The Egyptian Option

Intro: The life of Abraham is a storehouse of spiritual truth and insight. His journey was certainly a treatise on faith and obedience. It also presents to us the place of trial and the tests of faith we must endure.

  • In studying on the journey of Abraham into Canaan recently, I came across an interesting and insightful connection between Abraham and the Land of Egypt.
  • It is not difficult to see the importance of Egypt in the lives of the later children of Abraham. Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph was sold into slavery to Egypt. Later all his family moved to Egypt, including his father, Jacob. It was from Egypt that God delivered the people of Israel (Jacob) after 400 years of slavery.

But Egypt may have an earlier importance to the life of Abraham, God’s faithful servant.

I. Egypt in Abraham’s Life: On three occasions, the nation of Egypt finds its way into the narrative of Abraham’s life:

1) Gen. 12:10-20 – in his flight to Egypt during the famine in Canaan.

2) Gen. 13:10 – in a description of the plain of the Jordan, as Abraham and Lot prepare to separate.

3) Gen. 16:1-4 – in the person of Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sarah.

A. It is easy to pass over these occurrences and allow them to be insignificant to the story. But they seem to share a startling common element. This common element would have great meaning to a nation who had just left Egyptian bondage and was traveling toward the Promised Land.

II. The Allure of Egypt in the Abraham’s Story: Let’s go back and review the three occasions that we just mentioned.

A. Gen. 12 – Egypt first shows up, interestingly enough, in the chapter where the Abraham narrative begins. God calls Abraham to travel to Canaan, completely under God’s providential care. In a show of great faith, Abraham goes. But no sooner has he arrived in Canaan than he finds the land unable to support him… Gen 12:10-13Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”

1. The solution to the famine which occurs to Abraham is straightforward – Go to Egypt. There is food there. Egypt is appealing in this time of need. It appears to be a good solution to the physical problem he faces.

B. Gen. 13:10 – Egypt next shows up in a seemingly insignificant reference in the account of Abraham and Lot’s separation in the land. The name of Egypt appears in an odd comparison in the text. Gen 13:8-11 – Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. 11 Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.

1. The plain of Jordan, where Lot chooses to go, is compared to not only the garden of God, but to the land of Egypt. The plain of Jordan was outside the promised land (13:12). But it appeared to Lot, and maybe Abraham as well, as a good place, and a solution to the physical problem they were facing. Ultimately, “The eye of sight chooses the well-watered, apparently fruitful location, which is like Egypt, over the apparently less attractive land of promise.”

C. Gen. 16:1-4 – Finally, Egypt shows up in the person of Hagar. Gen 16:1-2And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Just as the promised land was at first barren and held little appeal, so now the womb of Sarah, and the promise of an heir, is barren. Again the solution appears in the form of Egypt, as we are introduced to Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave. She proves to be fruitful and conceives at once.

1. The book of Genesis shows more than just a passing interest in Hagar’s home country. She is introduced as an Egyptian servant (16.1). Her ethnic origin is emphasized in 16.3. When she runs from Sarai, the Angel of the Lord finds her on the way to Shur, which borders Egypt. When she shows up again in chapter 21, she is reintroduced as Hagar the Egyptian (21.9). She is the one who introduces the Egyptian daughter-in-law into the family through choosing a wife for Ishmael (21.21). And, finally, in the listing of Ishmael’s descendants, she is once again called Hagar the Egyptian (25.12). She well represents Egypt in the narrative.

2. We notice that common element. In each of these occurrences we see contrasted the apparent fruitfulness of Egypt with the apparent barrenness of God’s promise to provide. Egypt is presented to Abraham as a solution to his physical problem. Abraham is given the Egyptian option in the place of trusting in God’s promises.

III. Consequences of Choosing the Egyptian Option – In each case, however, choosing the fertility of Egypt over faithfulness to the promise leads to disastrous consequences.

A. The first choosing of Egypt results in nearly losing Sarai into Pharaoh’s harem. It would appear that if God does not intervene, Abram may have never gotten her back. It is indeed probable that their lie about Sarai being his wife forced her into adultery.

B. Lot’s choice of the land that had the appeal of ‘Egypt’ had enormous negative consequences for him and his family. He was carried away as a captive in chapter 14, and had to be rescued by God from the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah in chapter 19. We could also surmise about the ill effects on his family from having lived among the evil of the cities, and being vexed by their immorality. Nathan Ward writes… “But perhaps the most important effect of this choice is his rejection from the Messianic line.”

C. Finally, the results of Abraham’s choice to go along with Sarai’s plan to use Hagar to continue the family line had long lasting detrimental impact.

• Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is a continuing problem for Abraham and Sarah; causes strife between them.

• his descendants were a continual thorn in Israel’s flesh;

• what’s more, it is a portion of his descendants who are a thorn in the side of Jews and Christians to this day.

1. “The Egyptian option, while apparently attractive, always leads to disaster in the long run.”

IV. Making Some Applications: There are some important applications to be drawn from this connection.

A. For Abraham: As we viewed this morning, it was necessary for Hagar and Ishmael to be driven away from Abraham and Sarah in chapter 21. Not just for the protection of the inheritance, but as a platform for the validating of Abraham’s faith in the promises of God. Ishmael represents a backup, a reserve to the child of promise.

1. Isaac was a mere babe at this point, and infant mortality rates were high. What if Isaac dies? Perhaps Abraham comforted himself with the thought that if anything happened to Isaac, there would still be Ishmael. He had already suggested to God that Ishmael would suffice as his heir. (17.18). In chapter 21, the son of Hagar the Egyptian is a strong, healthy lad; a built-in ‘Egyptian option,’ should anything happen to the child of promise.

a. God supports Sarah in her plan to send Hagar away, because Abraham must turn his back on the Egyptian option once and for all, and place his faith in the promise that it is “in Isaac that your seed shall be called’ (21.12). Abraham must burn all bridges behind him, choosing the apparent weakness of the promise over the apparent strength of Egypt.

• Nathan Ward writes… It is a necessary preliminary step before the ultimate test of chapter 22, when he is called upon to offer up the child of promise as a sacrifice. Only when the Egyptian option has been abandoned can his faith genuinely be tested to the limit.

B. For Isaac and Jacob: Both Isaac and Jacob are tempted to follow his Abraham’s footsteps – in both the good and bad. In Gen 26 Isaac desires to flee to Egypt during a famine. God, however forbade his journey, emphasizing that he must stay in the land of promise (26.2-3). Later Jacob seems to have learned the lesson and refuses to rely upon the promise of abundance in the land of Egypt. Although he seeks food from the Egyptian storehouses, he will not take his family there to sojourn until he seeks God’s counsel and is directed by God to make that journey—and is assured that God will be traveling with him (46.3-4).

C. For the Israelites: The lesson of the dangerous Egyptian Option was a needed one to a generation who have recently left Egypt and are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. In the wilderness, they quickly grew tired of manna and wanted to return to the more eclectic diet of Egypt (Num 11.5¬6, 18-20). Their first response when the spies returned with a bad report was a call for return to Egypt (Num 14.3). And when there was no water to drink, they again expressed their preference for Egypt (Num. 20.5; 21.5). “To such people, in the face of the difficulties experienced in possessing the land of promise, the apparent prosperity of Egypt must have been a magnet.”” Moses’ generation—the people to whom Genesis was written—certainly needed to learn the lesson of not looking to Egypt.”The clear message was that God’s people were to remain in the land of promise no matter what the impediments. This principle is neatly summed up in the dictum of Deuteronomy 17.16: ‘You shall never return that way again.”‘

1. And this wasn’t the last generation for whom this was true. In the prophets, the Israelites are warned time and again not to rely on the strength of Egypt.

D. For Us: Certainly, there is application for us in this as well, although our Egyptian option isn’t a physical one. Egypt represents security and stability: those things that look good when following God appears fruitless. Surely Satan hasn’t forgotten the art of making things of the world appear more promising than God’s promises.

1. Perhaps that is exactly why Jesus preached so much about the cost of discipleship. Luke 14:26-27 – “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. … v. 33 – So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

Conclusion: There can be nothing that divides our loyalties, whether money, possessions, social standing, or family. There can be nothing that represents another viable option. We must burn all of our bridges behind us and come to Christ without reservation—for to come partially is not to come at all. Only when our Egyptian options have been eliminated can our faith be tried, proven, and found true. The way of Egypt always leads to disaster. But the promises of God lead home.