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.
Why did Abram go to Egypt? Well, the text gives the answer – because of the severity of the famine in the land. Those of us familiar with Egypt references will feel inclined to disapprove, but the Israelite’s oppression by Egypt, and later warnings not to rely on Egypt’s help have not occurred yet. The narrator makes no comment or judgement. Was it weakness or necessity? We’re not told.
The following events are rather ironic. Abram, fretting over his own safety – a selfish motive – decides that Sarai should act as his sister. (She was, in fact, closely related – but this is not what motivates Abram here. There is no doubt he is in fear for his own life and acts accordingly.) She is beautiful. What this would mean for us today I cannot say. She’s not young. Different cultures value different things, see beauty in different ways. But there is no doubt that Sarah was incredibly attractive – a fact that sent Pharaoh’s officials running to their king, eager to describe this gorgeous woman.
Abram’s pretending that Sarai was not his wife led to her being taken from him and into Pharoah’s palace. Oh dear. The mother of the promise in a harem – it doesn’t look good. Here is another threat to the promised blessing, a compromising situation if ever there was one.
Abram didn’t seem to complain! He did well out of it – treated well as Sarai’s family and not only does he preserve his life but he gets a load of other benefits – marks of wealth and status. At what point did Abram intend to intervene? Was he too cowardly? Or did he rather like the perks of the situation? Had he dug himself a hole and couldn’t work out how to get of it? Did care for his own wellbeing outweigh his care for his wife? It certainly seems that way.
It’s not Abram that comes to Sarai’s rescue. He is no white knight; no protector. It is Yahweh himself who intervenes.