Meditating on the Judgements of God:
3.6 Abram and Pharaoh
Gen 12:17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.
The incident involving Abram and Pharaoh doesn’t show up Abram very well – but he is only a new believer with an almost embryonic relationship with the Lord, so he hasn’t yet come to realise that God will, in fact, protect him. We first of all read, “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.” (Gen 12:10) The cause of the famine is unknown and so Abram does what any ‘sensible’ person does and leaves and goes where there is still food; in this case it is Egypt.
But then Abram ‘thinks’ and in his thinking feels vulnerable. He is going into a foreign land where there is a powerful ruler who is known to have an eye for beautiful women and Abram’s wife, Sarai, is a beautiful woman. Abram thinks about this and thinks that the Pharaoh might kill him to get him out of the way so he can take Abram’s wife. Solution: pretends she is his sister (well she is his half sister actually). But that’s still going to leave Sarai vulnerable, but they still end up n Egypt with Abram saying she is his sister.
The inevitable happens. Pharaoh hears there is a rich merchant arriving and he happens to have a beautiful sister, so he does what any despot of that age did, he had her brought into his palace (we aren’t told what more followed). But we are told that the situation, as far as Pharaoh and his household are concerned, suddenly turns pear shaped! “the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.” (v.11) Now what is interesting about this is what then follows: “Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 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!” (Gen 12:18,19) When a whole lot of people in your household (including you!) starting getting ill, you start wondering why and questions are asked. What has changed? The only thing is you’ve brought a new woman into the court. Was there anything wrong with her? No, we check. Well check with the seers then.
We aren’t told that that is how it happened but somehow they came to realise that this sickness is a judgment on bringing this woman into the palace. No doubt they question her and soon find she is Abram’s wife!!!! They are quicker on the uptake than many Christians are and soon conclude this is punishment and this merchant and his wife need to leave – quickly and now! So Abram and his family and flocks and herds (which have grown since he’s been there!) leave the country and return to the south of Canaan (the Negev) and the story continues from there.
But now we need to come back to the Lord’s part in all this. Without doubt He is the bringer of this judgment on Pharaoh and his household. Note in passing that no one seems to have died in it all, they just got sick. How does God bring sickness? We don’t know but He clearly does as you can see elsewhere in the Bible. Why has He done it? Obviously to protect Abram, His young protégé who doesn’t yet realise that God will look after him.
Now what is remarkable is that after a whole lot of things had happened between the Lord and Abram we find the same thing happening: “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, `She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, `He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.” (Gen 20:1-7)
Now for those who think God is a nasty God, observe the gentle way He deals with Abimelech on this second time Abraham (as he now is) is not forthright about his wife. On this occasion the Lord speaks to the king in a dream and makes it very clear indeed what is going on.
What we see in these two incidents, brought on by Abram’s lack of understanding (which will change), is the Lord bringing judgment and threatening to bring judgment to protect His man and his family and to challenge the power of local kings. Why He did not speak in a dream to Pharaoh we don’t know but perhaps the occult powers for which Egypt was known, hindered that form of communication and so more direct tactics had to be used. In both cases the Lord is challenging human behaviour, that of powerful figures, as if to say, ‘this is not what people in my kingdom do! This is wrong and so you will pay for it unless you repent quickly.’ Both kings got the message and changed quickly, and Abraham and Sarah were saved.