A Sin Snowball (Genesis 12:10-20)

Written by admin on Mar 17, 2019 in - No Comments


When I was a kid, I had a little paperback version of the Guinness Book of World Records. I am not sure whether or not it contained all the records the Guinness organization had recognized, but it was a decent sized book, and I enjoyed flipping through it and reading about the amazing things people had done. I am not sure if they still publish a book any longer, but they do have a website where you can review all the world records they have documented.

I was looking through their website the other day, and one of the things I quickly realized was that people come up with some pretty strange ways to claim their very own world record. In fact, if you are looking to set a world record, it seems that all you need to do is think of something really obscure—something that no one else has ever thought to attempt—and you are well on your way to making it into the record books.

For example, in 2008, a man from Germany set the world record for most toilet seats broken by one’s head by shattering 46 of them in one minute.1 And just this year, a man from Ontario, Canada who wanted to “teach his children an important lesson about hard work, commitment, and follow through” set a new world record by putting on 260 T-Shirts at one time.2 Now, if that’s not a lesson in perseverance and something that will motivate your kids, I don’t know what will. And, even right here in Alabama, people have set important world records. For example, back in 2004, a man named Chad Fell blew a 20-inch bubblegum bubble at Double Springs High School in Winston County.3 And, if you were ever worried about the quality of higher education in this country, worry no longer. Because back in 2013, several students from Michigan Technical University, used their engineering skills to roll a snowball that measured just under 33-feet in circumference.4 It was over nine feet tall, and the picture on the Guinness website was pretty impressive.

Now, where in the world am I going with all of this? Well, you can probably figure out from the title I chose for today’s sermon, that I needed to figure out a way to get you thinking about snowballs. And I particularly needed to get you thinking about how you’d go about making a really big one, like the one that set the world record in 2013. So how would you do that? Well, you’d do it as if you were trying to make a snowman. You’d create a really small snowball in your hand, something about the size of a tennis ball or a baseball, and then you begin to roll it through the snow so that it would pick up more and more snow and grow larger and larger with each rotation. The longer you roll it, the larger it gets. We all understand how this works.

In fact, we understand it so well, that we often talk about the so-called “snowball effect” to describe anything in life or business or engineering that starts out small and grows larger and larger, and faster and faster with the passing of time. The snowball effect is often illustrated by getting folks to think about placing a small snowball at the top of a large, snow-covered hill and setting it into motion down the hill where it will rapidly grow larger in size as it rolls while picking up momentum at the same time. I have often even heard people describe church growth in this way. The idea is that as you add more people, it is easier to add even more people. I’m not sure whether or not that is a helpful way to think about church growth, but I understand the point.

But, with regard to our passage today, I want us to think about something I’d like to call the snowball effect of sin. You see, the truth is, there are many kinds of sin that lead to other sins which lead to other sins. And much like a snowball that is rolling down a hill, at some point, this process accelerates to a place where it is out of control and difficult to stop. It often starts with something small, just like with a snowball, but before you know it, the problem is huge, and you are in so far over your head that unless God intervenes it is all going to come crashing down upon you. And, like a gigantic snowball that is rolling out of control down a hill, there is a good chance someone else could get hurt as well.

Well, one of the things that gets a sin snowball started faster than anything else, is the telling of a lie. I doubt I am the first person to point this out to you, but as you know, when you tell one lie, that often leads to having to tell another one. Right? For example, if you don’t feel like going into work one day and call your boss and claim to be sick when you are not, you are likely to start a sin snowball. Because when you go into work tomorrow and he asks if you are feeling better, you are going to have to say, “Yes,” which is just furthering the lie. When he asks what sort of illness you had, you are going to have to tell another lie. When he asks if you went to the doctor, you might feel tempted to tell another lie. Or, you might say, “No, I laid in the bed all day.” But what happens when later on in the day, someone else sees you in the break room and says, “Hey… was that you pulling out of Cabela’s yesterday around 2:00?” within earshot of the boss. Well, you are going to have to tell another lie. This is how the sin snowball works. One sin leads to another, that leads to another, that leads to another. Before you know it, you have a big ol’ mess on your hands—something bigger and messier than you are now able to do anything about.

Well, in our passage for today, we are going to read about a time in Abraham’s life, where this exact sort of thing happened to him. Yes, we are going to see how one sin led to another, which led to another, which lead to another until the situation was so messed up that there was nothing Abraham could do about it and he really needed God to step in and intervene.

So, I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles, to Genesis 12. Our passage for today’s sermon will be Genesis 12:10-20. If you do not have a Bible with you today, or if you would like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you will find this passage located on page 9. Genesis 12:10-12.

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had. (Genesis 12:10–20 ESV)

Unbelief Starts The Sin Snowball’s Chaotic Roll (vv. 10-16)

Now, if I asked you what started Abram’s sin snowball on its downhill roll, you might say, “Well, it all started with Abram deciding to lie.” And that would be a good guess. But, it actually started well before that. It actually started when Abram doubted God’s promises to him. As we have already seen in the previous verses from this chapter, God promised Abraham that he would bless him with many offspring, give his family a land to live dwell in, and that he would protect Abram by blessing those who blessed him and cursing those who cursed him. Abram would be so blessed by God, in fact, that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.

Well, the sin snowball starts for Abram when a famine comes upon the land of Canaan—the place where God had led him—and Abram apparently forgets God’s promises. Yes, instead of trusting that God would provide for him, Abram decided to pack up and head to a place where he could find some food on his own—and that place was Egypt. As one commentator explains, unlike Canaan, Egypt had the Nile river, and the Tigris-Euphrates valley that “provided a stable agricultural environment compared to Canaan, which was totally dependent on rainfall.”5 And so, Abram does what any thinking person would do, he heads to Egypt, not to stay forever, but to “sojourn there” for a while.

Now, truthfully, this may or may not have been something that God disapproved of. We really don’t know. But what we do know, is that there is no mention of God in this story until we get way on down into verse 17. All we see is Abram taking matters into his own hands, perhaps without even considering that God was more than capable of feeding him during a famine. Later on in Genesis, God rescues Jacob and his family from a famine by telling them to go to Egypt (see Genesis 46:3–4). But in this story, there is no mention of God which seems to imply that this was Abram’s decision alone. We certainly know that God was more than capable of providing food from heaven and bringing water out of rocks, and perhaps if Abram would have stayed put, God would have done just that. Yes, perhaps if Abram would have consulted God through prayer, perhaps if he would have asked God to feed his family in the midst of the famine, then maybe everything else we are about to read about, would have never taken place.

Well, while we are not 100% clear whether or not Abram sinned by leaving the promised land for Egypt, we do know that the sin snowball certainly got rolling when he began to trust in his own schemes to save his neck, instead of trusting in God for protection. You see, while he was on his way to Egypt, Abram began to realize that there was a good chance that the men of Egypt would find his wife attractive, and would want her for themselves. This was concerning to him because he believed that they might even kill him to take her. So what does he do? Well, he comes up with a plan to keep himself safe. And that plan was to ask Sarai, his wife, to go along with him in deceiving everyone they encountered in Egypt, by claiming that she was not his wife, but his sister. Now, Abram was pretty sneaky here, because this claim was partially true. You see, while it is not something we would ever consider with regard to marriage today, Sarai was Abraham’s half-sister. In Genesis 20, we learn that Sarai was the daughter of Abram’s father, but not the daughter of his mother. So this wasn’t a complete lie. It was more of a convenient half-truth. But, friends, a half-truth is always a half-lie. And we need to remember that ourselves because we are pretty good at telling half-truths as well, aren’t we?

Now, earlier I said, that the sin snowball got rolling, not when Abram began to tell this lie, but when he forgot about or doubted God’s promises to him. You see, that fact is, if God was going to bless Abram with offspring, he was going to have to keep Abram alive so that he could have a family. And, if God was going to bless all the families of the earth through this family, then Abram was going to have to have a family. And Abram could not have a family, if Abram was dead. And, he also couldn’t have a family without Sarai, his wife. So, all Abram had to do, was remind himself of God’s promises and trust that God would protect them both during their sojourn in Egypt. He didn’t need to concoct this scheme that was based on a lie.

But, when things got tough, Abram did what we often do. He took matters into his own hands instead of trusting God to take care of the situation. Yes, it was when Abram became so concerned and distracted by the famine, that he apparently forgot what God had promised. And this is a really good warning for us. You see, Satan is very proficient, friends, at using stressful situations to get us to stop trusting in God and start trusting in ourselves. That is precisely what he did with Abram, and he still does it today. So, in those moments, we have to remember God’s promises and reminds ourselves that there is nothing Satan or anyone else can do, that will ever nullify God’s promises to us. In Romans 8, Paul says it like this; he says,

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39 ESV)

And in John 10, Jesus said,

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29 ESV)

Yes, friends, as the song says, “no power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck you from His hand; till He returns or calls you home, here in the power of Christ you’ll stand.”6 Friends, you will never face a trial in this world that will nullify God’s promises to you. If the death of God’s own Son couldn’t nullify them, then nothing else ever could.

Obviously, Abram had forgotten these things about God’s promises. He had forgotten that because of God’s promises, he was safe and sound as he traveled into Egypt. He didn’t need a plan to protect himself. He didn’t need a plan, because God already had a plan—a plan that meant Abram and Sarai would be kept safe and sound until God’s promise of a child was fulfilled.

Now, it was not that Abram’s fears were unfounded or irrational. Not at all. In fact, he was dead on with them. Everything he feared came to pass when they entered into Egypt. In verse 14, it says, “When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.” And then in verse 15, we are told that “when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.” So, Abram was right. His fears were justified. And it seems like his little plan wasn’t so crazy after all. “But,” as one commentator explains, “the folly of Abram’s plan was its consequences. Although he would save his life, he jeopardized his future by placing at risk Sarai, the mother of the promised son.”(But the folly of Abram’s plan was its consequences. Although he would save his life, he jeopardized his future by placing at risk Sarai, the mother of the promised son.7 And, as we are about to see, Abram’s lie, not only put Sarai at risk, and their promised son at risk, but it also put Pharaoh and his whole household into the crosshairs of God! Yes, this little lie to save his neck is beginning to backfire, and it is doing so in a very big way. The sin snowball is really picking up steam now, isn’t it?

And it all started by not trusting in God’s promises. Yes, because Abram did not trust in God’s promises as much as he trusted in his own self to navigate through this predicament, he came up with a little scheme to protect himself, but the problem with that scheme is that it was based on a lie. It was a scheme that would require him to lie and a scheme that would require his wife to lie. And, while it worked to an extent, it also backfired on him in a very serious way. Yes, he saved his neck, but Abram had now lost his wife, threatened their future together, and jeopardized God’s promises. And, as we are about to see, his little lie brought something upon the Egyptian Pharaoh and his household that none of them ever asked for.

Now, some people might say, “Well, Abram was just trying to help God out here. He was trying to protect himself and his wife so that God’s plans for them could be fulfilled.” Well, news flash, God doesn’t need our help to keep his promises. He never has and never will. And he particularly doesn’t need us to “help” by sinning. The fact is, Abram was trying to take the easy road. But the easy road is normally not the right road. Yes, oftentimes what is right is not the same as what is easy. And what would have been right in this situation, would have been, to tell the truth about Sarai, and trust in God’s protection—again, something that was guaranteed to them because of God’s promises.

Abram’s lie escalated here to the point where he couldn’t get the toothpaste back into the tube. It was messy, and he was in big trouble. His wife was in danger. And Pharaoh and his family were in danger as well. Remember, God called Abram to be a blessing to the nations, but as we are about to see in verses 17-19, as a result of his actions, Abram has brought curses upon Egypt.

Only God’s Intervention Can Stop The Sin Snowball Once It’s Rolling (vv. 17-19)

Yes, fortunately for Abram, God stepped in and intervened. But this sure did stink for the Egyptian Pharaoh and his household who had no idea he was doing anything wrong. Pharaoh truly thought he was taking Abram’s sister as a wife. But, in truth, he was taking a married woman from her husband. And, this pagan ruler even had higher moral standards than that. This is why, after putting the pieces together and figuring out what had taken place, he was incredulous about it all when he asked Abram, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife?” (Genesis 12:18–19 ESV). He couldn’t believe that Abram would do something like this. And we should be just as shocked—just as shocked that the father of our faith would be so faithless and so cunning. Or, maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised—not after everything we have learned about human nature in the first eleven chapters from Genesis.

Either way, God’s intervention in this situation, teaches us at least three things. First, of all, it teaches us that once a sin snowball really gets rolling, the only way out is for God to intervene. In this instance, he “afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues” (Genesis 12:17 ESV) until they figured out what was going on. Now, we are not told exactly how Pharaoh put the pieces together, but it seems likely to me that when he looked around his house and everyone but Sarai was affected in one way or another, that it became pretty obvious to him that it had something to do with her. And once he figured it out, he wasted no time fixing what he had done. In Genesis 12:9 we see that he immediately called Abram and said, “here is your wife; take her, and go.” Abram was helpless here, and even though he didn’t deserve it, God intervened.

And this brings me to the second thing God’s intervention in this story teaches us about him. It also shows us that God is never going to allow our unfaithfulness toward him to thwart his plans for us and for the world. Yes, he remains faithful even when we are unfaithful (see 2 Timothy 2:13). He keeps his promises even when we do not keep ours. He had plans for Abram and Sarai, plans to bless them, plans to bless the whole world through them, and he was not going to let Abram’s sin snowball thwart those plans. He was going to intervene and keep his plans for the world moving in the right direction.

And the third thing God’s intervention in this story teaches us is that being ignorant of our sin doesn’t mean that it is not a sin and that there isn’t a price to pay for it. You sort of feel sorry for Pharaoh here. And you definitely feel sorry for those in his household who were afflicted with “with great plagues” because of Abram’s lie. They certainly didn’t seem to deserve this. At least not in our minds. But, the fact of the matter is, that Pharaoh was entering into an adulterous relationship with a married woman, whether he knew it or not.

Now, your initial reaction may be to think that God is not acting fairly here. But even in our own legal system, ignorance of the law doesn’t carry much weight. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t know the speed limit was only 35 when the police officer clocks me doing 55. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know you were supposed to pay taxes for the past ten years, the IRS is going to come after you. It doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t know that they aren’t supposed to climb the fence surrounding the Arsenal, they are going to be in really big trouble if they do. Again, ignorance of the law is not a defense. And ignorance of sin, doesn’t mean we are not guilty of committing sin. Those are still sins that Jesus had to die for and sins that we will be judged for—unless we trust in Jesus’s death to settle our account with God.

In Psalm 19, David teaches us to ask God to declare us innocent from our hidden faults. And what that means is that our hidden or unknown faults make us guilty before God in the same way that intentional sins do. Now, I suspect that God probably sees them differently, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t guilty and it doesn’t mean that God can simply overlook them. Either we are going to pay the price for those sins on our own, or we are going to trust in Jesus’s death on the cross to pay them for us.

So, Abram had gotten himself in such a mess that God had to step in an intervene. This reminds us that once one sin starts leading to another, that leads to another, that the situation can get so messy really fast. So messy, that God may even have to step in to get us out of it. Fortunately, he does that, not because we deserve it, but because he has plans for us and is not going to allow our sin to disrupt those plans. But, this story also reminds us that, being ignorant of our sin, does take away our guilt. And that we ought to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal hidden sin to us, so that we can confess it and seek God’s forgiveness.

God Blesses Us In Spite Of The Chaos Caused By Our Sin (v. 20)

Now, there is one last thing we can learn from this story that I think we will all find very comforting. I want you to look with me again at verse 20, and notice how God blessed Abram in spite of the chaos that came about because of his sin. Earlier in verse 16, we were told that because of Sarai, Pharaoh gave Abram “sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.” Most likely these were gifts given to Abram in exchange for Pharaoh taking (what he assumed to be) Abram’s sister as a wife. But, once Abram’s ruse was up, Pharaoh didn’t demand any of these things back. No, he was so anxious to get rid of Abram and Sarai as fast as he could, that he put together an escort of soldiers and ordered them to get these two people out of the country with everything they had as quickly as possible. And so, in spite of his unbelief, and in spite of his sin, Abram leaves Egypt as a very wealthy man. Notice what Genesis 13:2 says about him. It says, “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” And where did all this wealth come from? Well, it came from Pharaoh. God had worked this bad situation into good for Abram. Not because he deserved it, but because God blesses us in spite of our sin. Yes, he remains faithful, even when we are faithless. He did it for Abraham, and he is doing it for us as well. While we may not be rich on this earth, we have a heavenly inheritance awaiting us—an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is being kept safely for us, not because we deserve it, but because God is good to us even when we are not good to him. It is never our faithfulness that secures God’s promises to us; it is always God’s grace shown to us in and through Jesus Christ.


Now, this doesn’t mean that we should ever presume upon God’s grace and be flippant about our sin. We should take sin seriously, and we should do whatever we can to keep our sin from snowballing out of control and getting to a point where, without God’s intervention, our lives, and maybe the lives of our family, will be ruined. The fact is, God doesn’t always intervene the way we would like him to. Sometimes, for reasons we cannot understand, he lets things play out, and we are left to deal with the consequences. So, let’s be serious about our sin. Let’s be careful that we do not let it spiral out of control. Even if it doesn’t ruin our lives, it might ruin our witness to the unbelieving world around us.

But, if we do find ourselves in a situation where our sin is snowballing out of control, we need to confess that sin to God, ask him to intervene, and be grateful that no matter what happens in this earthly life as a result of our sin, Jesus has wiped our slate clean in God’s eyes, and our heavenly inheritance remains secure. What wonderful news for people like us, who find ourselves in situations like these all the time. Yes, because of our faith in Jesus, nothing can separate us from the love God, not even a sin snowball so large that it makes the Guinness Book of World Records.


  1. http://time.com/4013095/guinness-world-records-60th-anniversary-weirdest/ ↩︎
  2. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/commercial/2019/3/dad-puts-on-260-t-shirts-after-son-asks-him-if-he-can-set-a-record-563926 ↩︎
  3. http://time.com/4013095/guinness-world-records-60th-anniversary-weirdest/ ↩︎
  4. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-snowball ↩︎
  5. Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 1B of The New American Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 127. ↩︎
  6. Quoted from “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend. ↩︎
  7. Matthews, 128. ↩︎