On her sixth birthday, Beth got a big rubber ball from her aunt even though her parents didn't approve of giving children birthday gifts. Because she had never had a ball of her own before, Beth got all excited and started to bounce it on the living room floor.
"Beth," Beth's father said. "We do not bounce balls in the house. Go to your room and think about what you have done while the rest of us eat birthday cake and ice-cream."
Beth did as she was told, but cried all the way to her room.
Later, when her mother came in to talk about what happened, Beth asked this question: "Mother, why should I be punished for bouncing the ball when I didn't know that it wasn't allowed? That's not fair!"
"Life is not fair, Dear One," said Beth's mother. "Here, let me tell you a story about someone else who had a problem just like yours." And this is the story she told.
One day there was a horrible famine, and Abram went to Egypt to look for food. When they were near Egypt, Abram told his wife Sarai, "You are very pretty, and when we get to Egypt the Egyptians will want to kill me so that they can put a penis in you. But if you tell them that I am your brother and not your husband, then they will know that they don't have to kill me to put a penis in you and I will be safe."
Sarai agreed to lie to help her husband.
"That's kind of a strange thing for Abram to be worried about, isn't it?" Beth asked.
"Not at all," said Beth's mother. "In ancient times, people were always killing men so that they could put their penises in the men's wives. Abram had to be particularly worried because Sarai was very, very beautiful, even though she was sixty-five years old."
"So when Abram asks Sarai to lie about being his sister, is that like when Father tells me pretend that I'm not with him when we are walking and he sees a pretty lady?" Beth asked.
Beth's mother thought about this for a moment. "I suppose it is," she said, and then she hurried on with the story.
When they got to Egypt, the Egyptians thought that Sarai was very pretty. In fact, even the Pharaoh and the princes thought she was pretty, so the Pharaoh had her brought to his house.
Because he thought that Abram was Sarai's brother, Pharaoh treated Abram well and gave him sheep, oxes, boy and girl donkeys, boy and girl servants, and camels.
But God was unhappy about this. He sent plagues to Pharaoh's house because Pharaoh wanted to put his penis in Sarai and she was a married woman.
When he realized what the problem was, Pharaoh went to Abram and said, "Why did you lie to me instead of telling me that you are married to Sarai? Take her and leave!"
Then Pharaoh ordered his men to throw Abram and Sarai out of town, but he let Abram keep all the nice things that he had given him.
"Now think, Beth. If God would punish a pharaoh for sinning when he did not know that he was sinning, doesn't it make sense that your father should punish you even thought you did not know that what you were doing what was wrong?"
"But how could God let me do something when it is wrong?" Beth asked.
"That's a good question, Dear One." And her mother related another story:
On another day, Abraham was traveling to the south when he came to a place called Gerar. When he got to town, he told everyone that Sarah was his sister.
"That's a funny coincidence," said Beth.
"What is?" asked her mother.
"Well, it's funny that Abraham and Sarah would do the same thing that Abram and Sarai did," said Beth. "That's all."
Her mother laughed, delighted at her daughter's innocence. "It's not a coincidence at all, Dear One. Abraham and Sarah are Abram and Sarai. God changed their names."
Beth crunched up her forehead in puzzlement. "If it's the same people, then why would they try telling the same lie if it didn't work the first time?"
"Just listen and you'll see, Dear One," said her mother.
Abimelech, the king of Gerar, sent for Sarah so that he could put his penis in her because he didn't know that she was married.
That night, God appeared in a dream to Abimelech. "You are as good as dead," said God in the dream. "The woman who you want to put your penis in is married."
"Wait a minute," said Abimelech to God. "I haven't put my penis in her yet. Are you going to kill me before I have done anything wrong? Besides, Abraham and Sarah said that they were brother and sister, not husband and wife. I haven't done anything wrong."
God answered him, "I know that. In fact, the only reason that you didn't put your penis in her yet is that I didn't want you to do something bad. Now, go and give Sarah back to her husband. If you don't, I'll kill you and everyone in your family."
So the next morning, Abimelech got up and told his servants about the dream. Then the king called Abraham and said to him, "Abraham, why did you lie to me? You almost made me do a very bad thing."
"I lied because I thought that your city was godless and that the people would kill me so that they could put a penis in my wife," Abraham answered. "Besides, she's my half-sister, so it was not all a lie."
So Abimelech got some sheep, and oxen, and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham along with Sarah and said, "You may choose any place in my kingdom to call your home."
Then Abimelech said to Sarah, "Look! I gave your brother a thousand dollars. I hope that makes everything all right."
"I see," said Beth. "God didn't let the king do a bad thing because the king was close to God. I guess that I wouldn't have been so bad if I'd said my prayers more."
"I'm glad that you have learned your lesson, Dear One," said Beth's mother.
Beth thought about the stories for a moment and asked, "Mother, why is it that Abraham always got lots of animals and servants for lying?"
"So that you do not misunderstand the lesson, I will tell you another story, Dear One," said Beth's mother. And this is the story she told:
When Isaac was living in Gerar, men used to ask about his wife Rebekah and Isaac always told them that she was his sister. This was because he was afraid that the men would kill him to put a penis in her if they thought that she was a married woman.
One day, Abimelech, king of the Philistines, was looking out his window and he saw Isaac putting his penis in Rebekah. So Abimelech called to Isaac and said, "Are you sure that Rebekah is your sister and not your wife?"
Isaac replied, "I lied because I was afraid that people would kill me so that they could put their penises in her."
Abimelech said, "That was not very nice. Someone in town might have put his penis in your wife and gotten in a lot of trouble." Then Abimelech told all the people in town that they would be killed if they touched either Isaac or Rebekah.
After that, Isaac planted some seeds and his investment was returned a hundred times because God was so pleased with him.
"You see," said Beth's mother, "one's rewards for trying to protect one's self with lies can come in many forms. It's not always animals and servants, sometimes it's plants."
Beth thought about this for a moment. Then, despite the growling of her stomach and her depression over not being able to see her own birthday cake, Beth smiled and hugged her mother. The stories had answered all her questions and she would try never to be bad again.
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