What about Sarah in the Egyptian Harem?
Abraham was known in the Bible as a man of great faith. By faith He left Ur, following the call of a God he had never known before, travelled hundred of miles to settle in Palestine. By faith he was willing to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God. The list of his faith triumphs is long (Genesis 12-25 and Hebrews 11:8-19. Then, why did he allow his wife, Sarah, to be taken into the King’s harem not once—but twice (Pharaoh in Genesis 12 and Abimelech in Genesis 20)? It seems to me that he had no faith at all when he claimed she was only his sister and gave her up to the harem. According to the Bible he was more concerned with his own personal safety than with protecting and sheltering his wife from harm. How can he be the “Father of the Faithful” and fail so miserably in giving away his wife—twice?
Wasn’t the harem we visited in Istanbul fascinating! The Topkati Palace, with all that gold, silver, and jewelry gathered from centuries of Ottoman Empire, made the treasures of the kings of Europe look paltry. Remember how entry to the treasure rooms was free and uncrowded? On the other hand, the ticket booth for a tour of the Sultan’s harem was crowded and the entry line was out of sight around the corner. I guess that people can see gold in museums all over the world. The chance to see a real harem doesn’t come along often.
I’m not certain that I knew what to expect behind the entry door. As we stood in line I imagined that there would probably be one big room with a really big bed. I soon discovered that the harem was not like that at all. The guard room, designed to protect the women in the inner sanctums, was “manned” by eunuchs. I thought about how much fun guard duty was until I considered what it took to be a eunuch. I decided that it wasn’t worth it.
The harem rooms were arranged in succession designed for having that night’s woman to emerge ready to meet the Sultan in his bedroom. Each room performed a different function—bath, perfume, nails, hair, make-up and dressing. As far as I could tell, the harem was just an assembly line to have a new woman primed and ready if needed for that night!
The girls who best pleased the King might become wives. Others were relegated to the level of concubine. Some were cast out never to be heard from again.
There was nothing sexual at all about the place. If I had known at the beginning of the tour what I knew at the end I would not have blushed so much as we stood in line waiting for our turn to go in. I just knew someone from Casas would walk by and seem me entering the harem!
By the way, one of the most interesting harem stories in the Bible is recorded in the Book of Esther. Esther was a young teen-ager when she was noticed by a Persian noble and commandeered into Xerxes’s harem. God used her in those circumstances to save from destruction an entire nation. She courageously appeared before King Xerxes unannounced, not knowing if he would receive her or kill her for her brashness. She began her mission in surrender to God. “If I perish, I perish,” she said. She didn’t perish; neither did her nation. You might consider reading the Book of Esther. I think you will enjoy it.
When Sarah entered the harems on both occasions she did not immediately enter the King’s bedroom. I would imagine that she was placed at the end of the line of women waiting their turn for a night with the King. Let’s not miss the fact Sarah was in these predicaments because of Abraham’s lack of faith. He abandoned his faith and trusted in a lie that Sarah was his sister and not his wife. Abraham believed that if Pharaoh thought she was his wife he would kill him to get her.
Let me share the story recorded in Genesis 12:10-20. You will find it quite fascinating.
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 Sarah, “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 she 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, menservants and maidservants, and camels.
But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarah. 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.
My heart hurts for Sarah. She was twice rejected, abandoned, betrayed and belittled. Who can imagine her pain and disillusionment as she was given up by the man she loved and placed into the hands of another? It is little wonder why she was commended by God as a woman of faith in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith!
Now, let’s not be too hard on Abraham for his failure faith. He did a dastardly thing; but even the most faithful can struggle with doubt. John the Baptist was chosen by God to announce both the coming of the Kingdom of God and the appearance of Jesus Christ as Messiah. John even baptized Jesus. However, unfortunately, his faith faltered while imprisoned for his faith. Simply stated, his faith failed. He sent a message of doubt to Jesus: “Are you the one or shall we look for another?” Jesus didn’t scold him for doubting. Instead, He sent John the Biblical affirmation of the prophesied work of the Messiah. “Go back, Jesus said, “and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:22-23).
Almost every Christian struggles with doubts at one time or another—just like Abraham. However, as he or she grows in maturity, doubts become fewer and less frequently. Doubts don’t cancel out faith. Faith enables a man or woman to answer doubts with victory.
Not much faith is needed to experience the deepest levels of God’s power. Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). Of course, it is one thing to tell a mountain to move. It is quite another to have enough faith see it really happen.
As I study the Scriptures I am impressed that there are different levels of faith.
Some people have no faith at all. Jesus spoke to this subject when He contrasted the great faith of the Roman Centurion with the lack of faith in Israel. Complimenting the Centurion, Jesus declared, “I have not found such faith in all of Israel” (Matthew 8:10-12). We are talking here about those who have no faith in Christ at all.
I use the term “insufficient faith” to describe those who are definitely intrigued by Christ but who have not yet enough faith to fully surrender their lives to Him. For example, one night the Disciples were about to drown in a horrific storm on the Sea of Galilee. The panicked disciples awakened the sleeping Jesus and shouted in terror, “Lord save us! We are going to drown!”
Jesus replied, “’You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then, He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matthew 8:23-27. His men had enough faith to summon Jesus in their hour of need; but, as evidenced by their amazement at His power, not enough to believe that He really would or could save them.
Some have enough faith to recognize that there is something special about Christ’s life and power. They may even give mental assent to the truths about, and person of, Christ; but, they are not yet willing to put their total faith in Him as their own Savior and Lord. This faith is insufficient for salvation; however, it is certainly headed in the right direction.
We might describe the next level of faith as “Saving Faith”. I sometimes refer to this level as “Nursery School Faith”. Some take a while to transition from no faith to insufficient faith to saving faith. Others can make the jump in moments. For example, Paul and Silas sang hymns of praise until past midnight in the local Philippian jail. After an earthquake opened the prisoners’ cells the jailer was about to commit suicide which was the penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape. When Paul reassured him that no one had escaped he moved quickly from no faith to saving faith! He cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responded with utter simplicity, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. So, he did (Acts 16:29-31).
I call the next level of faith “Little Faith” or “Kindergarten Faith”. At our conversion we begin a life time of growing in Christ. The maturity level of our faith matches the maturing of our spiritual lives. Jesus spoke to this level of faith when He said with compassion, “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!” (Luke 12:27-29). Like kindergarten, we are putting in place the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual tools that will serve us for the rest of our lives. “All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten” declares one of my favorite books. Play fair. Share. Don’t throw sand in the sand box. Be kind to others. Obey the teacher. These are just a few of the things we learn in kindergarten which are useful in later life. We learn the basic lessons of faith in spiritual kindergarten.
The next level is what I call “Growing Faith”, or perhaps “High School Faith”. We know the basics and are testing our wings as we seek to integrate what we know with what we are experiencing during our years of spiritual adolescence. The writer to the Hebrews illustrates this level in Hebrews 11:6: “… without faith impossible to please him.” We are at that stage of life where we really take hold of the Christian life—or not. How we respond to the coming victories and defeats of life is greatly determined by how we handle these adolescent years of maturity. We have come a long way in our faith but many more faith lessons are yet to come.
Finally, we enter into the level of “Mature Faith”. This is “Post Graduate Faith” as outlined by Jesus in John 14:12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” At this level we experience staggering moments of faith. By faith, we witness some of the most astounding miracles, supernatural events and divine encounters. We are qualified for entrance into God’s Hall of Faith described in Hebrews 11.
By the way, the Spiritual Gift of Faith (1 Corinthians 12:9) is one of the spiritual gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit. Those with this gift have an almost supernatural faith to see ahead and enjoy in advance Gods victory in any situation. As a result, those with the spiritual gift of faith are great encouragers for those who don’t have the gift—those who are building their faith step by step. The gift of faith is not tied to any level of faith. It transcends them all. However, it doesn’t come ready to operate. It must be developed and matured by practice, patience and hope.
Finally let me share several general observations regarding faith to keep in mind as we mature in our own personal faith.
First, Jesus is looking for great faith. In Luke 7:9, after the faith declaration of the ‘Centurion He revealed the one thing He was searching for: “I tell you the truth, I have not found such great faith even in Israel!” This is significant! Israel was where He expected to fin faith. After all, Israel practically invented faith. They were the descendents of Abraham, the Father of Faith. If you were going looking for faith you’d go to Israel! They saw the Red Sea split; watched the Jericho walls fall. They won a battle when the sun stopped in Joshua 10. When Christ came the first time He was looking for faith. When He comes the second time He’ll still be looking for faith: “However, when the Son of Man returns to the earth, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). It is fair to say, in light of the Luke 7 passage that Jesus sizes everybody up according to their faith!
Second, God is building faith. Faith matures with ongoing experiences with Christ. I remember when my daughter, Brie, needed a car. Her car was dying and not far from the junk yard. So, she asked God to provide a car. Several days later a woman where she worked said to her, “We have an extra car, could you use an extra car?” Let me tell you, it was not just any old car, it was a Jaguar.
Third, faith always rests on a word from God. Faith is not a blind leap into the unknown. Hebrews 11:6 clearly teaches that there can be no faith if there is not a Word from the Lord to have faith in. Often these Word promises are found in the Bible. Just as often the Words of God we need to rest our faith upon are discovered as we seek God’s will for the incidents and circumstances surrounding us.
Fourth, during the times when we struggle with doubt, faith may be nothing more than a cold-blooded decision to believe—despite our feelings, emotions or circumstances.
Fifth, great faith enables Jesus to work miracles on our behalf. In responding to the Centurion’s request to heal his sick servant, Jesus said in Matthew 8:l3: “Go, it will be done just as you have believed.” The Greek words, “it will be done,” are powerful words. They come close to implying, “It must be done for you.” In other words, there was something about the quality of this man’s faith that obligated Jesus to do something. Wouldn’t it be great to hear Jesus Christ say, “Go your way; I have to do what you want me to do.” I believe that’s the kind of faith we all want!
Sixth, we don’t have to have a doctoral degree in faith to experience moments of doctoral faith. Think about Esther. When she was first approached by Uncle Mordecai to save her people, she faltered. She was more concerned with her life than with saving the lives of thousands. Nevertheless, in a moment of post-graduate faith she crossed the threshold into the throne room. It is not that nursery and kindergarten faith Christians can’t have times of great faith, it is just that as they grow in faith they will experience less and less kindergarten and more and more doctoral!
Maybe now we can get a better understanding of Abraham’s faltering faith. When he tossed Sarah to both Pharaoh and then to Abimelech, Abraham was more at the beginning of his faith life than at the end. He probably had Kindergarten Faith when he denounced his marriage vows, “chickened out’ and tossed his wife to the wolves. Having only beginning faith was no excuse for his miserable behavior. Fortunately, he got back on track, studied hard and eventually graduated with a Post Graduate degree in faith.
I once heard Ken Gaub share a faith story so astounding that I got Ken’s phone number in Washington State and called him personally to verify its veracity. His faith-building experience is perhaps my all time favorite in the great galaxy of faith stories.
Ken was drained and discouraged. The pressures of ministry and pastoring were overwhelming. He took his family for an extended get away in order for him to think though the current issues and to consider his future. He was ready to quit the church and never come back. He was driving in Dayton, Ohio, when the kids wanted pizza. He pulled off I-75 at place with several fast-food restaurants. He asked his wife to take the kids for pizza. He, in turn, just wanted to stretch his legs and think. He decided to head over to Dairy Queen for a soft-serve cone. As he approached, the pay phone outside the Dairy Queen began to ring. No one came to answer even as it rang 15 to 20 times. Finally, Ken walked over, picked up the receiver and said, “Hello.”
“I have a long distance call for Ken Gaub,” said the operator.
“This can’t be,” Ken thought. “It must be a mistake.
“Is Ken Gaub there or not?”
“Is this a joke? I am Ken Gaub.”
“That’s him, Operator,” said a woman’s voice on the line. “I recognize his voice.” Ken took the call.
“What can I do for you?”
“My name is Millie from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My life is a disaster. I had given up all hope and sat down to write a suicide note when I remembered once seeing you on television. I knew if I could just talk to you that everything would be all right. But, I knew it was impossible. I had no idea how to reach you. Then some numbers came to mind and I wrote them down. I looked at the numbers and wondered if I had a miracle from God. What if this was your phone number? So, I dialed the operator and made a person to person call. Is this your office in California?”
“No. My office is in Washington. I’m at a pay phone outside a Dairy Queen in Dayton, Ohio.” He counseled the woman and hung up dazed. Should he stay in the ministry? It certainly seemed like he had an answer straight from Jesus. He wondered whether or not to tell his wife? Who would believe him?
“Barb,” he said, when she climbed back into the car, “You won’t believe this. God knows where I am.”
Well, Julie, I hope this gives some insight into your question about Abraham and his faltering faith. By the way, the next time you want to “Ask Roger” a question, you don’t need to email it, just ask me in bed.
PPP of P