exactly what happened to Abraham. He decided he was responsible for his safety and survival. And so what happens? Verse 11, "When they came near to Egypt, Abraham said to Sarai his wife, 'See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman.'" That's always a good way to start with your wife. But boy, he messes up here in a moment. And when the Egyptians see you, they're going to say, "This is his wife, and they will kill me but they will let you live".
So here's Abraham's proposal. "Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you". Abraham is not going to qualify as husband of the year. Now, here's what's interesting when this finally happened. Look at what happened in verses 14 and 15. Proverbs 10:24 says what the wicked fears comes upon them. Abraham had just imagined this scenario, but it ended up actually happening. Look at verse 14. "And it came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house". In other words, she was going to be a part of his harem.
Now, here's what I want you to notice about Abraham. His disobedience to God and going to Egypt really boxed him in. He only had two choices, and neither of them was any good. He could tell the truth and be killed or he could tell a lie and live and yet still lose his wife Sarah. Neither was a good option. But then the story takes an unexpected twist in verse 16. "Therefore he," that is Pharaoh, "treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels". He treated him well.
That Hebrew word, yatab, is the same word used in verse 13 when Abraham's talking to his wife and says, "Please lie that it may go well for me". Well, here we see it went well for Abraham. Pharaoh blessed him, gave him livestock and servants. Who says sin doesn't pay? Abraham ended up pretty good here, right? Only for a season. Proverbs 10, verse 2 says, "Ill-gotten gains do not profit".
You know, it's interesting from this point on everything, every possession Abraham received from Egypt turned out to be a curse to him. For example, it caused a rift with his nephew Lot that we'll look at in a few weeks, but something I had never seen before. Maybe you all have seen this before. It says that he received female servants from Pharaoh. One of those female servants he received from Pharaoh was a woman named Hagar. When Hagar came to Abram's house it was complete turmoil, and we'll see what happened in a few weeks with that.
What I'm saying is ill-gotten gains do not add something positive to our life. Eventually they turn out to be what they are. Abram's life was a living illustration of that truth, but you know what? The fact is as he counted his new livestock, he counted his new servants, it was painfully obvious that something was missing and that someone was Sarah. What does it profit a man if he gained the whole world and loses life, or his wife, or his children? And yet even though Abram had abandoned Sarai, God hadn't abandoned her.
Look at verse 17. "But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife". We don't know what these plagues were, but it obviously kept Pharaoh from having intercourse with Sarai. Allen Ross, the Old Testament commentator, says this is a good illustration of how seriously God takes the marriage covenant. He writes, "If God goes to such great lengths to preserve the purity of the marriage covenant, we too should make every effort to protect the holiness of our marriage".
Isn't that a great insight? God protected Sarai for her benefit but also for his reputation. He had made an unconditional covenant with Abraham that he would make him the father of a great nation and that nation would come through Sarai his wife. God wasn't about to allow his reputation to be tarnished. So what happened? You have Abraham's disbelief turning into disobedience, disobedience turn to disaster and to despair, and finally we see Abraham's disgrace.
Look at verse 18. "Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, 'What is this you have done to me?'" I think he was complaining about the plague he had just experienced. "'What is it you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife". "Scram. Get out of here as quickly as you can". "And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him, and they escorted him away with his wife and all that belonged to him".
You know, it's one thing to be rebuked by a fellow Christian when they call us on something, but the ultimate humiliation is to have your behavior rebuked by an unbeliever; and yet it happens all the time, and the cause of Christianity suffers because of it. A non-Christian teacher can't believe that a student who professes to be a Christian is the one who cheats on the exam or plagiarizes a paper. A businessman who's not a believer can't believe it's this Christian who goes to church every Sunday who pads the expense account and embezzles money from the company.
I have heard this before. Non-Christian judges who can't believe how frequently Christians are ready to dissolve their marriages in order to find somebody else that will make them happy. That kind of behavior blasphemes the name and the reputation of God. The real question we all face is, can God be trusted to take care of us? If we conclude no, that disbelief turns into disobedience; that disobedience turns into despair, disaster, and ultimately disgrace not just for us but for the cause of Christ.
At the beginning of the message I asked you to have in your mind some challenge you have ahead of you with your family, with your finances, with your health. Are you going to trust God? Abraham almost lost everything because he concluded God's not capable. Donald Grey Barnhouse, the great Bible exposer, said every trial that comes into our life is like a coin. It has both a head and a tail. That trial can drive you toward God and closer to God, or it can drive you further away from God. Which will it be for you?