CTBHHM: Beautiful Sarah, and Abraham’s Lie

CTBHHM: Beautiful Sarah, and Abraham’s Lie September 11, 2014

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 275-277

This week we start a new chapter—“Heirs Together in the Grace of Life”—and we get another Bible story—Sarah. Are you ready?

Sarah the Beautiful If I had been the one authorizing exceptions, I would have released Sarah from obeying her husband on at least two occasions, but I would have been wrong. Sarah chose to obey Abraham even when he lied and told her to lie because he was afraid of what could happen if the king knew she was his wife. Hebrews 11 presents Sarah and Abraham as examples of faith. In I Peter 3, she is honored as being the woman who called her husband lord.

Oh dear. If even Debi would have let Sarah off the hook, this can’t be good. And actually, what Debi does with Sarah’s story is what is sometimes referred to as locking the fire escape. Debi has just finished up saying that there are extreme cases where a woman does not have to obey her husband, but she is about to tell the story of just such an extreme case, except that in this case the woman obeyed her husband anyway and was honored by God for it. The message is simple—if you obey your husband even when you think you probably have an exemption from obedience, you do well.

Abraham was God’s man. God had called him out to be the father of a great nation. Yet Abraham, out of fear for his own life, told his wife to lie, a lie that would put her in danger of sexual advances from another man. Do you remember how Sarah responded to these situations? It happened twice. Once when she was young and beautiful, and once when she was quite old but still a very lovely and desirable woman.

Frankly, I’ve never understood this part of the story of Abraham. Abraham goes to a foreign land and is afraid the rulers will kill him and take Sarah, because she is so beautiful. So he pretends she is his sister, and then the ruler takes her to make her his wife. I mean, what did Abraham think would happen?! What was his end game here? It never made sense to me. Abraham's lie Anyway, back to Debi, and she’s not done singing Sarah’s praises:

One day Abraham came in and announced to his wife that God had told him to move far away from both their families to a distant land. When asked which land, Abraham couldn’t say, because he didn’t know. Abraham spent much of his life traveling around looking for a city whose builder and maker was God. He never found that city, and there were many trials and hardships along the way. How would you like that type of life? Would you have stood by your husband as a man of God in the face of such lack of evidence?

With this bit, Debi seems to be referring both to her own life specifically and more generally to any woman’s life married to a “visionary man.” Here is the problem: I have read way too many stories of women obeying and following visionary men only to find their family financially ruined and their credit score shot. Sometimes, when your partner wants to roam or embark on the unknown, it’s necessary to be the voice of reason and ask some practical questions. But here Debi holds up a wife simply obeying and following her visionary husband as the ideal.

Now we get to the specific story where Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife. The Bible verses Debi quotes are in bold, alongside her commentary.

Genesis 12:10-17

10 Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 

As the city in Egypt came into view, Abraham looked over his shoulder at his beautiful, smiling wife, and his heart melted with fear—a carnal response to a God who promised to bless and keep him.

11 It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 

12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 

13 Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.”

What a terrible burden to put on a woman. Make her feel that she had to lie in order to save her husband’s life. She must have also known that she would be in a danger of being taken by another man. Of course, Abraham was right about the Egyptians, who, when they saw Sarah, were very impressed with her beauty.

16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.

Sarah was taken to special quarters reserved for “brides in waiting.” What a state of mind Sarah must have been in! Her husband was supposed to love, cherish, and protect her. Where was he now? Abraham was out getting gifts in return for his lovely wife. But Sara obeyed. If she had come to me for counsel, I would have had a hard time telling her to obey her husband and keep quiet, but God honored Sara’s obedience.

17 But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.

Since Abraham was fearful, God had to come to Sarah’s rescue in a supernatural way. Do you let God be God in your life? There will be times when your husband is dead wrong, as was Abraham, and you will need to obey your husband and commit your way unto God.

Oh dear, this is not good, not good at all.

Debi is suggesting that if a woman obeys her husband even when he is wrong, and even when it seems she should have an exemption, and even when that obedience puts her in physical danger, all is well and good because God will step in supernaturally and save her. Frankly, I am reminded of the story of the man stuck on his roof as the flood waters rise. A boat comes by, but he says no, he is waiting for God to rescue him. A helicopter comes by, but again he says no, he is waiting for God to rescue him. Then, as he is drowning, he cries out to God, asking why God did not rescue him. God replies from heaven, explaining that he sent both the boat and the helicopter. If a woman in a situation like this, where she is in actual danger, simply obeys her husband and waits for God to save her, she is ignoring the fact that God gave her a brain and two hands, and might well want her to use them.

If this were the only time Abraham acted like this, we could say, “Oh well, he learned his lesson.” But no, he did the same thing again. Genesis 20 finds Sarah as an old lady, but she still must have been a desirable woman. The Bible tells us that Abraham journeyed to the south country. The king of Gerar got a look at Sarah and asked Abraham about her. Good old macho Abraham said, “She is my sister.” So this King took Sarah in anticipation of her becoming his bride. Again Sarah went along and obeyed her husband. If it had been I, you would have seen me giving Abraham a little “spiritual” training—something like, “Abraham, why can’t you just believe God will take care of us? Please don’t put me in that position again.” The Bible only records that Sarah simply did as she was told.

Do you grieve over the situations your husband puts you in? Tell me, how would you react if he pulled this one? Would you refuse to obey? Take authority into your own, “more spiritual” hands? This time the Bible tells us that God sent the king a dream, saying, “Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife” (Gen. 20:3). God cared for Sarah and kept her pure.

Do you see what Debi is doing? She is using the absolutely outrageous situation Abraham put Sarah in to downplay difficult situations her readers’ husbands might put them in. “You think you have it bad! Just look what happened to Sarah—and she still obeyed!” This is so not helpful.

Also, as a quite side note, can I say how bothered I am by Debi’s use of the word “pure”? It’s like she’s more concerned about Sarah remaining sexually pure for Abraham than she is about Sarah, oh, I don’t know, being safe. Like, you know, not being raped.

I am thrilled when I see God delivering a woman from her husband’s folly through dreams, plagues, wrecks, sickness, and even death.

Uh . . . no, this isn’t cool at all. Debi is, again, holding out this idea that if a woman recklessly obeys her husband even when he puts her in danger, whether physical danger or danger of bankruptcy or some other misfortune, God will save her. This works against women actually taking action, and making their own efforts to protect themselves or their families.

How could Abraham, such a man of faith, do such a faithless thing? How could Abraham, who believed God for great and mighty things, not take better care of her wife? We know he loved her dearly.

Abraham was just that—he was a man. 

All men make mistakes. A woman’s place is simply to obey for God’s sake, not for right’s sake. If you wait until you feel that your husband is right before you obey him, then you will seldom obey him, and you will never enjoy the miracles of God.

And there it is again. Just obey—it doesn’t matter if your husband is right or wrong—just obey. And honestly, that seems to be the main message of this book—obey your husband, reverence your husband, praise your husband and never criticize him, and you will have a “heavenly marriage.” And if you’re concerned about going bankrupt or losing life or limb, no worries, God will save you. (And, presumably, if you do die you die the death of a martyr.)

Oh, and another side note—Debi says that if we wait for our husbands to be right before obeying, we will “seldom” obey. Is she suggesting that men are “seldom” right, or simply that we women will “seldom” feel that they are right even when they are? If the former, that is quite a low view of men. If the latter, that is quite a low view of women.

Debi actually has more to say about other aspects of Sarah’s marriage to Abraham, but we will have to get to those next week.

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