Genesis 12:10-20

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.

11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance.

12 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.

13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”

14 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.

16 He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.

18 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?

19 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.”

20 So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.

At this time, a particularly severe trial of Abram’s faith took place. A grievous famine developed in the land, and it looked as though the land could no longer sustain him and his family and flocks. God’s promise had not changed, however, and Abram needed to learn to trust God not only when his needs were being supplied freely but also when it appeared that suffering and privation were imminent. But Abram was not equal to this test, and he soon yielded to the temptation to take matters into his own hand. — Morris, page 297.


If Abram openly acknowledged Sarai to be his wife, he reasoned, he would probably be killed and she would be taken by the Egyptians into who-knows-what circumstances of moral degradation. If he said she was one of his servants, his own life might be spared; but she herself would probably be taken and defiled in perhaps even greater ways. The best solution would be to call her his sister. Actually, he reasoned, this was really true, because she was his half-sister (Genesis 20:12). … If Sarai were recognized as his sister, both she and Abram would be treated with respect and his life would not be endangered. It is true that this might mean she would be approached by the Egyptians for sexual purposes, but that would be true also if Abram were killed for her sake; so this seemed the best of a bad bargain.

Sarai no doubt saw it in this light also, and so she went along with the half-truth. … Actually, it turned out better than they had hoped. Instead of becoming involved with the ordinary Egyptians, Sarai came to the attention of Pharaoh himself. She was seen by Pharaoh’s princes, and they “commended” her to Pharaoh as a prime candidate to become one of his wives!

The word used here is the Hebrew hallal, meaning “to praise.” This is the first occurrence of this word in the Bible, and, in accordance with the principle of first mention, as it applies to important Biblical words, it seems to have a special significance here. Nearly always, it is used in reference to praising God, but here first of all it is used in reference to praising a godly woman…. The first use of hallal in this connection, therefore, seems to be reminding us that unsaved men will only come to praise God if they have first been constrained to praise those who manifest God to them. Pharaoh’s princes could see something unique in Sarai, not only her physical beauty, but also an “adorning” with a meek and quiet spirit, an inner beauty (1 Peter 3:3-6). Rather than taking her for themselves, they were constrained to “praise” her to Pharaoh himself. Rather than defiling her, however, he began to consider her for marriage. Furthermore, rather than Abram’s being murdered for Sarai’s sake, as he had feared, he was lavished with presents from Pharaoh, with flocks and herds and servants in abundance. — Morris, pages 298-299.


But what would happen when Pharaoh actually decided to take Sarai has his wife? Would both Abram and Sarai still continue the deception to that point? Having involved themselves so deeply, what else could they do? It had been God’s intention to bring the promised Seed into the world through them, and this development would certainly prevent that from happening. …

Whether God actually spoke to Pharaoh, or whether he found it out by talking to Lot or to one of Abram’s servants, the king of Egypt soon came to realize that Sarai was already married. …

Pharaoh now feared to harm either Sarai or Abram; but he did sharply rebuke Abram, and no doubt Sarai also. He lost all respect and affection for them, and of course was not attracted to their God, even though he had to recognize that God was with them and that he could not harm them. …

The Lord surely could have supplied their needs in Canaan, even in time of famine. But once in Egypt, they should have been careful to maintain a good testimony at all costs. God could have protected them there, too, without such a degrading compromise. After all, He did protect them and provide for them, even in spite of their compromise. — Morris, pages 300-301


When faced with a famine in the land to which God had brought him, rather than trusting God would bless and provide for him in the midst of famine (as he does for Isaac during famine: see Genesis 26:1-3), or seeking guidance through sacrifice and prayer (as does Jacob during the famine in his day; see Genesis 46:1-4), he is portrayed as taking matters into his own hands and adopting a course of “situational ethics” which is naught but a chain of ever-deepening sin borne of a faith that is all but nonexistent. First he demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s provision, prompting him to leave Canaan and go to Egypt. Then he demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s protection, prompting him to lie—and ask Sarai to lie as well—about their marital relationship. Rather than loving his wife as himself (see Ephesians 5:33; Leviticus 19:18)—considering her welfare and guarding her honor—Abram is exclusively concerned with his own welfare—”that it might go well with me.” Indeed, Abram’s self-interest and weak faith at this point are such that he remains silent not only when Sarai is taken to the palace, but also when she is taken as Pharaoh’s wife—and in so doing, Abram is the cause of the additional sin of adultery on the part of Sarai and Pharaoh. Though some translations attempt to soften the situation by paraphrasing Pharaoh’s words in verse 19 in a way that suggests he had not yet married her, the Hebrew text itself is quite clear, with Pharaoh employing the typical verbal idiom for marriage—i.e., “to take so-and-so to oneself as a wife” in a form signifying completed (past) action. — Wechsler, page 178.


The purpose of this episode—which is unquestionably among the lowest points in Abram’s career—is not to single out Abram as more depraved than anyone else, for in the end he is merely symptomatic of the human condition and the virus of depravity endemic to us all. Rather, by presenting this episode immediately after God’s declaration of the Abrahamic Promise (Covenant), Scripture is reinforcing our appreciation of the unconditionality of that promise by making clear that it was not only bestowed in the absence of merit (the point of Genesis 11:27-32), but that it is maintained even in the presence of demerit—and if so with respect to Abram, then so too with respect to us today who benefit from that preeminent provision of blessing in Abraham’s Seed. — Wechsler, page 179.

Morris and another commentary say that this event was an attempt by Satan to destroy God’s plan to bring His promised seed through Abraham and Sarah—that if Sarah had borne Pharaoh’s child, she couldn’t have borne Isaac who continued the line to the Messiah. But Genesis 11:30 states that Sarah was barren, so she couldn’t have borne a child to Pharaoh. She could only have Isaac after God intervened. So, if Wechsler is right that Pharaoh and Sarah did commit adultery, it wouldn’t ruin God’s plan. It would just be another example of God using sinners.

This entry was posted in Genesis. Bookmark the permalink.