Genesis 12, A Retelling
If it wasn’t so tragic, it might be funny, flattering, even. Here she was, chosen by the Pharaoh of Egypt to be his wife — one of many wives, but still, his wife. And she was old! Well, relatively old for this kind of thing. She’s sure no one suspected her age. If only they knew! But she did not want to be the wife of Pharaoh. She was already in love, already married to the man they thought was her brother. Now she would never see her husband, Abram, again. What a mess they had gotten themselves into.
She had followed Abram on this crazy journey, leaving behind all her friends and her childhood home. She never imagined it would end this way. At one time, the great city of Ur had been all they had known. Until one day Abram had said, “Our future is not here, Sarai. God wants us to leave this place.”
“But where will we go, Abram?” She had plied him with questions he could not answer, but he had seemed so confident, so urgent.
“God said he would show us, but we have to go.”
Sarai would leave with him. As much as she had needed assurances, she knew her future was tied to his. She had thrown her lot in with his and could not look back. They would travel with their father, Terah, and nephew, Lot, 600 long miles to Haran, and there they would begin a new life.
But after Terah died, God had come to Abram again saying, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
An amazing promise, to be sure, but the last thing Sarai wanted to do was uproot their lives and start over again. Why couldn’t God just tell them once and be done with it? She was not aware of any other wives whose husbands got directives from heaven. She considered it an honor, but at times like this, it was an unwanted intrusion. She just wanted to live her life in a straight, reasonably predictable line, no sharp turns or detours. Not that she didn’t want God to direct their lives, but she would have preferred him to hand over the map. She would feel so much better knowing where they were headed and the path they would take to get there.
God’s promise had been too big to wrap her mind around, but she had believed. More than anything else, she had wanted to believe, at least the part about making Abram a great nation. “A great nation” meant descendants, and descendants meant children and grandchildren. For that, Sarai had been willing to go anywhere, do anything, yes, even wander in a strange land. She had not been able to get pregnant. Most men would have taken another wife or concubine, but Abram had not given up on her. Instead, he had whispered in her ear in the middle of the night. “Don’t you worry, Sarai, God has big plans for us.” Sometimes Abram seemed to have enough faith for both of them.
They had packed up their possessions and gone back on the road, traveling over 500 more miles before they arrived in Canaan, where God said to Abram, “To your descendants I will give this land.”
“Home, at last,” Sarai had thought. But “home” was not anything like they had envisioned. The land was inhabited by strangers and ravaged by famine. They could not stay. Sarai had tried to hide her disappointment. Now she wished she had just enjoyed being with Abram, making note of the things that were good, rather than listing grievances in her head. She would have savored their last trip together. But she had not known.