Famine in the Land of Promise

Title: Famine in the Land of Promise

Bible Book: Genesis 12

Author: Johnny L. Sanders

Subject: Faith


GENESIS 12:1-13:4 (Key verses: 12:7-10; 13:4)


The Lord God had called Abram while he still lived in Ur of the Chaldees and told him to leave his home and his native country and go to a land He would give Him. In faith, Abram obeyed the Lord. In faith Abram, father of a multitude, became Abraham, father of the faithful.

The Lord entered a covenant relationship with Abraham in which certain specific promises were made: First, He would bless Abraham with innumerable descendants. Second, He would give to Abraham and his heirs the Land of Promise. Third, He would bless Abraham and he would bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him. Fourth, and most importantly, God promised that a seed of Abraham would be a blessing to all nations. That is a specific Messianic Promise. Here, once again we see clearly what W. A. Criswell called the “scarlet thread” which runs through the Old Testament.

Now, I would like for you to consider with me what happened when the father of the faithful had his faith put to the test. I would also like for us to make an application of that lesson to our own experience.


A. God Told Abram to Leave Ur of the Chaldees and Go to a Land of Promise.

1. He obeyed the Lord. He believed he would go to a Promised Land, that his wife Sarah would conceive and bear a son who would be the father of many nations. He believed that one of his descendants, his SEED, would bless all the nations of the world.

2. His nephew Lot joined the caravan. Lot would be a part of the story of Genesis after they arrived in the land. They would separate and settle in different places, but Abraham would have to deliver him one time and the Lord on another occasion.

3. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. Abram means exalted father and Abraham means father of a multitude. It required great faith for him to obey the Lord, because his wife was barren and beyond child bearing age. The Lord changed his wife’s name from Sarai, meaning contentions, to Sarah, which means princess.

4. Abraham was obedient to the Lord because he believed Him. One may believe in a god without believing that god. Many believe God exists without believing Him. Paul, in Romans, tells us that Abraham believed God and it was counted until as righteousness.

5. As Abraham stopped from place to place He built an altar and called on the Lord. Others pitched their tents, but Abraham, the father of the faithful, built an altar and called on the name of the Lord. The picture we have from the Scripture is of a man of deep faith and devotion to the Lord.

“Abram passed through the land to the site of Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your offspring.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.” (Gen 12:6-7, HCSB)

B. When Abraham Arrived in the Land of Promise there Was a Famine in the Land

“From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. He built an altar to Yahweh there, and he called on the name of Yahweh. Then Abram journeyed by stages to the Negev.” (Gen 12:8-9, HCSB)

1. When the father of the faithful arrived at Bethel he built an altar and called on the Lord.

2. As he traveled to the south he found that there was a severe famine in the land, 12:10.

3. He did not build and altar and call on the name of the Lord.

4. He fled to Egypt.

C. He Concocted a Story That Placed Sarah at Risk in Order to Save His Own Neck.

He told Sarah he would tell the Egyptians she was his sister. She was, in fact, his half-sister, so legally he could present her as his sister. No first time reader of this passage, nor even a serious student of the Scripture could be blamed for asking how the father of the faithful could commit such a sin. How could he stop building altars and calling on the name of the Lord and flee to a godless country, and the tell the people there that his wife was his sister?

D. His Lie Discovered, He Was Rebuked and Driven Out of Egypt By the Pharaoh.

The Lord revealed the truth to Pharaoh and he rebuked Abraham, returned Sarah to him, and send him away, with all his possessions. Dr. Bill Cooper, Author of the amazing book, The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis, has opined that this was and international law, recognized by various governments and that is the reason he did not punish Abraham or take his possessions. Pharaoh rebuked him, but respectively asked him to leave Egypt. That is also the reason he permitted Abraham to take his great wealth with him.

E. Abraham Then Returned to the Land of Promise, to the Place of the Altar.

If this had been a pagan who worshiped a false god, do you think the priests and prophets of that so called god would have included this account in their sacred writings? I wonder, but let us fact that fact that many false religions of the world of that day were little more than fertility cults and some may have invented even more shocking behavior and ascribed it their great leader.


A. He Is Acting as Though He Did Not Know the Lord.

How could he do such a thing? Where is his faith, the faith that led him to leave family, friends, and country and commit his life, his future, and his wealth to a land he had never seen? How could he possibly be called the father of the faithful when he behaved so faithlessly? How could Abraham, of all people, behave so shamelessly toward his wife? How could he put her in such a position to save his own neck? This is shocking! How can we answer all those questions? The answers is found in the Scripture - and it is something we all should understand.

B. There Was a Famine in the Land, (12:10).

1. No one expects to find a famine in the Land of Promise. Famines were common, and no doubt Abraham had seen some and had heard a lot more about the devastating effects of a famine. He had a large caravan to think of, as well as tremendous herds of sheep, cattle, goats, and camels. He was a man of great wealth and he could lose everything if the famine persisted. In response to the famine, Abraham made two mistakes.

2. When he found a famine in the land he did not build an altar. Look at the story. From the written account, it seems that wherever Abraham had stopped for any period of time he built an altar and called on the name of the Lord. He had faced the unknown without his faith wavering in any way of which we are aware. He had faced all sorts of obstacles, risked everything as he traveled through regions where he might have been vulnerable, to raids by those who would have killed everyone in his caravan for the great wealth Abraham possessed.

He had trusted the Lord all the way. So, why doubt Him now? The answer, again, is that he never expected to find a famine in the Land of Promise. Anywhere else, but never in the Land of Promise.

3. His faith faltering, he ceased building altars and fled to Egypt. I once heard the late Adrian Rogers make the statement, “The faith that falters before the finish was faulty from the first.”
I don’t know that Adrian Rogers would have made that statement in reference to Abraham, the father of the faithful, but let me stress two things here. First, no one, including Abraham, but excepting Jesus, has ever been perfect. Second, the Lord has used imperfect people to accomplish His purpose. David is a good example of that.

C. God Intervened to Bring Abraham Back to the Land of Promise.

When Abraham committed himself to the land of Egypt he submitted himself to the authority of Pharaoh. He was at Pharaoh’s mercy. He was not where he should have been. Worse, he was where he should never have been - in the control of, and at the mercy of someone other than God. If he could not protect his wife from Pharaoh, he could not protect his property. He could not come and go without the permission of Pharaoh.

God had to act to deliver His servant from Egypt. Five hundred years later the Lord, by His mighty hand, would deliver Abraham’s descendants from that same land, a land of slavery and death. That was no place for people who were supposed to be in the Land of Promise.

Let us remind ourselves that even though Abraham had risked everything he had when he fled to Egypt, he was never beyond the reach and providence of God. The Lord laid out the future for Abraham far better than Abraham could read the present or recall the past.

“Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. (14) However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. (15) But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. (16) In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:13-16).

D. Abraham, Now Free of Egypt, Returned to the Place of the Altar.

While this Scripture is not open to a lot of different interpretations, it is exciting to think of some of the applications we can make in our own lives. How many times have we prayed before going to sleep at night, or the first thing in the morning, only to discover that we have failed miserably before the day was over? That is the reason John was inspired to write, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:9-10)


A. It Pays to Expect A Famine, Even What You See as a Land of Promise.

1. Think of the child who can hardly wait until he becomes a teenager, never dreaming that some day he will be dealing with temptations of which he had never dreamed. Those temptations will include alcohol, drugs, violence, sex, image problems. Famine in the land of promise!

2. Think of the young person who looks to the world as his land of promise. We have all observed a high school senior who thought graduation would open the door to a land of promise, never thinking of the pressures or temptations he or she is about to encounter. Famine in the land of promise!

3. A young couple in love are so excited about their wedding they cannot imagine what is going to happen when all the bills begin to arrive in the mail. They invest time, energy, and often more money than they can afford in the wedding without preparing for the marriage that follows. Famine in the land of promise!

4. A college senior can hardly wait to graduate and get married or enter the job market. They are looking for a land of promise, never realizing some of the problems he or she will have to face when his position is terminated - just after he or she gets married and buys a car and a house. Famine in the land of promise!

5. Young couples today are building house and buying cars they can hardly afford. They never dream that there may be a divorce, or bankruptcy just ahead of them. Famine in the land of promise!

6. Many see the new promotion as an opportunity to live a life of luxury, comfort and security. They may never giving a thought to the health problem that may radically change their circumstances. Famine in the land of promise!

7. Salvation is certainly like entering into a land of promise. And so it is, but few are prepared for the shock awaiting them when they discover that some of those people who shake hands with them when they make their profession of faith are living lives that will soon put their faith to the test. The most negative, disagreeable, cantankerous, obnoxious, and offensive people some young people will ever meet will be church members. Famine in the land of promise!

It is almost more than one’s faith can stand when they enter what they consider their land of promise only to discover that there is a famine in the land. Millions of Americans were planing their retirement with a great deal of excitement. And then came the down turn in the economy and retirement accounts suffered severe losses. After working and saving for 40 - 45 years, many people have seen their life savings cut in half withing a few days, weeks, or months. Promises of recovery have been overly optimistic. Famine in the land of promise!

B. How Your Respond Is Critical.

1. You may pitch your tent and never recognize your land of promise. That is the unfortunate course some take. Some pitch their tent and try to deny the problems surrounding them, and many do that until it is too late for them to do anything about their circumstances.

2. You may flee to Egypt, running from God and running straight to the bondage of sin.

a. Some escape into alcoholism.
b. Some escape into drugs.
c. For others it is immorality (adultery, homosexuality, pornography, lust).
d. Others fleeing from God find themselves in an Egyptian bondage to doubt, anxiety,
worry, fear, cynicism, criticism, and agnosticism.

3. You may build an altar and call on the Lord.

In Psalm 86:1-7, we are encouraged to:

“Bow down Your ear, O LORD, hear me; For I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am holy; You are my God; Save Your servant who trusts in You! Be merciful to me, O Lord, For I cry to You all day long. Rejoice the soul of Your servant, For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; And attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon You, For You will answer me.”


Possible right now you are wrestling with some famine in your life - it may be at home, on the job, a health problem, a temptation, or some sin. You may be relieved that no one knows about it. But you know God knows. He knows that when famine came to your land of promise you fled to Egypt - or you are tempted to do so right now. Instead of fleeing to Egypt, will you not build an altar in the land of promise and call on the name of the Lord? In the day of your trouble you can call upon Him and he will answer you - from His altar.

There is an appeal to every lost person who hears this message. If you have not received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are in Egypt right now - that is, you are in bondage to sin and to Satan. Only God can deliver you. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and he will deliver you. Trust Him and obey Him. He will save you and He will bless you. I know this for a fact, and there are many other believers who will testify to that fact.


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