Biblical Questions

Succinct Elucidations

Puzzling Verses

Question

Answer

Why Did Abraham Say Sarah Was His Sister?

In Genesis 12:10-20 Abraham and Sarah go down to Egypt because of a famine in the land of Canaan. But when there, he does something astonishing--he says that Sarah is his sister! Did this man of God lie just because he was scared for his own life? Even after the great events of Genesis 15 and 17, Abraham does it again (Genesis 20)! Here is a much more likely interpretation suggested by Rabbi Obadiah ben Jacob S'forno (1475-1550).

In those Middle eastern countries, if they would desire a married woman, they would know that there is no way to get her legally, so they would kill her husband. But if she was single, they would negotiate with her protector (father, brother, etc.) and attempt to obtain her legally. Abraham was proposing that they pose as brother and sister, and this way they would buy time. The negotiations could drag on and eventually they would go back to Canaan. But this plan was thwarted when the king himself took her, and the king's way of doing things was take first and pay later.

What Was the Real Reason the Lord Took Joseph to Egypt?

It would be easy to assume that the Lord took Joseph to Egypt to save many lives during the coming famine, mostly the Egyptians but also the many who came to Egypt for food, including Joseph's family. But Joseph himself told his brothers that the real reason was much more limited: "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance" (Gen. 45:7). It was to save Jacob and his family--the twelve patriarchs of the tribes of Israel. Why was this the real reason? Here is an explanation by Christopher Benson in his book, On Scripture Difficulties.

"It was because the blessing of Abraham was upon them. It was because the everlasting covenant of God was theirs, and in their loins was the salvation of the world shut up, and in their seed were all the families of the earth to be blessed. Blot out the name of Israel from under Heaven, and man must have gone mourning all the days of his life, without remedy of his wretchedness and without redemption from the grave; for to the name of Israel alone were the promises of God assured, and in the name of Israel alone had the sons of Adam hope, and Joseph himself was nothing except as he belonged to Israel." (See Benson's entry in our Daily Devotions from the Classics.)

In my book, Upon This Rock, I make the same point: "God's plan of salvation for the world, based on the Abrahamic covenant and the later covenants with Israel that expand it, revolves around Israel in every way. Salvation comes to the world through Israel and only through Israel" (from Chapter 5).


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