Genesis 12:17–20

“So Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that 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.’” (Gen. 12:18–19).

In our study of ethics last month, we saw that deception may serve righteousness in unusual circumstances. Abram and Sarai’s sojourn in Egypt shortly after seeing the promised land, however, was not one of these occasions. The special mention of Sarai’s barrenness in Genesis 11:30, as well as her decision to go with Abram in 12:5, both imply the Lord’s promise to the patriarch in verses 1–3 will not be accomplished without his wife’s involvement. Yet Abram did not consider this when he deceived Pharaoh, putting Sarai at risk and exalting his safety above hers (vv. 10–16; Eph. 5:25).

God rescues Sarai in today’s passage, dispelling any doubt the covenant child would come without her. Pharaoh interrogates Abram regarding his lie after plagues afflict his house (Gen. 12:17–20). In fact, his questions to the patriarch mirror those God asked Cain after he sinned (4:9–10), revealing that Pharaoh was the righteous one in these events. Abram’s silent reply further indicates the Lord disapproved of the patriarch’s actions (12:17–20).

This story is not merely recorded to encourage us to tell the truth, for these circumstances teach us a vital lesson about God’s faithfulness. The famine in Canaan and Sarai’s inclusion in Pharaoh’s household both threatened the promise of land and progeny. Yet the Lord intervened to save Sarai despite Abram’s attempt to rescue himself by his own cleverness. When God obligates Himself to a covenant promise, even the sins of His people cannot prevent its fulfillment. Our actions may lead us astray, but they cannot negate His bond with us.

However, we must never use this principle as an excuse to sin or to trust in our own cleverness to bring God’s promises to pass. In His wise providence, Abram receives the blessing of wealth despite his deception (12:16), but this blessing is decidedly a mixed one. Abram’s riches later complicate his relationship with Lot, setting the stage for Lot’s difficulties in Sodom (13–14; 18–19). Moreover, it is likely the Egyptian maid Hagar, who later disrupts Abram and Sarai’s life, first joins the patriarch here (12:16; 16). Transgression cannot nullify covenant promises, but it always makes our lives difficult (Gal. 6:7).

Coram Deo

According to Scripture, we cannot sin with impunity. Paul, for example, tells us that we have not understood the Gospel if we sin so that grace may abound (Rom. 3:8; 6:1–2). We can count on God to bring all of His covenant promises to pass and intervene to save His people, but all of our sin will have long-lasting effects on our quality of life, reputations, families, and so on. If we engage in sin confident that it has no lasting effect, we are only fooling ourselves.

For Further Study