A Biblical Worldview: From Fear to Faith
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2011, as part of their "A Biblical Worldview" series. Click here to download it.
We're currently in a series on Biblical worldview, and will be looking at Genesis to establish a Biblical worldview on issues including:
- Blessings and Curses
- Marriage and Family
- Individual and Community
- Honour Guilt Shame Anxiety etc
Worldview is the deepest level of culture, it's our deepest beliefs about life. If you haven't already, do listen and catch up with the first part in the series, A Biblical Worldview: Culture & Worldview.
Genesis had been written by Moses, bringing together all the old stories of their people in order to bring a correct worldview to the people in the wilderness having come out of Egypt – affected by Egyptian worldview (hence golden calf) to prepare them for the land.
God had started his plan towards putting the world right, blessing all the nations of the earth. He had done so by calling Abram, who was from a pagan city, called Ur, where they worshipped the moon as a god and had many other ungodly cultural practices (which today all cultures have to some extent). God had said to him that all nations will be blessed through Abram and his descendants – but Abram and Sarah, his wife, had no children. Abraham had been told to come to the land of Canaan and that one day his descendants would be given that land.
As often happened there was a famine. Abraham decided (without asking God) to go to Egypt where there was usually plenty during famines. Abraham was afraid, for his wife Sarah was very beautiful, that the Egyptians might kill him for his wife. Say you are my sister. Then he would be treated well – it probably meant that as a brother he could promise Sarah but spend a long time allowing her to marry (like Laban).
News of this beautiful woman reached Pharaoh – he couldn’t be argued with or delayed. She was taken into the harem at his palace – whether she actually slept with him is not told us. Abram received a very generous dowry for his sister. God brought diseases on Pharaoh and household – how they know why, we are not told. Pharaoh summoned Abraham – "why did you do this?" – he gave Sarah back, did not kill Abraham and let him leave with the dowry. A superstitious people – fear of power, or fear of God – seemingly they had some idea that there was one true God. Also a picture for those to whom Moses was writing. They had come out of Egypt with great possessions too.
It was 24 years later. Abraham and Sarah had still not had their promised child, but had been promised that a year later they would have a child. However he had moved (in his nomadic lifestyle) to Gerar and again said that Sarah was his sister. In fear of the Philistines of that place. The king, Abimelech, therefore took her as his wife. We might (carefully!) ask why, when she was so old (89)? There are several ways of looking at this: in terms of their overall lifespan, the potential that Sarah had been miraculously rejuvenated, or simply that beauty is appreciated differently in different cultures.
God appeared in a dream to Abimelech – God often does that! He tells Abimelech that he will die, as he's taken another man’s wife. Abimelech replied that Abraham had said "she’s my sister", and so he had a clear conscience and clean hands. "Yes", said God, "and I kept you from having sex with her" – how He did that, we don’t know!
"Now give the woman back, he is a prophet and will pray for you so that you and your family won’t die." To our ears that sounds a bit unfair: why was Abraham not punished? Abimelech called his officials together and all were afraid what might happen to them. He said to Abraham – "why?". Abraham said "I sensed no fear of God in this place" (he rushed to judgement wrongly). So he had arranged that she should say that she was his sister. In any case she was his sister – the daughter of his father but not his mother – so he wasn’t really lying. A good example of how you can tell something that is technically true, but still tell a lie!
Abimelech’s own wife became barren as did those of his slave girls. Abraham prayed for them and they could bear children again. This is strange, as Abraham had been praying for his own wife similarly for years. Even though to our eyes he had not done much wrong, Abimelch compensated Abraham with great gifts and said he could live anywhere in the land.
WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM THESE STRANGE STORIES?
Cultural issues involved
Abraham had married his half-sister. What do we make of that – incest? At the same time as Moses was writing this down he was also writing the law of God given to him on the mountain including Leviticus 18:9. “Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere”. God did not approve it.
Abraham married Sarah before his call and followed the customs of his ungodly nation. In some of these nations the idea of sister/wife was highly thought of. Many people live as Christians with the consequences of what happened before they became believers.
Having married Sarah, God holds him to this covenant. The covenant of marriage was taken very seriously in all the cultures referred to here. Egyptian, Philistine etc. The idea of adultery was regarded as a massive shame.
In many Eastern cultures, people marry within their clan or even closer family, as seen later with Isaac and Jacob. In traditional Arabic society a man’s most sought after person as a wife would be their father’s, brother’s daughter.
Shame/honour cultures. Why Abraham’s sin seemed to be regarded as less serious by these kings then their own shame in taking another man’s wife. Western culture is largely law/guilt. We teach grace primarily to law/guilt. We need also to teach it to honour/shame.
“Shame is a social phenomenon. It is equivalent to disgrace or humiliation. It operates as a form of control on behaviour. “What people say” or “What people might say” is a strong constraint on actions.” Bill Musk.
What do we learn from these cultural aspects:
- Marriage is to be honoured. Adultery is a major sin and shame.
- Grace deals with both sin and shame through the cross.
- In the Christian family, marrying within the family is extended to any true believer – so not restricted to tribe, caste, class, or people group. So cross-cultural marriage to be applauded.
Abraham had a recurring weakness/temptation
A man of faith giving way to fear, it's his “Achilles heel”. Each one of us has a significant weakness – do you know what it is? Faith and fear are powerful and opposite motivators, and even the greatest men of faith can be tempted by fear.
God’s grace was at work throughout to fulfil His purposes.
God chose a heathen (even one married to his sister) and gave him promises to save the whole world. Abraham believed that and that was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham is just like us – he's got a background of hopelessness.
Abraham with his weakness towards fear was still the beneficiary of God’s protecting grace. Denying your wife means you don’t deserve God to protect you – yet that is no excuse for it. Abraham was an ongoing failure like us.
The devil was opposed to the birth of the seed to Abraham’s line. If Abimelech had had sex with Sarah, we would not know who’s son Isaac was. This did not excuse Abraham’s failure, but we are not to be unaware of the devil’s schemes.
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. 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.”
When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”
Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”
Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.”
Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.” And Abimelech asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”
Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelech said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”
To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the LORD had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.