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.…
I. HERE IS A MYSTERY. "The famine was grievous in the land" — so it begins. And yet Abraham was in the land to which God had called him, and where God had promised to bless him. What does it mean — "the famine was grievous in the land"? That it should be counted a mystery shows how blind we are, and how shallow and selfish are our thoughts of God's holy religion. Hardship, difficulty, even famine is accepted readily enough by many men whose aims are to be reached by such endurance. The athlete in his training, the soldier in his calling, the man of science in his search for truth, the student in his work, all accept such sturdy self-denial as the condition of success. What science, and art, and love of travel can stimulate other men to endure, cannot our holy religion and the vision of God inspire us to accept and rejoice in? Or the benefactor sends the boy to sea, forth to wild storms, the boy that his mother screened, and for whom she made endless sacrifices — now amidst this rough set, tossed on angry waves, exposed to dangers on every hand. Shall they not pity him? But what shall they say now, as the surgeon bends in some work of mercy which the angels might envy — brave, skilful, unerring? Or what now, as the captain takes his place, alert and wise, rendering splendid service to a host of people? There was a famine in the land — why? Because God hath forgotten Abraham? No. Because God hath said, "I will bless thee;...and thou shalt be a blessing"; and because here, as everywhere else, hardship and stern discipline have their place and their work to do. God hath spoken it, and He knows full well how to keep His own promise. Think of the captain to whom we should say, "Sir, do you know what to do in a storm?" "No," says the captain, "I do not; I am thankful to say that I have been always kept in the harbour in very smooth water." What think you of a doctor to whom one should say, "Do you know what to do in case of fever, or in a serious accident?" "No," he replies, "I do not; I have happily never been permitted to deal with anything worse than an occasional chilblain, or a sick headache!" I should prefer another captain, another doctor, and should wonder how they got their names. O soul! dost thou know what God can be to one in trouble? "Ah!" thou sayest, "until then I never knew what God was; how tender and gracious, how mighty to uphold, how good to deliver!"
II. HERE IS A GREAT COMPENSATION. "And the Canaanite was then in the land"; "And there was a famine in the land"; "And the Lord appeared unto Abram." Did visions of a goodly land "flowing with milk and honey" fill the mind of Abraham? a land where annoyance should cease, and life should be a leisurely enjoyment; where everything should fit exactly into one's desires? If so, his was a bitter disappointment. What was the use of parting with a pleasant place like Haran for a land like this? And as for leaving a respectable set of people like our friends there, to live amidst the Canaanites — it was really a great mistake. Even faithful Sarai, thinking of the fertile slopes of Haran and the kindred, might sometimes sigh and say in her heart, "Was it worth while to come so far and to give up so much for this?" If land, and cattle and flocks and gain be all, he has made a bad bargain. But had not the God of Glory appeared to him, saying, "I will bless thee;...thou shalt be a blessing"? It was because God was more to him than flocks and herds that Abraham is here; and because God is more to him than all else he will dwell here still. The sweet promise rang in his soul. That satisfied him and silenced his doubts. If thus God is going to keep His promise, by Canaanite and famine, it is all right. Abraham has not to teach God how to be as good as His word; and with Him he has all things. "And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land; and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him." Lot saw the Canaanite and the famine, and thought it was a poor place. Abraham saw God. O blessed land, thrice blessed, where my God doth appear to me and speak so comfortably! By this everything was settled and determined. Which was counted best and dearest — the gift, or the Giver? God, or the land? Life will always be a mystery and a distraction if God be not ever first and only first. My sure possession is in God. That is the Blessed Life.
III. HERE IS A FALL. "And Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there." Certainly Abraham had no business to be in Egypt. Egypt is ever the type of the world that knows not God, out of which God calls His Son. And the one incident which is recorded of Abraham there, as well as that which is not recorded, makes us feel that he is out of his place. Alas! here there is no room for an altar; and no opportunity for communion with God. Here is wanting the record that Abraham pitched his tent and builded his altar. Here it is not written that Abraham called upon the name of the Lord. He could scarcely be alone! This silence is full of meaning. Abraham without his altar is Abraham shorn of his strength, weak as are others. Learn that many a man loses the blessed life in seeking to better his position. Never was there more need for strong words upon this matter than today, when changes are so easily made, and when unrest is in the very atmosphere. How many go down to Egypt in these times! there is a famine in the country. How many hundreds are there in London of whom it is true! I have known many man in the country, doing comfortably enough by hard work — a very pillar of the Church, the centre of an influence that was felt throughout the place, helpful to the neighbours and rich towards God — a life full of brightness and peace. Then, with the hope of making money, he came to London — a stranger. He found nothing to do in religious service; chiefly, I believe, because he did not look for it. And day after day he sank deeper and deeper in the clay, until he could not get out of it, trying very hard to keep a little religion alive; and that is the hardest thing in the world. Pride and greed and querulousness plagued him, and plagued those about him. Set the verses over against each other: "He builded an altar, and called on the name of the Lord, and there was a famine in the land"; "And Abram had sheep and oxen and he-asses, and men servants and maid servants, and she-asses and camels" — but no altar. Which was better: the famine with his God — the wealth without? Let us learn another lesson: That our safety is only in God. If any position could keep one from falling, Abraham might claim it — he to whom the God of Glory had appeared, to whom were spoken such "exceeding great and precious promises," in whom such sublime purposes awaited fulfilment, a man of such brave and triumphant faith. But that availed him nothing without his God. Our safety lies only in communion with God. No attainment leaves us independent. The old Puritans had a saying that a Christian was like a wine glass without a foot; though it be full it must still be held, or it will speedily be emptied. If our communion with God be disturbed, then is everything imperilled. If circumstances render that impossible, then is all lost. Our God alone is our "Refuge and Strength."
IV. THE RESTORATION. Abram returned unto the altar that he had builded at the first, and called upon the name of the Lord. The man of God makes but a poor worldling. He is spoiled for it. Of all people in Egypt, none is so unhappy as Abraham without his God. So true is it, in all conditions and of all variety of character, "Thou hast made me, O God, for Thyself; and my heart cannot rest until it rest in Thee!"
(M. G. Pearse.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.