Heroes Don’t Come in Perfect Versions
Our pastor has been preaching through Genesis lately, which has prompted me to reflect more on heroes.
In particular, I was struck by a sermon on Genesis 12:10-20 and the escapades of Abraham.
As the father of Ishmael and Isaac, Abraham occupies a special place in three of the world’s major religions.
So, one would expect him to occupy special saintly status in the annals of history.
Instead, Abraham comes off looking like somewhat of a bumbler. Our hero engages in cowardice, deceit, and the kind of behavior that would get a similar figure “run out of town on a rail” in modern life.
Lack of Perfection
Abraham’s mistakes are quite remarkable, considering his response to God’s direction.
Not only did he pack up and move at the age of 75, when famine struck the land he moved again, to Egypt.
But that’s where the details turn sketchy.
Turning to his own devices, Abraham fears Pharaoh’s men will wipe him out while adding his wife, Sarah, to the ruler’s harem. So he tells Sarah to masquerade as his sister.
The story is a classic half-truth: Sarah is his half-sister, but also his wife (and that distinction is another story for another time).
I like the one way Bible commentator rephrases Abraham’s instruction (found in verses 11-12): “Honey, you are a real beauty. Would you mind too terribly if I told these folks that you are my sister instead of my wife? It will save my skin!”
Those familiar with Scripture know the rest of the story: Pharaoh finds out the whole truth and sends Abraham and his entourage packing.
As the commentary author put it:
“Had not been for the fact that God rained misfortune on Pharaoh because of Sarah, and then revealed to Pharaoh in a dream that Sarah was the cause of it, Sarah may have become ‘the Queen of the Nile’ instead of a biblical heroine.
“I wonder if Abraham was Sarah’s hero after this episode?”
Repeating the Mistake
Okay, maybe we can forgive Abraham for this falter.
After all, who knows how any of us would have acted in the face of potential disaster involving one of the most powerful men in the ancient world?
Well, you could think so unless considering another passage we came across while later discussing this sermon.
In Genesis 20:1-7, Abraham is on the move again, to the Negev, a desert region in southern Israel. After settling in Gerar, he encounters the king.
As if his experience in Egypt hasn’t taught him a thing, Abraham repeats the lie about Sarah: “She is my sister” (v. 2).
So the king grabs Sarah, only to be stopped by God in a dream, warning Abimelek he’s a dead man if he lays a hand on her.
Naturally, Abimelech protests: “Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister?’ (v. 5).
Things end well, since God acknowledged Abimelech had indeed been deceived.
Two things worth noting here
- Sarah was complicit in Abraham’s deceit.
- Abraham was a deeply flawed man. He later committed a third serious blunder, when he didn’t wait on God’s promise of a son and slept with Sarah’s maid to produce Ishmael.
Yet, Abraham also grew in faith, to the point he willingly obeyed God and took his son, Isaac, up on the mountain to sacrifice him if necessary—which, of course, it never was.
There are a couple lessons we can learn from Abraham’s story.
- We all have hope despite our mistakes.
- If we expect perfection from those we consider heroes, we will always be disappointed.