Sarai would have been the loser in either one of the Abram/Pharoah scenarios. Either she is pulled into Pharaoh’s household as the widow of Abram (if they confess she is his wife) or she lies and says she is Abram’s sister and goes into Pharaoh’s palace with no loss of life. Undoubtedly, as the sister of a wealthy herdsman/patriarch (Abram), she would be included with some respect.
When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me [Abram] but will let you [Sarai] live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
And yet, the woman in me recoils at either plan.
I know, I know. Like Esther, she was highly regarded for her beauty. She was given servants and she was dressed in elegant clothing (or lack thereof, as I’m pretty sure the Egyptian dress of that period for the wealthy was exotic and revealing). She was introduced to and encouraged to participate in their customs. In essence, she became part of the Pharaoh’s harem.
Now, living in a harem was not a bad life in many ways. A harem is really the place where women lived within the palace that was off limits to men (except eunuchs). These women were really the earliest “sister-wives” (to use a term from popular television about a man with multiple wives who live in separate houses). In my experience, any time you have more than ten women in a single space (like my work), there will be the potential for deep friendships as well as deep resentments. I am sure there were ranks among these women, seniority, let’s say. This is often illustrated in the story of Esther (in the book of Esther).
How long did Abram plan to stay in Egypt? Just through the time of the famine? But how, then, would he extricate Sarai from the harem? By then, she would have become a fixture, a working part of the life there. Undoubtedly, she would have had sexual relations with the Pharaoh as well.
We are not told how Pharaoh found out that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife and not his sister, but I would guess, “someone told.” Maybe it was one of the other women. Maybe, as in the time of Moses, it was the plight of the children that brought out the truth. In any case, Sarai was actually released (tossed) from the household.
But what application is there for me in this story? Only one really.
If I believe that God’s hand is on the big picture of my life, even my mistakes are covered and will be transformed into another path that leads to the end God has for me (my true destiny). But I have to submit to the sovereignty of God for this to work out. Abram and Sarai had a habit of trying to help God along in bringing their destinies closer and faster. They trusted God. They loved God. They worshiped God. And yet, God didn’t seem to be working out those promises the way they expected.
We’ll never know, but perhaps God’s original plan had been for Abram’s household to stay in Canaan during the famine and to trust God to feed them. I don’t really know. But going to Egypt during the famine was clearly a “human” solution to their problem. And, as a result, a number of unintended consequences resulted. And yet, God worked WITH their bad choices in conjunction with His will.
There is still hope for me.
And so I say, dear God of my life, take my bad choices and my mistakes and put them back on the potter’s wheel. Reinvent them. As You will.