This chapter begins with God’s words to Abram: lech lecha, go forth.
“Go forth from thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, to the land that I will show you (Genesis 12:1).”
This verse is followed by God’s promise to Abram. That he will be a great nation, and will be blessed by God. Abram shows his trust in God and loyalty to God, and leaves all that he knows for the unknown land that God will direct him to.
I personally can’t read this chapter, and these verses in particular, without the Debbie Friedman song Lchi Lach in my head. I highly encourage everyone to listen to it here. Debbie Friedman was a pioneering Jewish musician, and in this iconic song she takes the spirit of God’s promise to Abram, and by association to us as his children, and puts it to beautiful music.
You will be a blessing
God has made a covenant with man through Noah, and now makes a specific promise to Abram in the first evidence of chosenness in the Torah.
Abram brings Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his nephew, and they come to the land of Canaan, which God promises to Abram. “Unto thy seed will I give this land (Genesis 12:7).” This is the first mention of the Land of Israel in the Torah, a powerful moment that begins the timeless link between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel.
However, soon after coming to the land, Abram leaves, and goes to Egypt, because there was a famine in the land. When Abram is in Egypt, we have our latest weird story. Abram is worried, because his wife Sarai is beautiful. He’s concerned that when the Egyptians see her, they’ll kill him to take her. So, he has her say that she’s his sister, and, as he predicted, when they get to Egypt, Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s house. Pharaoh “dealt well with Abram for her sake; and he had sheep, and oxen, and asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and female asses, and camels (Genesis 12:16).” By all accounts, Pharaoh seems to have behaved admirably in this case, paying for Sarai, whom he thought was a single woman.
However, God punishes Pharaoh and his household with plagues because of Sarai. Pharaoh realizes what happened, and returns her to Abram, and they leave, along with all of their possessions.
This story really bothers me. If Abram lied, and Pharaoh had no way of knowing that he was doing anything wrong, why was he punished? How are God’s actions in this story just? Why is Pharaoh’s household hurt for something that they had nothing to do with, and why is Pharaoh a victim of Abram’s deception?
I don’t really have any answers to these questions, or insights about why this story needed to take place. Does it foreshadow the future bad blood between Egypt and the children of Abram? Hopefully future chapters will shed light on this odd interlude.