So when God tells a story two or three times, you know He's trying to get a point across. And one time He told the same story three times was the merry "she's my sister...or my wife?" deal that pops up in Genesis 12, 20, and 26. For those not familiar, here is the gist:
Genesis 12: Famine makes Abraham go to Egypt; afraid of Egyptians because "they do not know God"; tells wife Sarah to say she is his sister, because she's a knockout and he's afraid they'll kill him to get her. Pharaoh gets the hots for her; disease breaks out in the land; Pharaoh finds out the truth, chews Abraham out. Abraham prospers, all live happily ever after.
Genesis 20: Abraham goes to Gerar because of famine.Same thing happens with Abimelech as with Pharaoh. Abimelech chews out Abraham; he says, "Well technically, she IS my half sister..."; Abraham prospers, all live happily ever after.
Genesis 26: Put in Isaac for Abraham, Rebeckah for Sarah, assume that you're dealing with Abimelech the Second, and have him catch Isaac and Rebeckah noodling out his window. After the chew out, they make a treaty, all live etc, etc.
So I'm reading and re-reading the texts, trying to find the commonalities and differences, anything to help me figure out what God is getting at here. Head hurting, I shut my Bible and turn on the radio, and Tony Evans is doing a sermon on the End of Days. In the middle of it (from my perspective) he pauses. He says, "I have this watch... I know it's got these gears inside, it has these 'idiosyncratic' movements in it, but I don't have any idea how they work. BUT, I CAN tell you what time it is..."
And I understood that I tuned in at that moment to get a handle on my story as well. Strip it down, make it simple. Okay, that I can do.
Step one: God has a plan for Abraham/Isaac. A plan that was NOT going to be overturned by any stupidity they could add to the mix.
Step Two: A worsening condition occurs that makes them abandon their hope in God's provision and go somewhere God didn't particularly want them. Now, that sounds a little more familiar, doesn't it?
Step Three: Out of God's direct will, they began to fear for themselves. Let's not concentrate on how less-than-gallant their "solutions" were, but the fact that moving out of God's direct will didn't help their overall circumstance, they merely traded hunger for fear.
Bunny Trail: I see this also in Lot's actions when the Big Bang came to Sodom and Gomorrah. He's told to move up into the mountains. "Oh, I'm afraid of the mountains. Can't you just spare, say, Zoar and let me go there? See, it's just a little city..." So God allows it, and after the Big Bang and his wife's getting turned into a condiment, he looks around, and none of these people in Zoar who he just got spared by accident particularly like him. So then he moves up into the mountains anyway. Then, without mother to keep an eye on them, his daughters get him drunk so he'll make them babies, and the next thing you know you have centuries of problems with Moabites and Ammonites.
However, somewhere along the line, the plans for Abe and Isaac weren't the same as those for the less-obedient Lot, so we move on,
Step Four: They tell a lie. But because God has a plan, He shields them from the CONSEQUENCES of that lie. However, the people around them aren't so lucky. Pharaoh got hit with sickness; Abimelech #1 got a warning visit from God Himself; and Abimelech #2 went through a season (Gen 26:8 "And when it came to pass he had been there for a long time...") where none of his women could bear children. In the end, it comes back on them, and someone they SHOULD have been an example TO had to berate them for not being on the up-and-up. And they had nothing to say, other than Abe's lame half-sister excuse.
Step Five: All is forgiven and they prosper in the land. Wait, back the train up! How do they get away with profiting from the lie? Because God has a plan, and the plan goes on DESPITE how man jacks it up. If you look at the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, you find such non-upstanding characters as Jehoram, Manasseh, and Amon, three particularly rotten Kings of Judah, as well as it's namesake, the patriarch Judah, who ended up getting his late son's wife pregnant.
So what lesson do we learn from this? Well, I think that there is a macro- and a micro- lesson here. Macro: That God has a plan for our lives, and it would look a lot better on us if we LISTENED and did it His way. Micro: There aren't as whole lot of Abrahams, but there are a LOT of Lots. Do you really want to push the envelope of obedience to find out which one YOU are?