Abraham’s Greatest Mistake

Genesis 12:10-20

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2015

All of us have made mistakes in our life.  There are some things that we would do differently of we could do them over again.   The second part of this chapter tells us the biggest mistake in Abraham’s life.   What Abraham does in this chapter is shocking.  The pagan Egyptian king looks better in this chapter than Abraham does.  He has more integrity than Abraham does.

Instead of Abraham rebuking a pagan king for sin, a pagan king has to rebuke Abraham for sin.  That is a sure sign that you are out of the will of God when you have such a terrible testimony that the unsaved have to correct you and tell you to stop telling lies.

We are the ones who are supposed to be the light of the world and shine God’s light in a dark world.  Abraham’s reputation suffers a big blow in this chapter.  Abraham had to leave Egypt in disgrace.  He was deported.  Pharaoh could have killed Abraham.  Instead he just deported him.  Armed guards escort him out of the country.  That must have been embarrassing.

What Abraham does is shocking and what God does in this chapter is even more shocking. We learn some things about God in this chapter and we learn some things about man.  What do we learn about God?  We learn that God is faithful, even when man is unfaithful.  He keeps His promises, even when Abraham blew it and did some really stupid things.

God still fulfilled the Abrahamic Covenant.  He cursed those who cursed Abraham and blessed those who blessed Abraham.  He could have taken back all of the promises He made to Abraham and sent him back to Ur but He did not do that.  God is bigger than any mistake we make.

It is also tells us something about people.  It teaches we are all sinners. After we become believers, we do not stop sinning.  In fact, the Bible says that if we claim to be sinless, we are liars (I John 1:8).  Even godly, mature Christians are sinners and have weaknesses, faults and flaws.  You have them.  I have them.  Pastor Brian has them.

People in the Bible had them. Noah walked with God and was a preacher of righteousness.  On one occasion, he was also drunk and naked.  The same thing is true of Abraham.  Abraham was a great man of faith.  He is called the friend of God in the Bible.  He is the father of all who believe but Abraham was not perfect.  He had some flaws.  This chapter shows us his faith but it also shows us his flaws.

Abraham does not look good in this chapter.  He does some really stupid stuff.  The Bible does not hide his flaws.  I am glad that there are not any chapters of the Bible written about my flaws for everyone to read.  He started out great.  God appeared to Abraham.  He spoke to Abraham.

He made a covenant with Abraham and gave him a command.  He called him to leave everything he knew in Ur and travel to a place he had never been before hundreds of miles away.  Abraham did the right thing. Abraham obeyed.  He makes the long journey to the Land of Canaan, sets up camp there.

“So Abram departed AS THE LORD HAD INSTRUCTED HIM, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh” (12:4-6 NLT).

God rewarded his obedience.  He appeared to him a second time in Canaan (12:7).  He appeared to him in Ur and now he appears to him in Canaan.  Abraham responded with worship.  He builds an altar there to God (12:8).  It is the first of five altars that Abraham builds in his life, as we will see.

Everything is going great.  Abraham is obedient to God.  He is in the will of God.  He is blessed by God but then something happens.  Many start out great in the Christian life but they begin to stumble in their faith.  The same thing happened to Abraham.  In this chapter, he does two boneheaded things.  After finally getting to the Promise Land, he leaves it.  He doesn’t stay in the land long.  When famine comes, he leaves and when he leaves, he lies.

Both actions, as we will see, involved a lack of faith on Abraham’s part. It was a lack of faith to leave the Promise Land and it was a lack of faith to lie about his wife.  Abraham started out in faith.  He took a journey from Ur to Canaan out of faith but he didn’t exercise a lot of faith when he got there.  Abraham trusted God but he didn’t trust him in everything.  Abraham takes two steps backwards.  Let’s look at these two steps and see how it applies to us today.

Abraham’s First Mistake

Genesis 12:10 says, “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

There is a lot of traveling in this chapter.  Abraham makes two long trips. There are two migrations in this chapter.  He makes a trip from Ur to Canaan and then he takes another trip from Canaan to Egypt.  Why does he go to Egypt?  There was a famine in the land and it was not just any ordinary famine, it was a severe famine.  That is what the text says.  This was serious.  There was a drought.  There was little water for the crops.  It was difficult to find food.  Abraham had a problem.  Before we look at how he dealt with the problem.  There are some very important lessons for all of us to see.

Lessons From the Famine 

1. Christians have some of the same problems as non-Christians.

Abraham, experienced a famine and so did everyone else who lived in the Land of Canaan.  We have the same problems other people have.  Christians have medical problems, just like non-Christians.  We have financial problems, like unbelievers.  We have marriage problems, car problems and in-law problems, like everyone else.  We live in a fallen world.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).  He did NOT say, “In this world Christians will NOT have trouble.”  He said that they WILL HAVE trouble.  In this world, you will have some tragedy and pain in your life.  Trouble comes in many different forms.

What is even stranger is that Jesus said, in spite of this trouble, we should take courage and be of good cheer.  It is possible to overcome your problems.  Instead of being depressed by it, we can be happy in the midst of trouble.  Everyone experiences some trouble.  They are inevitable but we can face our problems with a good attitude.

2. Christians have additional problems that non-Christians do not have.

If you follow Christ and live a godly life, we will experience suffering.  “All who live godly in Christ will experience persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).  You want to live godly, you will suffer persecution.  You may not have your head chopped off but you be persecuted in some way.  Persecution can take many different forms.  It may just involve ridicule.

3. You can be right in the center of God’s will and experience trials.

Abraham was in the will of God.  He was in the place where God led him, told him to be and said he would bless him.  He was in the Promised Land and there was a famine, a famine in the Promised Land.  Difficulties and problems are not necessarily an indication that we are out of the will of God.  You can experience a severe famine and be right in the center of God’s will.  What is the lesson here?

All believers will have trials of some kind.  You can be right in the will of God and encounter some severe trials.  Many people think that if you are a Christian, you will not have any trials.  Some preachers even teach that.

They teach that you will never experience poverty, difficulty, sickness or suffering if you are in the will of God.  You will just live the victorious Christian life.  The Bible doesn’t teach that.  It teaches the opposite.  As someone pointed out, it was God’s will for John to be exiled, Paul to be jailed and Jesus to be executed. [1]

Abraham had a problem.  How did Abraham solve this problem?  What did he do?  He went to Egypt.  Food was plentiful in Egypt.  There was no famine there.  He didn’t plan to stay there forever, just until the famine was over.  It was a temporary solution to the problem.  “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there FOR A WHILE because the famine was severe” (12:10 NLT).  It seemed to make sense.  What was the problem?

He had a problem but he did not trust that God could take care of him in his problem.  He didn’t think that God could provide for him.  He thought that God had forgotten him.  “I know God told me to go here and promised to bless me but my needs are not being met here, so I will go somewhere else just temporarily.”  He turned to the world to meet his need instead of God.

He also does not ask God what he should do in this situation.  Her does not go to God for help.  He went to Egypt instead.  There is no prayer.  He took matters into his own hands.  This was the first of many times in Genesis where Abraham does this.  Every time he does this, it only backfires.  He thought when he went to Egypt things would be better but it didn’t work.

It solved one of his problems.  He didn’t have a famine in Egypt. That problem was solved but then he had another problem.  C.H, Mackintosh wrote, “It is better to starve in Canaan, if it should so be, than to live in luxury in Egypt.  It is better to suffer in God’s path than to be at ease in Satan’s”[2]

This trip to Egypt helped Abraham financially.  He suffered financially from the famine and he went to Egypt to got rich.  Pharaoh gave him a lot of stuff. Genesis 12:16 says: “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.”   Abraham benefited economically but there was a curse on all of these gifts.

In the very next chapter, a dispute breaks out over cattle.  They had too many possessions and it caused tension between Abraham and Lot.  One of the slaves that Pharaoh gave Abraham was Hagar.  Abraham has an affair with this slave later on in Genesis.  Had Abram trusted God, there would have been no Ishmael.  It would have been better to have the blessing of God than the blessing of Pharaoh.

Going to Egypt solved one problem but created a greater problem.  He had a physical famine in Canaan but he had a spiritual famine in Egypt.  He got food but lost his wife.  She married the Egyptian Pharaoh.  When he got into Egypt, he got in trouble.

Abraham should have asked God how to deal with the famine and what He wanted him to do.  Isaiah 31:1-2 says, “What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,” says the Lord. “You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit, thus piling up your sins. For WITHOUT CONSULTING ME, you have gone down to Egypt FOR HELP. You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection. You have tried to hide in his shade” (NLT).  That is exactly what Abraham did.  He went to Egypt for help without consulting God first.

Trials should lead us to prayer.  When we encounter a trial or circumstances that we do not understand and that is completely beyond our control, it should cause us to fall on our knees.  When we face something that we have no idea why God allows in our life, our reaction should be prayer.  That was Abraham’s first mistake.  When he arrives in Egypt, we see his second mistake.

Abraham’s Second Mistake 

His second mistake was to lie about his marital status and to lie about Sarah’s true identity.  His problem was deception and this problem got him in big trouble.  Noah had a problem with alcohol.  Abraham did not have a problem alcohol.  He did not have a problem with anger or lust.  He did not have a problem with greed.  He had a problem with dishonesty.  Abraham had a problem telling the truth and he wasn’t even a politician or a lawyer. Why did Abraham do this?  What was his motive?  He did it for two reasons.

One, his wife was extremely beautiful. This was a beauty to kill for.  Genesis 12:11-13 says, “As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai,I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.

She was sixty-five and beautiful.  That seems a little strange to us.  She was not just beautiful to Abraham.  Husbands are supposed to think that.  She was beautiful to the Egyptians (12:15).  People lived twice as long then as they do today.  Someone who was sixty-five then would be about thirty-five today.

Two, he was afraid.  He was not acting in faith.  He was acting in fear.  Instead of fearing God, he feared man, because he had this trophy wife.  If his wife was ugly, he would not have had this problem.  Because his wife was so hot, he was afraid of being killed and apparently his fear was based in fact because the Pharaoh said because of what he did his life would be spared (12:13).

Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety” (NLT). Abraham operated on the ends justifies the means philosophy.  If some good came out of lying, he was willing to do it.  He believed in situation ethics.  Morality is based on the situation, not based on moral absolutes.

What Abraham did here was not just a little white lie.  It wasn’t harmless.  It not only affected him, it affected his wife.  Abraham not only lied, he got his wife to lie for him.  He told Sarah that “when the Egyptians ask if you are my wife, just tell them that you are my sister” (12:12-13).  She does it.  She is obedience to her husband.

Was she right to do this?  No.  Biblical submission does not mean that a wife should follow her husband into sin.  Abraham causes his wife to be a liar.  In fact, he causes her to be an adulterer.  Sarah became abducted into Pharaoh’s harem.  She became one of his concubines and most likely was sexually assaulted.  Pharaoh says that he took her to be his wife (12:19).

Think about what Abraham did here.  It was a selfish and cowardly act on Abraham’s part.  He protected himself but let his wife get abducted into Pharaoh’s harem.  If Abraham was a real man, he would have sacrificed himself to save his wife.  Instead, he sacrifices his wife to save himself.  What kind of a husband would do this?  Abraham did it, not only once but twice.

Abraham’s character flaws not only hurt himself and his wife.  They eventually hurt his kids.  He did not have any kids at this point.  This behavior was not something that Abraham did one time.  He does it again in Genesis 20.  His son Isaac does the same thing in Genesis 26.  He follows his dad’s poor example.

Abraham’s lie hurt others outside his family.  The minute Sarah went to Pharaoh’s house, everyone in the house got sick.  God sent a plague on them but Sarah didn’t get sick.  Pharaoh’s whole house suffered because of Abraham’s lie.  Abraham was supposed to bring blessing to everyone.  Instead, he brought a curse to Pharaoh’s whole household.  Abraham was causing the Pharaoh to commit adultery.  it was a sin of ignorance but it was still a sin in God’s eyes.

It did not just affect Pharaoh.  It actually put the whole Abrahamic Covenant and all of God’s promises in jeopardy.  The Messiah was to come through Abraham and Sarah.  If Sarah married the Pharaoh, God’s plan is thwarted.  We would have to cancel Christmas and Easter.  Abraham’s lie was very serious.  That is why God supernaturally intervened in the situation.

Did Abraham Really Lie?

Abraham did not tell a bold faced-lie.  He did not tell a big lie but a little white lie.  It was actually a half-truth.  Abraham did not say, “I am not married”.  He did not say, “She is not my wife”.  That would be a big lie.

He just said, “She is my sister” which was true.  It seems strange to us today but was more acceptable in Abraham’s day than it is in our day.  You say even that was not completely true.  Sarah was only his half-sister.  That is true but the Bible does the same thing.  It calls Jesus brothers his brothers, even though they were only half-brothers.  Abraham told the truth.

He just did not tell the whole truth.  The problem was not what he said but what he did not say.  The problem was his motive.  His motive was to deceive.  That was his intent.  This little white lie got him into big trouble.  That is something that believers should not be involved in.  Deception is Satan’s job.  The Bible says that he deceived Eve (Genesis 3:13).  He deceives the nations (Revelation 20:8) and he deceives the world (Revelation 12:9).   The question is this: Are we like Abraham?  Do we have a similar problem with dishonesty?

Deceit is when we deceive someone by misrepresenting the truth.  The Bible has a lot to say about this topic.  The unsaved are “full of deceit” (Romans 1:29).  It comes out of a sinful heart (Mark 7:21-23).  The Bible commands believers NOT to use deceit.  Proverbs 24:28 says, “Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips” (ESV).

Psalm 34:13 says, “Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit” (NASB).  The NET Bible reads, “Then make sure you don’t speak evil words or use deceptive speech!”  The question is, Are you like Abraham?  Do you have a problem with honesty and telling the truth?  Psalm 32:2 says, “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit” (NIV).  We need to be like Jesus.  No deceit was in his mouth (Isaiah 53:9). Christians should have a reputation for honesty (Revelation 14:5).


[1] https://www.kevinathompson.com/dangerous-assumption-gods-will/

[2] C.H. Macintosh, Notes on the Pentateuch, 64-65.

12 Responses to Abraham’s Greatest Mistake

  1. Michael J OConnor says:

    Excellent study… Abraham was a descendant of Eve and therefore a candidate to be the Serpent Crusher. He believed God and therefore was justified and saved. He also had a forward looking faith in that he acknowledged that God’s promise for a physical land would have a larger, more eternal significance. Hebrews 11: 8-10. In addition he also knew that the promise of a son would also be larger than just Isaac. God would provide: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Jesus said. However, his failures and his death cause the reader to keep looking for the coming of the Messiah.

  2. Aaron Chapla says:

    Dear brother, your explanation seems logical and yes indeed Abraham had his share of mistakes. However, God did not find a fault with him? at the end, Abraham had to pray to get the pagan king and his family. Even in the new testament, we find and learn about Abrahams faith walk than his mistakes.

    • admin says:

      The NT does highlight Abraham’s faith but this does not mean that Abraham was sinless. We can learn from the good decisions he made, as well as from the ones which were not so good.

  3. Ken says:

    Thank you so much for this objective, in-depth study!

    I take great encouragement from this article because I’ve always seen Abraham as the great father of faith, (which he is of course), and how difficult a standard to follow. However, looking at Abraham’s humanity and weaknesses, it’s possible to see just how patient, loving and longsuffering God is. How much more this same love and patience applies to us under the New Covenant with Jesus as our High Priest to encourage our faith!

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your kind words of encouragement. Your observation is spot-on. May God bless you as you continue to read and study His inerrant Word.

  4. Liz cooper says:

    This was very helpful, thank you

  5. Ravi says:

    Sarah might not be sexually assaulted as GOD might made pharaoh impotent(God sent plague),it will be disgrace to Sarah to say she was sexually assaulted without proper proof,except for this everything is beautifully bought out

  6. Tenghong Nji says:

    I love This Message. It Is so Amazing. Thanks Very Much.

  7. ALOIS ONYANGO says:

    Thanks for the great biblical interpretation and application. My concern is that going to Egypt was not Abraham’s first mistake. His first mistake was to delay from departing from Haran. Acts 7:2-4. His second mistakes was to depart from Haran with Lot. Genesis 12:1-5. Genesis 12:4, Abram was to leave Lot behind since he was part of His father’s house. (Genesis 12:1). Though bible is silent on this, how much of an influence did Lot have on Abram going to Egypt during the famine? When you have unnecessary baggage they always will tempt you more. i.e. Lot must have been complaining more about the famine and wishing for Egypt.

  8. Lisa Garcia says:

    Love this! It shows how God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. God used Abrahma’s whole life to use him regardless of the mistakes he made along the way. We all fall short of Gods glorious standards. None of us are perfect but we too can be used by God in amazing ways as we hold on to the same promise he made to Abraham, as we are from that same seed! Glory be to God!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *