PILGRIM AND POTENTATE
Lord, lead me wherever I may go.
Read GENESIS 12:10–20
Abram in Egypt
10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit that in these studies we may see the connections between the ancient texts and our world today.
After the amazing promises God gives Abraham in the beginning of chapter 12, this incident comes as a shock. It certainly prevents us from turning the patriarchs into idealized figures of faith by highlighting their human frailty and weakness. It also underlines the fact that the fulfillment of the promise cannot depend, in the final analysis, upon human beings, but requires the intervention of God at critical points in the story.
Two comments may help our understanding of this difficult text. First, we have to keep in mind the contrast between our modern culture and that of the ancient world, especially with regard to family structures and relationships. Archaeological research has revealed the existence of what we may call ‘wife-sistership’, by which a married woman might have the legal status of ‘sister’ to another man, a position which enhanced her privileges and protection. The Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna comments that the Genesis narratives ‘have faithfully recorded the unique institution of wife-sistership’ (Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis: The Heritage of Biblical Israel, Shocken Books, 1966, p103)
Second, without absolving Abram of guilt in relation to his deception and his willingness to put his wife at great risk, we see that this incident records the first clash between the bearer of the promise of God and the overwhelming power and glory of the empire of Egypt. Consider the plight of refugees who arrive in Europe today, penniless and vulnerable, not least to sexual exploitation. Abram and Sarai are in flight from famine, so that the utterly powerless are exposed to the absolute potentate. The imperial context (which will appear repeatedly in the following chapters) places the patriarch’s failure in a rather different light, even as it underlines the crucial importance of God’s gracious intervention.
Think about migrants in the modern world and pray for them, especially for Christians who believe their long and hard journeys are part of God’s purpose for the world.
Lord, wherever I may end up in life’s journey, I entrust my well-being to You.