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Genesis 12:10-20

Context
The Promised Blessing Jeopardized

12:10 There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt 1  to stay for a while 2  because the famine was severe. 3  12:11 As he approached 4  Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “Look, 5  I know that you are a beautiful woman. 6  12:12 When the Egyptians see you they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will keep you alive. 7  12:13 So tell them 8  you are my sister 9  so that it may go well 10  for me because of you and my life will be spared 11  on account of you.”

12:14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 12:15 When Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. So Abram’s wife 12  was taken 13  into the household of Pharaoh, 14  12:16 and he did treat Abram well 15  on account of her. Abram received 16  sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

12:17 But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with severe diseases 17  because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 12:18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram and said, “What is this 18  you have done to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she was your wife? 12:19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her 19  to be my wife? 20  Here is your wife! 21  Take her and go!” 22  12:20 Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, 23  and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions.

Genesis 20:1-18

Context
Abraham and Abimelech

20:1 Abraham journeyed from there to the Negev 24  region and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While he lived as a temporary resident 25  in Gerar, 20:2 Abraham said about his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent for Sarah and took her.

20:3 But God appeared 26  to Abimelech in a dream at night and said to him, “You are as good as dead 27  because of the woman you have taken, for she is someone else’s wife.” 28 

20:4 Now Abimelech had not gone near her. He said, “Lord, 29  would you really slaughter an innocent nation? 30  20:5 Did Abraham 31  not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, 32  ‘He is my brother.’ I have done this with a clear conscience 33  and with innocent hands!”

20:6 Then in the dream God replied to him, “Yes, I know that you have done this with a clear conscience. 34  That is why I have kept you 35  from sinning against me and why 36  I did not allow you to touch her. 20:7 But now give back the man’s wife. Indeed 37  he is a prophet 38  and he will pray for you; thus you will live. 39  But if you don’t give her back, 40  know that you will surely die 41  along with all who belong to you.”

20:8 Early in the morning 42  Abimelech summoned 43  all his servants. When he told them about all these things, 44  they 45  were terrified. 20:9 Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? What sin did I commit against you that would cause you to bring such great guilt on me and my kingdom? 46  You have done things to me that should not be done!” 47  20:10 Then Abimelech asked 48  Abraham, “What prompted you to do this thing?” 49 

20:11 Abraham replied, “Because I thought, 50  ‘Surely no one fears God in this place. They will kill me because of 51  my wife.’ 20:12 What’s more, 52  she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter, but not my mother’s daughter. She became my wife. 20:13 When God made me wander 53  from my father’s house, I told her, ‘This is what you can do to show your loyalty to me: 54  Every place we go, say about me, “He is my brother.”’”

20:14 So Abimelech gave 55  sheep, cattle, and male and female servants to Abraham. He also gave his wife Sarah back to him. 20:15 Then Abimelech said, “Look, my land is before you; live wherever you please.” 56 

20:16 To Sarah he said, “Look, I have given a thousand pieces of silver 57  to your ‘brother.’ 58  This is compensation for you so that you will stand vindicated before all who are with you.” 59 

20:17 Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, as well as his wife and female slaves so that they were able to have children. 20:18 For the Lord 60  had caused infertility to strike every woman 61  in the household of Abimelech because he took 62  Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

1 sn Abram went down to Egypt. The Abrahamic narrative foreshadows some of the events in the life of the nation of Israel. This sojourn in Egypt is typological of Israel’s bondage there. In both stories there is a famine that forces the family to Egypt, death is a danger to the males while the females are preserved alive, great plagues bring about their departure, there is a summons to stand before Pharaoh, and there is a return to the land of Canaan with great wealth.

2 tn The Hebrew verb גּוּר (gur), traditionally rendered “to sojourn,” means “to stay for a while.” The “stranger” (traditionally “sojourner”) is one who is a temporary resident, a visitor, one who is passing through. Abram had no intention of settling down in Egypt or owning property. He was only there to wait out the famine.

3 tn Heb “heavy in the land.” The words “in the land,” which also occur at the beginning of the verse in the Hebrew text, have not been repeated here in the translation for stylistic reasons.

4 tn Heb “drew near to enter.”

5 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”) is deictic here; it draws attention to the following fact.

6 tn Heb “a woman beautiful of appearance are you.”

7 tn The Piel of the verb חָיָה (khayah, “to live”) means “to keep alive, to preserve alive,” and in some places “to make alive.” See D. Marcus, “The Verb ‘to Live’ in Ugaritic,” JSS 17 (1972): 76-82.

8 tn Heb “say.”

9 sn Tell them you are my sister. Abram’s motives may not be as selfish as they appear. He is aware of the danger to the family. His method of dealing with it is deception with a half truth, for Sarai really was his sister – but the Egyptians would not know that. Abram presumably thought that there would be negotiations for a marriage by anyone interested (as Laban does later for his sister Rebekah), giving him time to react. But the plan backfires because Pharaoh does not take the time to negotiate. There is a good deal of literature on the wife-sister issue. See (among others) E. A. Speiser, “The Wife-Sister Motif in the Patriarchal Narratives,” Oriental and Biblical Studies, 62-81; C. J. Mullo-Weir, “The Alleged Hurrian Wife-Sister Motif in Genesis,” GOT 22 (1967-1970): 14-25.

10 tn The Hebrew verb translated “go well” can encompass a whole range of favorable treatment, but the following clause indicates it means here that Abram’s life will be spared.

11 tn Heb “and my life will live.”

12 tn Heb “and the woman.” The word also means “wife”; the Hebrew article can express the possessive pronoun (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, §86). Here the proper name (Abram) has been used in the translation instead of a possessive pronoun (“his”) for clarity.

13 tn The Hebrew term וַתֻּקַּח (vattuqqakh, “was taken”) is a rare verbal form, an old Qal passive preterite from the verb “to take.” It is pointed as a Hophal would be by the Masoretes, but does not have a Hophal meaning.

14 tn The Hebrew text simply has “house of Pharaoh.” The word “house” refers to the household in general, more specifically to the royal harem.

15 sn He did treat Abram well. The construction of the parenthetical disjunctive clause, beginning with the conjunction on the prepositional phrase, draws attention to the irony of the story. Abram wanted Sarai to lie “so that it would go well” with him. Though he lost Sarai to Pharaoh, it did go well for him – he received a lavish bride price. See also G. W. Coats, “Despoiling the Egyptians,” VT 18 (1968): 450-57.

16 tn Heb “and there was to him.”

17 tn The cognate accusative adds emphasis to the verbal sentence: “he plagued with great plagues,” meaning the Lord inflicted numerous plagues, probably diseases (see Exod 15:26). The adjective “great” emphasizes that the plagues were severe and overwhelming.

18 tn The demonstrative pronoun translated “this” adds emphasis: “What in the world have you done to me?” (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 24, §118).

19 tn The preterite with vav (ו) consecutive here expresses consequence.

20 tn Heb “to me for a wife.”

21 tn Heb “Look, your wife!”

22 tn Heb “take and go.”

23 tn Heb “him”; the referent (Abram) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

24 tn Or “the South [country]”; Heb “the land of the Negev.”

sn Negev is the name for the southern desert region in the land of Canaan.

25 tn Heb “and he sojourned.”

26 tn Heb “came.”

27 tn Heb “Look, you [are] dead.” The Hebrew construction uses the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) with a second person pronominal particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) with by the participle. It is a highly rhetorical expression.

28 tn Heb “and she is owned by an owner.” The disjunctive clause is causal or explanatory in this case.

29 tn The Hebrew term translated “Lord” here is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay).

30 tn Apparently Abimelech assumes that God’s judgment will fall on his entire nation. Some, finding the reference to a nation problematic, prefer to emend the text and read, “Would you really kill someone who is innocent?” See E. A. Speiser, Genesis (AB), 149.

31 tn Heb “he”; the referent has been specified in the translation for clarity.

32 tn Heb “and she, even she.”

33 tn Heb “with the integrity of my heart.”

34 tn Heb “with the integrity of your heart.”

35 tn Heb “and I, even I, kept you.”

36 tn Heb “therefore.”

37 tn Or “for,” if the particle is understood as causal (as many English translations do) rather than asseverative.

38 sn For a discussion of the term prophet see N. Walker, “What is a Nabhi?” ZAW 73 (1961): 99-100.

39 tn After the preceding jussive (or imperfect), the imperative with vav conjunctive here indicates result.

sn He will pray for you that you may live. Abraham was known as a man of God whose prayer would be effectual. Ironically and sadly, he was also known as a liar.

40 tn Heb “if there is not you returning.” The suffix on the particle becomes the subject of the negated clause.

41 tn The imperfect is preceded by the infinitive absolute to make the warning emphatic.

42 tn Heb “And Abimelech rose early in the morning and he summoned.”

43 tn The verb קָרָא (qara’) followed by the preposition לְ (lamed) means “to summon.”

44 tn Heb “And he spoke all these things in their ears.”

45 tn Heb “the men.” This has been replaced by the pronoun “they” in the translation for stylistic reasons.

46 tn Heb “How did I sin against you that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?” The expression “great sin” refers to adultery. For discussion of the cultural background of the passage, see J. J. Rabinowitz, “The Great Sin in Ancient Egyptian Marriage Contracts,” JNES 18 (1959): 73, and W. L. Moran, “The Scandal of the ‘Great Sin’ at Ugarit,” JNES 18 (1959): 280-81.

47 tn Heb “Deeds which should not be done you have done to me.” The imperfect has an obligatory nuance here.

48 tn Heb “And Abimelech said to.”

49 tn Heb “What did you see that you did this thing?” The question implies that Abraham had some motive for deceiving Abimelech.

50 tn Heb “Because I said.”

51 tn Heb “over the matter of.”

52 tn Heb “but also.”

53 tn The Hebrew verb is plural. This may be a case of grammatical agreement with the name for God, which is plural in form. However, when this plural name refers to the one true God, accompanying predicates are usually singular in form. Perhaps Abraham is accommodating his speech to Abimelech’s polytheistic perspective. (See GKC 463 §145.i.) If so, one should translate, “when the gods made me wander.”

54 tn Heb “This is your loyal deed which you can do for me.”

55 tn Heb “took and gave.”

56 tn Heb “In the [place that is] good in your eyes live!”

57 sn A thousand pieces [Heb “shekels”] of silver. The standards for weighing money varied considerably in the ancient Near East, but the generally accepted weight for the shekel is 11.5 grams (0.4 ounce). This makes the weight of silver here 11.5 kilograms, or 400 ounces (about 25 pounds).

58 sn To your ‘brother.’ Note the way that the king refers to Abraham. Was he being sarcastic? It was surely a rebuke to Sarah. What is amazing is how patient this king was. It is proof that the fear of God was in that place, contrary to what Abraham believed (see v. 11).

59 tn Heb “Look, it is for you a covering of the eyes, for all who are with you, and with all, and you are set right.” The exact meaning of the statement is unclear. Apparently it means that the gift of money somehow exonerates her in other people’s eyes. They will not look on her as compromised (see G. J. Wenham, Genesis [WBC], 2:74).

60 tn In the Hebrew text the clause begins with “because.”

61 tn Heb had completely closed up every womb.” In the Hebrew text infinitive absolute precedes the finite verb for emphasis.

sn The Lord had closed up every womb. This fact indicates that Sarah was in Abimelech’s household for weeks or months before the dream revelation was given (20:6-7). No one in his household could have children after Sarah arrived on the scene.

62 tn Heb “because of.” The words “he took” are supplied in the translation for clarity.



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