Contrary to God’s command, Abram went to Egypt to escape a famine in the Promised Land. Incredibly, though, YHWH blessed Abram in the midst of Abram’s sin, both to protect Abram’s wife Sarai as well as the covenant line that God had promised would come through Abram–not through Pharaoh.
And so, in the two previous posts, we explored how God sends both trials and unmerited favor to his children by grace. Yet, we shouldn’t think that God is the Great Enabler, cleaning up the messes of his children (and even blessing them in the midst of their sin), without ever initiating any kind of course correction in their lives.
In fact, God’s grace has another important manifestation: Fatherly Discipline.
Rebuked for Sin by a Pagan
God called Abram to be a blessing to the nations, and yet to Pharaoh, Abram has become a curse. God did not punish Abram for his shameful sin, but instead God plagued Pharaoh, who was innocent and had no idea that Sarai was Abram’s wife.
However Pharaoh found out that Abram had lied to him (we aren’t told), he is furious as he rebukes Abram:
18So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this that you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had. (Genesis 12:18-20)
Abram, God’s chosen vessel to bless the entire world, rebuked for his sin by a pagan and then escorted out of Egypt by Pharaoh’s men! Abram will not soon forget the sting of this humiliation as a part of God’s fatherly discipline of us.
And, we know that God disciplines us in order to refine sin from our lives. The author of Hebrews writes:
7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
Although we would like to avoid the consequences of our sins altogether, it is God’s grace when our sin is exposed and we are forced to reap what we have sown. Through the shame of our exposed sin, God leaves us with a lasting, painful memory that keeps us from sinning in the future.
This is something I have thought often about in relation to the sins of my youth. So many times, I have wished that I could undo some of the things that I did when I was younger; however, I also know that God has kept me from sinning in worse ways (which would bring even more disastrous consequences) because of the fatherly discipline that God administered through those failures in my life.
This fatherly discipline is God’s grace, not his punishment. God punished Jesus for our sins; with us, he merely disciplines.
Sin’s Enduring Consequences
But sadly, sin often has ongoing, enduring consequences. The fact that Abram was willing to prostitute out his wife for the sake of his own safety created problems in their family further down the line.
Particularly, we learn in Genesis 16 that Sarai “had an Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar” (Gen. 16:1). Sarai, frustrated that she had still not conceived at that point, gave her Egyptian female servant to Abram to bear a child. This practice was not uncommon in the day, and Abram and Sarai may have justified the act by imagining that this would be the only way that they would fulfill God’s promise.
But when Hagar bore Ishmael, Hagar looked on Sarai with contempt, and Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar. Those two feuded, as did their sons, Ishmael and Isaac (the promised offspring eventually born to Sarai). In fact, the offspring of those two men are feuding to this day as the Arabs and the Jews fight over the land of Canaan.
And all this because of an Egyptian female servant who entered Abram’s household most likely as a gift from Pharaoh for Sarai: “And for [Sarai’s] sake [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels” (Gen. 12:16).
Sin has deep consequences–far deeper than we can imagine when we move down sin’s path. Even through those consequences, God is faithful. Indeed, God himself intervened at several poitns to arbitrate the dispute between Sarai and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael.
The better way, of course, is to obey from the beginning. When God sends trials, we ought to pray that God will help us to endure them graciously, trusting that God sends them to us because he loves us.
But if anyone does sin, we must remember that we have an Advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who will plead our case before the Father out of sheer unmerited favor toward us.
May God be merciful through Christ Jesus to sinners like you and me.