Egypt was a mighty world power in Abram’s time. Egypt at the time of Abram some 4000 years ago was different to today. The great Pharaohs were around in those days. Some of the great pyramids had probably been built before then. So we can imagine something the wealth of the place needed to build pyramids! Today 99% of the people in Egypt live in 4% of the land. The size of the country today is in rough terms 1100 kilometers by 1100 kilometers. Just about all of that is desert, more than 90% apparently.
Now, we know that 4000 years is a long time and perhaps the land was quite different then to what it is now. However, the most fertile parts of Egypt must always have been along the banks of the River Nile. The Nile would overflow its banks each year and the silt deposits were great for growing things in. The Egyptians were good agriculturalists. They also had settled livestock. They used the little fertile land they had wisely.
Abram was a pastoralist. He was into flocks of sheep and herds cattle etc. He was living the life of a nomad, keeping an eye open for good grazing ground in Canaan. However, when the famine came what was he to do? We don’t know how much of his livestock survived the famine in Canaan. If any of the droughts we’ve witness over the last few decades in Australia are anything to go by, I don’t expect Abram had much livestock left! One drought-stricken Australian cattleman said it was almost enough to make a man fall on his knees and pray to God!
What did Abram do? Well, he didn’t look first to his bank-manager for an extension on his loan! Neither do we see him falling to his knees! No! he looked south to Egypt, to the oasis in the desert, type of ancient Las Vegas in the Nevada desert! So Abram went there! He reasoned with Sarai, “We have to get away from this dry and parched land! If we remain here we’ll perish along with the livestock, Promised Land or not!” Abram thought, “If I head south what do I have to loose, my life, my wife?” Abram took the gamble and went to the “oasis in the desert.
According to the Egyptian paintings from around that time, the Egyptian people were copper colored, (like “bronzed Aussies”?). The Egyptians then were descendants of Ham, one of Noah’s three sons (Psa. 105:23). Therefore, when Abram went there, the Hamites met with some Shemites, (Noah’s three sons were called Shem, Ham and Japheth). And the skin of the Shemites was lighter in appearance than that of the hamites. This might have contributed to the beauty of Sarai in the eyes of the Egyptians. There’s a painting from the tomb of Khnum-hotep III which depicts a foreign ruler arriving in Egypt with thirty seven “Asiatics” (i.e., Shemites). They’re not sure whether the scene recalls Abram’s visit or that of Jacob’s sons (Genesis 46-47). The painting is dated from around 1890 BC, so it could be either. The Hamites are copper colored and the Shemites are much fairer. Anyhow, the Egyptians fell off their barstools when they saw Sarai’s beauty!
“Don’t go near her or the boss will kill you!” Abram was right about the Egyptians. They knew a good-looking woman when they saw one! “The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house.” We can only take it that Pharaoh had men scouting around for beautiful women for him.
So Abram got Sarai to lie about their marital status and tell Pharaoh she was his sister! Pharaoh treated Abram well on account of his “sister” (Genesis 12:16). Abram received a sizeable payout at the Oasis! He got sheep, oxen, male and female donkeys, male and female servants and camels, all tax-free! And all of this because he had a beautiful sister, correction, WIFE! Sarai was Abram’s wife no matter how close they were related. Sarai was a married woman and more than that. She might have been part of Abram’s elaborate plan, and she might have had the star roll in his elaborate stage-play, but there was One infinitely greater than Abram who had a roll for Sarai to play.
Sarai was to play a star part of an even greater plan – God’s plan of redemption! Abram, for the moment, had forgotten about that plan. He had forgotten about the promise the LORD had made to him. “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you.” Genesis 12:2-3.
How is God going to make Abram into a great nation when Abram has gone into the place of captivity? There are echoes here of Adam and Eve in the Garden submitting to the Serpent. Abram’s wife Sarai has been taken captive by Pharaoh. Pharaoh through Sarai, the go-between, the mediator, has given Abram the fruit of the land. Abram’s into livestock. “Here!” says Pharaoh, “Have some sheep, oxen, donkeys and camels! I’ll even give you some people to serve you. Have some male and female slaves!” By the way, one of these slaves was a woman named Hagar, i.e., “Hagar the Egyptian” (Genesis 25:12).
Anyway, we see a Bible “motif” here. We see an underlying element or theme at work. Always remember that “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12. At this point in time Abram had not learned this. He was young in the faith, somewhat immature. He needed to learn to keep his eyes on the kingdom of God and His righteousness!
Pharaoh in the Bible is a type, or picture of the Devil, the Serpent. Egypt at this time represents the Devil’s Domain, his kingdom of darkness. Of course, his kingdom is full of delights, delights for the flesh. But what about the spirit? It’s the place of spiritual bondage. It’s the place where people are captive to the things of the world!
Take a walk through the local RSL. Take a look at the hotel along the road. I remember seeing a billboard outside a hotel “Twenty (or was it 40?) new pokey [slot] machines!” Go and look and you’ll see a perfect example of people in captivity. Look in the hotels and RSL’s. Look in those places where they have all those gambling machines.
There was a member of a bowling club in Scotland who wet herself in front of a “pokey machine.” She was afraid to leave the “one-armed-bandit” for a second – even to go to the toilet! She was afraid someone else would move in on her absence and commandeer the machine and hit the elusive “jackpot”! But we don’t have that problem here in Australia. At least not in the hotel with the forty new pokey machines! “No waiting! There’s room for all!” But we should “Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33.
Turn your back on the “Get Rich Quick” schemes. Don’t seek to rub shoulders with the rich and famous in order to try to gain riches. For that is to gamble with your soul at Pharaoh’s Casino. Pharaoh’s Oasis is but a desert mirage. His kingdom of glamour and glitter will all be dissolved on the Last Day, (2 Peter 3:11).
You might have fun at the “Oasis Casino” for a little while. But you’ll find that there’s a principle at work. You’ll find that you’ll need to expend twice the amount of effort to receive half the amount of fun. You’ll need to make twice the amount of bricks with half the amount of straw! That is how the mathematical law operates in Pharaoh’s (i.e., the Devil’s) domain.
Gamblers talk about beating the “system.” YOU WILL NEVER BEAT THE SYSTEM! Pharaoh is the hard-hearted taskmaster. He is the picture of the Satan himself! Brothers and sisters, friends, do not serve Pharaoh! As Jesus said to the devil who tried to tempt Him in the wilderness, “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” As the LORD said to Pharaoh through His servant Moses, “Let My people go that they may serve ME!”
Sarai, Abram’s wife was a captive in Egypt. Pharaoh wanted her to serve only him! Genesis 12:17, “But the LORD plagued Pharaoh’s house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife.” “She will serve only ME and not Pharaoh!” says the LORD. So the LORD set about delivering His people from the hand of Pharaoh. “A plague! A plague on you Pharaoh! A plague on your house!”