Abram had moved out in faith because of the promises of God. The LORD told him to leave his country and his father’s household and go to an entirely new land. God was going to raise up so many descendants for him that they would become an entire nation. That nation was to be a part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the entire world. But Abram was not alone on his journey, and he was not the only one who had to show tremendous trust in what God said. His wife Sarai would have to faithfully move out into a world that was very different from her own as well. They would have to put their hope in God together, acting as obedient partners in God’s work, reflecting the image of God in their love and support for each other.
They made the long journey to the land of Canaan. They were nomads, living in tents that were easy to pick up and move. They herded their flocks and herds with them, careful to stop in places where there would be plenty of water to drink and grass for their animals to graze on. They stayed in the hill country that fringed around the land of Canaan, careful not to threaten the tribes and nations that already lived there. Along their dusty path, Abram built altars of grateful praise to his God. They were monuments to the LORD, and monuments to Abram’s faith. He did not fight, fret, or manipulate for the land. He did not try to invade them on his own. He stood in faith, believing he would receive it freely from the hand of God.
They had been living in Canaan for some time when a severe famine came. Any famine is a terrible thing, as it means that there is not enough food to go around. Perhaps the famine came because there hadn’t been enough rain for the crops of food. Or perhaps a disease had come to destroy the plants or animals of the region. Whatever caused it, it was dangerous. Many people could starve to death. Many others would grow weak and ill.
Can you imagine the sense of responsibility and fear that Abram felt? Here was his precious wife, his nephew, their servants, and all their animals, and all of them depended on the wisdom of his leadership to survive. Did he wake up in fear at night, imagining his beloved wife having to go without food? Did he picture his animals growing skinny and weak? The Bible doesn’t say exactly which horrors drove Abram to fear, but we do know that he was overcome by those fears.
Abram gathered up his tents and moved his family down to the land of Egypt. The mighty Nile River was there. When every other region went without water because the rains had stopped, Egypt could rely on the vast flow of water that constantly poured through the Nile’s riverbanks. Their farms crops and their animals were often healthy and strong in the worst of times. The Nile was so important to the Egyptians that they worshiped the river as a god. In many ways, Abram was doing the same thing. In his fear of famine, he did not trust God to provide for him in the land of promise. He left the place of God’s calling to go where there was help that he could see and understand. Faith is believing in what cannot be seen. Abram was not standing in faith.
As they traveled closer to Egypt, Abram began to worry about something else. His wife was radiantly beautiful. He knew that other men would desire her, and he knew how vicious they might become towards the man she was married to. He was afraid. Here was another chance to take his fears to God, to show his trust and faith in the LORD. Instead, he turned to Sarai and put the burden of his fears on her. He said, “‘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.’”
Sure enough, when they arrived in Egypt, the surpassing beauty of Sarai became known far and wide. Word spread as far as the high officials of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They went to their king and told him that a great beauty had come to live among them. The Pharaoh sent for her. When he saw her, he agreed with the rumors…she was ravishing. And since everyone had been told that Sarai was without a husband, the Pharoah took her to live in his palace.
Meanwhile, Abram was treated very well for giving the king his sister. He received sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and human servants in gratitude for giving the Pharaoh such a lovely gift. What was Abram thinking? Sarai had become a part of the royal harem! The Pharaoh wanted to come to her as a man should only come to his wife!
Abram had put his wife at terrible risk. He had put God’s promises in danger, too. God said that He would make a great nation through Abram, but in God’s eyes, Abram and Sarai were one flesh. They were married, and the promise of the covenant was to come through their united flesh. It was meant to happen through the love they shared in their marriage. Sarai had a sacred role to play that was every bit as important as Abram’s! But now Sarai was at risk to have a child from a man that was not her husband.
Imagine how Sarai felt as she sat alone in the palace, waiting for the king to come. What was she going to do? Was she mad that Abram had forced her to protect him? Did she feel betrayed that he had not protected her as a husband should? And how was God going to come through?
The Lord is patient. As Abram struggled to become a man of faith, God would help him along the way, especially as he faltered and failed. God would not let Sarai be violated by the Pharaoh of this idolatrous nation. The covenant was unbreakable. God sent a serious disease to infect every member of Pharaoh’s house. Imagine the entire palace writhing in discomfort. They all wondered what they had done to deserve this plague. Then Pharaoh discovered that the painful infliction had come because he had taken the wife of Abram. So the Pharaoh called for him. He said:
“‘What have you done to me…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!’” (Gen. 12:18b-20)
Wow! Now Sarai was safe, but the wrath of the Pharaoh was against them…and he had every right to be angry! Abram took Sarah and everything they had and left Egypt. With all the riches given to him by the Pharaoh, Abram had become a very wealthy man. He had added great amounts of animals and silver and gold from the Pharaoh.