David Was a Rapist, Abraham Was a Sex Trafficker

My family and I were driving to the movie theater recently and Game of Thrones came up in our conversation. Having never read the book or seen the HBO show, but figuring reviews and trailers gave me all I needed to know, I pontificated, “Game of Thrones is popular only because it’s about sex and violence.” To which my son Noah responded, “Sex and violence—sounds like your books, Dad.”

The reason I write about sex and violence is that the Bible—especially the Old Testament, where I spend most of my time—talks about sex and violence. A lot. It includes stories of fornicators, adulterers, prostitutes, polygamists, ethnic cleansing, fratricide, infanticide, and other forms of cruel activity.

But the Old Testament is also full of sexual violence. We read of rapists, pimps, and other perpetrators of sexual exploitation. The Bible, then, is not that different from Game of Thrones—or better yet, the news. Every day we seem to hear about sexual assaults on college campuses, in the military, and even in churches. Sadly, many of us are no longer shocked when we hear such horrific news.

This reality makes studying sexual violence in Scripture all the more pressing. Paul said all of Scripture—including what we might consider the R-rated stories of the Old Testament—is God-breathed and can train us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It’s not that we skip over such stories, but that we tend to use euphemisms when telling them. We don’t pay close attention to the details, and as a result miss what the biblical authors intended to communicate. Stories not just of prostitutes, adulterers, and fornicators, but also of sexual predators and human traffickers, teach us profound lessons about God and his grace. He came to redeem all people, even those who are sexually violent, as the genealogy of Jesus shows.

Abraham: The Pimping Patriarch

The first story we tend to euphemize is that of Father Abraham. Abraham—the second man mentioned in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ family history—gets off to a great start by obeying God’s call to leave his homeland. But not all was well with the patriarch. We give him due honor for his astounding faith. And sure, we recognize he slept with his wife’s female servant. But when describing how he trafficked his wife, we soften the details.

Shortly after arriving in Canaan, he leaves for Egypt to avoid a famine. Because of Sarah’s beauty—at age 65—he orders her to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister and not his wife. That way no one will kill him in order to marry her (Gen. 12:12–13). Since Abraham and Sarah were half-siblings, the message was half true. But since their prime relationship was that of husband and wife, it was half false.

Upon arrival, the Egyptians praise Sarah for her good looks, just as Abraham had predicted, and Pharaoh takes her into his harem. To thank Abraham for sharing his “sister,” the ruler rewarded him richly with animals and male and female servants. While the text is somewhat vague, the language that Pharaoh “took her” suggests sexual engagement.

God called Abraham to be a blessing to all families of the earth, including his own. But he does the opposite here. He was more concerned about his own safety than his wife’s wellbeing and dignity. (And Abraham repeats this cowardly, selfish act in Genesis 20.) Sarah must have felt betrayed, and Pharaoh suffered because of Abraham’s deception: God sent plagues to punish Pharaoh for taking Sarah as his wife (Gen. 12:17). The only one “blessed” in this scenario is Abraham. He essentially trafficked his wife and profited richly, and it didn’t take long for sexual exploitation to creep up again in his family.

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David Was a Rapist, Abraham Was a Sex Trafficker