[b-hebrew] Was Pharaoh "Touched" or "Plagued" by God at Genesis 12: 17?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Aug 20 15:31:43 EDT 2008


Rev. Bryant J. Williams III:
 
You wrote:  “Although Abraham is clearly a man of faith, this does not mean 
that he did not have moments of unfaithfulness.”
 
Is that a sensible interpretation of Abraham’s interactions with Pharaoh and 
Abimelek?  
 
1.  A few weeks before entering Egypt, Abraham receives the following grand 
divine vision from YHWH:
 
“Now the LORD [YHWH] said unto Abram: 'Get thee out of thy country, and from 
thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee. 
 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy 
name great; and be thou a blessing.  And I will bless them that bless thee, 
and him that curseth thee will I curse;  and in thee shall all the families of 
the earth be blessed.  'So Abram went, as the LORD [YHWH] had spoken unto him….”
  Genesis 12: 1-4
 
Is it plausible to think that Abraham lost all his faithfulness on the road 
from Harran to Egypt?
 
2.  Similarly, a few days (or possibly a week or so) before Abraham gets to 
Gerar, (i) YHWH promises Abraham that Sarah will bear Isaac, less than 12 
months from now, as Abraham’s sole proper male heir (Genesis 18: 10, 14), and (ii) 
Abraham witnesses the divine fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 
19: 24-29). 
 
Is it plausible to think that Abraham lost his faithfulness in a matter or a 
few days (or a few weeks at most) after witnessing those two dramatic divine 
events, prior to arriving soon thereafter at Abimelek’s place in Gerar?
 
3.  Is it plausible that either Pharaoh or Abimelek actually thinks that old 
Sarah is an unmarried virgin?  Is it plausible that Abraham really fears he 
may be murdered by Pharaoh or Abimelek?  Is it plausible that Abraham shows 
little hesitation to give up Sarah permanently, first to Pharaoh, and then later 
to Abimelek?  Is Abraham being portrayed in Hebrew sacred scripture as being a 
faithless monster?  No way! 
 
Why do you trust what Pharaoh says at Genesis 12: 18-19?  Isn’t that 
self-serving propaganda by a politician caught with a married woman in his household?
 
Why do you trust Abimelek’s claim that YHWH supposedly praised Abimelek for “
the simplicity of thy heart” at Genesis 20: 6?  Is that the way one would 
expect YHWH to deal with a non-Hebrew ruler?  Isn’t the text there in effect 
reporting what Abimelek  s-a-i-d  to Abraham and the assembled multitude the next 
morning?  If so, then why believe what Abimelek  s-a-i-d  happened in his 
bedroom last night when a married woman was there?
 
Does the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives expect us to trust the 
foregoing self-serving claims of Pharaoh and Abimelek?  Does the Hebrew author 
of the Patriarchal narratives want us to view Abraham in these two cases as 
being cowardly, immoral and faithless?  Remember, in both cases Abraham received 
tremendous divine promises directly from YHWH immediately before these 
incidents occur.
 
It simply is not plausible to postulate that a Hebrew author is having an 
Egyptian Pharaoh and a Canaanite ruler (Abimelek) castigate beloved Hebrew 
Patriarch Abraham for faithlessness, where we the audience are supposed to take the 
self-serving propaganda of Pharaoh and Abimelek at face value, and we the 
audience are supposed to be aghast at Abraham’s incredible (alleged) 
faithlessness.  No way!
 
One key to understanding Genesis 12: 17 is to recognize that the Hebrew 
author of the Patriarchal narratives wants us to view Pharaoh’s statements at 
Genesis 12: 18-19 as being self-serving, official Egyptian government propaganda 
that contain little truth.
 
Abraham is neither immoral, nor cowardly, nor faithless in Egypt or at Gerar. 
 Don’t trust Pharaoh or Abimelek.  Instead, try to figure out what divine 
tests (similar to the unpleasant binding incident) that Abraham is righteously 
undergoing (and passing with flying colors) in chapters 12 and 20 of Genesis.
 
Pharaoh’s assertions at Genesis 12: 18-19 have little real sting because they 
are false.  The Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives does not present 
Pharaoh as being a truth-teller at Genesis 12: 18-19.
 
Righteous Abraham in fact is faithfulness incarnate.  True, Abraham sometimes 
has grave doubts, but he is never faithless.  Trust Abraham, not Pharaoh or 
Abimelek.
 
Abraham’s statement that Sarah is Abraham’s sister is specifically designed 
to give Pharaoh and Abimelek cover as to their own people as against a 
possible charge (by their own people) that Pharaoh and Abimelek acted immorally in 
knowingly taking a married woman into their households.  That nifty cover story 
was necessary in order to induce Pharaoh and Abimelek to participate in this 
unpleasant divine testing of Abraham.  Abraham must undergo this unpleasant 
divine testing in order to prove himself to YHWH as being worthy of receiving 
Isaac as a divinely-blessed male heir, and as being worthy of becoming the 
founder of a new religion devoted to the One God.  Abraham’s statement that Sarah is 
Abraham’s sister is not designed to fool either Pharaoh or Abimelek, and it 
does not fool either Pharaoh or Abimelek, both of whom are well aware from the 
beginning of all the actual facts.  Note that Sarah, who is famous/infamous 
for her sharp tongue at Genesis 21: 10, never voices any objection whatsoever to 
any aspect of the unpleasant, but necessary, sequences that unfold concerning 
her in Egypt and in Gerar.  
 
Abraham’s righteous trust that YHWH will look out for Sarah in Egypt and at 
Gerar is similar to Abraham’s righteous trust that YHWH will similarly make the 
extremely unpleasant binding incident come out the way it is divinely meant 
to be.  These are unpleasant, but necessary, divine tests.
 
Trust in Abraham’s faithfulness.  Put no trust in the words of Pharaoh or 
Abimelek.  It is on that basis that the Hebrew author is setting forth the 
Patriarchal narratives.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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