“When Faith is strong, we dare cut ourselves adrift from the moorings which coupled us to the shore; and launch out into the deep, depending only on the character and word of Him at whose command we go. But when faith is weak, we dare not do it; and, leaving the upland path, we herd with the men of the world, who have their portion in this life, and who are content with that alone.” –F. B. Meyer
No sooner has Abram arrived in the land promised to him it suffered a famine. We rightly tout Abram as a great example of faith—blindly following God to an unspecified destination—but we also see here that he is no giant. At the first sign of a problem he scampers. Perhaps not back to the safety of the “known,” but certainly to the safety of what the world can provide.
Perhaps it is a test. Maybe he should have stayed and trusted God to provide. But there is no real indication that that is what God wanted. After all, God has promised this land to Abram’s descendants. He has never indicated that Abram will possess it quickly or without difficulty. Or maybe the test was one that God had planned and intended. Not something to be avoided, but to be faced in Egypt. God will often send His people into Egypt as a layover on their path. Israel will later spend centuries in Egypt. Joseph was told to flee with Jesus into Egypt until the danger of Herod the Great was past.
Either way, we see that Abram is a man with failings just like the rest of us. He trusts God enough to follow Him into the unknown, but not yet enough to defend him against powerful men. Abram has Sarai claim to be his sister instead of his wife, and she is claimed by Pharaoh for his harem. Hardly the heroics we might expect from this hero of the faith. But that is the point of these stories. We are going to repeatedly see that the Patriarchs are not particularly great men of action, courage, or extraordinary abilities. Their one claim to success is that they have faith. They know God. They trust God even if it isn’t an unfailing trust.
The beauty of faith is that it does not depend on our capacity to trust in order to work. We do not trust our ability to trust, but God’s faithfulness to be trusted. God intervenes and saves Sarai, and we would like to think that Abram learns and grows in his faith as a result. Ultimately that is what we all want: to grow in our faith. We know we can do nothing but rely on God, but we know our capacity to trust is weak. Perhaps with Abram we share the sense of the father in Mark’s Gospel, who when asked if he had faith in Christ, answered, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”