Images of the Savior (7 -- Abraham's Sojourn in Egypt)
Given the unique status of the patriarch Abraham, who was called out to be the first in the line of the people of God, and the father of all those who should later believe, and from whom it was also said that the promised Seed of the woman should come, it is to be expected that his life should prefigure and anticipate the life of the faithful, that is, of the Church as a whole and all her members in particular, and most especially, the life of Christ himself, the Seed through whom he would inherit his eternal blessing. And as we study the life of Abraham, after his first calling, with this principle in mind, we are eminently justified in our supposition; for the first account we are given of his subsequent life, in which he is driven to sojourn in Egypt by a fierce famine, is very much like the later history of God's people, and also foreshadows the life of Christ himself. In what ways this is so, how Abraham's experiences are a type both of the Church's journey to paradise and of the Messiah's work of redemption, we will now make clear.
First, the history of Abraham's sojourn in Egypt is very much like the later history of the Church. For consider how it was that Abraham came to sojourn in Egypt: he had already been called out by God's word of sovereign grace, and had promptly left behind his family and kindred in Ur of the Chaldees, which is a place very much associated with Babylon, and had set out for the promised land, where he hoped to dwell again in God's presence; and although he did find there the presence of God, and often built altars and called upon his name (e.g. Genesis 12:7-8; 13:3-4, 18), yet he was so far from being in full possession of those spiritual riches of which he was the heir, that he was rather like a sojourner and a wanderer than a settled inhabitant of the promised land (see Hebrews 11:8-10). And then, although the land of Canaan came with a promise of eternal blessing and fruitfulness, yet that promise was still fulfilled only in a very small down payment, as it were, so that even while he dwelt therein, Abraham was subject to times of desperate want, and was forced to take action for his sustenance, as in the case of this famine. And so it was that he went down to Egypt, being a true heir of the promised land of Canaan, even after his exodus from Babylon; and a little later, as we shall see, he experienced warfare and opposition from Sodom, which stands together with Egypt and Babylon as one of the three great types of the world, that is, the system under control of the devil and in opposition to the Church (see Revelation 11:8; 17:5).
Now, consider how closely this state of affairs corresponds with the journey of the Christian, who is of Abraham's offspring: when God first calls out one of his elect, then he leaves his father and mother and all that was home to him, and sets out to follow God (see Matthew 10:34-39): this corresponds to Abraham's leaving Babylon. But then, although he is truly the heir of the promised land, and has an inheritance stored up for him in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-5), which is greater than any mind can conceive (1 Corinthians 2:9-10), yet he still must wander as a pilgrim, and suffer privation for a time, before he enters into the full enjoyment of his inheritance (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:1, 12-13). And so, even after his first calling, he finds himself in, but not of the world (see John 17:14-16), just as Abraham was in Egypt, but not himself an Egyptian.
But consider Abraham's journey a little further: it came about, through a lapse in faith, that Abraham was sorely oppressed in Egypt, and about to lose his wife to the Pharaoh; but before any harmful thing could happen to Sarai, God smote the Egyptians with many plagues, and prevented them from doing any injury to her, and caused them finally to send her and Abraham away, not only unharmed, but with many riches (see Genesis 12:16, 20). And so it is with the Christian, as well, who often finds himself in desperate straits through the weakness of his faith, so that to all appearances he should be consumed by the world and his own sin, and should never enter again into the promised land; but God always rises up to deliver him and to judge his enemies; and he not only protects him and brings him back again, but gives him many spiritual riches, so that it may be said of him that whatever happens, and however much opposition he may face, all will ultimately work together for his good (see Romans 8:28-39). And we must not fail to mention here, moreover, how closely this history corresponds with the corporate history of the Church, which was again driven down to Egypt by a famine, in the days of Jacob (see Genesis 43:1; 47:4); which encountered severe difficulties and hardships from the Egyptians (see Exodus 1:11-14); and which God brought out again from Egypt with much wealth (see Exodus 12:36), and after pouring out great plagues upon the Egyptians (see Exodus 7-11). Indeed, so closely does this account correspond to the later account of the Israelites' deliverance from Egypt, which itself is a very evident type of the life of every believer, that it most certainly appears to be a very intentional type of the true life of faith, which Abraham most appropriately foreshadowed, being the father of all the faithful (see Romans 4:16-18; Galatians 3:7, 28-29).
Then, even as we have obtained a glimpse of the life of the Christian weak in faith, we see in the next episode of Abraham's life (see Genesis 13-14), after he had come out of Egypt with many riches, an account typical of the Christian strong in faith. For at that time, although Abraham had much wealth, he was not at all inclined to pursue more material wealth greedily, but when a conflict arose with his younger kinsman, Lot, he sacrificially offered the best of the land to him, and desired instead to stay in the land where he might be free to build altars and call upon the name of the Lord; and the Lord was then very gracious to Abraham, and confirmed in a vision his promise of blessing (see Genesis 12:14-18); but Lot, choosing to follow earthly goods, vexed his soul with the evil conduct of the men around him (cf. 2 Peter 2:7-8), and was taken captive by the world, until he was finally rescued by Abraham; and at the end of his life, although God in his mercy spared him from the judgment of Sodom, yet he lost all that he had, and was only saved as by fire (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15); while Abraham from that time on grew ever more intimate in his knowledge of Yahweh. This, too, is a very instructive glimpse of the life of the mature believer, who, as he learns to seek his satisfaction in the knowledge of the Lord alone, grows rich in true wealth; whereas he who is too much enamored with the world loses all his peace and joy, and like righteous Lot, is only saved through much vexation of spirit, and loses much reward. And we see as well, that those of us who are strong in the faith ought to be attentive to watch out for and deliver our weaker brothers, and so bear their infirmities (see Galatians 6:1-2; Romans 15:1-3), even when they have done us wrong, or have shown many unworthy qualities. But for now, we must press on to observe how this account is not merely instructive of the life of the believer, but most eminently instructive of the life of Christ himself, whose experiences the believer is blessed to emulate, and in fact participates in them, in his own daily life which he pursues in imitation of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2:21-25; Philippians 3:10-11).
In respect to which, we see how Abraham, having come down from Canaan, was called again out from Egypt; just as Christ should later come down to Egypt from the promised land, and be called out again, as it is written, â€œOut of Egypt I have called my Sonâ€ (Matthew 2:15; cf. Hosea 11:1). Then, we see how Christ himself hungered for forty days in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-2), just as Abraham hungered from a famine while he was in the promised land, but before he enjoyed the full benefits of his promised possession, and just as the Church hungered for forty years in the wilderness, before entering the promised land; and moreover, just as every Christian must pass through seasons of hungering after God, when he has once been called out of the world, and before he has been made to enjoy all those blessings of which he is a true heir (cf. Psalm 42:1-2; 63:1; 143:6). Then, we see how God would rebuke kings and nations, and put them under the feet of his Messiah (see 1 Corinthians 15:24-28), even as he rebuked the Pharaoh for Abraham's sake (cf. Psalm 105:12-15); and likewise, how kings would bring in their wealth to the Christ, and come cringing before him with all their presents (see Psalm 72:8-11; Revelation 21:24-26), just as Abraham received much wealth from the king of Egypt. We see, most notably, that God will go to any lengths to preserve Christ's bride as a chaste and spotless wife, and keep her free from any blemish or stain (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:6-9), just as he did mighty things to protect Sarai, Abraham's wife, from blemish. And we see how Christ would not despise his younger brothers (cf. Hebrews 2:10-13), even those who had been false and faithless to him before, but would instead rise up to rescue them, and ever deliver them from captivity to the world, and always preserve their souls, even if he must snatch them out of burning Sodom by force; just as Abraham did not despise Lot, who had dealt most selfishly with him, but rose up and delivered him from his oppressors in Sodom.
Ah, how sweet a glimpse do we have in this episode of Abraham's life, of the later life and work of his greater Seed, Jesus Christ! And sweet beyond compare is the most precious opportunity we have in our own lives to follow in his steps, and learn the fellowship of Christ's own sufferings, and so be assured as well of the fellowship of his resurrection (see Philippians 3:10-11). That saying of the apostle is trustworthy indeed, that â€œif we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with himâ€ (2 Timothy 2:11-12). Let us follow on in the footsteps of our forefather Abraham, even as he walked the path of his Seed and his Lord, Jesus Christ our Savior.