Bible Stories: Abram in Egypt

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I was going to write about the calling of Abram next because it seems like that should be the next story but the truth is that I don’t have anything to say about that. We almost never got taught about that, except in passing. We were taught that Abram was called, that God came down and picked Abram for… some reason. Or no reason. Abram was no better than anyone else, God just picked him. So then there was that.

What we did talk about was Abram in Egypt. I remember always being at least a little bothered by this story, in part because we spent so much time explaining it. Abram lets his wife be put in the harem of the king, he protects himself by putting his wife up as a sacrifice. This isn’t defended exactly but it was put in a weird light. Like many of the other… unpleasant things that the patriarchs did, the spin put on it was “look what God can do with imperfect people.” I cannot say I was ever 100% comfortable with this but it was supposed to be a good thing, we were supposed to take comfort that God could make beauty out of such a mess.

Abram in Egypt

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.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 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!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Response: So Abram is just… the worst. I remember spending time growing up wondering what Sarai said to this plan. And of course I would wonder, because we have no idea. Sarai has no voice in this story. She is nothing but a pawn, being used to keep men alive.

As for Abram, what about this man of God? Or maybe what about this God of men? God once again comes off not so great in this story, afflicting Pharaoh and his people for something he literally could not have known. God, who values honesty, who will someday include “do not lie” as one of his top 10 rules for life, will not only not punish Abram for his lies, he will reward him. In fact only Pharaoh will be punished for the lies of Abram. Again, it seems like God is still working out the details of his world, that the hard truths which will someday be claimed to have always existed are a little shaky right now. You have to assume that, as the Egyptians first encounter with this great being, they’re not impressed. He comes across not as just or fair, but as tribal and vengeful. This great God who supposedly wants to bring the whole world back to him someday certainly shows no interest in that here.

It’s a small story, there’s a limited amount to say but I can’t help but notice how unkind and inconsistent it all is. It doesn’t match anything I was ever told. You have to really twist to make it say what you need. That’s true of a lot more than I thought.

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