Trusting God’s Provident Protection

Trusting God’s Provident Protection

Since part of what we do each week in during our worship service is to seek God’s help and confess our sins, I thought I’d begin this part of the morning’s service by asking you about one particular sin, that of lying: So, have you ever lied? That is, have you ever told an intentionally false statement? If you answered, “No,” then I’m pretty sure you’ve just lied! This isn’t because I think ill of you—indeed, you’re the best sheep any shepherd could ever ask for—but because I know fallen human nature. Because I know my fallen nature, I know that you, at some time, have lied as have we all. For even after fallen human nature has been redeemed by the death of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ and been clothed with his righteousness, this side of heaven we are still tempted to lie:

We are tempted to lie when we want to be liked and therefore say something about ourselves that may not be true;

We are tempted to lie when we want to be thought well of and stretch the truth so far that it’s no longer recognizable;

We are tempted to lie when we want to get what we want and so we misrepresent the truth;

We are tempted to lie when we are afraid and so intentionally make a false statement.

As we’ll see in our morning’s passage, Abram asked his wife, Sarai, to lie in order that his life might be spared. The man to whom the LORD appeared and promised to bless and make of him a great nation;[1] the man to whom the LORD appeared a second time promising to give his seed the land of Canaan;[2] the man who built altars to the LORD[3] and called upon the name of the LORD[4] soon after these encounters with God nonetheless ended up lying, by asking his wife to lie.

As we noted last week, when God initially revealed himself to Abram, this wasn’t because he was an exceptionally virtuous man—or, if he was, we’re never told that. In fact, he probably worshiped other gods as his father Terah had done.[5] Yet the LORD appeared to Abram, nonetheless, with a task and a promise. He was to leave his country, people, and father’s household and go to the land that God would show him and, subsequently, God would make of him a great nation, name, and blessing—so much so that anyone who blessed Abram would be blessed by God and anyone who cursed him would be cursed by God. And God further promised that one day all the peoples on earth would be blessed through him.[6] Following this, Abram obeyed God. He did what the LORD had told him, taking his family with him, for hereon in Abram no longer followed other gods but, again, he now worshipped[7] and called upon[8] the LORD who had appeared to him as he set out toward the Negev.[9]

In the opening verses of chapter 12, we also saw the LORD disclose to Abram that the land the he promised to give him was the land of Canaan which would later become the land of Israel. But at this time, as stated in verse 10, “there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.” In order to provide for himself and his family, Abram went down to Egypt, home of the mighty Nile River whose water was able to protect the Egyptians from famine and drought. And it is at this moment of Abram embarking upon his journey towards Egypt that we learn that we’re not the only ones who have ever lied for, again, we see how Abram asked Sarai, his wife, to lie. As recorded in verses 11–13, “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.’”

Though perhaps a parenthetical point, I’d like to explore for a moment the matter of Sarah’s beauty. That she was physically beautiful isn’t necessarily a surprise for there are many beautiful women in the world. But if we’ve been paying attention to the narrative thus far, perhaps the first question that comes to mind upon hearing Abram’s concern about his wife, Sarai—and, yes, I readily admit that this question indicates that age discrimination is alive and well—is this: “Really? Abram is 75 years old at this time which means that Sarai is 65.[10] Does Abram really need to be concerned that the Egyptians might kill him because of the beauty of his 65 year-old wife?” I don’t know how to explain this other than to say that perhaps in Sarai’s day 65 was the new 35! Conversely, I had a colleague—she was an Old Testament scholar—once suggest that at this time, if a woman had all of her teeth, she was likely considered beautiful! So it may be that beautiful Sarai had all of her teeth in the pre-fluoride toothpaste age. Or perhaps the fact that we raise this question reveals how we prize youth whereas ancient societies prized age, seeing beauty in the elderly, rather than viewing the aged as dispensable as some in our society do. Or perhaps most likely, since even ten generations after the flood the average life span had not yet become the 78 or so years it is today,[11] 65 was still viewed as youthful. After all, Sarah was 127 years old when she died[12] so at 65 she would have still been in her prime.

Whatever the case, in what follows it’s clear that in one regard Abram’s concern was well-placed for the Egyptians did indeed find Sarai to be beautiful. Yet rather than trust that God would take care of him and his family and fulfill the promises he had made to him to make of him a blessing and great nation through whom all the nations of the world would one day be blessed, Abram instead was afraid. He was concerned that he would be killed for the sake of his beautiful wife. Therefore, he asked her to lie to the Egyptians by telling them that she was his sister rather than his wife. Now I should point out that this wasn’t a complete lie for later we learn that Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister, daughter of his father, Terah, but not of his mother. Therefore, maybe we can see this lie as a half-lie. Or we might even soften this lie a little further by calling it a little white lie. Or, the Spanish version of this, we might even say that it was a pious lie.[13] You know, a lie one tells for the sake of a perceived and greater good. After all, having someone who loves you tell a lie in order that your life might be spared is okay, isn’t it? Well, maybe not. Not this time. Not later.

For unfortunately we learn later in Genesis that Abram again asked Sarai to pass herself off as his sister when he once again feared being killed, this time by King Abimelek of Gerar[14]—have I mentioned that Abram was chosen to be a nation according to God’s grace and providence rather than because of his strength of character? In both instances, Abram figured he would be allowed to live if Sarai was thought to be his sister rather than his wife. As one commentator notes, “If the pharaoh [sic] were to add Sarai to his harem while knowing that she was Abram’s wife, he would have to kill Abram first.”[15] We see a very real Abram here, don’t we? Despite God’s promise to make of him a great nation, he chose fear and deception over trust and truthfulness as twice, so far as we’re told, he sought to pass off his wife as his sister lest he be killed. Sadly this ruse, this lie, had become part of Abram’s m.o., his modus operandi, his usual way of acting with regard to his wife, Sarai. In fact, in the later account in Genesis 20, we’re told that when King Abimelek questioned Abram as to why he had lied to him by passing off Sarah as his wife, part of Abraham’s explanation was the following:

11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me 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.”’[16]

Thus we learn that from the time the LORD appeared to Abram; from the time he left his father’s household with Sarai, his beautiful wife and half-sister, he had determined that everywhere they went, she should refer to him as her brother rather than what he actually was, her husband.

Returning to our account in Genesis 12, unfortunately though Abram’s life may have been spared when he passed Sarai off as his sister, Sarai herself ended up being taken away by the Egyptian Pharaoh, or ruler. As stated in verses 14 and 15, as he had anticipated, “14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai 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.” Beautiful 65-year old Sarai was taken away to become part of Pharaoh’s harem. What is more, whereas things hadn’t worked out so well for Sarai, things worked out very well for Abram—at least initially. For not only was he not killed as the custom of the day may have dictated but, verse 16, Pharaoh “treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.” Abram became even more materially rich than when he had initially entered Egypt. This increase in material prosperity may have been an exchange similar to Abram receiving a dowry for giving Pharaoh his sister, Sarai, to be one of his wives. And we can’t help but ask, “What was Abram thinking?! Was this trade-off really worth it? How could he have put his wife’s life in peril like this??”

Fortunately, though Abram’s vision regarding Sarai, his wife, may have been myopic as he focused only upon his own safety, God’s vision was not. For from the start, when the LORD determined that Abram would be the father of many nations, he had also determined that Sarai, his wife, would be the mother through whom those many nations would come to fruition. Though Abram may have acted in a selfish and unthinking manner with regard to his wife, Sarai, God never lost sight of her. Therefore, Abram’s lie notwithstanding, God stepped in to rescue Sarai. As we read in verse 17, “the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.” The LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household not because of Abram’s sister, no; the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife. God was not pleased with this lie. Neither was God pleased with the outcome of this lie when Pharaoh took Sarai, Abram’s wife, into his household as one of his wives. For this act, Pharaoh and his household were punished.

Now in this first recorded account of Abram asking Sarai to lie on his behalf, we’re not told how it is that Pharaoh came to realize that the serious diseases that fell upon him and his household were a direct result of his having believed and acted upon Abram’s lie. But somehow he knew, for after these afflictions had befallen him, verses 18–19, “18 … Pharaoh summoned Abram. ‘What have you done to me?…. 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!’” As soon as Pharaoh realized that he had taken Abram’s wife—not sister—he gave her back to her husband and told him to leave Egypt.

There’s a sense of déjà vu when, as I’ve already alluded to, Abram later had Sarai lie to King Abimelek. But in that account, we’re told that the LORD appeared to Pharaoh in a dream for, again, the LORD was not pleased. Therefore the LORD once again intervened supernaturally in order to protect Sarai. Returning to the account with Abimelek in Genesis 20 we’re told the following:

3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” 4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he”—that would be Abraham—“not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she”—that would be Sarah—“also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet,[17] and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”[18]

In this instance, God in his mercy not only protected Sarah but also gave a pagan king, Abimelek, an opportunity to do the right thing and return Sarah to her husband, Abraham. Now again, we’re not told if a similar dream may have been given to the Egyptian Pharaoh in our passage at the end of Genesis 12. Perhaps in his case the timing of the serious diseases coinciding with his taking Sarai allowed him to discern that Abram had lied to him about the nature of their relationship. However it was that Pharaoh came to learn of the fact of Sarai being Abram’s wife, not sister, we’re again told that he sent Abram and his family away. As stated in verse 20, “Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.”

Therefore, as chapter 13 of Genesis opens, we see Abram returning back home the way he had originally come. As stated in verse 1, “So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him.” The Negev was the last place we found Abram heading towards before the famine occurred in Canaan.[19] And we also are told again, verse 2, that in the course of the time that he had been away in Egypt “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” Again, while in Egypt, Pharoah had treated Abram well for Sarai’s sake, and Abram had “acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.”[20]  But we further see that Abram now backtracked his steps even further. As stated in verses 3–4, “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 and where he had first built an altar.”[21] Abram, in effect, had circled back to the place where he had started after leaving Canaan. And if there’s a silver lining concerning Abraham in this story, it’s to be found at the end of verse 4 for when he came to Bethel, “[t]here Abram called on the name of the Lord.” The sense of déjà vu is complete for when he first built an altar prior to heading out to the Negev Abram had called upon the LORD;[22] and so now, too, we find him again calling “on the name of the LORD.”

Now if it seems that I’ve been a bit harsh on Abram, I really don’t mean to be. For I confess that I relate all too well to what we’ve read of his story. As I stated at the outset, I, too, have lied. And in my case I have never lied, as Abraham did, due to a very real possibility of losing my life unless I did lie. In other words, I’m sorry to say that I’ve lied over far smaller and less consequential matters. And I relate as well with the difficulty Abraham had of learning to trust in God’s provident protection for I, too, at times have instead placed my trust in the seemingly protective power of a lie rather than in the power of God who calls us to be truthful even as he is. [23]

The story of Abram’s deception concerning his wife, Sarai, further confronts us with how well—or whether—we believe in the promises God makes. Now the promise God made to Abram isn’t ours to claim for only Abram—and by extension his wife, Sarai—is promised to be made into a great nation through whom all nations would one day be blessed by way of the promised seed, Jesus Christ. But Abram’s story does beckon us to consider what promises made to us in Scripture we may struggle to grasp and believe. In my case, I confess that I’ve struggled with believing that God’s love is so great that he is now and ever will be with me until he calls me home. As we see from our New Testament passage, this is precisely what Jesus, who is God, told his disciples to believe. This promise tied to trusting in him is one we all can similarly embrace.

For having washed the feet of his disciples;[24] and predicted his betrayal by Judas;[25] and predicted that Peter would thrice deny him[26]—all recorded in John 13—in the 14th chapter of John Jesus went on to offer a word of enormous hope to his disciples. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he told them in the opening verse. “You believe in God; believe also in me.” Because Jesus is God. Because Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ, to believe in God is the same as believing in him.[27] This Father’s Day it’s worth noting that to believe in Jesus is to believe in our loving and heavenly Father. For Jesus and the LORD who appeared to Abraham—along with the Holy Spirit he later sent[28]—are one. This is our confession: we believe in one God who has revealed himself to us in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And as Abram believed God, so are we to believe God. That is, so are we to believe Jesus’ words. And the words Jesus went on to state in order to “untrouble” the troubled hearts of his disciples should take our breath away. As recorded in verses 2–3, Jesus said “2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus promised that his leaving his disciples was for the sake of going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. What is more, he was doing so in order that when he returned, he might take them to be with him so that they might also be with him where he was going. Thomas, no doubt taking his courage in hand, then articulated what may have been on the mind of others present, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (verse 5). Were truer words ever spoken? For Jesus’ leaving would finally be by means of his death, rising from death, and ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father Almighty, as we confess each week in the Apostles’ Creed. Yet how can we, who have only known earthly life, possibly fathom what death, and life beyond the grave, are like?

Yet Jesus responds to Thomas by promising, verse 6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Dear brothers and sisters, do you hear what dear Jesus is saying? To believe in him is to have everlasting life.[29] He is the only way to have everlasting life. As John, following his master’s teaching, reiterates in his epistle, “11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”[30]

Do we believe this? Despite struggles I’ve had believing this—struggles of disbelieving for joy[31]—I do believe and confess with John; and, especially, confess with Jesus, that the joyous and good news of the Gospel is to be found in him and him alone. For Jesus has promised this. And Jesus will bring this to fruition. And he will return for all who are his that we may be where he is for all eternity.

And as the LORD’s promise to Abram was a sure promise that should have led Abram to trust that, come what may, God would bring to fruition what he had promised him, so Jesus’ promise to us is a sure promise to help us experience and see our earthly lives from the perspective of eternity.

For God’s provident holiness will ever trump our sins and failings;

God’s provident holiness will ever trump our lack of trust in him;

God’s provident holiness will ever trump the lies we may tell due to our fears or insecurities;

Therefore, God’s provident holiness should lead us to confess our sins as often as we need—and return to him as often as we need;

God’s provident holiness should cause us, even as Abram did, to call upon him;

God’s provident holiness should cause us to draw near to him and trust him and love him and one another not only now but for all eternity.

Let us pray.


[1] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.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.”

[2] Genesis 12:7a: The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your seed I will give this land.”

[3] Genesis 12:7b: So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

[4] Genesis 12:8: 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.

[5] Joshua 24:2–5: Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.

[6] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.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.”

[7] Genesis 12:7: The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your seed I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

[8] Genesis 12:8: 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] Genesis 12:9: Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

[10] That Abram is 75 is stated in Genesis 11:4: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.” We know Sarai must be 65 for later when Isaac is born, we see that Abram was 100 and Sarah was 90. See, respectively, Genesis 21:5: Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.; Genesis 17:17: Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

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[12] Genesis 23:1: Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. Genesis 25:7: Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years.

[13] I.e., a “mentira piadosa.”

[14] Gerar is in the northern Negev. Genesis 20:1–2, 12: 1 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her….12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.

[15] Zondervan NIV Bible Study note on Genesis 12:13.

[16] Genesis 20:11–13. Emphasis added.

[17] Various study Bibles note concerning Genesis 20:7 that this is the first time the term “prophet” is used in the Bible (Reformation ESV Study Bible) and that Abraham (therefore) is the first person to be referred to as a prophet, to bear this title (Crossway ESV Study Bible, Zondervan NIV Study Bible). The Crossway note goes on to state, “In this context, attention is drawn to his ability to intercede on behalf of others, one of the characteristics of a great prophet (Jer. 15:1); cf. his actions in Gen. 18:22–33.” Jeremiah 15:1: Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!

[18] Genesis 20:3–7.

[19] Genesis 12:9: Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

[20] Genesis 12:16.

[21] Emphasis added. From Canaan, as stated in Genesis 12:8: 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.

[22] Genesis 12:8–9: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. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

[23] Prohibitions against lying in Scripture may be found in: Leviticus 19:1, 11: The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy…. 11 Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” Colossians 3:9–10: Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

[24] John 13:1–17.

[25] John 13:18–30.

[26] John 13:31–38.

[27] As Jesus goes on to say to Philip later in the passage in verses 9–10 of John 14: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

[28] In this very chapter in John 14, Jesus goes on to tell his disciples in vv. 15–18, 25–27: 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…. 25 All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

[29] See also Jesus’ words recorded in John 6:44–51: 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

[30] 1 John 5:11–13.

[31] When the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples, we’re told in Luke 24:41–43: 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.