Righteous Facepalm

This morning’s reading was Genesis 19-21. Much of this territory is very familiar to me, but today I was particularly struck by Abraham’s deception and folly. Back in Genesis 12, we read the story of Abraham telling the Egyptians that Sarah was his sister, only to have her taken into Pharaoh’s harem and barely rescued by God’s intervention, which forces Abraham to tell the truth and earns him a lecture from Pharaoh, who appears to value honesty more than God-fearing Abraham. Wow, nice one, Abraham.

But apparently Abraham hasn’t learned his lesson, because he does it AGAIN in Genesis 20. Upon entering the land ruled by Abimelek, Abraham decides it’s a great idea to return to his harebrained scheme and again insists that Sarah is his sister, not his wife. She is again taken by the king because of her great beauty (anyone else think this is weird considering frequent comments about her old age?) and the royal household is cursed with barrenness until Abimelek speaks with God in a dream and then confronts Abraham about his deception, to which Abraham lamely replies, “But I was scared… and besides, I wasn’t totally lying… she is my sister, sorta…”

Seriously, Abraham??

Not once, but twice, Abraham acts as if he has zero confidence in God’s protection and tells a ridiculous lie to save his own skin — with no regard, I might add, for his wife being made someone else’s wife! Not only that, but both times he is rebuked for his dishonesty by the very foreigners whose supposed covetousness and lack of “fear of God” he cites as reason for his deception.

Some patriarch of the faith!

We see here an example of the apparently oft-occurring biblical theme of the “righteous” being shown up by “unbelievers” and the normal order being turned upside-down. This idea crops up again and again throughout both the Old and New Testaments: Jonah, the Pharisees, and the parable of the Good Samaritan, just to name a few.

I’m gonna be honest — I don’t entirely know what this means. I mean, I feel like it’s something about not judging people or creating false hierarchies — the quote about “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” comes to mind — but what does that mean? Stopping at that quote — as if we have our answer — would be a cop-out that ignores the complexity of this idea and the importance imparted by its frequency of appearance. What I will say is that, having identified it as a pretty major theme, I will be watching for this idea to crop up again, and perhaps I will understand more the next time I encounter it.

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