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doc's picture



Why did God punish Pharaoh for Abram's deception?

This is one of those cases where the Bible shows God doing something that just seems to be uncharacteristic of Him.

Please check out Gen 12:10-20 in your favorite translation. Abram was going into Egypt due to famine. He told his beautiful wife to join him in a lie and say that they were brother and sister. Pharaoh, enchanted with her beauty and thinking she was unwed, brought her into his home and took her as a wife.

For this, Pharaoh's house was stricken with terrible diseases, while Abram's deception was rewarded with great wealth, which he was able to take with him once the Pharaoh got wise and expelled them.

What gives? Where is the God of justice? "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," says Paul, according to 2 Timothy. But what kind of message is the Lord sending here?

(Ref also: Gen 20 and 26.)

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ozzyosborne's picture




I don't have an answer for you there doc. What i have to say is this that I have been wondering about this myself. It has always bugged me that Pharaoh got the short end of the stick. Maybe God used the diseases to reveal that Sara was Abram's wife? I don't know correct me if I'm wrong I think Abram got the wealth in Egypt from Pharaoh maybe as a peace offering to get rid of the diseases. If you read a little further Abram's son Isaac does the same sin.

Audj's picture



I think that this article might help answer your question...

"Abram had left a life of comfort in Ur in obedience to Jehovah's command. The inconveniences he experienced in the following years were merely a prelude to the trial of faith that he faced in Egypt. The Bible account says: "Now a famine arose in the land." How easy it would have been for Abram to feel bitter about his situation! Rather, he took practical steps to provide for his family. "Abram made his way down toward Egypt to reside there as an alien, because the famine was severe in the land." Abram's large household would hardly go unnoticed in Egypt. Would Jehovah prove true to his promises and protect Abram from harm?"”Genesis 12:10; Exodus 16:2, 3.

We read at Genesis 12:11-13: "It came about that as soon as he got near to entering Egypt, then he said to Sarai his wife: "˜Please, now! I well know you are a woman beautiful in appearance. So it is bound to happen that the Egyptians will see you and will say, "This is his wife." And they will certainly kill me, but you they will preserve alive. Please say you are my sister, in order that it may go well with me on your account, and my soul will be certain to live due to you.'" Although Sarai was over 65 years old, she was still strikingly beautiful. That put Abram's life at risk. (Genesis 12:4, 5; 17:17) More important, Jehovah's interests were at stake, for he had said that through Abram's seed all the nations of the earth would bless themselves. (Genesis 12:2, 3, 7) Since Abram was still childless, it was critical that he remain alive.

Abram spoke to his wife about using a ploy they had earlier agreed upon, namely, to say that she was his sister. Note that although he had patriarchal authority, he did not abuse his position but elicited her cooperation and support. (Genesis 12:11-13; 20:13) In this, Abram set a fine example for husbands to exercise loving headship, and Sarai, by demonstrating her subjection, is an example for wives today."”Ephesians 5:23-28; Colossians 4:6.

Sarai could say that she was Abram's sister because she really was his half sister. (Genesis 20:12) Furthermore, he was not under obligation to divulge information to people who were not entitled to it. (Matthew 7:6) Faithful servants of God in modern times heed the Bible's command to be honest. (Hebrews 13:18) They would never, for instance, lie under oath in a court of law. When the physical or spiritual lives of their brothers are at stake, such as in times of persecution or civil distress, however, they heed Jesus' counsel to be "cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.""”Matthew 10:16

How did Sarai respond to Abram's request? The apostle Peter describes women like her as "hoping in God." Sarai could therefore appreciate the spiritual issues involved. Besides, she loved and respected her husband. Sarai thus chose to "˜subject herself to her husband' and conceal her married status. (1 Peter 3:5) Of course, doing so exposed her to risks. "As soon as Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians got to see the woman, that she was very beautiful. And the princes of Pharaoh also got to see her and they began praising her to Pharaoh, so that the woman was taken to the house of Pharaoh.""”Genesis 12:14, 15.

Jehovah's Deliverance

How distressing this must have been for Abram and Sarai! It appeared that Sarai was in line to be violated. Moreover, Pharaoh, unaware of Sarai's true marital status, lavished gifts upon Abram, so that "he came to have sheep and cattle and asses and menservants and maidservants and she-asses and camels." (Genesis 12:16) What contempt Abram must have felt for these gifts! As bad as things may have looked, Jehovah had not abandoned Abram.

"Then Jehovah touched Pharaoh and his household with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife." (Genesis 12:17) In some undisclosed way, the true cause of these "plagues" was revealed to Pharaoh. He responded immediately: "With that 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," so that I was about to take her as my wife? And now here is your wife. Take her and go!' And Pharaoh issued commands to men concerning him, and they went escorting him and his wife and all that he had.""”Genesis 12:18-20; Psalm 105:14, 15."

and here is a paragraph from another article that kind of sums it up...

"In those days before Jehovah made his law covenant with Abraham's descendants through the mediator Moses, women were expendable. Remember how Lot offered to let the howling mob of Sodomites have his two marriageable or espoused daughters for their lust in order to protect the lives of the two men whom he had as guests in his house. (Gen. 19:1-8) Remember how the old man of Gibeah offered his virgin daughter and his guest's concubine to a like mob of Benjaminites in order to protect the religious Levite whom he was entertaining. Finally the Levite himself took his concubine wife, whom he was taking back home, and put her outside the house at the mercy of the mob, to her death. (Judg. 19:1-3, 10-28) So Abraham represented Sarah as his sister to prevent violent controversy over his wife. Sarah recognized Abraham as her lord and agreed to the arrangement, willing to take the consequences of the arrangement. She was willing to do her part to preserve the life of Jehovah's prophet, with whom He had made his covenant. Abraham looked upon this as an expression of her loving-kindness to him, and Sarah viewed it in the same way."”1 Pet. 3:5, 6."


GordW's picture



Genesis was written by those who called themselves the descendants of Abram. IT was not written as the events happened. Maybe God didn't do it anyway? Maybe the story was recast to put Abram in a better light (although he still comes off as at best half a hero)? Maybe it isn't history at all?

cjms's picture



I agree with Gord. If the Egytians were writing a story, the Egyptians would be the heroes. The Israelites were writings this one so Abram was the hero.


BelieverOrNot's picture



For the same reason many Christians blame Pontious Pilote for Jesus' death....

Really, you have a very rowdy crowd calling for the head of someone, if you don't appease them then chances are they are going to riot causing both the death and more deaths. It's all poilitics.

doc's picture



Audj, what you posted is quite the revisionist interpretation. I'm sorry, but I find it too much a stretch.

You cast Abram as the valiant hero, doing what he needed to do so that God's promise to him would not be circumvented. But didn't you know that God is omnipotent; nothing is circumvented except by his will? So why not trust in God, Jehovah Jirah, to provide a way? No, he chose to look after his own self preservation. I read the Bible and I see a coward, unable to stand up and say, "Behold, this precious jewel is my wife, through whom God will bless me."

Yes, Sarai and Abram were half-siblings as seen in Gen 20. But, the Enemy's most powerful lies are half-truths. Abram's claim was no different: a lie based in a half-truth. And lest you forget what is most important about Abram and Sarai, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Left his parents, joined his wife. To say "she is my sister" denies this. So I see Abram being rewarded for his deception and lack of trust in God, while Pharaoh is punished severely.

GordW, I am not concerned with whether the story is literally true. I don't think a story has to be historically factual in order for it to be "inspired" and "useful" in the sense of 2 Timothy. As far as I'm concerned, it is possible that the stories in Gen 12, 20, and 26 may be different perspectives on the same parable. But what is it telling us? The question is not, "Did it happen that way?" but rather, "What can I do with this?"

BShater's picture



A very interesting thread.
I guess what I would take from this story is that God will work with what he has to fullfill his purpose.
Abraham and Sarai lied to protect Abraham, and all the company travelling with them would have had to cover the lie.
God allowed the deceit, free will you know.
Pharoah wasn't lily pure, he wanted a woman and he took her.
Was the consequenses brought about by God or a natural phenomenum, that's another questions, meanwhile Pharoahs advisers would look for a source to blame it on, as was common at that time.
By a process of deduction Abraham and Sarai were deduced as the cause.
I'm guessing a lot of pressure made them tell the truth because they thought they would probably be killed anyway, so now they finally put themselves in God's hands.
When Pharoah thought that a God had caused this, he would not have wanted to anger him further and couldn't wait to get rid of Abraham and his wife.
A quote comes to mind.
"What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive".
That's my take on it anyway
blessed be

IBelieve's picture



Dear Doc,

I've always seen this scripture as an example of our own transgressions.

Here is Abraham who was declared righteous simply because he believed God. That is a preview of how we become righteous in God's eyes when we accept Jesus. (We believe God!)

Does it make us perfect in our carnal bodies? No! Only in God's grace and forgiveness and eternally.

So Abraham was justified in God's eyes even though he sinned (lied to save himself).

As far as being enriched and Pharaoh being cursed, if you go back to the beginning of the chapter verses 2&3, you will see the promise of God cursing those who curse Abraham and blessings on Abraham.

It doesn't seem fair on the surface and it's hard to grasp but as you read more about Pharaoh you will see that he was constantly against God. He wasn't a great guy.

One scripture that people have had trouble with is when it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart (Ex 9:12) and then punished him. Doesn't seem fair on the surface again but if you read a chapter before that you will see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. The first reference really mean's that it was because God was who He was that Pharaoh continued to reject Him. Therefore, God just being, caused Pharaoh to harden his own heart.

(LAN) "God gave Pharaoh many opportunities to heed Moses' warnings. But finally God seemed to say, "All right, Pharaoh, have it your way," and Pharaoh's heart became permanently hardened. Did God intentionally harden Pharaoh's heart and overrule his free will? No, he simply confirmed that Pharaoh freely chose a life of resisting God. Similarly, after a lifetime of resisting God, people today may find it impossible to turn to him."

I know it's still confusing but we are the one's who harden our own hearts each time we reject God.

By the way, isn't it interesting that Sarai was a knockout at her age. The other thing is Pharaoh didn't take her as a wife (vs. 19), he found out in time before anything happened. So God protected Sarai also.

Be Blessed,

IBelieve's picture



I agree with you, BShater.

The lie came about simply because they didn't trust in God to carry through with their plans.

They did the same thing with the first pregnancy.

There were consequences for both actions.

On the surface this one looks good for Abe but I suspect that he and Sarai went through a lot of anxiety until they were sent away.

Be Blessed,

IBelieve's picture



Lying usually comes from fear of some sort.

Like Peter denying he knew Jesus in:

Matthew 26:72 (NKJV)
But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!"

(LAN) That Peter denied that he knew Jesus, using an oath and calling down curses, does not mean he used foul language. This was the kind of swearing that a person does in a court of law. Peter was swearing that he did not know Jesus and was invoking a curse on himself if his words were untrue. In effect he was saying, "May God strike me dead if I am lying."

This shows lack of trust in God and faith can only come with trusting first!

BShater's picture



Thank you IBelieve
I find if we look at the biblical examples and stories as to how they would work in todays society, we come up with the spirit of why the stories were told.
Keeping it simple usually works quite well for me.
blessed be

StephenGordon's picture



Bear with me as I try to recall and explain those Jewish roots I have. Judaism did not teach me it was because Abram was in favour or one of "the chosen people". It is close to this, those I am sure I have not gotten it all right.

In this time, sisters do not inherit from brothers. If Pharoah kills Abram, the wealth and status associated with Sarai goes to Abram's male relatives. If they are married and brother and sister, then none of the wealth was dowry and none would go to Sarai if Abram died (the times were nice weren't they?). Abram's brother Eliiezer would have taken Sarai until he gave her to another man or she died.

If Abram is her brother, serving as her guardian, like Pharoah believed, under the law no one should "take" the woman without the brother's permission. When the woman would leave and be married, then and only then would the dowry be given.

Pharoah "took" a woman into his harem without questioning (like Shechem taking Dinah). It is against the law, it presumes Abram would approve the marriage... To act that way was to treat a woman as a prostitute (Genesis 34:31 lessons with Levi and Simeon).

Pharoah is keen on avoiding adultery, a theme develops regarding "innocence" based on ignorance. He could not have been prosecuted under the law. Yet, he is condemned and judged by God with plagues for what he knowingly did with impunity.

There is an attempt at premarital promiscuity with a woman you have no right to take. Abram would never have consented to give her as a wife. God vindicates Abram. God agrees with Abram's ethics about marriage and protecting his wife, though he did so by lying. God does not agree with the heinous nature of a sin thought nothing of, "taking" a woman without her being given to you.

doc's picture



Thank you StephenGordon for those insights, that's great stuff and it does lend a deeper understanding to this story.

As for Abram being rewarded for his deception, well, that is just an earthly reward. It pales in comparison to the promise offered by God, to make Abram's descendants into a nation and to bless them greatly. That blessing was withheld for 25 years - not as a punishment, but because Abram wasn't ready to receive it.

During that time God tested, challenged, and matured Abram into the patriarch he was meant to be - both in his dealings with God and with his fellow man. In Gen 21 we see that Abram has honed his diplomatic skills and no longer has to lean on the crutch of deception. In Gen 22 we see that he has learned to trust God in all things, even with the life of his only son.

Interesting how that period of learning is bracketed by those two stories, about Pharaoh (Gen 12) and then king Abimelech (Gen 20). I like the differences in the second story. I like that this time the king's gifts came after the dirty laundry was all aired out. I especially like the end, where Abraham prays over the king's family to lift the curse of infertility. And then, in the next scene, Isaac arrives.

I see this second incident not his final test (or he would have failed) but as the final lesson through which he really learned to let God shape his life.

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