“Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.” Gen. 12:19-20
With such few details in the narrative it is easy to either overlook Pharaoh’s character, especially if we are more concerned with Abram and Sarai. However it really is difficult to ignore this event considering the context and expected outcome, which does not happen. We have Abram, who decides to sojourn to Egypt on account of the famine in Canaan. Abram has a concern about the Egyptians with respect to his wife’s beauty to the point where he is afraid the Egyptians will kill him. Abram was correct in that his wife’s beauty was so highly regarded that Pharaoh’s official’s took her to him, and essentially gave Abram payment for Sarai.
So far Abram’s judgment of the Egyptians seems correct. They did find his wife beautiful, and they did take her, but have spared his life. However God intervenes and sends plagues upon both Pharaoh and his house. Considering that Pharaoh is a very powerful man, and probably does not know the God of Abram, what would we expect to happen at this point, if we did not know the outcome of this story? It would not be unreasonable to think that Pharaoh, who seems to have made the connection between Sarai and the plagues, would drive her away at the very least, or worse have her killed. Even if the fear of God were upon him and he let Sarai go safely, what is his concern with Abram at all at this point? In his eyes, Abram had done him wrong by deceiving him and had received material wealth in return! Most certainly we would expect Pharaoh would have him killed or maybe thrown into prison. But this is not what happens.
Instead Pharaoh calls Abram to have a face to face conversation. Pharaoh is showing a great deal of restraint; he is one of the most powerful people in the world at the time confronting the man who deceived him. But yet Abram and Sarai walk away from the incident unharmed. Not only unharmed, but even protected by the men that would likely wish to harm them (Pharaoh’s men), and to top it all off, their possessions are all still in hand. Surely Pharaoh would have demanded back the multitude of sheep, oxen, donkeys and servants he gave Abram! But Pharaoh did not.
Was the hand of God against Pharaoh? Yes. Did Abram misjudge Pharaoh’s character? Yes. Look at the words of Pharaoh’s questions to Abram: “Why did you not tell me she was your wife?” “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” There is a certain restrained poise to his words; it is as if he is speaking to Abram as a person showing his reasonableness, not a powerful ruler. It would seem that, though Pharaoh may have desired a beautiful woman such as Sarai at his side, he was not willing to cross the boundary of adultery, much less kill Abram as Abram feared. It is almost as if his words to Abram are humbly showing Abram that he has in fact misjudged his character. You can almost feel the regret of Abram, as he realizes the trouble he has brought upon Pharaoh and his house, not to mention troubling God to intervene because of his actions, realizing this may have all been for naught. Perhaps he should have just told the truth, but instead he allowed his fear, combined with his preconceived notions about Pharaoh and the Egyptians (and perhaps even pride about his wife’s beauty) to dictate his actions.
This portion of scripture is as much about God’s intervention to protect Sarai as it is about judging our perceived enemies motives.