Genesis 12:10
And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
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(10) There was a famine in the land.—This famine must have happened within a few years after Abram reached Canaan; for he was seventy-five years of age on leaving Haran, and as Ishmael, his son by an Egyptian slave-woman, was thirteen years old when Abram was ninety-nine, only about eight years are left for the events recorded in Genesis 12-16. As rain falls in Palestine only at two periods of the year, the failure of either of these seasons would be immediately felt, especially in a dry region like the Negeb, and at a time when, with no means of bringing food from a distance, men had to depend upon the annual products of the land. As Egypt is watered by the flooding of the Nile, caused by the heavy rains which fall in Abyssinia, it probably had not suffered from what was a mere local failure in South Palestine; and Abram, already far on his way to Egypt, was forced by the necessity of providing fodder for his cattle to run the risk of proceeding thither. In Canaan he had found a thinly scattered Canaanite population, for whom probably he would have been a match in war; in Egypt he would find a powerful empire, and would be at the mercy of its rulers. It is a proof of Abram’s faith that in this necessity he neither retraced his steps (Hebrews 11:15), nor sought a new home. For he went to Egypt with no intention of settling, but only “to sojourn there,” to remain there for a brief period, after which with returning rains he would go back to Canaan.

Genesis 12:10. And there was a famine in the land — Not only to punish the iniquity of the Canaanites, but to exercise the faith of Abram. Now he was tried whether he could trust the God that brought him to Canaan, to maintain him there, and rejoice in him as the God of his salvation, when the fig-tree did not blossom. And Abram went down into Egypt — See how wisely God provides, that there should be plenty in one place, when there is scarcity in another; that, as members of the great body, we may not say to one another, “I have no need of you.” No doubt he was sent into Egypt to be a witness for God there also; but, alas! through yielding to unbelief, eminent as he generally was for faith, he became rather a stumbling-block in the way of such as feared the true God, than an example for their imitation!

12:10-20 There is no state on earth free from trials, nor any character free from blemishes. There was famine in Canaan, the glory of all lands, and unbelief, with the evils it ever brings, in Abram the father of the faithful. Perfect happiness and perfect purity dwell only in heaven. Abram, when he must for a time quit Canaan, goes to Egypt, that he might not seem to look back, and meaning to tarry there no longer than needful. There Abram dissembled his relation to Sarai, equivocated, and taught his wife and his attendants to do so too. He concealed a truth, so as in effect to deny it, and exposed thereby both his wife and the Egyptians to sin. The grace Abram was most noted for, was faith; yet he thus fell through unbelief and distrust of the Divine providence, even after God had appeared to him twice. Alas, what will become of weak faith, when strong faith is thus shaken! If God did not deliver us, many a time, out of straits and distresses which we bring ourselves into, by our own sin and folly, we should be ruined. He deals not with us according to our deserts. Those are happy chastisements that hinder us in a sinful way, and bring us to our duty, particularly to the duty of restoring what we have wrongfully taken or kept. Pharaoh's reproof of Abram was very just: What is this that thou hast done? How unbecoming a wise and good man! If those who profess religion, do that which is unfair and deceptive, especially if they say that which borders upon a lie, they must expect to hear of it; and they have reason to thank those who will tell them of it. The sending away was kind. Pharaoh was so far from any design to kill Abram, as he feared, that he took particular care of him. We often perplex ourselves with fears which are altogether groundless. Many a time we fear where no fear is. Pharaoh charged his men not to hurt Abram in any thing. It is not enough for those in authority, that they do not hurt themselves; they must keep their servants and those about them from doing hurt. - XXXVIII. Abram in Egypt

15. פרעה par‛oh, Par'oh, "ouro." Coptic for "king," with the masculine article pi. or p. P-ouro, "the king." If we separate the article p. from the Hebrew form, we have רעה re‛oh for king, which may be compared with רעה ro‛eh, "pastor, leader," and the Latin rex, king. This is the common title of the Egyptian sovereigns, to which we have the personal name occasionally added, as Pharaoh-Necho, Pharaoh-Hophrah.

Genesis 12:10

This first visit of Abram to Mizraim, or Egypt, is occasioned by the famine in the land of promise. This land is watered by periodical rains. A season of drought arrests the progress of vegetation, and brings on a famine. But in Egypt, the fertility of the loamy soil depends not on local showers, but on the annual rise of the Nile, which is fed by the rains of a far-distant mountain range. Hence, when the land of Kenaan was wasted by drought and consequent famine, Egypt was generally so productive as to be the granary of the neighboring countries. As Kenaan was the brother of Mizraim, the contact between the two countries in which they dwelt was natural and frequent. Dry seasons and dearth of provisions seem to have been of frequent occurrence in the land of Kenaan Genesis 26:1; Genesis 41:56-57. Even Egypt itself was not exempt from such calamitous visitations. Famine is one of God's rods for the punishment of the wicked and the correction of the penitent 2 Samuel 24:13. It visits Abram even in the land of promise. Doubtless the wickedness of the inhabitants was great even in his day. Abram himself was not out of the need of that tribulation that worketh patience, experience, and hope. He may have been left to himself under this trial, that he might find out by experience his own weakness, and at the same time the faithfulness and omnipotence of Yahweh the promiser. In the moment of his perplexity he flees for refuge to Egypt, and the Lord having a lesson for him, there permits him to enter that land of plenty.

It is not without misgivings, however, that Abram approaches Egypt. All the way from Ur to Haran, from Haran to the land of Kenaan, and from north to south of the land in which he was a stranger, we hear not a word of apprehension. But now he betakes himself to an expedient which had been preconcerted between him and Sarai before they set out on their earthly pilgrimage Genesis 20:13. There are some obvious reasons for the change from composure to anxiety he now betrays. Abram was hitherto obeying the voice of the Lord, and walking in the path of duty, and therefore he was full of unhesirating confidence in the divine protection. Now he may be pursuing his own course, and, without waiting patiently for the divine counsel, venturing to cross the boundary of the land of promise. He may therefore be without the fortifying assurance of the divine approval. There is often a whisper of this kind heard in the soul, even when it is not fully conscious of the delinquency which occasions it.

Again, the countries through which be had already passed were inhabited by nomadic tribes, each kept in check by all the others, all unsettled in their habits, and many of them not more potent than himself. The Kenaanites spoke the same language with himself, and were probably only a dominant race among others whose language they spoke, if they did not adopt. But in Egypt all was different. Mizraim had seven sons, and, on the average, the daughters are as numerous as the sons. In eight or nine generations there might be from half a million to a million of inhabitants in Egypt, if we allow five daughters as the average of a family. The definite area of the arable ground on the two sides of the Nile, its fertilization by a natural cause without much human labor, the periodical regularity of the inundation, and the extraordinary abundance of the grain crops, combined both to multiply the population with great rapidity, and to accelerate amazingly the rise and growth of fixed institutions and a stable government. Here there were a settled country with a foreign tongue, a prosperous people, and a powerful sovereign. All this rendered it more perilous to enter Egypt than Kenaan.

If Abram is about to enter Egypt of his own accord, without any divine intimation, it is easy to understand why he resorts to a device of his own to escape the peril of assassination. In an arbitrary government, where the will of the sovereign is law, and the passions are uncontrolled, public or private resolve is sudden, and execution summary. The East still retains its character in this respect. In these circumstances, Abram proposes to Sarai to conceal their marriage, and state that she was his sister; which was perfectly true, as she was the daughter of his father, though not of his mother. At a distance of three or four thousand years, with all the development of mind which a completed Bible and an advanced philosophy can bestow, it is easy to pronounce, with dispassionate coolness, the course of conduct here proposed to be immoral and imprudent. It is not incumbent on us, indeed, to defend it; but neither does it become us to be harsh or excessive in our censure. In the state of manners and customs which then prevailed in Egypt, Abram and Sarai were not certainly bound to disclose all their private concerns to every impertinent inquirer. The seeming simplicity and experience which Abram betrays in seeking to secure his personal safety by an expedient which exposed to risk his wife's chastity and his own honor, are not to be pressed too far. The very uncertainty concerning the relation of the strangers to each other tended to abate that momentary caprice in the treatment of individuals which is the result of a despotic government. And the prime fault and folly of Abram consisted in not waiting for the divine direction in leaving the land of promise, and in not committing himself wholly to the divine protection when he did take that step.

It may seem strange that the Scripture contains no express disapprobation of the conduct of Abram. But its manner is to affirm the great principles of moral truth, on suitable occasions, with great clearness and decision; and in ordinary circumstances simply to record the actions of its characters with faithfulness, leaving it to the reader's intelligence to mark their moral quality. And God's mode of teaching the individual is to implant a moral principle in the heart, which, after many struggles with temptation, will eventually root out all lingering aberrations.

Sarai was sixty-five years of age Genesis 17:17 at the time when Abram describes her as a woman fair to look upon. But we are to remember that beauty does not vanish with middle age; that Sarai's age corresponds with twenty-five or thirty years in modern times, as she was at this time not half the age to which men were then accustomed to live; that she had no family or other hardship to bring on premature decay; and that the women of Egypt were far from being distinguished for regularity of feature or freshness of complexion.

10. there was a famine … and Abram went down into Egypt—He did not go back to the place of his nativity, as regretting his pilgrimage and despising the promised land (Heb 11:15), but withdrew for a while into a neighboring country. There was a famine in the land, or,

in that land of Canaan, a land eminently fruitful, Deu 8:7,8. This was partly to punish that people’s sins, Psalm 107:34, partly to try Abram’s faith.

And there was a famine in the land,.... The land of Canaan, which was a very fruitful country, abounding with all kind of provisions usually; but now there was a scarcity of all; and which was both for the sins of the inhabitants of the land, and for the trial of Abram's faith, who was brought out of his own country, where was bread enough and to spare, into one in which there was a famine; and this might be a temptation to Abram to return from whence he came, and to slight and despise the country that was given him:

and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; not to dwell there, only till the famine was over; and rightly is he said to go down to Egypt, since that lay lower than the land of Canaan; and his going thither only to sojourn, and with an intention to return again to Canaan, shows the strength of his faith in the promise; and so far was he from going back to his own country, from whence he came, that he went directly the contrary, for Chaldee lay north east of Canaan, and Egypt south west: this country is in the Hebrew text called Mizraim, from the second son of Ham, see Genesis 10:6 it had its name Egypt not from Aegyptus, one of its kings, as some (l) say, but from the blackish colour of its soil, and also of its river Nile, and of its inhabitants; which colour is by the Greeks called "aegyptios", from "aegyps", a vulture, a bird of that colour: it is bounded on the south by the kingdom of Sennar, tributary to the king of Ethiopia, and the cataracts of the Nile; on the north by the Mediterranean sea; on the east by the Arabian Gulf, or Red sea, and the isthmus of Suez; and on the west by a region of Lybia, called Marmorica (m).

For the famine was grievous in the land; in the land of Canaan, and perhaps nowhere else; God ordering it so in his wise providence, that there should be plenty of food in one land, when there is a scarcity in another, that countries may be helpful to one another: of this famine, and of Abram's going down to Egypt on account of it, mention is made by Heathen writers; Nicolaus of Damascus says (n), that Abram came out of Chaldee into Canaan, now called Judea, and a grievous famine being there, and understanding there was plenty in Egypt, he readily went thither, partly to partake of their plenty, and partly to hear what the priests would say of the gods; and Alexander Polyhistor relates, from Eupolemus (o), that Abram removed from the place of his nativity, Camarine, called by some Urie, and settled in Phoenicia, where being a famine, he went with all his family into Egypt, and dwelt there.

(l) Apollodorus, l. 2. in initio. (m) Vid. Universal History, vol. 1. p. 391. (n) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 9. c. 16. p. 417. (o) Apud ib. c. 17. p. 418, 419.

And there was a {l} famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.

(l) This was a new trial of Abram's faith: by which we see that the end of one affliction is the beginning of another.

10. a famine in the land] Cf. Genesis 26:1, Genesis 42:1. The failure of crops in Palestine and the adjacent countries, owing to defective rainfall, often compelled the inhabitants to “go down” into Egypt, where the crops were not dependent on rainfall. They were wont to “sojourn” (i.e. to reside temporarily) there, until the scarcity was passed.

Genesis 12:10 to Genesis 13:2. Abram in Egypt. (J.)

The narrative in this section should be compared with the similar ones in 20, 26. It is repellent to our sense of honour, chivalry, and purity. It is true that Abram’s cowardice is reproved, and that the action of the Egyptian Pharaoh is represented in a more favourable light. On the other hand, Abram, though dismissed from the court, leaves Egypt enriched with great spoil. By a subterfuge he had hoped to save his own life at the cost of his wife’s honour. His cowardly deceit is detected: and his life is not imperilled. Sarai’s honour is spared; and the patriarch withdraws immensely enriched in possessions. This story, doubtless, would not have appeared so sordid to the ancient Israelite as it does to us. Perhaps the cunning, the detection, and the increase of wealth, may have commended the story to the Israelite of old times. Its popularity must account for its re-appearance in 20, 26.

It would be gratifying, if, in this story and in its variants, we were warranted in recognizing under an allegorical form the peril, to which nomad tribes of the Hebrew stock were exposed, of being absorbed among the inhabitants of a civilized community. Such a tribal misadventure might well be commemorated under the imagery of such a story. It is more probable, however, that the story illustrates the Divine protection over the patriarch amid the dangers of a foreign country. God’s goodness, not Abram’s merit, averts the peril.

In the present sequence of patriarchal narratives, this section shews how the fulfilment of the Divine promise is first imperilled through the patriarch’s own failure in courage and faith. The very qualities for which he is renowned, are lacking in the hour of temptation. God’s goodness and grace alone rescue him and his wife. A heathen king of Egypt upholds the universal law of virtue more successfully than the servant of Jehovah. The story reveals that Jehovah causes His will to be felt in Egypt no less than in Palestine. But the moral of the story does not satisfy any Christian standard in its representation either of Jehovah or of the patriarch. The knowledge of God is progressive.

Verse 10. - And there was a famine. רָעָב, from a root signifying to hunger, the primary. idea appearing to lie in that of an ample, i.e. empty, stomach (Gesenius, Furst). The term is used of individuals, men or animal (Psalm 34:11; Psalm 50:12); or of regions (Psalm 41:55). In the land. Of Canaan, which, though naturally fertile, was, on account of its imperfect cultivation, subject to visitations of dearth (cf. Genesis 26:1; Genesis 41:56), especially in dry seasons, when the November and December rains, on which Palestine depended, either failed or were scanty. The occurrence of this famine just at the time of Abram's entering the land was an additional trial to his faith. And Abram went down to Egypt. Mizraim (vide Genesis 10:6) was lower than Palestine, and celebrated then, as later, as a rich and fruitful country, though sometimes even Egypt suffered from a scarcity of corn, owing to a failure in the annual inundation of the Nile. Eichhorn notes it as an authentication of this portion of the Abrahamic history that the patriarch proposed to take himself and his household to Egypt, since at that time no corn trade existed between the two countries such as prevailed in the days of Jacob (vide Havernick's Introduction, § 18). The writer to the Hebrews remarks it as an instance of the patriarch's faith that he did not return to either Haran or Ur (Hebrews 11:15, 16). To sojourn there. To tarry as a stranger, but not to dwell. Whether this journey was undertaken with the Divine sanction and ought to be regarded as an act of faith, or in obedience to his own fears and should be reckoned as a sign of unbelief, does not appear. Whichever way the patriarch elected to act in his perplexity, to leave Canaan or reside in it, there was clearly a strain intended to be put upon his faith. For the famine was grievous (literally, heavy) in the land. Genesis 12:10Abram in Egypt. - Abram had scarcely passed through the land promised to his seed, when a famine compelled him to leave it, and take refuge in Egypt, which abounded in corn; just as the Bedouins in the neighbourhood are accustomed to do now. Whilst the famine in Canaan was to teach Abram, that even in the promised land food and clothing come from the Lord and His blessing, he was to discover in Egypt that earthly craft is soon put to shame when dealing with the possessor of the power of this world, and that help and deliverance are to be found with the Lord alone, who can so smite the mightiest kings, that they cannot touch His chosen or do them harm (Psalm 105:14-15). - When trembling for his life in Egypt on account of the beauty of Sarai his wife, he arranged with her, as he approached that land, that she should give herself out as his sister, since she really was his half-sister (Genesis 11:29). He had already made an arrangement with her, that she should do this in certain possible contingencies, when they first removed to Canaan (Genesis 20:13). The conduct of the Sodomites (Genesis 19) was a proof that he had reason for his anxiety; and it was not without cause even so far as Egypt was concerned. But his precaution did not spring from faith. He might possibly hope, that by means of the plan concerted, he should escape the danger of being put to death on account of his wife, if any one should wish to take her; but how he expected to save the honour and retain possession of his wife, we cannot understand, though we must assume, that he thought he should be able to protect and keep her as his sister more easily, than if he acknowledged her as his wife. But the very thing he feared and hoped to avoid actually occurred.
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