When Our Heroes Let Us Down

walk away photo

While hosting Saturday Night Live on March 12, pop star Ariana Grande sang a song in her opening monologue, entitled, “What Will My Scandal Be?” She describes how so many other celebrities and pop stars have had scandals in their careers, but she hasn’t had hers yet. It seems like at some point or another, the celebrities that we see on TV and hear on the radio behave poorly, and their mistakes then go viral.

This doesn’t only take place in the realm of pop music, though. Many of those who we admire, including pastors, politicians, and even whole organizations, eventually let us down.

In the text for today, we see one of the most beloved biblical characters behave in a more than questionable manner. And worse, he then repeats his mistake again. In Genesis 12, Abram and Sarai are in the land of Canaan when a famine strikes. They then traverse to Egypt to escape the famine, and upon arrival, Abram informs Sarai that when the Egyptians see how beautiful she is, they will kill him to take her. Abram instructs her to tell them she is his sister, so that he may live. And sure enough, when Pharaoh’s princes see how beautiful Sarai is, they take her to Pharaoh and give Abram a lot of animals and wealth as compensation.

We never hear Sarai’s voice in this text. Abram has just acted egregiously toward her, and yet we never hear her objections, and we never learn what happened to her while in Pharaoh’s household. Instead, the Lord acts on Sarai’s behalf. He strikes Pharaoh’s house with plagues, which then cause Pharaoh to realize that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife. He then chastises Abram, sends Sarai back to him, and expels them both from Egypt, along with all of the goods Abram acquired because of Sarai.

Abandoning his wife to Pharaoh made Abram very wealthy. This is one of those moments when one of my biblical heroes lets me down. I wonder how the beloved Abram could possibly treat his wife with such flippancy and irreverence. And I feel heartbroken for the beloved Sarai, who experienced abandonment by her husband, and then endured God knows what (literally) at the hands of Pharaoh. And while we may read this text and abhor Abram’s behavior, the lesson he should have learned didn’t stick.

When we arrive in Genesis 20, Abram (turned Abraham at this point) commits the exact same atrocity. Abraham and Sarah enter the land of Gerar; Abraham tells King Abimelech that Sarah is his sister, and Abimelech takes her to his house. The Lord intervenes in a dream, informing Abimelech that Sarah is Abraham’s wife. In this instance, we know that “Abimelech hadn’t gone near her” (v. 4). Abimelech confronts Abraham, gives him Sarah and a whole host of animals and wealth, and tells Abraham to dwell anywhere in his land.

We watch the exact same cycle happen again, and it doesn’t play out poorly for Abraham: he leaves with wealth and prosperity each time. 

Sometimes we have to raise our eyebrows at the behavior even of biblical characters. Abraham was so faithful to God in so many other circumstances, but in these two texts, his behavior disappoints God, his wife, and frankly, me as a reader.

These biblical figures lived complex lives. While we should honor them for all of the ways they were faithful to God and built up the faith that we now share, we also must recognize their humanness and flaws as well. 

The most redemptive part about messing up is the moment in which we choose never to make that mistake again. Abraham didn’t learn that lesson in these texts. In response, we must foster awareness of the ways that we can worship God more purely and truly, acknowledge our weaknesses and failures, and reconcile ourselves with those who feel the impact of our mistakes as well.

As the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Today, may we accept the forgiveness and grace of God, may we ask for forgiveness from others, and may we extend grace and love to those around us as well. 

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