Pardes: Abram And Sarai In Egypt (sod)

My dear readers, every time I use the PARDES technique, applying it to a particular Scripture text, I always tremble in excitement and anticipation when I reach the final level – SOD, secret or mystery. So far, I have never been disappointed: the things that are revealed on this level, for me, indeed have been mind boggling. So, what is the SOD, what is the mystery of the strange Egyptian episode we’ve been discussing for the last few weeks?  Why did this episode happen – and even more importantly, if it did happen, why was it recorded in Scripture? What is the secret message hidden for us in this text?

 

LET THE JOURNEY BEGIN

We know that Abraham was a man of faith and obedience: he loved God with all his heart, he had great faith, and had proved his faith many times by being completely and unreservedly obedient. And even though, as we see from the Egyptian episode, he also loved his own life and feared for it, his love for God was even greater than this love for his own life. That is why he was still able to obey God so unreservedly and completely, even when this obedience implied uncertainty and risk. God called Abraham his friend – and this friendship, this relationship, began with a personal encounter in Genesis 12. Abraham met God – and ever since then, he had been growing into “God’s friend”.

But what about Sarah? Sarah didn’t hear Lech Lecha. She didn’t have the same personal encounter with God that her husband had. Have you ever thought what she must have been going through when her husband (not so young anymore), suddenly decided to move – and he was not even sure where they were going.  Of course, as a loving and obedient wife, she followed him – and yet, the difference between these journeys is very profound:  if Abraham’s going to Canaan was based on his love for and obedience to God, Sarah’s going to Canaan was based on her love for and obedience to her husband.

We don’t hear much from her in these first chapters of Abraham’s saga; in fact, the  first time we hear her, she asks her husband to go in to[1] Hagar. Before that, Sarah is completely silent – silent and obedient – perhaps a bit too silent and too obedient. An attentive reader cannot miss the fact that she traveled more in those first few chapters than any wife would normally agree to (unless she had special reasons to agree).  Not only did she move to Canaan, but in Canaan we see Abraham wandering endlessly throughout the Land, and it goes without saying that his wife followed him everywhere:

         Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem… 

        And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel…

So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.

 

Eventually, after all this wandering around the Land, they go down to Egypt:

 

…and Abram went down to Egypt.

Why was she so silent? Why didn’t Sarah ever question or argue with Abraham’s decisions (at least, Scripture doesn’t mention her doing so)? Why don’t we hear anything from her in these chapters?

SORE SPOT

We are touching Sarah’s sore spot now –a sore spot that had been aching for years. For most of her life, Sarah had lived with a terrible pain in her heart. Have you ever noticed that the very first thing we hear about Sarah is the fact that she was barren: But Sarai was barren; she had no child.[2]  This short message (repeated twice) occurs in Genesis 11, even before Lech Lecha, and speaks volumes: for a married woman to be barren at that time was a terrible calamity and, in everyone’s eyes, a clear sign of God’s (or gods) displeasure. It meant that the pain of inadequacy, shame, and guilt was something that Sarah had lived with, and no doubt struggled with, for many, many years, since the very first years of her long marriage.

Now perhaps we can understand why she was so silent: even a regular woman in that society was not supposed to be heard; how much more then, should a woman humiliated by “barrenness” be silent and obedient! And Sarah was indeed silent and obedient. She continued to follow her husband, not only out of obedience, but also out of shame and guilt. It’s interesting that the Hebrew  word עֲקָרָה  (akarah) “barren” – “is not only connected with such words as “unfruitful”, but also “displaced”, “destroyed” and “uprooted”. The ancient linguistic logic is as follows: “If a woman has no children she has no roots and therefore has a sense of displacement.”[3]

EGYPT

If we were puzzled by Abraham’s behavior in the “Egyptian episode,” we are stunned when it comes to Sarah. What happened between the husband and the wife on the way there? How did she react to Abraham’s suggestion (although she had probably heard it before as well[4])? Was she 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 Abraham had planned: the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. He treated Abram well for her sake.[5]  Can you imagine? Not only did her husband fail to protect her, he actually used her to save his life and to become rich!  This would be an incredible offense to any woman – and I think it must have been an incredible offense to Sarah as well!

And then, God Himself did what her husband failed to do.  God Himself saved  Sarah from Pharaoh. Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what happened there, exactly how Pharaoh realized that all those great plagues were because of Sarah, Abram’s wife.   It’s not that important, after all. What is important, however, is that in Egypt, out of her Egyptian misery, when God Himself interceded for her, Sarah’s own faith was born. When she followed Abraham 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 in Egypt, for the first time in her life, she had a personal encounter with God. She experienced firsthand 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 in Egypt 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 Him.

I believe that from this moment on, God becomes the main passion of Sarah’s life – and her journey also becomes a journey of faith. And, for me, this is the SOD of this Egyptian episode – it is not just one journey of faith that begins in Genesis 12, but two: while Abraham’s journey starts from Lech Lecha, Sarah’s journey begins in Egypt. “Now we believe not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard and know” …

 

If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a  discount) regarding eTeacher courses. I also encourage you to read my book, Abaraham had two sons: this is the   only Messianic book that is written according to PARDES layers of meaning, (click here for my books:  https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.)

 

[1] Genesis 16:2

[2] Genesis 11:30

[3] DHB-Torah, Unit 12, slide 18

[4] See Gen.20:13

[5] Genesis 12:14-16

[6] Psalms 103:6

[7] Genesis 16:5

 

 

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.

You might also be interested in:

We Came To Drive Away The Darkness...

By Julia Blum

Pardes: Abram And Sarai In Egypt...

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (11 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Suliaman lbn Smith

    Hello Prof.,
    Thanks for your deep knowledge of the Word.G-d richly Bless you with Wisdom and Understanding.
    Todah.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Suliaman, really appreciate your words.

  2. Margaret Hurford

    Hello Julia,
    Thank you for your insight in to Sarah’s life. Most of the time we focus on Abraham so it is interesting to consider Sarah’s journey of faith.
    I do agree that back in Egypt Sarah came to know God as her personal protector and it is possible that her own personal relationship with Him started at that point. But as we know she could not really trust God with her biggest problem, barrenness. And this was the reason why she had taken this matter in to her own hands and gave Hagar to Abraham.
    As I was reading your refection regarding Sarah’s emotional state, how agonizing it was for her to be barren I suddenly was able to see something new and wondered if there was connection between deep emotional wounds of the heart and lack of faith. It seems to me that her acute pain of shame,guilt and humiliation may have been a hindrance in getting God be involved in that area of her life. We know that even on hearing the angel proclaiming that she will be with a child she laughed in unbelief. I think that any unhealed emotional pain of our heart has a potential to hinder our walk of faith. And I can see more clearly how important it is to bring them to God in order to be healed, like Hannah did, pouring out her pain and sorrow to God.
    Thank you again for stimulating to think about heavenly things.
    Margaret

    1. Joseph Cuti

      I am afraid you and Julia are missing the biblical main point. Abraham is the new Adam while Sarah is the new Eve. If you go bak to Gen 3,20 you will read “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” In a way she has to give birth to Adam=Abraham first to become the mother of all the living. How can she accomplish such a thing? Simple, by saving him from sure death and therefore by accomplishing the mission for which she was created Gen 2,18: “I will make a helper suitable for him”. Where suitable means: someone who can help him to survive to my commandement (do not eat of this fruit). As we know, Eve failed, while Sarah fully succeed and in a certain way gives life and wealth (equivalent to things to eat) to her husband. A similar scene is repeated in Gen 20 , where Pharaoh is replaced by Avimeleck, who in a certain way acts as if he was Sarah’s father giving his daughter in mariage to Abraham. At this point Sarah becomes pregnant!
      A similar story happens to Isaac in Gen 26 with Rebekah. A colorful way of the Bible to tell us that Isaac and Rebekah are the new starting couple and therefore Rebekah has to be the mother of all living, included her husband. Rebekah will be buried with Sarah!
      So we can build any romance around these important characters of the Bible, but without loosing the true meaning of their role in the divine design of man salvation.
      I hope they you forgive me if my English is somewhat rough, as it is not my mother language!
      I am looking forward to your comments and remarks.

      1. Stephen Talugende

        English notwithstanding, your reflection is basically one of those revelations we get from the scriptures. I give thanks to all your reflections! This act of fellowship build and leads us to spiritual growth! Julia, Margaret and your reflections are all true to God’s purposeful being!

        1. Joseph Cuti

          Many thanks for your kind words, the Bible is light of God who asks us to translate it into actions. God blesse us.

      2. Julia Blum

        Thank you Joseph, for your wonderful comment, it was a new and interesting perspective for me. Definitely, Sarah could be – and has been -compared to Eve in different aspects , but I’ve never thought of Sarah “giving life and wealth to Abraham in Egypt” – and thus doing what Eve failed to do. Very interesting thought indeed! But even if we see it like this, I still don’t think that Abraham’s decisions and actions were justified: of course, God can use our mistakes and weaknesses and work out His plan even through these mistakes – but it doesn’t make them less wrong, does it? Even if the Egyptian episode had this symbolic and prophetic meaning, I am sure, Sarah was still feeling betrayed and abandoned – and in this sense, her personal encounter with God who didn’t abandon her and saved her, was still overwhelming.

        1. Joseph

          Thanks for your comments, Julia, although I am somewhat bewildered: How can you say that Abraham’s conduct was not justified when each time he goes through a test he receives the blessing and renewed promise of God? I missed the verse you refer to where Sarah meets God: what did He tell her? I asked myself the question as to wether the Bible tell us that Eve is the mother of all living, included Adam. And by carefully reading Gn 4 I would dare say that Abel is the icon of Adam. While the Bible tell us very precisely how Cain and all the others were conceived in order to be born, of Abel there is not a word: he was given birth without conception! Who he is then? And why God tels to Cain “The bloods (plural) of your brother..”? Obviously we can interpret that He was referring to the blood of all missed future generations, but it is more coherent to see in Abel the figure of Adam as this way Eve becomes the mother of all living. And in addition it explains why we are all born with this kind of jealousy for our father!
          In any case, I wish to thank you for your stimulating thoughts. Have a Merry Christmas.

          1. Julia Blum

            Joseph, thank you for your comments. I can reply you in your own words: I also “missed” the verse from Genesis 4 where it’s said that Abel was not conceived. It’s exactly the same procedure: the Scripture is silent about something, and we are filling the gap. In Jewish tradition, it’s called Midrash. Genesis 12 spoke to me about Sarah’s encounter with God, and Genesis 4 spoke to you about Abel being born without conception. Jewish sages said that Torah had 70 faces, and isn’t it wonderful that different people see different things in the Scripture?

    2. Julia Blum

      Yes, Margaret, I agree : Sarah’s story was the story of healing. Before she became Sarah, before she conceived, before she was able to be at the place where God wanted her to be, she had to be healed from within. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and there is a whole chapter about Sarah, Sarah’s pain and Sarah’s healing in my book Abraham had two sons.

      1. Joseph Cuti

        I also agree that Sarah, being the icon of a barren Eve needed first to be healed. There is no question about. And the same thing happens with Rebekah. But this healing process goes through Abraham and later Isaac. But please, do not belittle Abraham’s greatness and justice, because that would be a misreading, I am afraid.