10 ¶ And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
Later, we will get the definition of famine which is a period of little food and a poor return for farmers. We look at a word in context and compare its use against like phrases in the verse or passage.
Genesis 41:27 And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine.
Grievous is shown later to mean that there will be no surplus during a famine. It will then be a grievous famine.
Genesis 41:31 And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous.
Grievous is an abundance of calamity in the curses on Egypt in Exodus 9 and it is a very difficult burden to bear in 1Kings 12 and 2Chronicles 10. Grievous causes grief, obviously, but it is important to see how the Bible defines words in context and I want to reinforce that for you to help in your own personal reading.
Abram does what we would consider a cowardly thing rather than trusting in God to deliver him. He tells his wife, who is in her 60’s but still at that time still a fair woman to look upon, to lie and say she is his sister, not concerning himself in this whether she will suffer humiliation but in preserving his own life.
Abram, as Abraham, will do this again in Gerar in chapter 20. His son, Isaac, will also do this with his wife, Rebekah, in chapter 26 in Gerar, as well. Apparently, by this, we know that it would not be uncommon for a man to be murdered so that someone could obtain his attractive wife as a sexual resource, one kind of rape.
We know that fair to look upon means that a person is sexually desirable. In our modern world women seek to dress and look like this although if they considered the assortment of characters they would be attracting, most of which do not look like their favorite movie or music stars, they might think better of it. Sarai, like other women, had little choice in the matter and was little better than a commodity or a pack animal under prevalent laws and customs. It is only in Christ that woman’s status rises.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Unless, of course, she is an Independent Fundamental Baptist, in which case she is typically still in Egypt.
In this general time, although you cannot seriously accept the dates put forth without absolute proof of which there is none, Mizraim’s Egypt (see comments on 10:6) was ruled by a Pharaoh, a king, who held absolute power. Later, the Greek historian Herodotus will tell us that there could be as many as 12 rulers leading from various places claiming all to be THE Pharaoh. This makes any attempt to put the Pharaohs and their dynasties in any absolute dating plan difficult. In addition, the commonly accepted method for dating ancient Egypt is not without its detractors and is controversial. So, when reading about Old and New Kingdoms, Intermediate Periods, Dynasty dates, etc. etc. be very skeptical and cautious about accepted conclusions. Egypt’s ancient history is probably much more compressed than current scholarship would be willing to let on.
In any event, depending on the flooding of the Nile River to irrigate crops, rather than an abundance of rainfall, Egypt was the place to go in most famines in Canaan with certain exceptions which we will see. Egypt was also the superpower that would have held the kings of Canaan as tributaries in those times when other empires were not in control such as the Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians.