Biblical Portraits: Sarah -the Egyptian Encounter

For Sarah’s Sake

Last time, we watched a barren woman obediently and silently following her wandering husband. We remember that Abram, being 75 years old, did something amazing: when called to go, he… obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.[1]  Did he expect some sort of reward for this incredible obedience – for this truly outstanding action? I suppose that at least his wife did. Instead, the very first thing that greeted them upon their arrival was a famine. With all due respect to the biblical matriarch, I can imagine that Sarai asked her husband more than once: “Why? Please remind me exactly why we came here? Why did we leave our settled, comfortable lives in Haran and come here to live in tents, to wander from place to place, and now to starve?” Abram had had a personal revelation, a personal call from God, and he had a strong faith; Sarai didn’t have any of that, and I can imagine that to her, these hardships that ‘rewarded’ their unprecedented move would have seemed especially unreasonable, even unfair. One has to have a genuine relationship with God to be able to live by faith and be certain of the things not seen. Sarai needed to experience God’s love first; only then would she be able to live her life out of love for Him. In all honesty, I believe that this is the main reason God allowed the appalling Egyptian episode to be part of Abraham’s story: for Sarah’s sake.

Egypt

While drawing the Biblical Portrait of Abraham, we were perplexed when we tried to understand Abraham’s behavior during this ‘Egyptian episode’. However, we are just stunned when it comes to Sarai. What happened between the husband and wife on the way there? Why was she absolutely passive throughout the whole story? She was told by Abram to say that she was his sister; she was taken to Pharaoh’s house, and she clearly became the subject of Pharaoh’s attention and flirtation. And yet, during all this time, we don’t hear a single word from her. How did she react when her husband, the love of her life, out of fear for his own life, asked her to pretend to be his sister? How would any woman react if her beloved said to her one day:

“Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife;’ and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”[2]

    Was Sarai offended? Upset? Mad? Disappointed? Whatever her emotions were, whatever storms shook her heart, outwardly she remained absolutely silent—we don’t hear anything from her throughout the whole story. Everything went exactly as Abram had planned:

So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. He treated Abram well for her sake.[3] 

Not only did her husband fail to protect her, he actually used her to save his life and to become rich: He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. This would be an incredible offense to any woman, and I think it must have been an incredible offense to Sarah, as well—all the more so, if we remember the meaning of the name “Sarai”: “my princess” שרי)). Think of it: not only did Abram fail to protect ‘his princess,’ but he never even tried!

 

The climax of the Egyptian story happens when God Himself saves Sarai from Pharaoh: But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.[4] This short, vague verse presents a wide-open invitation for filling in, and indeed, there is no shortage of midrashic commentary on this verse. However, Scripture itself doesn’t specify what happened there, or exactly how Pharaoh realized that all those great plagues were because of Sarah, Abram’s wife. All we know is that somehow, probably by God’s direct intervention and revelation in a dream, Pharaoh did realize it: And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.”[5]

 

I personally believe that from this moment on, God becomes the main passion of Sarai’s life. Her faith, her trust, and her belief in His compassion and His omnipotence—all of that was born out of her Egyptian misery, when God Himself interceded for her. When speaking of Abram, we said that the “Egyptian episode” was priceless because we learned so many important things about Abraham. The story is even more invaluable with regard to Sarai, when we consider what we learn about her. I believe that in Egypt, Sarai’s faith was born. I think that when she followed Abram in chapter 12, she was just acting as an obedient wife (all the more so, since she felt guilty, humiliated, and ashamed because of her barrenness), but I believe that in Egypt, for the first time in her life, she had a personal encounter with God. She experienced for herself the truth that God Himself protects those who are left without human protection, that the Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.[6] He Himself saved her, and the gratitude, the overwhelming feeling of safety and protection, and the deep inner knowledge that she could always rely on Him, would stay with her forever. From that time forward, she knew that she could trust God completely. Her husband might fail her, as happened in Egypt, but the Lord would never fail her. That is why later, she could say to Abraham: The Lord judge between you and me”[7]– because she knew she could always rely on His judgment. And indeed, again and again, the Lord did back her up in her arguments with Abraham, as we will soon see.

[1] Hebrews 11:8

[2] Genesis 12:11-13

[3] Genesis 12:14-16

[4] Genesis 12:17

[5] Genesis 12:18,19

[6] Psalms 103:6

[7] Genesis 16:5

Excerpts from my  book “Abraham had two sons”  are included in this  series, you  can get  this book and my other books from  my page on this blog:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/   . Also,  my new book “Unlocking the Scriptures”   is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew BibleI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com).

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. […] amazing: when called to go, he… obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.[1]  Did he expect some sort of reward for this incredible obedience – for this truly outstanding […]