“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. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.” – Genesis 12:11-16.
A famine had drove Abraham, his wife Sarah and their flocks into Egypt. They are now in a foreign country, unsure of how they will be treated by the Egyptians. Abraham is worried that Sarah will attract men’s attention because she is strikingly beautiful. So Abraham decides on a strategy. He will pass her off as his sister, not his wife. This way, men will be more likely to treat the group well. If they see Abraham as her husband, they may try to kill him to get Sarah.
Sarah agrees. What Abraham feared, happens. Reports of her beauty reaches Pharaoh. Accustomed to getting whatever he wants, he has his soldiers take Sarah from her family, and pleased with her, he places her in his harem.
This doesn’t seem like the behavior for the father of a nation and a friend of God. No it doesn’t. Even in the face of Abraham’s half-truth, God was there to deliver him from himself. God has a long-range plan, and He is not going to let Abraham or a lie or half-truth change that plan.
So Pharaoh and his country become afflicted with plagues, and when he finds out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife, he views his misfortune as punishment from the gods. He hastily restores Sarah to Abraham, and pays compensation – even though it is clearly Abraham who is at fault. Pharaoh’s generosity contrasts sharply with Abraham’s deceptive behavior.
Before we judge Abraham we need to ask ourselves if we ever told a lie in order to get out of trouble? Or fabricated a truth to get something from someone? Or told a little white lie to gain acceptance. Of course we have. And on more than one occasion.
But as Abraham learned, along with all of us today, lies undermine our integrity in a tangible and often harmful way. Lies are a burden to manage. Lies tend to lead to more lies which ends in them being out of control. And finally there are often consequences to the lies we tell. Lies can harm relationships, friendships, even community within the church.
I encourage you to practice telling the truth. Honesty is always the best policy. I know this is a little cliche, but it is true. Lies can start out as a little misrepresentation or little white lie. But, lies lead to more lies and the Bible makes it clear, “Your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
God doesn’t discard Abraham because of this episode in Egypt. God’s grace did not stop at that point. Nor does God’s grace stop in our lives when we stray from the truth.
- Can you think of a situation or circumstance in your own life where you experienced what Abraham did by telling a half-truth? How did it end?
- What forms of lying are easiest for Christians to justify, and why? In what kinds of relationships or situations do you most find yourself tempted to distort the truth?
- In what everyday situations are you called to stand up for the truth?
- What makes gossip, flattery, exaggeration and other forms of dishonesty so damaging?
- Pray and ask God to speak to those areas of your life where you are dishonest.