GENESIS 12:9-20


When we were first introduced to Abram in Genesis 11:27-29, we also saw the mention of two other characters who will play significant roles in the Abraham narrative.  They are Sarai and Lot.  They were introduced for a specific reason.  First we see a problem involving Sarai, then in the next chapter we will see a problem involving Lot.


The way some preachers present the gospel, you would think that once you respond to the call of God in faith and repentance, all your problems are solved and you can be happy all the time without a care in the world.  The truth is that the Christian life is a life that faces regular problems.


This is seen here in the life of Abram.  He had been responsive to the call of God in his life and he acted on faith, setting out for a land that God would show him.  He arrived in the promised land and he built and altar to worship the Lord and he called upon the Lord.  You would think that the next verse would tell us that Abram lived happily ever after.  But it doesn’t say anything of the sort.  Instead we read of the onset of a famine in the land.


Why?  Why does the Lord allow troubles to come our way?  Wouldn’t it be a lot nicer if we never had to face any difficulties in life?  The problem with such a question is that it ignores the positive benefit of our problems.  James 1:2-3 calls you to count it all joy when you encounter various trials.  Why?  Because the testing of your faith produces endurance.  Just as the only way for a muscle to grow is by exercising it, in the same way, the only way for your faith to grow is that it be tested.  Warren Wiersbe put it this way, “A faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted.”


That is not to say that we should be out looking for trouble.  Jesus taught His disciples to pray that they might be delivered from the evil one.  But when trouble does come, we are to utilize it as an opportunity for growth.





            9 And Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. 10 Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. (Genesis 12:9-10).


The world of Abram’s day was rooted in an agricultural economy.  A famine meant mass starvation.  The crops would die and the watering places for the animals would dry up and disappear.  This particular famine was catastrophic, for it was severe in the land. [1]


The word Negev refers to the desert area to the south of Canaan and came to be the general Hebrew word for “south.”

Because of the famine, Abram goes down to Egypt to escape starvation.  This was a natural choice since the Nile River was not so affected by the vagrancies of climate as are the smaller rivers of Canaan.  We are not told that Abram did the wrong thing in entering Egypt.  Some have assumed that, because God brought him into the land, he should have remained here and trusted the Lord.  Perhaps there is some truth to such an idea.  But the book of Genesis provides an interesting parallel to the case of Abram.  It is found in the entrance of Jacob and his family into Egypt.


When we come to Genesis 46, we shall see Jacob and his entire family migrating to Egypt.  The reason for this migration will be the same as that of Abram’s migration.  It will be due to a famine in the land.  At that time, the Lord appears to Jacob to tell him that he should not be afraid to go down to Egypt (Genesis 46:3).


Abram is given no such word from the Lord.  Insofar as we are able to determine from the narrative, he is not given permission to go to Egypt and he is not forbidden to go into Egypt.


On the other hand, we will not see Abram building any altars in Egypt and he will not said to be calling on the name of the Lord while he is in Egypt.  Instead of seeing Abram’s faith, we are presented with Abram’s fear.





            11 And it came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 12 and it will come about when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you." (Genesis 12:11-13).


The pyramids and the Sphinx had long since been completed by the time Abram came to Egypt.  This was the First Intermediate Period of Egypt’s history.  It was a time of disunity as Egypt had broken up into several small feudal kingdoms, each attempting to gain power over its neighbor. During this period, it was not uncommon for foreigners to be permitted entrance into the country.


As Abram approaches Egypt, he becomes afraid.  His fear is that the Egyptians will desire

Sarai would have been 65 years old at this time (Genesis 12:4).

his wife for her great beauty and that they will murder him in order to obtain her for themselves.  At least one reason for this fear is understood when we examine an Egyptian narrative found in the Papyrus d'Orbiney known as the Tale of the Two Brothers.  Dating to the 19th Dynasty of Egypt and therefore considerably later than the days of Abraham, it tells the fictional account of a pharaoh murdering the husband of a beautiful woman so that he could marry her. [2]


Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  That sounds nice, but it really is not true.  There are a lot of things in this world that are the legitimate objects of fear.  But you do not have to fear when you can trust in One who is in control of all the circumstances of life.


Abram has a choice to make.  He can either depend upon the Lord and trust in Him for deliverance or else he can depend upon a plan of his own contrivance.  He chooses the latter.  His plan will involve at least a partial deception.  He will pretend that he and Sarah are brother and sister.  We will later learn that there is some truth to this matter and that Sarah is a half-sister to Abram (Genesis 20:12).


There is another term for such a half-truth.  It is called a lie.  When we tell a half-truth, we are hoping the people will believe the wrong half.  The plan is that Abram and Sarai will live out this lie by concealing the truth nature of their relationship.  At the root of this lie is a mistrust of the Lord.  Abram is trusting in his own plans instead of trusting in the Lord.


16 There are six things which the LORD hates,

Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:

17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,

And hands that shed innocent blood,

18 A heart that devises wicked plans,

Feet that run rapidly to evil,

19 A false witness who utters lies,

And one who spreads strife among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19).


Notice that when the Bible lists the seven sins that are an abomination to the Lord, lying is mentioned twice.  God is a truth-teller and He calls His people to be truth-tellers, too.





            14 And it came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. (Genesis 12:14-16).


Abram’s earlier fears were not without cause.  The beauty of Sarai was not merely in the eyes of a loving husband.  Even though she was 65 years old, her beauty came to the attention of the officials of Egypt who reported it to the Pharaoh.  Accordingly, she was taken to be a part of the Pharaoh’s harem and Abram was accorded with a substantial dowry of cattle and human servants.


Note that from a human standpoint, the lie worked.  It accomplished that for which it was designed.  Abram had been concerned for his life and that “it would go well” with him.  The lie resulted in Abram being given all sorts of material possessions.


Lies often work for a time.  If that were not the case, people would not lie in the first place.  But when you lie, you can be assured that the truth will eventually come out.  There is coming a day when everything shall be known and when nothing will remain hidden.


Furthermore, lies have a way of bearing unwanted children.  The initial lie that was meant for Abram’s protection did nothing to protect the sanctity of  the marriage between Abram and Sarai.  The resulting actions would take the form of a tragedy were it not for the actions of the Lord.





            17 But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife.

            18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go." 20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him. (Genesis 12:17-20).


Now the Lord enters the story.  Up to this point, we have read of Abram and Sarai and the Pharaoh and their parts have all intersected, but none have been presented as the hero of the narrative.  That part is given to the Lord.  He is the hero who redeems the situation that has been hopelessly muddled.  He does this by striking Pharaoh and his house with great plagues.


As we read this, we must remember who were the original recipients of this book.  It is written to the Israelites in the wilderness.  They are the same Israelites who witnessed the great plagues against Egypt that brought about their deliverance.  They were released from Egypt because of the great plagues that the Lord brought against that land.  Now they are to learn and understand that God has done the same thing in the past to bring Sarai out of the house of the Pharaoh.  Allen Ross points out the parallels between Abram’s experiences and those of Israel in Egypt. [3]




Abram travels to Egypt because of a famine in the land (Genesis 12:10).

Israel travels to Egypt because of a famine in the land (Genesis 43:1; 47:4).

Abram is afraid that he will be killed by the Egyptians (Genesis 12:11-13).

Israel faces being killed by the Pharaoh who orders all male babies to be thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:16).

Sarai taken into the house of the Egyptian pharaoh (Genesis 12:14-15).

Israel taken into bondage in Egypt (Exodus 1:11-14).

Pharaoh stricken with great plagues (Genesis 12:17).

Egypt stricken with great plagues (Exodus 7-11).

Pharaoh:  “Now then, here is your wife, take her and go” (Genesis 12:19).

Pharaoh: “Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go” (Exodus 12:32).


Abram and Sarai serve as the forerunners for the nation of Israel.  What happened to them has also been experienced by Israel.  In the same way they were delivered from the hand of the pharaoh of Egypt, so also Israel has been delivered from the hand of the pharaoh.


What is the point of the parallel?  It is to show that God is faithful in rescuing His people, even when His people are themselves unfaithful.  Abram’s unfaithfulness is seen as the pharaoh calls him in to question him.


The Israelites were to see themselves in this parallel and I think it is also appropriate for us to look and see ourselves in this parallel.  Abraham is regularly used in the Scriptures as a paradigm for our faith.  As is often the case, what is true for Abraham is also true of you.


Have you been facing a famine in your life?  Have you found yourself becoming enslaved to your particular situation?  Have you found that, no matter what you do, it only gets you in deeper and deeper?  There is a message here for you.  There is One who died in your place to purchase you out of you enslaving relationships and to make you His own beautiful and beloved bride.  He is the counterpart to Abram.  He does not lie or ask us to lie; He is the One in whose lips there was no deceit.  Abraham was fearful of his own life when he went does to Egypt, but Jesus willingly and deliberately gave up His life on the cross and went down to the grave on our behalf that He might defeat death.


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[1] The Hebrew text says that “the famine was heavy in the land” (#r,a'B' b['r'h' dbek'‑yKi).

[2] Wolfgang Wettengel. Die Erzahlung von den beiden Brudern Der Papyrus d'Orbiney und die Konigsideologie der Ramessiden Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis. Academic Press Fribourg, 2003.

[3] Allen P. Ross. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker (1996), Page 273.