Genesis 12:11
And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that you are a fair woman to look on:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11-13) Thou art a fair woman.—For the word yephath, rendered “fair,” see on Genesis 9:27. Though its general meaning is beautiful, yet there can be no doubt that the light colour of Sarai’s complexion was that which would chiefly commend her to the Egyptians; for she was now past sixty, and though vigorous enough to bear a son at ninety, yet that was by the special favour of God. As she lived to the age of 127 (Genesis 23:1), she was now about middle age, and evidently had retained much of her early beauty; and this, added to the difference of tint, would make her still attractive to the swarthy descendants of Ham, especially as they were not a handsome race, but had flat foreheads, high cheek-bones, large mouths, and thick lips. Twenty years later we find Abram still haunted by fears of the effects of her personal appearance (Genesis 20:2), even when living among a better-featured race. From Genesis 20:13 it appears that on leaving Haran Abram and Sarai had agreed upon adopting this expedient, which seems to us so strangely contrary to the faith which the patriarch was at that very time displaying. He abandons his birthplace at the Divine command, and starts upon endless wanderings; and yet, to protect his own life, he makes an arrangement which involves the possible sacrifice of the chastity of his wife; and twice, but for God’s interference, this painful result would actually have happened. Perhaps Abram may have depended upon Sarai’s cleverness to help herself out of the difficulty; but such a mixture of faith and weakness, of trust in God in abandoning so much and trust in worldly policy for preservation in a foreseen danger, cannot but make us feel how much of infirmity there was even in a character otherwise so noble.

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.

11-13. Sarai's complexion, coming from a mountainous country, would be fresh and fair compared with the faces of Egyptian women which were sallow. The counsel of Abram to her was true in words, but it was a deception, intended to give an impression that she was no more than his sister. His conduct was culpable and inconsistent with his character as a servant of God: it showed a reliance on worldly policy more than a trust in the promise; and he not only sinned himself, but tempted Sarai to sin also.Quest. How could she be so fair, when she was above sixty years old?

Answ. She was so both comparatively to the Egyptians, and simply in herself, and that might be from divers causes:

1. From the greater vigour of nature in that age of the world.

2. Because her beauty was not diminished by child-bearing.

3. From God’s singular providence, ordering it thus for Abram’s trial, and for the manifestation of his special providence watching over him and his. And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt,.... Just entering into it, having travelled from the mountain between Bethel and Hai, two hundred and forty miles (p); or when he "caused to come near" (q), either his camp, as Aben Ezra supplies it, or his tent, or his family, as others:

that he said unto Sarai his wife, behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon; though sixty five years of age, being ten years younger than her husband, see Genesis 17:17 who was now seventy five years old, Genesis 12:4 yet might still be a fair woman, having a good complexion and comely features.

And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
11. thou art a fair woman] According to Genesis 17:17 (P), Sarai was 10 years younger than Abram; and from Genesis 12:4 (P) Abram was at least 75 when he entered Egypt, and Sarai, therefore, 65. This kind of difficulty has led to explanations of a somewhat undignified character. The true explanation is that the ages of the patriarchs which belong to the brief and statistical narrative of P have no place in the narrative of J, in which Sarai is beautiful and childless (Genesis 11:30).Verses 11-13. - And it came to pass (literally, it was), when he was come near to enter into Egypt (that he had his misgivings, arising probably from his own eminence, which could scarcely fail to attract attention among strangers, but chiefly from the beauty of his wife, which was calculated to inflame the cupidity and, it might be, the violence of the warm-blooded Southrons, and) that he said unto Sarai his wife. The arrangement here referred to appears (Genesis 20:13) to have been preconcerted on first setting out from Ur or Haran, so that Abram's address to his wife on approaching Egypt may be viewed as simply a reminder of their previous compact. Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon. Literally, fair of aspect (cf. 1 Samuel 17:42). Though now upwards of sixty-five years of age, she was still in middle life (Genesis 23:1), and her constitution had not been impaired by bearing children. Besides, the clear complexion of Sarah would render her specially attractive in the eyes of the Egyptians, whose women, though not so dark as the Nubians and Ethiopians, were yet of a browner tinge than the Syrians and Arabians. Monumental evidence confirms the assertion of Scripture that a fair complexion was deemed a high recommendation in the age of the Pharaohs (ride Hengstenberg's 'Egypt and the Books of Moses,' p. 200). Therefore (literally, and) it shall come to pass, when (literally, that) the Egyptians - notorious for their licentiousness (vide P. Smith's ' History of the World,' vol. 1. Genesis 6. p. 71) - shall see thee, that (literally, and) they shall say, this is his wife: and they will kill me - in order to possess thee, counting murder a less crime than adultery (Lyra). An unreasonable anxiety, considering that he had hitherto enjoyed the Divine protection, however natural it might seem in view of the voluptuous character of the people. But (literally, and) they will save thee alive - for either compulsory marriage or dishonorable use. Say, I pray thee, - translated in ver. 11 as "now;" "verbum obsecrantis vel adhortantis" (Masius) - thou art my sister. A half-truth (Genesis 20:12), but a whole falsehood. The usual apologies, that he did not fabricate, but "cautiously conceal the truth" (Lyra), that perhaps he acted in obedience to a Divine impulse (Mede), that he dissembled in order to protect his wife's chastity (Rosenmüller), are not satisfactory. On the other hand, Abram must not be judged by the light of New Testament revelation. It is not necessary for a Christian in every situation Of life to tell all the truth, especially when its part suppression involves no deception, and is indispensable for self-preservation; and Abram may have deemed it legitimate as a means of securing both his own life and Sarah's honor, though how he was to shield his wife in the peculiar circumstances it is difficult to see. Rosenmüller suggests that he knew the preliminary ceremonies to marriage required a considerable time, and counted upon being able to leave Egypt before any injury was done to Sarah. The only objection to this is that the historian represents him as being less solicitous about the preservation of his wife's chastity than about the conservation of his own life. That it may be well (not with thee, though doubtless this is implied, but) with me for thy sake (the import of which is declared in the words which follow); and my soul shall live because of thee. "No defense can be offered for a man who, merely through dread of danger to himself, tells a lie, risks his wife's chastity, puts temptation in the way of his neighbors, and betrays the charge to which the Divine favor had summoned him "(Dykes). Removal to Canaan. - Abram cheerfully followed the call of the Lord, and "departed as the Lord had spoken to him." He was then 75 years old. His age is given, because a new period in the history of mankind commenced with his exodus. After this brief notice there follows a more circumstantial account, in Genesis 12:5, of the fact that he left Haran with his wife, with Lot, and with all that they possessed of servants and cattle, whereas Terah remained in Haran (cf. Genesis 11:31). עשׂוּ אשׁר הנּפשׁ are not the souls which they had begotten, but the male and female slaves that Abram and Lot had acquired.
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