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.
No two ways about it, this is a repellent story.
Having learned that he, and Sarai of course (we mustn’t forget her role), will found a nation, Abram displays lack of faith in God’s protection by taking his family to Egypt to escape famine. He persuades his wife to pose as his sister – a half-truth, since she is his half-sister, but a lie for all that. She ends up as a cherished companion, mistress, or wife of Pharaoh himself. Meanwhile Abram, as Sarai’s ‘brother’, willingly accepts substantial gifts from the grateful ruler. The truth, however, catches up with Abram. God afflicts Pharaoh and his household with ailments which somehow brings the matter to light. We have the strange situation that Abram the patriarch is portrayed as a liar, willing to sell the services of his wife, while the duped Pharaoh is the one who cares about Sarai’s plight. When he sends the family away, Pharoah allows them to take all the acquired wealth with them, perhaps as a mark of respect for Sarai.
What she thought of it all is never articulated.
It would be comforting to believe that the exploitation of those in weaker positions remains buried in this ancient story, but nothing could be further from the truth. Think of the pimps who prostitute powerless adults and even children for profit or self-gratification. Think of the traffickers who bring adults from poorer countries to work for no reward, often in illegal trades. Think of those in positions of power, including in our churches, who use and abuse children and vulnerable adults.
We can close our eyes, but none of this will go away unless we as a society, and as Christians, make the protection of our most defenceless brothers and sisters a priority.
In God’s name, Pray for increased awareness; Pray for the protection of the most vulnerable; Pray for the restoration of victims; Pray for justice to be done.