Welcome to the conclusion post for The Trafficking of Sarah. In part 1, we defined the problems this passage can present. In part 2, we answered what I call the “clutter questions” that we might bring to this passage. These are the questions we ask of the text that, if left unanswered, can inhibit our ability to see the real message, the “main thing.”
My goal for Part 3 is to look at Genesis 12:10-20, Genesis 20, and Genesis 26 to discern what the author wanted us to see. Why are these three stories of giving a wife to another man in here? What are we supposed to get out of this story? It’s actually really obvious once the clutter questions are out of the way…and it is super cool. I can’t wait for you to see it.
Open your Bible and read Genesis 3:14-15
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.
Genesis 3:15, ESV
The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
Genesis 3:20, ESV
Way back in Genesis chapter 3, which tells us about the consequences of the Fall, God explains the hope of mankind’s future. A son will come from woman to defeat the serpent. God is addressing the serpent when he says this, and the serpent was listening. Believe that the serpent will do everything in his power to avoid that punishment. The spiritual war that was declared on that day is fought throughout the Bible. The New Testament tells us we’ll be fighting that war until Christ returns to establish the new heaven and earth at the end of days. So…what’s that got to do with Genesis 12, 20, and 26?
I’m so very glad you asked.
In the Ancient Near East, bloodline was everything. This was a patriarchal culture, and that is not to be confused with the political tone we apply to the word today. No, this is the actual anthropological term for patriarchy. All power was held by the patriarch of the family, and all power passed down through the firstborn son. All of it.
God is working with Abraham to establish the nation of Israel through him. The legitimate firstborn son of Abraham would be crucial to demonstrating God’s glory down the road, and that son would be the first son in the line that will defeat the serpent.
So, if you’re the serpent, how would you operate to thwart God’s prophecy in the generation of Abraham? Well, the Bible shows us what he did, and it starts right here in this passage of Genesis 12:10-20. He whispered fear to Abram instead of faith in God’s provision. In the famine, Abram embraces the serpent’s fear and goes down into Egypt, leaving God’s portion–God’s Land of Promise. He goes down into a pagan land where the serpent has power, and then the serpent whispers fear to him again. The woman–the woman who will bear the son in the line of the serpent’s mortal enemy–must be corrupted and discredited.
Deny that she is your wife, Abram. Give her to another man or you will die, Abram. Let her children be the offspring of the serpent’s servant instead of you, Abram, God’s servant.
And Abram obeys the serpent. You seeing it, now?
In Genesis 20, the serpent whispers fear again, but this time, Abram has become Abraham. Sarai has become Sarah. God has entered covenant with Abraham. God has promised a son to Sarah within the year. She may already be pregnant. This time, when Abraham tells the lie, there is much more at stake. The sin of a man–a righteous man who has sat in the literal presence of God and seen firsthand the miracle of God’s wrath at Sodom and Gomorrah–is a terrible thing. We should never make light of it, and we should immediately see the tragedy and power of our enemy’s whispered fear.
If Sarah’s son is considered the offspring of Abimelech, king of Gerar, who among the nations will credit God with his miraculous birth? Who among the nations will see God’s hand at work in the chosen nation of Israel? The serpent is the most crafty of all God’s creatures. He knew what he was doing…and the Bible wants you to see it.
This is a book about God, but it is also a book about the spiritual warfare playing out on this earth. God has human enemies, but He also has enemies in the unseen realm, and they are real. We’re being shown this battle right from the beginning of Genesis, and the forces of evil messing with Abraham’s bloodline–with the legitimacy of his firstborn*–would be a flashing neon sign for the original audience.
This is huge. This is the main thing. This is the reason for the second half of Genesis 12. It’s the reason we’re being told this story. So pay close attention.
This time, God doesn’t allow the farce to proceed. He sends a dream to Abimelech, and then we see the humiliation of a pagan king chiding Abraham for his ungodly lie.
*Ishmael, about whom we will have much to discuss in a later Issues in Genesis series, was Abraham’s firstborn son. He was the son of a concubine, however, and he is the product of a sinful relationship. He is the son of abuse and slavery. In addition, in the eyes of the world at that time, he was not entitled to Abraham’s inheritance. Isaac, Sarah’s son, was the child of promise.
In Genesis 26, the serpent has failed to thwart Isaac’s birth, so now he goes after Isaac’s honor. What would the nations think of a man whose wife had been lying with other men–men from outside her own tribe? Don’t underestimate this. The serpent could not prevent Isaac’s legitimate birth, so now he is trying to remove honor from Isaac’s family. His sons, Jacob and Esau, would be illegitimate if Rebekah was not his wife. They would be seen as either nameless or the sons of an unmarried sister, a concubine. They would have no legal right to Isaac’s inheritance.
God prevents this stain on Isaac’s name and Rebekah’s honor by using the situation to advantage. Isaac genuinely loved Rebekah, and we’re shown that in several ways through his story. Their marriage was clearly passionate, and God allows Abimelech to see them in a romantic embrace of some kind. The jig is up. Abimelech sees that Rebekah is Isaac’s wife, not his sister, and any permanent damage to the family is avoided.
Again, we see a pagan king lecturing God’s servant, but God redeems the sin, as well. He uses this situation to carry riches away from the pagans and this makes the nations around Isaac and Rebekah fear them. The foreigners were made envious and fearful of Isaac’s wealth, power, and might. The God of Abraham and Isaac is making a name for Himself.
The sin was instigated by the serpent. He whispered fear in the ears of faithful men, and the men obeyed that fear instead of their faith.
This whole pattern is the serpent trying to prevent Genesis 3:15 from coming to pass. It is repeated for us three times so that we will not miss it. Are these men stupid? Are they not actually faithful? No. That’s not what it’s about. Many faithful Christians, like me, get up every day wanting to serve God and avoid sin. But we fail, sometimes. In my case, seeing this story for its true meaning is especially touching because fear is a powerful tool against me. I can sympathize with decisions people make out of fear. I’ve done it, and–thank God for his mercy–I’ll probably do it again.
The story here is about divine rebellion and the Father of Lies. It is also about God’s absolute and unequivocal victory over that divine rebellion. Each time, God sees it, stops it, and redeems it for his own glory.
Did you see it? I hope you did because I freaking love it when this kind of thing is made clear to me. It is truly awesome.
As you read through the Bible, look for the times when Satan tries to avoid his curse from Genesis 3:15. It happens a lot. Be watchful for it; make it into a “Where’s Waldo” sort of game. There’s no law against having fun in Bible study. Just keep in mind how important Genesis 3:15 and the serpent’s reaction to it really is. It is a huge pillar of the Bible’s story.
About the Questions I Didn’t Answer
You may recall from Part 1 that I laid out my thoughts about why Genesis 12:10-20 was an Issue in Genesis. I talked about all the doubt and frustration it can bring, and I listed a whole lot of questions it brought up. They were big questions.
Does God love men more than women?
Why does God punish Lot’s wife but not Sarah, who was more rebellious?
Why didn’t God speak out specifically against men who mistreated women?
I could make a really long list, and I’ll bet you could, too. Genesis raises many questions, but not all of them are answered in the passage that first brings them to mind. Genesis 12, 20, and 26 are like that–at least they are for me. I have tried in this little series on The Trafficking of Sarah to give you the answers that I got from this text. We’re going to have to ask ourselves a lot more questions as we go, and some of the biggest ones are whole-Torah questions that find their answer in the unity of Genesis-Deuteronomy.
Am I reading this right; does God condone slavery?
Why are women punished for adultery in the Old Testament, but men aren’t?
Does this really say that rapists can just pay some coins to the father and that’s it?
Why didn’t God stop or punish Abraham and Sarah for what they did to Hagar & Ishmael?
Again, the list could go on, and we could make a long list for every book of the Bible, and if you go after it expecting to understand everything all at once, like a Matrix download into your brain…well, it can get overwhelming.
But, listen, that’s why Bible study is a lifelong pursuit. The well is never empty. There is no “mastery” of God’s Word. It is an endless fount of both comfort and seeking. It is a place where we can never find the end of learning more about God and what he’s saying to us. It is a place that will never run out of fresh lessons we can learn.
Patience is required. Time is required. Work is required.
I will continue to work through these Issues in Genesis posts, roughly in chapter order, over the coming months. I’ll answer all the questions I think I have answers to. Hopefully, some of you will ask or answer questions with me in the comments.
And…if you think Genesis is rough, wait ’til we get to Numbers and Deuteronomy. Ha ha! Seriously, though, stay in the Bible. Stay with your study. It is a stabilizing and comforting balm if you make it a habit and return to it regularly. I promise. The key thing is to get enough answers to enough questions so that you can believe that there are answers for all the rest. That is what your first year in serious Bible study can give you, and it’s amazing, so stick to it. Hang on until you get your blessing.
See you next time.