Abram and Saria Genesis 12:17

Hey, all! This has always been something that bothered me. Why do you think God punished Pharaoh and his household for Abram’s lie? To me, one thing to learn from this is that partial truth, also a lie, has damaging effects on not just us but others as well. But I still don’t understand why God would punish Pharaoh and not say anything to Abram about his lying???


This is one of those places where we have just the bare bones of the story and it always feels like there is something missing…something we don’t know that would help it feel fully connected.

Despite Abram’s actions, God uses the circumstances to demonstrate His power. What we don’t know is how Pharaoh knew these plagues where from Abram’s God and recognized that God had his hand on Abram?

Abram, Joseph, and Moses and their dealings with the pharaoh of the day are all part of the Biblical narrative and perhaps we need to view all of those components together for a greater understanding. Clearly Egypt and it’s fertile Nile valley plays a key component in the history of God’s chosen people. Even Joseph and Mary were sent their for safe keeping. So God had a plan for his people in time of strife to run to Egypt, a place of great wealth (though they also had long seasons of droughts). It seems it was a land that God built up for His plans, but also had leaders that He brought low.

We do know that Abram profited from his time in Egypt. He and Sarai left with greater wealth. Egypt still seemed to thrive long past this period, so God’s blessing still seemed to be on the region.

Perhaps God’s “afflicting” pharaoh’s household can be viewed as a means of communicating the truth that Abram was too fearful to do, rather than a punishment. Maybe a demonstration of His power and intentions for both pharaoh and Abram.


Thanks, Jennifer! I think this is a good perspective on it. Also, like you said, we only have certain information in the narrative. I suppose to say that God didn’t say anything to Abram or to say God didn’t let Pharaoh know Sarai was his wife are both arguments from silence.

As far as this question goes, since people attributed every natural event (whether sickness or whether) to supernatural intervention by some God or gods, I think it would be natural for Pharaoh to at least assume that it was from the hand of some god, though how he knew it was specifically Abram’s and the fact that Sarai was Abram’s wife is left in the dark even with that explanation.

Good thoughts. Thanks, Jennifer :slight_smile:

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@psalm151ls Great question :slight_smile: Here are some thoughts.

  • this story shows God’s faithfulness to His people in spite of their imperfections
  • it is likely that the plagues left Pharaoh’s house once he returned Abram’s wife, just as in Gen 20:17 Abraham interceded for Abimelek after doing the same thing and the curse of infertility was removed
  • this story foreshadows Israel being delivered out of Egypt by the plagues and the author of Genesis may have been intentional about emphasizing those similarities for narrative purposes

Hey, there, Sean! Thanks for that! I always read that story and think, “That’s not fair.” Sounds rather two-year-oldish, but I couldn’t help it (If we admit it, I think most have said this about even our own situations in life :slight_smile: ). I always think, “Why would You [God] plague someone else for taking Abram at his word?” But I think the points you bring up shed some good light, especially the last one. The last one I never would have thought of without someone bringing it up :smiley:.

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@psalm151ls I think it is human to be upset by the appearance of injustice and that there is great benefit in honestly wrestling through the Biblical text when we encounter those feelings. God can take it :slight_smile: The Biblical authors certainly never shied away from their struggles with the seeming injustice in the world.

Sometimes I think we simply lack sufficient information to come to a decisive verdict and our preconceptions about God take over and fill in the missing data, whether positive or negative.

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The “she is my sister” story also happen in Gen 20 and 26. In Gen 20 Saria confirmed that she was Abram’s sister from a different mother which would be considered weird today. I also found it interesting that the Abimelech of Gen 20 and the Abimelech of Gen 26 appear to be the same guy which makes me wonder how old he was considering Saria was still childless in Gen 20 and in Gen 26 Abimelech was eyeing Rebekah, Issac’s wife. Rough math make him at least 60 years older that he was when he had interest in Issac’s mother Saria.
One last thought. I think it is a stretch to think that Pharaoh believed that the God of Abram had brought a plague on his house. During that period of time the local gods determined the fate of the nation. Pharaoh was likely just going over his list of possible causes for his sudden rough patch and it dawned on him that his world was fine until he brought Saria into his household and when he found out that she was the wife of another man that was enough to look no further.
My thoughts.

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Interesting points, Jimmy @Jimmy_Sellers! Happy to hear from you this morning! Oddly, I’ve heard it argued that the Abimelech in both instances was different, but I agree with you that he was the same one; I don’t see any reason to think that he wasn’t. In Abimelech’s case, God came to him in a dream to warn him in the instance with Abraham and Sarah in chapter 20.

As for chapter 12, while it may be a stretch to think that Pharaoh thought it was Abram’s God in particular, it is not at all a stretch and actually probable that Pharaoh attributed the plagues to some god/s, because the people at that time attributed everything that happened, good or bad, to god/s. If Pharaoh connected the taking in of Sarai to the plagues at all, it actually very strongly implies a belief in supernatural intervention there. There cannot be a belief in judgement through things like plagues if a person is not believing that something is giving the judgment. That he knew it was Abram’s isn’t necessarily a stretch-it’s a viable possibility. However, he could have just as well thought it was one of their gods enacting judgment.

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That is precisely my point, Pharaoh did believe that it was his gods that ruled in Egypt and determined the fate of his nation. There was no separation of the supernatural and the world during those days they were one and the same. I like to point out that many years later (the Passover) it would be Yahweh who would punish these gods of Egypt unless you think he was using hyperbole to describe his actions.

“And I will go through the land of Egypt during this night, and I will strike all of the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human to animal, and I will do punishments among all of the gods of Egypt. I am Yahweh. (Ex 12:12LEB)

and this verse

4 while the Egyptians were burying all the firstborn among them whom Yahweh struck. Yahweh also executed punishments among their gods. Nu 33:4 LEB).

here are a few excepts from John Walton to support my point:

The cognitive environment in the ancient world is one in which the directive activity of deity is of primary importance. This view extends far beyond the recognition of occasional supernatural interventions. In fact, even the word “intervention” is inappropriate because it implies that there are some historical events that are not supernaturally driven. In the view of the ancient Near East, even “natural” occurrences are the result of divine activity
Walton, J. H. (2006). Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (p. 221). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

And a longer except that goes a little beyond the idea of supernatural and natural it dives into the core of what people believed not as what they believed but how they lived what they believed.

There is no such word as “religion” in the languages of the ancient Near East. Likewise, there is no dichotomy between sacred and secular, or even between natural and supernatural. The only suitable dichotomy is between spiritual and physical, though even that would be a less meaningful distinction to them than it is to us. In the end, there is a distinction between the heavenly realm and the earthly one, but events in the two were often intertwined or parallel. It would be difficult to discuss with ancients the concept of divine intervention, because in their worldview deity was too integrated into the cosmos to intervene in it. For the most part, deity is on the inside, not the outside. All experience was religious experience, all law was spiritual in nature, all duties were duties to the gods, all events had deity as their cause. Life was religion and religion could not be compartmentalized within life.
Walton, J. H. (2006). Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (p. 87). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

My thoughts.

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Yes, Jimmy @Jimmy_Sellers! Thank you for expounding further! I think we agree, actually. I think I missed that was your point :slight_smile: . Thanks for responding :smiley:. But I’m glad I did, because I think your follow-up is very informative. I learned all this over the years in my self-studies and school, and it is definitely important and incredibly helpful for any student of the Bible to understand these things. I think it’s all incredibly interesting.

Great thoughts!

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