Friday, March 22, 2013

Genesis 12: Abram is a Coward

Check out today's episode

The Call of Abram (v. 1-9)

God told Abram to travel from his country and leave his kindred and he would make a great nation for Abram. God says he will bless those who honor Abram and curse those who dishonor him. With such a promise, Abram predictably packed up and left, he took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot. He also took all of their possessions and "the people that they had acquired in Haran" and set out to Canaan.

So far this story seems reasonable, if God promised you a great nation I why wouldn't you set out to found it? I do wonder about the people that Abram had "acquired" though. It sounds like slavery at first, but is it really? The best thing here seems to be to look at different translations, 2 say it is slaves and 3 say it is servants. Quite a few say "acquired" like this one, I'm going to go out on a limb and say these are Abram's slaves.

As Abram passed through Canaan, the Canaanites were there and God appeared to Abram and said he would give the land to Abram's offspring, so Abram built an altar to the lord.

Umm...What about the Canaanites? Why is it okay for God to just take the land from them to give to Abram's kids?

As usual, these points are either never considered or completely ignored. Guzik has only this to say on the subject
Abram never owned any of this land except his burial plot (Genesis 23:14-20). Yet God’s promise was enough evidence to assure Abram that he did indeed own the whole country.
There is no mention of how unfair this is to the Canaanites. 

Gill doesn't mention how unfair this is to the Canaanites, although he does point out that since God is talking to Abram he must be in human form, and therefore it must be Jesus. Hows that for a few leaps of logic?

Speaking of leaps in logic, Matthew Henry seems to be interested in demonizing the Canaanites here, I guess part of him can recognize how unfair this whole thing is and he has to find a way to justify it. He says that they are "likely to be but bad neighbors and worse landlords" and that they are accursed. He also said this about Abram's arrival in Canaan.
One would have expected that Abram having had such an extraordinary call to Canaan some great event should have followed upon his arrival there, that he would have been introduced with all possible marks of honour and respect, and that the kings of Canaan should immediately have surrendered their crowns to him, and done him homage. But no; he comes not with observation, little notice is taken of him, for still God will have him to live by faith, and to look upon Canaan, even when he was in it, as a land of promise
I don't think the Canaanites are even aware that Abram was coming (it just says Abram was passing through), or that God has promised him their land. Why would they react this way? It's crazy to me how much extra stuff is necessary people put in these stories to try to make sense of them.

Abram kept travelling, when he went through Bethel he stopped and built an altar to the lord, then continued on toward Negeb.

How many altars does the lord need? What does it take to make an altar? Seems like it would be an annoying part of travelling with Abram.

Abram and Sarai in Egypt (v. 10-20)

Due to a famine Abram went down to Egypt. Since his wife Sarai was so beautiful he was afraid that the Egyptians would kill him to get her, so they pretended she was his sister. When they saw her they took as a wife for the Pharaoh and gave Abram a bunch of stuff for her (sheep, oxen, donkeys and servants). But then God plagues at Pharaoh and somehow he realized the cause was Sarai. So Pharaoh brought in Abram and asked why he told him Sarai was his sister instead of his wife. He returned Sarai to Abram and let them go with all of their stuff.

Matthew Henry addresses the fact that there is a famine in one place and apparently plenty in another
See how wisely God provides that there should be plenty in one place when there was scarcity in another, that, as members of the great body, we may not say to one another, I have no need of you. God’s providence took care there should be a supply in Egypt, and Abram’s prudence made use of the opportunity
So the fact that there was food somewhere is proof of God? Ridiculous. This reminds me of people who escape an accident where a bunch of other people died and thank God that they lived. With this type of logic there is no way for God to lose.

Wow this is a terrible story. First, Abram is a huge coward. Out of the blue he just assumes that since his wife is so beautiful that Pharaoh is going to kill him for her. His solution isn't to fight for her, or simply go somewhere other than Egypt, he just decides to give her to the Pharaoh. 

Guzik points out that the lie is actually a half truth, as Sarai is Abram's half sister, he references Genesis 20:12 (also mentioned by Gill). Note that Guzik does go on to condemn the lie, the fact that it is a half truth is not an excuse as the intention was to deceive which is what is important. 

The flavor text should read
"All creatures are now named Abram"
Wizards of the Coast
Second, he's apparently greedy as hell. When Pharaoh gave Abram a dowry for his wife, he demonstrated he was at least somewhat honorable. Abram could have cancelled the whole thing and come clean right then, but instead he took all of the wealth he was given for his wife. Also, when Sarai was given back to him he apparently didn't give back the dowry.

From Matthew Henry
We cannot think that Abram expected this when he came down into Egypt, much less that he had an eye to it when he denied his wife; but God brought good out of evil. And thus the wealth of the sinner proves, in some way or other, to be laid up for the just.
What about this story tells us that the Pharaoh was evil or that Abram was just? The Pharaoh did nothing wrong here and got totally screwed.

Third, Abram is apparently a horrible judge of character, the Pharaoh is clearly an honorable man. Think about this story from his perspective, a beautiful woman comes into town, it turns out she is single and travelling with her brother. So as is customary, he takes her as his wife and pays the brother. Later his is afflicted with plagues and finds out that his new wife was actually married to the man you thought was her brother. He is pissed at the guy and yells at him, but ultimately returns the woman and sends them on their way in an effort to make the plagues go away. Who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in this story?

Gill says that since these are a lustful people, they would rather be guilty of murder than adultery, which is why he was afraid of them killing him to get Sarai. This is apparently wrong based on how the story ended, yet it is still the justification given.

I wasn't sure I was going to be able to find anything good to say about this story, but Matthew Henry said something that I suppose would quality. He said that this is a story where we are supposed to admonish him even though he is one of God's chosen. I suppose then the lesson is that everyone can make mistakes. Seems like a stretch, but all I can come up with.

For the "Verses of Note" post:


Genesis 12:11-13 Abram is willing to give up his wife for his own safety

"When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, 'I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.'"


Genesis 12:15-16,20 Abram took a dowry for Sarai and didn't give them back at the end

"And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels...And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had."


Genesis 12:6-7 God promises to give someone else's land to Abram's descendants

"...At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land...'"

Genesis 12:17-18 God punished Pharaoh even though the whole situation was Abram's fault

"But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. So Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?"


Genesis 12:5 Abram owns slaves (look at multiple translations)

"And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran,"


  1. Very nice. I forgot what sort of d-bag Abram was.

  2. I don't understand why Pharaoh was punished for being conned by Abram either. Also, why did god send plagues to try to stop him, instead of just sending an angel to tell him the truth before he took Sarah in?

    As for the people Abram acquired, I think they were probably a combination of both slaves and loyal hired servants. If a wealthy man then was a good boss to his hired servants, his servants would become very loyal to him.

    1. I know, it's ridiculous that Pharaoh was punished. He did absolutely nothing wrong in this story, he's purely a victim.

  3. "How many altars does the lord need? What does it take to make an altar?"

    Maybe the altars were like caerns -- piles of stones that could be assembled quickly without much fuss? I too wonder why Yahweh needed all those altars.

    Abraham was more than a coward. He was a thoroughly vile man for pimping out his own wife to get riches. He justified it by convincing himself that the Egyptians would have killed him over Sarai, but the actual behavior of the Egyptians does not suggest this. Abraham, as Andrew observed, was a douchbag.

    1. Yeah, maybe it is just a particular way to pile up a bunch of stones. I always pictured more of a few pillars holding up a big horizontal stone slab at about waist height. But maybe it's closer to a ring of rocks in the dirt like we would do at a campsite.

      I'm not sure I would go so far as to say he set this up intending to get money from the Pharaoh once he took her as a wife. It's possible that the situation simply got away from him. Although this would require him to be pretty stupid, because if he thought they would kill him to take her as a wife, certainly they would take her if she was single.

      So he's either a vile, greedy coward or a stupid coward. It's really not good either way

  4. I have to say, perhaps the most stunning part of this post to me isn't the story of Abram, it is how Guzik, Gill, and Matthew Henry try to justify the absurdity of what is happening. The story itself is grotesque in many ways--from the treatment of Sarai and the Canaanites to slavery. To see the lengths that believers of the bible will go to, in order to justify their belief, never ceases to amaze me.

    1. At least Guzik and company are trying to justify it, I think that's a good sign, because that means that they are truly repulsed by it, and are trying to explain it away.

      It shows that they aren't going the William Lane Craig route and not only saying that god has no moral obligation to protect innocent people, but that since god is the final judge of morality, anything he commands is acceptable, no matter how barbaric it is:

    2. Sadly, it's not just William Lane Craig. "The Case for Faith" by Lee Strobel takes a similar stance. I can honestly say it was one of the most morally revolting books I've ever read.

    3. I totally agree ReasonBeing. The commentaries make a terrible story 10 times worse. I think digging in to them is my favorite addition to this project since I started it.

      Sheldon, unfortunately I think they all do roughly the same thing. They try to justify things as best they can, only when they fail do they switch tactics and go for the "everything god does is acceptable" nonsense. A recent example from Guzik was the Noah's ark story. He justified the death of everyone by saying that they will die anyway so it doesn't matter and it is God's prerogative to choose when and how it will happen.

  5. "even though he is one of God's chosen"...which is the problem still plaguing the Middle East. Ancient Jews wrote the Bible and considered themselves to be God's ONLY chosen, which to me never made sense, not understanding why God would have created any other race if this was true. Did he just want to make sure they would have enemies for eternity...or did they bring that on themselves by declaring to be God's chosen favorites and perpetuating it? Then Jesus supposedly abandons the Jews "ark" and Christians come along and declare the next 2000 years if you are not a Catholic Christian, you are doomed to Hell.

    Now where did I leave my headache pills?

    1. That's a really good point that I don't think about very often. The very idea of God having a chosen people is silly. As you say, why would God bother creating non-chosen people.

      The only way I can really make sense of it is in a polytheistic framework. This population is god A's chosen people, that population is god B's chosen people, etc. But if there is only one God then the concept is just confusing.

    2. I have often wondered how the "old" testaments got combined with the "new" testaments into a book that so many consider the "word of God" when the first half was written by Jews and the second half by Christians who didn't agree on what that word was or who the "true" prophet was. The Jews are still waiting for theirs.

      I'm also not sure when the Torah was adapted by the Jews as their "Bible" or who wrote the Koran which has so many versions of the Bible stories in it agreeing that Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were all great prophets...but not as great as Mohammed. Small wonder the human race is so confused about God or that religion has caused so much turmoil on earth.

    3. I assume it has to do with getting converts. When you're starting a new church it would be hard to start from scratch, but why not build off existing stuff. Tons of people around you are Jewish, say that you have the same holy book but there is this one more thing. Add some writings and if people like it those become popular. A few hundred years of that and there are a bunch of different writings around and at some point they collect a bunch of them and solidify the new testament. I'm not sure exactly how accurate that is, but my impression is that it is something like that.

      Book of mormon was a little different, Joseph Smith wrote the whole thing right? But you can imagine it being easier for him to sell it if he says "yeah, the bible is still part of it, there's just this new book that goes with it".

      I saw sort of a minor version of this growing up. My dad didn't like something that his old church taught, so we went around looking for a new church. Of course we switched to a different Christian church, most of what was taught was exactly the same, but there were a few details different. I can imagine it was always like that. People like a few things to be different, but largely don't want much change.

    4. You are likely right about it having something to do with gathering converts Hausdorff. Of course, Joseph Smith and Mohammed both claimed "angels" wrote their books.

      I think Mohammed wrote his weary of how the Jews and Christians were treating "his" people and that flock still has a problem with it.

      As for Joe...I think he simply didn't want to have to live by the Puritans rules so he wrote his own and figured if he once again allowed men to have more than one wife he would attract more guys who would breed his flock into existence quickly. :D

    5. hehe, I think you're right about Joe and the puritans. From what little I know about it, it seems unlikely to me that he was a true believer.


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