So begins the saga of Abram, the next big-hitter name in this book of all books. God tells Abram to “get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee” (12:1). This three-fold separation of Abram rhetorically singles him out for greatness as the chosen one, a parallel to Noah. Abram ‘hero’s journey’ is as old as storytelling itself, so we also know, at best, he will struggle greatly; at worst, it won’t end well.
In addition to his wife, Abram brings his nephew Lot. Why? Well, let’s go back to Chapter 11 for a second–
“But Sarai was barren; she had no child.” (11:30)
So far, the Bible has clearly put legacies and heritage as paramount. Human existence turns on continuing one’s legacy. Sarai is the first person specifically mentioned in the Bible to have no children: she’s literally singled out. And, as women’s sole responsibilities so far in this book have been bearing sons and/or causing original sin, what does this mean for her identity? The sheer gravity of this line is enough to make anyone stop and think. How awful it must feel, no matter what sex you are, if you know you are the reason you and your spouse cannot have a child — a sadness understood in all languages.
But there is some hope, at least for Abram. God tells him, “Unto thy seed I will give this land” (12:7), so either God is lying, Sarai becomes miraculously un-barren, or Abram finds another wife. I honestly don’t remember what happens, but all are equally likely — this is the Bible, after all.
Speaking of weird scenarios, the following story I had never heard about at all, so hopefully I’m getting this right. So Abram and Sarai make their way to Egypt. Sarai is (apparently) very beautiful, so Abram says he won’t introduce her as his wife, because otherwise they’d kill him and take her (12:11-12). So instead he decides to lie and say she’s his sister, because then they’d treat him well for her sake.
So basically, Abram would rather become a cuckold than die. Well, it sounds like his wife would be “taken in” by the Egyptians either way, so I guess I would, too.
This logic shows Abram clearly views the Egyptians as a savage culture, since this didn’t seem to be a problem in their travels before. However, the narrative turns this idea on its head when the Pharaoh discovers Sarai and Abram’s true relationship.
God sends plagues to Egypt because, well, the Pharaoh is screwing another man’s wife. (I guess that’s against the Commandments even if they haven’t been formalized yet.) The Pharaoh witnesses the destruction on his house, and he pleads:
“What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister?” (12:18-19)
Pharaoh’s three questions highlight his desperation and even make you pity him. His house is visited with “great plagues” because of a crime he was not aware he was committing. It seems he would not have taken Sarai as a wife if he had known she was already Abram’s. Its dramatic tone makes this my favorite line.
Also to his credit, Pharaoh doesn’t kill Abram or Sarai for lying to him: he sends them away (12:20), presumably to continue their carpetbagger ways. Funnily enough, this metaphor fits even better than I originally thought, since Abram and Sarai were travelling to the South.
But hmmm, plagues in Egypt causing Pharaoh to send people away? I’ve seen this movie before…