After Abram’s compromise of building an altar between Bethel (house of God) and Ai (heap of ruins), Abram went through many trials that changed him and caused him to rely more completely on the Lord.
10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.Genesis 12:10
While Abram was considering Ai to be a good supply for his worldly needs, he did not realize it would lead him to a great famine due to the fact that the element of Bethel was too weak. God’s presence became not as vivid or clear. When the Lord is very clear with you, there is no famine. When the Lord is not that clear, you say, “I don’t know where the Lord is. I don’t know how to find His presence. I don’t know how to follow Him.” It’s at this place, you begin to realize, “Wow. Life.” That’s when you try to go to Egypt because you experience famine.
At Shechem we feel, “Hallelujah, I have strength! I can minister! I can go on!” Then, God would say, “Now, come to Me and to what I desire to build.” At this point, you want to be for the Lord, but you have a real concern. “Who will care for my wife? Who will care for my kids?” You still feel that you need to get a life-supply from Ai, so you build your altar right in-between. We love the Lord, and we want to be fully for God’s house. But we are concerned. “How about the supply?” You may be clear: “I am for God’s house…Yet, I cannot help but build my altar in-between.” Abraham could not say, “I fully trust in the supply from the Lord.” He needed the supply from the world, so God brought him fully into the world—Egypt. Similarly, if we tell the Lord, “Lord, I want to be for Your house, BUT this… BUT that…” then we will have to go through many roundabout ways. We will need to go down to Egypt to first pass through God’s governmental dealing and then be brought back.
11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.” 14 So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. 15 The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels.Genesis 12:11-16
Abram was smart to tell his wife that the Egyptians would kill him, but when you love the world, you lose your wisdom. Your whole focus becomes different. You don’t have simplicity, buoyancy, or restfulness before the Lord. It’s easy for you to consider like Abram: “They will kill me. Please, tell others you are my sister. It’s too hard.” Even when you think about it, you have tears. But when you love Ai, you end up like Ai. You end up in Egypt and that will be your life. Abram must have had lots of regrets. “Why, why? Why didn’t I just build an altar by Bethel? Why did I still look at Ai and bring in this famine?” Abram would tell you, “I only made one mistake: though I love the Lord and love the church, for some reason, I still look at Ai and love the world. I didn’t realize the end result would be that serious.” Can we tell the Lord, “Lord, please get us out of Ai. Bring us just to Bethel, only loving You.”
17 But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.” 20 So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.Genesis 12:17-20
The story of Abram selling his wife shows how gutless the father of faith was. It’s pretty ugly to see a servant of the Lord exposed like that. The experience branded Abram, forever reminding him that he can never tell anyone he trusts God, never tell anyone he has faith. All the gifts Abram received from Pharaoh became for him symbols of shame, nothing to boast about. However, all this was necessary for Abram’s continuation in the Lord.
Even worse than selling his wife, Abram kept the gifts Pharaoh gave to him! Yet even in all the shamefulness of Abram keeping the gifts, God was involved. Formerly, Abram was able to abide between Bethel and Ai, where he can serve the Lord while receiving the world’s supply; however, even though he came back to the same place and has the exact same experience, he was different. His soul, view, and understanding were all different. They had been changed by God’s governmental hand in his experience of selling Sarai.
– Compiled from message notes on Titus Chu’s speaking
In the same way, we may compromise with the Lord and end up in our own “Egypt,” filled with guilt and shame. We may feel like we are not worthy of the Lord’s love and not worthy of following Him. Yet in our failures, the Lord would come to us and say, “I know you.” Your mistakes? “I know.” Your regrets? “I know.” Your limitations? “I know.” It is often in our weaknesses and in our seemingly greatest failures where the Lord can really do His work. After coming out of Egypt, Abram was changed. In the same way, the Lord’s governmental hand will bring us through hardships so that we can draw closer to Him.