Genesis 12:15
The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.
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(15) The princes . . . commended her before Pharaoh.—In the days of Abram Canaan was the highway to Egypt, and so large an immigration of men of the Semitic stock found their way thither that they overspread the whole Delta, and finally, under the name of the Hyksôs, made themselves masters of the throne of the Pharaohs, and retained their supremacy for several centuries. To keep out these hordes, Amenemhai had built a chain of fortresses, with a connecting wall; and though probably, as M. Chabas concludes (Rev. Arch., XVe Année, Livr. ii. 7), the Hyksôs had already in Abram’s time attained to empire, nevertheless, on arriving at this wall, so powerful a sheik, with so large a following, would be interrogated by the Egyptian scribes, and a report sent to the Pharaoh. The word sar. translated here prince, is common to the Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hebrew languages; but while in Babylonia it was the title of the sovereign, in Egypt it was applied to subordinate officers, such as those in command at these fortresses. By one of these Abram would, no doubt, be conducted into Pharaoh’s presence; and on one of the sepulchres at Benihassan we find an exactly parallel occurrence in the presentation of a nomad prince, evidently of Semitic origin, who, with his family and dependents, is seeking the Pharaoh’s protection, and is received by him with honour. As women did not at that time go veiled in Egypt, this custom not having been introduced there till the Persian conquest, the officers at the frontier would have full opportunity of seeing Sarai. and would, no doubt, mention the extraordinary lightness of her complexion.

The most probable derivation of the word Pharaoh is that which identifies it with a symbol constantly used in inscriptions to indicate the king, and which may be read per-ao or phar-ao. It signifies, literally, the double house, or palace. This would be a title of respect. veiling the person of the monarch under the name of his dwelling, in much the same manner as we include the sovereign and his attendants under the name of the Court. For the arguments in favour of this derivation, see Canon Cook’s Excursus on the Egyptian words in the Pentateuch, at the end of Vol. I. of the Speaker’s Commentary. He also gives there the reasons for his opinion, in opposition to that of M. Chabas, that the Pharaoh in whose days Abram visited Egypt was an early king of the twelfth dynasty, some time anterior to the usurpation of the Hyksôs.

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.The inadequacy of Abram's expedient appears in the issue, which is different from what he expected. Sarai is admired for her beauty, and, being professedly single, is selected as a wife for Pharaoh; while Abram, as her brother, is munificently entertained and rewarded. His property seems to be enumerated according to the time of acquirement, or the quantity, and not the quality of each kind. Sheep and oxen and he-asses he probably brought with him from Kenaan; men-servants and maid-servants were no doubt augmented in Egypt. For she-asses the Septuagint has mules. These, and the camels, may have been received in Egypt. The camel is the carrier of the desert. Abram had now become involved in perplexities, from which he had neither the wisdom nor the power to extricate himself. With what bitterness of spirit he must have kept silence, received these accessions to his wealth which he dared not to refuse, and allowed Sarai to be removed from his temporary abode! His cunning device had saved his own person for the time; but his beautiful and beloved wife is torn from his bosom.15. the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house—Eastern kings have for ages claimed the privilege of taking to their harem an unmarried woman whom they like. The father or brother may deplore the removal as a calamity, but the royal right is never resisted nor questioned. The princes also of Pharaoh, i.e. the officers and courtiers; whose great design was to gain their prince’s favour by gratifying his lusts.

Pharaoh was a name common to all the kings of Egypt now, and for many ages after.

The woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house, i.e. taken and brought, one word for two. So the word take is used Genesis 15:9,10 Exo 18:2 27:20, &c. Not to his bed, but the house of his women, where they were purified and prepared for the king’s presence and society, as Esther 2:8,9, that in due time she might be his concubine or wife. Thus even the ceremonies of courts serve the providence of God, and give opportunity for working her deliverance.

The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh,.... The king of Egypt; so it seems by this, that Abram and Sarai were at the place where the court was kept, which the Arabic writers (t) say was Mesr (or Memphis), the capital of the kingdom. And these princes were the king's courtiers, who taking notice of Sarai, and admiring her beauty, praised her for it to the king, and recommended her to be taken into the number of his wives or concubines, they understanding that she was a single woman and the sister of Abram: and this they did to gratify their king, and gain his favour:

and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house; or palace, as the Jerusalem Targum; his royal palace, as the Targum of Jonathan; very probably into that part of his palace where his women were kept, or to some apartment where she might be purified and prepared for him; and this requiring time, was the means of preserving her from the danger she was exposed unto, see Esther 2:8. The kingdom of Egypt, according to the Jewish and Arabic writers (u), was set up in the times of Reu, about three hundred years before Abram was here; its first king was Mizraim, a son of Ham, the same with the Menes of Herodotus; by whom also mention is made of a king of Egypt, whose name was Pheron (w), which seems to bear some likeness to the name of this king, who by Artapanus (x) is called Pharethone, and whom, he says, Abram taught astrology. It is generally thought that Pharaoh was a common name to the kings of Egypt, and continued to be so to the times of Ezekiel, as Ptolemy was some time after, and as Caesar with the Romans: whether this king was the first of the name is not certain, but probable; according to some (y), he was one of the Hycsi, or shepherd kings. Mr. Bedford (z) calls him Janias, their fifth king, and this was about A. M. 2084, and before Christ 1920. A Jewish chronologer (a) asserts, he was the first Pharaoh, who was in the times of Abram, and that his name was Totis, or Tutis, as the Arabic writers (b), one of which (c) says, that in the times of Serug lived Apiphanus king of Egypt (the same with Apophis; who according to Bishop Usher (d) was this Pharaoh); after him was Pharaoh, the son of Sancs, from whom they (the kings of Egypt) were called Pharaohs. The name of Pharaoh is derived by some (e) from which signifies both to be free, and to revenge; and so kings were called, because free from laws themselves, and were revengers of them that do evil: but it rather seems to come from the Arabic word (f), which signifies to be above others, and rule over them; and so may be thought to be not the proper name of a man, but an appellative, or the name of an office; or in other words, a king, see Genesis 41:44 and so it may be always rendered, where it is used, as here, the king's courtiers saw her, and commended her to the king, and she was taken into the king's house; though to this may be objected, that Pharaoh is sometimes called Pharaoh king of Egypt, and then there would be a tautology; wherefore it may be better perhaps to take it in the former sense.

(t) In the Universal History, vol. 2. p. 115. (u) Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 76. 1. Elmacinus, p. 29. apud Hottinger. Smegma, p. 274. (w) Euterpe sive, l. 2. c. 111. (x) Apud Euseb. ut supra. (Praepar. Evangel. l. 9. c. 16. p. 417.) (y) Vid. Rollin's Ancient History, vol. 1. p. 68. (z) Scripture Chronology, p. 314. (a) Juchasin, fol. 135. 1.((b) In the Universal History, vol. 2. p. 115. (c) Abulpharag. Hist. Dynast. p. 19. (d) Annal Vet. Test. p. 7. (e) Malvenda, Ainsworth, &c. (f) "in summo fuit, summumque cepit vel tenuit", Golius, col. 1787. Castel. col. 3077.

The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was {n} taken into Pharaoh's house.

(n) To be his wife.

15. the princes of Pharaoh] i.e. the chief officers at the court of the king of Egypt. Pharaoh is not a proper name, but the title of the Egyptian king. It is the Hebrew way of transliterating the Egyptian royal title Per’o, “the Great House,” which was transferred from the dwelling to the dynasty of the sovereign. It is often compared with “the Sublime Porte.” As the king’s title, it is no more distinctive than “King,” or “Tsar,” or “Sultan.” There is nothing in this passage to shew which Egyptian king is intended, or at what place he held his court. If Abram was a contemporary of Hammurabi (see note on 14), the Pharaoh of this chapter may have belonged to the 12th or 13th dynasty of Egypt.

All kings of Egypt mentioned in the O.T. (except Shishak, 1 Kings 14:25, and So, 2 Kings 17:4) are designated Pharaoh.

into Pharaoh’s house] i.e. into the harem, or women’s quarter of the king’s palace. The verse illustrates the manner in which the courtiers of an Eastern monarch sought to win royal favour by recommending to his notice beautiful women who might be added to his harem. Cf. the story of the Book of Esther.

The story is much abbreviated: but it is implied that Sarai consented to sacrifice her honour for her husband’s life. We must remember that in the ethics of the O.T. woman is regarded in a less honourable light than man. The idea of a man sacrificing himself to save a woman’s honour belongs almost entirely to the Christian age.

Genesis 12:15The princes of Pharaoh finding her very beautiful, extolled her beauty to the king, and she was taken to Pharaoh's house. As Sarah was then 65 years old (cf. Genesis 17:17 and Genesis 12:4), her beauty at such an age has been made a difficulty by some. But as she lived to the age of 127 (Genesis 23:1), she was then middle-aged; and as her vigour and bloom had not been tried by bearing children, she might easily appear very beautiful in the eyes of the Egyptians, whose wives, according to both ancient and modern testimony, were generally ugly, and faded early. Pharaoh (the Egyptian ouro, king, with the article Pi) is the Hebrew name for all the Egyptian kings in the Old Testament; their proper names being only occasionally mentioned, as, for example, Necho in 2 Kings 23:29, or Hophra in Jeremiah 44:30. For Sarai's sake Pharaoh treated Abram well, presenting him with cattle and slaves, possessions which constitute the wealth of nomads. These presents Abram could not refuse, though by accepting them he increased his sin. God then interfered (Genesis 12:17), and smote Pharaoh and his house with great plagues. What the nature of these plagues was, cannot be determined; they were certainly of such a kind, however, that whilst Sarah was preserved by them from dishonour, Pharaoh saw at once that they were sent as punishment by the Deity on account of his relation to Sarai; he may also have learned, on inquiry from Sarai herself, that she was Abram's wife. He gave her back to him, therefore, with a reproof for his untruthfulness, and told him to depart, appointing men to conduct him out of the land together with his wife and all his possessions. שׁלּה, to dismiss, to give an escort (Genesis 18:16; Genesis 31:27), does not necessarily denote an involuntary dismissal here. For as Pharaoh had discovered in the plague the wrath of the God of Abraham, he did not venture to treat him harshly, but rather sought to mitigate the anger of his God, by the safe-conduct which he granted him on his departure. But Abram was not justified by this result, as was very apparent from the fact, that he was mute under Pharaoh's reproofs, and did not venture to utter a single word in vindication of his conduct, as he did in the similar circumstances described in Genesis 10:11-12. The saving mercy of God had so humbled him, that he silently acknowledged his guilt in concealing his relation to Sarah from the Egyptian king.
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