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. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister,so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So 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!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
Obeying the call of God, Abram and his entourage began walking. They walked the length and breadth of Canaan, where Abram once more heard the promise of God as the Lord told him, ““To your offspring I will give this land.”
But a famine struck. The situation became so dire that Abram led the family into Egypt. In making this bold move, Abram had but one concern. It had nothing to do with the armies of Pharaoh or the hostility they could face as outsiders in a land not their own. It had everything to do with Sarai, whom Abram believed to be so exceedingly beautiful that she would attract the attention of Pharaoh. Not only did Abram think Sarai would attract the Egyptian ruler’s attention, but also that he himself would be murdered as Pharaoh’s desire for Sarai overtook him. So Abram devised – and Sarai agreed to – a plan in which they would present themselves as brother and sister rather than husband and wife. They believed the subterfuge would protect Abram from Pharaoh. Maybe the scheme would even lead Pharaoh to treat Abram well.
It is natural to question why such a plan would be necessary. Sarai was between the ages of 65-70 by this time. Could she still be so beautiful as to attract the attention of the ruler of Egypt? A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to suggest that she was indeed still that physically attractive. Other scholars suggest Sarai’s dignity, bearing, and style contributed to giving her a striking impression. However we may describe her beauty, it was indeed enough to capture the attention of Pharaoh, and the story unfolded just as Abram had predicted – almost. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s house, and Abram was given livestock and servants.
God, however, had a plan to bring his chosen couple’s ruse to light. Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly how Pharaoh determined that his relationship with Sarai was the root of all the ills of his household, but he rightly traced the problem to Abram. After a good reprimand, Pharaoh sent the couple away, along with all that had been acquired during their stay.
The plagues sent on Pharaoh and his household show the first instance of God intervening in the lives of Abram and Sarai to protect the promise. There would be other instances – some of them strikingly similar to this one. We would think that Abram and Sarai would have learned from that first mistake, especially after God had so clearly intervened on their behalf. Yet, they – like us – continued to devise their own strategies rather than trust fully in the promise that God has made. We make small decisions every day that rest on our own strength rather than trusting God. We make massive decisions throughout our lives that rise from our own thinking and planning rather than from the plans of the One who made us.
And, like Sarai and Abram, we sometimes find that God corrects our path. As much as we may want it, we don’t see plagues rain down on our adversaries, but we do see obstacles crop up as we move along our own trajectory until we finally surrender in prayer and give up our plans for the greater plans of the Lord.
To be honest, I need to fully surrender each day to the Lord to assure that the visions I have for my future come from him and not from my own misdirected ego. I’m not good at surrender. I fail as often as I succeed in doing so. In the end, though, I know that surrendering my small dreams opens the door to God’s greater dreams.
Read the whole story in Genesis 12:10-20.