Did Pharaoh sleep with Sarah?

Molnár József: Ábrahám kiköltözése

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Question: : Please advise if Sarah had sex with the king when her husband Abraham had her lie about being his sister the first time. I know this is a strange question, but it came up in our small group. I have always believed that because she honored her husband and obeyed him that God protected her. The other night it was pointed out that the king laid with her. I am trying to understand if she should have refused to lie for her husband out of obedience to God or was she supposed to obey her husband regardless of her convictions about obeying God. Thanks for looking into this for me.

Answer: There were two instances in which Abraham had Sarah lie and say she was his sister (a half truth) and not his wife, so that powerful men in the region Abraham was visiting would treat him favorably and not kill him in order to acquire Sarah as wife. In Genesis 12 Abraham and Sarah are in Egypt due to famine in Canaan and the Pharaoh takes Sarah as his wife. The King James Version says, “Why saidst thou, She [is] my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife” (12:19), which suggests that he didn’t actually take her as wife. But the Hebrew, as most modern versions reflect, is better translated as in the NIV, “so that I took her to be my wife.” It does not say that Pharaoh lay with her, though that is a possibility.

Abraham handles things the same way while sojourning in the Negev of the Promised Land, Canaan, when he fears Abimelech (Genesis 20). But here it specifically says that God kept Abimelech from touching Sarah (v.6). Does this mean God did the same thing with Pharaoh? If we honor those in authority over us and obey them, will God see to it that we are not harmed? If Sarah had refused to obey Abraham because he was asking her to do something against God’s revealed will, would God have protected her from her husband or from her husband being killed and then being taken as the Pharaoh’s or Abimelech’s wife?

When I think of other situations in which people obeyed God instead of the human authority in their lives, it did not always result in protection from harm. When Peter and John appeared before the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, they were told to stop preaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 4). When they refused they were beaten. Later James, the son of Zebedee, one of the original 12 apostles, was killed and Peter was imprisoned (Acts 12).

I’m reminded of Jesus’ saying in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” I think our perspective should be that of the friends of Daniel who were commanded to bow and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image and refused. They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17,18).

Did Sarah have sex with Pharaoh against her will because of obedience to her husband Abraham? The text is not clear. I do not think it would have been something she could even have conceived of doing in that culture to disobey her husband in this matter. But perhaps she should have told him no. Even so, there doesn’t seem to be any promise that if we disobey our earthly authority in order to obey God, that God will protect us from the consequences of it. He did protect Daniel’s friends. He didn’t protect the apostles. But He does protect our souls, the most important protection of all.

Randall Johnson


31 thoughts on “Did Pharaoh sleep with Sarah?

  1. This one really confuses me as I start my study of Genisis. More so than whether or not Sarah slept with the Pharaoh, I struggle with why God would afflicct Pharoh’s house because of Sarah? The Pharaoh did not know Sarah was Abram’s wife and they went in to Egypt with Sarah purposely lying to gain favor. How is it the Pharaoh came to be the one in disfavor with God?

    • You are right, I believe, that Pharaoh did not seem to deserve this treatment from God. Rather, Abram was the guilty one here. But we might also think of this as God’s way of preventing Pharaoh from doing something worse. The afflictions got his attention and did something more important than that. They showed him that he had better not mess with this man Abram. He was God’s choice to father a great nation and no doubt Pharaoh must have been shocked that such a seemingly insignificant person would have so much of God’s attention. And if Pharaoh had any thoughts of killing Abram for what he had done and taking his wife Sarai as his own (the very thing Abram feared), the afflictions showed him he would regret it. There is always more going on with what God is doing that what we are able to see. Perhaps this was even preparing future Pharaohs to regard Israelites with more respect than they would have otherwise given them (think Joseph and Moses).

      • The pharaoh was quite simply afflicted so he would agree to give back the woman otherwise he quite simply could have and would have refused. No man, let along a King, would have easily agreed, without some expectation of an imminent threat, to part with a woman who he has already made his wife- especially a woman whose beauty was praised among princes in the kingdom. I also agree that the afflictions served to deter the pharaoh from unleashing his wrath on Abram or Sarai.

    • The holy spirit with regard to this whole issue had spoken to Abraham already that in Egypt he would be killed by Pharaoh if he told them that Sarah was his wife. Remember Abram was guided by holly spirit and it informed him of things to happen before they happened, read verse 14 and 15 chapter 12.

      • It is impossible that the Holy Spirit told Abram that he would be killed by Pharaoh if he told the truth about Sarai because God had already promised Abram that he would become the father of many nations through the offspring he and Sarai had together. Abram was wrong to lie about Sarai and was not trusting God to fulfill His promise in 12:1-3.

      • Sure, Pharao had sex with Sarah … and she became pregnant. Isaac was the result.
        At this times pharao was similar to God, he was God. The birth of Isaac was the beginning of the religion of Israel, it was the only reason to be selected by God.
        The birth of Jesus by Maria is only a copy of the foresaid.

      • Oh, right, Sarah gave birth to Pharaoh’s child way after she was past child bearing age and during the magical time in history when leaders actually were gods. And nothing that happened to Abraham had anything to do with the belief system of Israel, only the birth of Isaac. Sounds believable to me.

  2. I’m curious about the idea that Sarah was around 90 years old when Abimelech wanted her. A few passages earlier Sarah had laughed about having a child at such an old age. How is it that Abraham feared for his life if Sarah was old? She said herself that she was old and worn out.

    • Though we might lay all this at Abraham’s feet, thining irrationally that his wife was desirable to all men, the reality is she did attract Abimelech even at her “advanced” age. Just because a woman is past childbearing age, of course, does not make her any less attractive, but we are not used to 90 year old women (or men, for that matter) still holding such physical appeal.

      It is possible that some of the longevity factors, whatever they were, that resulted in the extraordinarily long lives of people before the flood were still at work in Sarah. But I have to say that I do not know why Sarah was still attractive at age 90. She just was.

      • It is possible, of course, that God did something miraculous to preserve or renew Sarah’s beauty/youth, but we are not told that in the text. There are many things in the text we are not told in narrative literature and we are meant to fill in some blanks. Theologically this way of filling in the blanks is reasonable, but not demanded.

  3. It doesn’t say how pharaoh found out Sarai was Abrams wife. Maybe when he tried to sleep with her she stopped him and told him.

  4. I have the same questions, Pharoah did not know that Sarai was Abraham’s wife. How did Pharoah find out and did he indeed take her for his wife? Abraham gives her up for adultery? It seems as though lies can affect the not intended person in our eyes. How was Abraham and Sarai dealt with for lying-seems as though they left with more than what they had. Just seeking a clear understanding.

    • We are not told how Pharaoh found out so we can only speculate. I can only imagine what happened in Abram’s relationship with Sarai after this, and that would certainly be a natural consequence to his lie, but there is always a deadening of our soul that takes place when we sin. We can be revived, but that is always a consequence that makes it easier to sin again (as Abram did). God in mercy enriched Abram through this debacle, but that is not an endorsement of Abram’s sin.

  5. Yes! Pharaoh.So that I took her to be my wife. GENESIS. 12-18-19
    AND PHARAOH called Abram ,and said:What is this that though hast done unto me? Why didst though not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst. thou: She is my sister? So that I took her to be my wife;

  6. We know Abraham is the father of Faith. Faith means to be fully convinced, Without a single doubt, that his God is powerful. But this story show’s Abraham had doubts about his own life being protected by God. So it seems like in order to preserve his life, Abraham had to create a lie. Abraham seems to show lack of confidence and trust in God. Can you help me clear, how can we credit him to be truly father of Faith.

    • No one has perfect faith. Everyone has stumbled. But Abraham demonstrated faith in many situations, especially when he trusted God to sacrifice his son Isaac. And so as Paul looks at the overall pattern of his life, he can say, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (Romans 4:20). God takes into account our whole lives, not just our failures, and when He looks at Abraham His big-picture perspective is that Abraham was a faithful man and the father of faith.

  7. As a woman, I am totally creeped out by this story. I would very much like to know if the Lord protected Sarai from having relations with the Pharaoh. My heart breaks for her if the Lord did not do so.

  8. Jody, your heart need not be broken; I believe that the bible is silent as to whether they slept together because the time had not come for them to sleep together. When a Pharaoh takes a wife, there is a purification process (i.e. perfume baths, manicures, pedicures, etc.) that the woman undergoes before any relations occur between the Pharaoh and his wife. It is during this time and I do not know how, that Pharaoh learned that Sarai was Abram’s wife. Unlike Abimelech, who would have had relations with Sarah is God had not intervened.

    Again, let you heart not be troubled.

    • How interesting that you think you can know about the unwritten facts of the event that took place here. Where does it state that the time had not yet come for them to sleep together? Sometimes there are unwanted consequences to our sin and I don’t think we can know if in this situation there was a consequence. Nor can we know if Sarai was opposed to this whole event. She may have sacrificed for Abraham’s safety or enjoyed the special attention. Remember this is the same woman who allowed her husband to sleep with her maid. these were not perfect people.

  9. This story seems to be not just about Sarah but about Abraham and his fear or scheme to get rich. Only one person said it did happen. Is it because we don’t really want to know? Women were not treated as well as men because in the next chapter we see that Abraham was concerned how more about Lot. These are interesting chapters.

  10. A careful study of the text from Gen. 12:15 to 13:1 seem to reveal that Sarai might have had sex with the Pharaoh as wife. This is bcos Gen. 12 is dated in my Bible at BC 1921 while Gen. 13:1- when Abraham leaves Egypt is dated at BC 1918. That gives a period of 3 years.
    Since Gen. 12:16 states categorically that d Pharaoh treated Abraham well bcos of Sarai, such that he had sheep, oxen, asses, men & maid servants, then it stands to reason that Sarai, most probably lived with d Pharaoh for quite sometime b4 d discovery of d truth came up.
    & cognisance must be taken of d fact that according to v17 Pharaoh only got to know of the truth when himself & his house got afflicted with plagues bcos of Sarai. Getting afflicted with plagues suggest a considerable number of ppl in a period of time.
    So to me d passage is so clear & revealing of what actually took place. That is why d Pharaoh said “What is this that u have done unto me?” in d v17.

  11. I was reading Gen. 12 and when I got to vs 16, I felt within my spirit that for Abram to be treated that well, something must have happened sexually between Pharaoh and Sarai. I decided to google this and I landed on this post with beautiful write-ups and great comments! I agreed with Daniel Owusu-Akyaw that Sarai might have had sex with Pharaoh but I also concluded within me that he doesn’t know the consequences of what he did because the law has not be given to them then. And remember, where there’s no law there’s no sin. Paul said in Roman 7: 7 that he had not known sin, but by the law: for he had not known lust except the law had said thou shalt not covet. So Abram had not known lie then. Furthermore, Abraham was regarded as the father of faith not because of his works but because of his faith for He believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. It is the righteousness of God that can make us righteous too and not by our works. God bless you all!

  12. Agboola Samuel…. Thank you for that comment….I was starting to feel sorry for Sarah and hatred for Abraham…
    Now I feel a little comforted by your comment…thanks… God bless you

    • God Bless you to Kiran! I pray that God will continue to reveal Himself more and more to us everyday of our lives in Jesus name.

  13. Good questions and comments. I will only add that there does seem to be more emphasis placed on marriage in the New Testament. It is only in the New Testament that we are instructed to love our wives as Christ loved the Church. Old Testament saints were sloppy about such things perhaps because they were NOT privy to the full council of God.

    • It is hard to beat a prohibition against adultery in the 10 commandments as emphasis on marriage. Perhaps Abraham and his family was more sloppy about marriage, but it was not for lack of counsel from God. They certainly took it very seriously when it came to getting a bride for Isaac. We are given pretty high standards for marriage in the Law (which was post-Abraham) and see this reflected in Proverbs 5:15-23.

  14. Abraham was married to his half-sister, Sarai, who, at age sixty-five, was still apparently beautiful. To protect himself, Abraham
    persuaded Sarah to lie about her marriage to him and pretend to be his
    sister. Unprotected by her husband, Sarah was whisked off to Pharaoh’s
    harem. In exchange, Pharaoh showered Abraham with riches.1
    Since Abraham didn’t properly protect Sarah, who was the promised
    mother of a new nation that would bless the whole world, God had to step
    in to keep her away from Pharaoh’s bed.
    God protected Sarah by sending “great plagues” on Pharaoh and his
    house. The Hebrew words translated as “plagues” can refer to sores or
    wounds and does not require them to be deadly. Sarah was kept safe and
    it seems Pharaoh eventually put two and two together and figured out
    that the timing and scope of this disease was somehow associated with
    Abraham’s arrival and that Sarah was Abraham’s wife. Pharaoh graciously
    let Abraham keep all the stuff he had acquired in Egypt and summarily
    sent him away.
    These plagues on Pharaoh and his house were not so much a punishment as a
    message, but they are definitely an example of the sins of one person
    causing others to suffer. Our cursed world is full of examples of
    innocents suffering for the sins of others…copied

  15. Do you guys want to know really whether or not she slept with the Pharaoh?

    As a pastor, I have encountered many interesting questions. To answer this question, it is this: Most likely not. We cannot know for sure, since the text doesn’t say. However, because Sarai was the mother of the future child that the nations would be blessed by, and eventually, Jesus would come through, God in His providence, would have protected Sarai and kept her pure.

    Some would speculate that the Pharaoh knew that Sarai was Abram’s wife, not only because the Pharaoh would be afflicted with great plagues (Gen. 12:18), but perhaps when he did try to sleep with her, she simply had to give a good reason why she couldn’t sleep with him.

    Here is the bigger point to those wondering about this: To diverge into this and to focus too much in this area of whether she slept with Pharaoh or not would be a red herring to the main biblical and hermetical theme of God’s providence in protecting Abram, and God keeping his Abrahamic covenant of how all the nations would be blessed by him, including God’s providence in protecting Abram and his family, would be the thing to focus more. You see, although these characters in the Bible can be very admirable, they are not without faults. instead of focusing too much and elevating these Bible characters, we should never lose sight to focus and elevate the main character in all these narratives: God.

    We don’t know whether or not Sarai slept with Pharaoh or not. It is most likely not, We can trust God that He has special care for His people, and God’s sovereign will must be accomplished.

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