“Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” Gen. 12:13
When Abraham makes the decision to sojourn in Egypt due to the famine in Canaan, along the way he quickly realizes a problem; his wife Sarai is extremely beautiful. This is a problem because he is entering the land of Pharaoh, a man who he presumably reaps where he does not sow, and the people of Egypt are not known for their good morals. Abraham has a serious concern that he will be killed and his wife taken. So what does he do? He asks his wife to lie about their marriage.
There is speculation as to whether Sarai was actually his half-sister or not, (Gen. 20:12) however the point is that they were actually married (Gen. 11:29) and Abraham was putting his wife in potential danger, which if nothing else could have resulted in unintentional infidelity on her part. Just read how the author of Genesis speaks of the plagues brought upon Pharaoh and his house: “But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” This tells us that, at least in the eyes of the author, the marital relationship supersedes any familial relationship.
We do not know for certain if Pharaoh actually laid with her or not; however, Rashi asserts that the plagues brought upon Pharaoh by God were designed to prevent cohabitation for the purpose of keeping Sarai safe. It would seem that God was more willing than Abraham to protect their marriage and his wife’s sanctity.
So what did Sarai say when Abram asked her to lie? Nothing. At least, no words of hers are recorded throughout the entire ordeal. We get the impression that she silently nodded perhaps; and this even knowing what Abraham was saying was probably true about the Egyptians and their sexual tendencies. Certainly this is something she did not want to do. But this display of silent obedience speaks volumes, as it shows that her willingness to obey her husband is ultimately what procured safety for both of them. Even if Abraham’s moral judgment may have been in error, God Himself intervened to protect her (Gen. 12:17). Some may say this was on account of Abraham’s righteousness; I would say it was on account of her display of submission to her husband. My reasoning is that through this point in the narrative, the outstanding trait of Abram is not his righteousness – that word has not been used to describe him at all yet; but rather, his willingness to listen to the calling of God, who called him from his father’s house to a land God would show him.
The obedience of Sarai is an important element in the early stages of Abram and Sarai’s walk of faith together, as their marriage symbolizes what married couples today should strive for: For the husband to be willing to respond to the call of God in faith, and for the woman to strive for obedience to her husband, knowing that even if he is not perfect, ultimately God is in control.