By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend,
Chapter 4: Down into Egypt
Famine in the land.
'And there was a famine in the land.' [Gen 12:10] Its one thing to progress when everything is going well, but what happens when the trials come? And come they will. Often they come in unexpected ways. Consider Abraham; his pilgrimage has brought him hundreds of miles. From Ur through to Haran and moving ever onwards, building his altars, calling upon the name of the Lord, and finally God is able to say 'you are here' 'this land'[Gen 12:7]. No longer 'the land that I will show thee', but here it is... and 'this land' will be the inheritance of your seed. Did you ever feel that you had arrived? Be vigilant; these are the times when the trials come.
'there was a famine in the land'. Yes, in the very 'land' that Abraham had spent years traveling to; the very land that God had promised to his ''seed'. Please notice how 'matter of fact' this sentence is; 'And there was a famine in the land: And Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.' [Gen 12:9] It is all so perfectly natural. What else would you do? But it is the step 'into the natural' which is a step 'out of the spirit' and 'into the flesh'. These logical conclusions and common-sense decisions can bring the work of God to a dead halt. Things begun in the Spirit will always be tempted to take the line of the flesh; the ordinary, the human. It is all too easy, when trials come, to 'go down into Egypt'.
Of course, the temptation is always more subtle than a temptation to complete abandonment of the call of God. Notice that little word 'sojourn'. A temptation to re-locate in Egypt would have been too blatant; Abraham would not have fallen for it. But the temptation is to 'sojourn'; just a few days, only a spell, just while we sort out this famine problem. Does the language sound familiar? Karl Marx once said that 'all compromise carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.' This journey 'down into Egypt' was never viewed by Abram as a permanent solution, just a short-term expedient. Beware short-term expedients; they tend to have long term consequences.
The man or woman who God would teach to pray must develop the single eye. To the observer it may seem like 'obsession' but our lives are so easily diffused that God must focus them. Oswald Chambers remarked on this phenomena when he noted the way in which in new converts there is an instinct to cut off everything. Whatever you do, never 'balance' this instinct in the new convert. Let him respond to God in extravagant abandonment. It may be that later God will want to balance things and restore to the musician his guitar or to the artist her brush, but let God do it. Beware of being an 'amateur providence'. Let them learn to hear the voice of God. Years later God would give specific permission for Jacob to go down into Egypt; 'And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said Jacob, and he said, Here am I. And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation. I will go down with thee into Egypt...' [Gen 46:2,3] but Abraham received no such permission nor promise of God's presence for his 'sojourn' in Egypt.
We can gain an insight here into Our Lord's temptation too. He suffered a self-induced famine. He had been specifically 'led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.' [Matt 4:2] Have you ever shortened the sentence to see the stark statement? Let me remove the detail so that you can see the thrust... 'then was Jesus led... of the Spirit... to be tempted by the devil'. He was specifically led by the Spirit into a context where he could be tested by the devil. Perhaps there is another clue here; the word 'devil' literally means 'slanderer'. Ah, that is so often where the temptation to the short-term compromise comes in. A voice whispers in our minds which slanders the character of God; 'He has left you to your own devices. You must make your own 'bread'. How about a short trip 'down to Egypt'? 'Why not use your own God-given powers to make decisions? Why remain 'hungry' here in the place where God led you?' or as we have in Matthew 'If thou be the Son of God, command these stones be made bread' [Matt 4:3] The Lord's answer is a famous quotation from Deuteronomy 'It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' He will continue to depend upon God.
It is instructive to see what is happening here and to contrast it with Abraham. Abraham was hungry; Our Lord was hungry. Abraham was hungry because God had led him to a place where he could be tested; Our Lord was hungry for the same reasons. Hunger is a legitimate need; there is no sin in hunger. It is the way God has made us; there is no shame in hunger. But the Spirit led Our Lord to a place in His experience where He must choose between satisfying His legitimate, God-given hunger on the one hand and stepping out of the will of God on the other hand; Jesus chose to remain hungry; Abraham chose to go 'down into Egypt'..
In subtle ways we have become weakened with the idea that being in the will of God means that we can measure our success; converts, blessings, comfort, peace. We instinctively feel that things are wrong when they are difficult. This is the nature of the test for the Spirit-led sons (whether male or female) of God. When I am in difficulty as a direct result of obeying the voice of God and a way 'down into Egypt' opens, how will I respond? You will notice that it is always 'down' into Egypt. But what about my legitimate, God-given, hungers for food, for satisfaction, for a life-partner? What is most important to us? our survival or remaining in the conscious will of God? There is a wonderful story told about C.T.Studd, the pioneer missionary to Africa. He had spent several years in Central Africa trusting God for his supplies and refusing to make his needs known to men. He was joined by a young dentist who observed this pattern of life and saw the ebb and flow of necessary supplies. On one occasion his frustration boiled over and he protested to C.T. Studd. 'It is ridiculous to be like this...' he said '...living from hand to mouth, surely we've got to survive!'. 'Not necessarily...' replied C.T.
Another missionary, Paget Wilkes, once said that a 'perfect character would show, gratitude to God, humility to self, and generosity to others', and he would say 'all three depend upon a deep personal experience of forgiveness.' He meant, of course, that a forgiven man or woman knows they have nothing to be proud about, and that anyone who has known their own heart will not be quick to judge another's. I am reluctant to 'judge' Abraham in this but his journey 'down into Egypt' is too telling to ignore, and these things are recorded in scripture for our benefit; 'now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.'
Life, of course, is much more predictable 'down in Egypt'. The annual inundation of the Nile made it possible to have a very ordered life. You could set your clock by it, or at least your herbs and lentils. We will see the effect of going 'down to Egypt' later in the lives of Abraham and Lot, but let's look ahead to the time of the Exodus when God spoke of the promised land; 'for the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst in with thy foot, as a garden of herbs;' [Deut 11:10]. That is a fascinating description of Egypt. Life utterly predictable. You sow your seed and water it with your foot. You make ready your irrigation channels blocking the ends with small dams of clay. When you need the water you kick out the little dam with your heel and the Nile's water flows into your garden of herbs. Have you seen a garden of herbs? Everything in its nice neat rows, geometric precision with each little shoot waiting for its dependable supply of water.
'But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is as a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven. A land which the LORD thy God careth for; the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year' [Deut 11:11,12]
Abraham, did you not realise that 'the land' that God has promised is not like the land of Egypt? Egypt's water supply is predictable, dependable,safe and utterly earthly. It is entirely suitable for rows of onions and garlic living their neat predictable lives; growing with their heads in the sand and without a heavenly vision. God has a different plan for your life; you are not be reliant upon earthly floods but on a supply that comes from 'the water of the rain of heaven'. Did you not realise that the land that God has prepared for you is not flat, even, plains, but the ups and downs of hills and valleys? And it has something much more wonderful than the earth-bound provisions of the Nile flood; God never takes His eyes off it. 'the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it'. [Deut 11:12]
In our walk of faith, God's path will specifically lead us to times of need and times of abundance; hills and valleys. Beware the temptation to take a quick , reasonable, sojourn in Egypt until the difficult times pass. 'Trust in the LORD with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.' [Prov 3:5,6] Beware the sensible 'sojourn down in Egypt'. Get your head out of the sand; look up, there is a heavenly supply. And don't fear that He has gorwn negligent of your needs; the way that God has prepared for you is constantly under His care.