It does not take long for Abram’s faith to be tested. A famine falls over the land and Abram decides to move to Egypt. This is a decision that is repeated over and over by Abram’s descendants, they consistently choose to abandon the land that Yahweh has promised them and to run to the relative safety of a seemingly more abundant nation.
In fact all of Genesis chapter 12 is the first time we get to see a whole host of behaviors that become habit for the people of God.
Before entering Egypt, Abram tells his wife to say that they are brother and sister because he fears that some powerful and jealous Egyptian will kill him to gain Abram’s beautiful wife. He relies on this falsehood to keep him safe. It’s astounding considering that God himself has promised Abram protection. Is his memory so short? Is his faith so lacking? Do I have any right to judge? Haven’t I read Yahweh’s promises over and over again and yet haven’t I still acted out of fear?
Sure enough, Abram’s plan worked exactly as well as anyone could have expected. Sarai is recognized as beautiful, Abram is viewed as her brother and is rewarded handsomely for allowing the Pharaoh to take Sarai as his wife. An excellent example of wealth obtained through deceit, in my opinion.
Perhaps this is a glitch Abram did not foresee, but now his wife is living with Pharaoh as his wife. That whole situation really makes you wonder, how much say did Sarai have in all this? Was she just treated as property because of her gender? Clearly she was complicit in Abram’s lie and it appears that she never approached anyone in Pharaoh’s court to say, “Hey actually, I’m married.” Was having to live the lie punishment enough or was this a fun vacation in a palace, away from a tent-dwelling husband who refused to settle down?
I like to ask these sorts of questions because it helps me remember that these characters were humans, they were people trying to navigate a world where God’s will is sometimes hard to read and sometimes easy to discern but hard to live out. But the focus can’t stay on the people too long.
When I was really little I always had feather pillows. At night, when my parents weren’t watching, I would slide my hand over the surface of my pillow looking for that sharp prick of the end of a feather. Once I felt one I would pick and pull until I got the feather through the material of the pillow and the process would start again. As you can probably imagine, my pillows were never very full or supportive. My picking and pulling emptied them to the point where they became useless.
I can do that with people too. It’s especially easy to do with Bible characters because I am so far removed from them or their lives. I run my hand over the story looking for their mistakes and then I pull until I am able to examine every little detail of how they messed up. My focus falls on the feather and I leave the story empty.
The point of this tale is not that Abram messed up. The point is that Abram messed up AND God still sought him out. Abram messed up AND Yahweh still kept his promise to protect and bless Abram. Abram and Sarai lied AND God was able to take what might have been a deadly outcome for these two bumbling people and he turned it into an opportunity to reveal his grace.
Sarai could have been left in relative captivity, acting as the wife of a Pharaoh, but unable to fulfill her destiny as mother to the Israelite people. Abram could have been left with all his money but wifeless, childless, blessing-less. The thing that makes this story fascinating is the Pharaoh. His response is immediate and exactly what Yahweh wanted all along. It is as if this pagan leader of Egypt had a better understanding of Yahweh then the two people who had been chosen to parent God’s nation. Pharaoh sends them away unharmed and well taken care of, he almost makes it look easy, which made me jump right to condemning the Pharaoh of Egypt during the events of Exodus. But that’s a story for a different time.