On my way through the book of Genesis I spent the morning in Genesis chapter 12, and I realized that this text and the chapters that follow may have a powerful message about wives and marriage in general.
When we meet Abram he has just left his country, his family, and his father’s house. Nothing is said about his financial state, though things cannot have been good once the famine hit Canaan (Genesis 12:10). All we know is that his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot accompanied him on his travels.
Picture Abraham upon his arrival in Egypt. He’s left everything he knows just to get stuck in a famine. I doubt that he had much by way of material possessions at this point since the wealth of a nomad is measured in sheep, goats, and cattle, and guess what happens to them in a famine. In other words, not only is Abraham afraid that Pharaoh may bump him off for Sarai, but he is also financially destitute.
With this in mind, read what Abraham tells Sarai, “Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:13). Do you see the first thing he mentions? Abram is not only trying to save his own neck, he’s banking on using Sarai to advance his fortune.
In the context of the times, remember that Sarai hasn’t been the best match for Abram (from Abram’s perspective that is). Though beautiful, she is barren, and that is a major problem back in that time. So from Abram’s point of view, I wonder if he’s trying to use Sarai as a way to get ahead through the good will of Pharaoh.
As Abram expected, everything fell into place. Pharaoh takes the bait and marries Sarai, and then promptly begins showering Abram and Lot with gifts: “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels” (Genesis 12:16). By Genesis 13 Abram and Lot are very wealthy.
But in the midst of Abram’s agenda to acquire wealth and blessing, God steps in because Abram is not following God’s path, but his own invention. When sickness hits Pharaoh’s household, he must have interrogated Sarai because he soon uncovers the trick and angrily dismisses Abram and Sarai, sending them back to Canaan.
That must have a been a long, silent camel ride back to Canaan. I cannot imagine the marital tension at this point, and of course God says to Abram that Sarai is the woman who will bear his heir, which is probably not quite what Abram had in mind.
All throughout this story we have the conflicting values of the Lord and Abram’s culture where women were not valued or treasured in a way that resembles Genesis 2:24, especially the part about becoming one. In the midst of this story about faith and the beginning of God’s salvation plan, we have a struggling marriage that God is working to reconcile.