New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

12:1 Now Yahweh had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house- Abram was told “Get  out...” of Ur; and obediently “they went forth to go into the land of Canaan: and into the land of Canaan they came” (Gen. 12:1,5 AV). Holiness means a separation from and also unto. This must be the pattern of our lives, until finally at the Lord’s return  we are again called to go out to meet the bridegroom; and we will go in with Him to the marriage (Mt. 25:6,10). The New Testament preachers urged men to turn “from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God” (Acts 26:18); from wickedness to God, to the Lord (Acts 3:26; 15:19; 26:20; 9:35; 11:21).

The impression can be given that Abraham was a giant of faith, and as “father of the faithful”, thereby requires colossal responses of faith from us who are his seed. But the reality was that Abraham didn’t respond as he might have done, just as we don’t; and God by His grace led Abraham to respond simply because He wished to save Him. God told Abram to leave Ur, his family and relatives (Gen. 12:1). The requirements were to leave Ur and to leave his relatives- and neither of these requirements were fulfilled much by Abraham, but rather by God working to enable them to be met. That this call refers to Ur not Haran is made clear in Acts 7:2-4: “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land”. The impression is given of immediate, obedient response. But in fact it was his own father Terah who took him and the rest of the family out of Ur. He didn’t break with his family- he went with them. Presumably he didn’t obey the call to leave them as an individual; so God arranged that Abraham at least obeyed the requirement to leave Ur, and later worked to ensure he left his family. It was God who caused him to wander from his father’s house (Gen. 20:13)- not his own strength of obedience to the call to individuate before God.

Immediately Terah died, Abram may have felt he had truly left his "kindred" and eagerly moved on towards the promised land of Canaan (so Gen. 11:32-12:4 implies). It is likely that many of Abram's "kindred" would have come along with Terah, responding themselves to the call of Abram. Presumably they settled in Haran after Terah's death. It is even possible that the family were from this city originally, seeing that Abraham's brother was called Haran. We saw earlier that just before leaving Haran, Abram was further told to separate from his "father's house" too, i.e. all of his father's household. This must have included Lot.  Abram could understand separation from his idolatrous father and the rest of the family retinue; yet Lot was "a righteous man" ; Abram evidently rated Lot's spirituality (Gen. 18:23,32). Again, Abram was in a quandary. He had left all but one of his father's house in Haran. Was he really intended to separate from his father's house to the extent of leaving Lot too?  It is likely that Abram often agonized about Lot. There he was in Canaan, knowing that his seed would inherit this land, which was then full of Canaanites (the record twice emphasizes, in Gen. 12:6 and 13:7). But Lot, part of his kindred and father's house, was still with him. We saw that the Hebrew for "kindred" implies one born in ones own country. A closely related word is found in Gen.11:28, describing how Haran, Lot's father, "died in the land of his nativity, in Ur". If Lot's father lived and died in Ur, it is fair to assume that Lot was born in Ur. So Abram knew he must separate from Lot, his "kindred"- but how? What reason could he give Lot? Yet he had faith in what God had told him; therefore he wanted to leave Lot, but just found it hard to do. And so God made a way.  

In the near East, each family had their own gods. When a man became head of the family, he had the right to choose his own god; there was no requirement that he maintained the same god as the previous head of the family. The choice of a god was confirmed by a covenant; the Amorites and Arameans therefore called their family god "The Lord of the house", and the sons of the family often were named with "theophoric names", reflecting the name of the family's god (W.F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (New York: 1957), p. 246; Angel Gonzales, Abraham: Father of Believers (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967) p. 19). Against this background, therefore, it was a radical thing for Yahweh to appear to Abraham and order him to do something as radical as break from his family (Gen. 12:1). It was God who chose Abraham, not Abraham who chose Yahweh, contrary to the accepted norm of the man choosing a family god when his father or previous head of the family died. The surrounding nations or tribes were comprised of various families each with their own god; nations had no one fixed god. When we repeatedly read of how Yahweh was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that Yahweh is the God of all the families and tribes of Israel, we are therefore encountering a new paradigm. There were to be no other gods in Israel apart from Yahweh. He was to be the sole national God; the unity of Yahweh, and His being the sole national God of Israel, was therefore a new concept in the near East. And we can better understand the way that both the Lord Jesus and Paul saw in the unity of God a call to unity amongst His people; for this had been the intention from the start. The unity of God isn't so much a numerical statement as a call to profound unity. But it could only become real for Abraham, as it can for us today, if we leave, come out from, the culture and worldviews which surround us.

Yahweh's call of Abraham to be His, taking the initiative which Divine grace does when calling someone, was therefore radical. The Biblical record states simply that Yahweh spoke and Abraham believed with no proof or prior relationship. The rabbinic midrash and the Koran embellish upon this silence with various tales of Yahweh's prior relationship with Abraham- perhaps psychologically motivated in the desire to make Abraham's faith and obedience the more understandable and normal. Whether or not there was any previous encounter between Yahweh and Abraham is beside the point- the Biblical record invites us to see God as taking the initiative, and Abraham faithfully responding. This is characteristic of God's call; Saul out looking for lost cattle, the disciples mending their nets- are suddenly called, and some respond well and others like Saul for ever try to slip out of it.

All this would've made life difficult for Abraham, as it does for us. The Midrash at Bereshit Rabbah 38:13 tells tales of Terah accusing his son Abraham before the gods for having destroyed idols, and Abraham being thrown into a fiery furnace for rejection of his father and his father's gods.

To the land that I will show you- Abraham was progressively set up by God so that his spiritual growth would be an upward spiral. Initially, he was told to walk / go to a land which God would shew him (Gen. 12:1); when he got there, he was told to "arise", and "walk" through that land of Canaan (Gen. 13:17). And Abraham, albeit in a faltering kind of way, did just this. But this was to prepare him for the test of Gen. 22:3 in the command to offer Isaac. His obedience this time isn't at all faltering. He "arises" and 'goes' [s.w. "walk"] "unto the place of which God had told him" to offer Isaac (Gen. 22:3). This is exactly what he had been called to do right back in Ur- to arise and walk / go to a land / place which God would show him (Gen. 12:1). And so our obedience in one challenge of God leads us to obedience in others. One experience is designed to lead us to another. Nothing- absolutely nothing- in our lives is senseless chance. All- and this takes some believing- is part of a higher plan for our spiritual good, in our latter end. Time and again we see this in Abraham's life. He was taught that he really could be a blessing to others by the circumstances which God arranged relating to Lot being blessed / saved for his sake.

12:2 I will make of you a great nation- The first promise to Abraham was actually conditional- if he did these things, then "I will make of you a great nation". If he left his natural kindred, then God would give him a huge new family. But he hardly fulfilled those conditions, and yet still the promises were ultimately fulfilled to him. And he is set up as the "father of the faithful". We all know that really our faith is pathetically weak, and this recognition can cause some to stumble altogether. Although Abram is here promised to become "a great [singular] nation", he was also promised to become a father of many [plural] nations, and his name was changed to Abraham in reflection of this (Gen. 17:5). The vision was indeed of 'one nation under God' which would unite the nations. The Abraham history is introduced by an account of the nations, who just before his time were "divided" (Gen. 10:25) and "confused" even further at Babel. Part of the blessing promised to Abraham was that through his seed, and through God's purpose with Him, the divided peoples of the earth would be reunited into one, great nation. God chose Abraham's seed in order to restore His relationship with all nations, and thus through "Israel" to unite them again.

We may note that in :2,3 there are seven distinct blessings:

- I will make you a great nation

- I will bless you

- I will make your name great

- You will be a blessing

- I will bless those who bless you

- I will curse whoever curses you

- All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

 "I will..." is an allusion to the YHWH Name, "I will be who I will be". And He will bless who He promises to bless. Seven being the number of totality and completeness, we have here a picture of the entire Name, essence and being of God being completely behind His determination to fulfil His promises to Abraham and his seed. No wonder Paul perceived that we have the Gospel in the promises to Abraham. For that determination to bless, to give and fulfil promises, was to require the death of His only begotten Son.

I will bless you and make your name great- The making of his name great was initially fulfilled in the change to Abraham, meaning 'father of a multitude'. But the only ultimately great name is that of Yahweh; the same words are used about His Name being made great (2 Sam. 7:26; 1 Chron. 17:24; Ps. 34:3; 69:30). Abram's name was to be made great on account of his identification with his seed who would carry Yahweh Name. The greatness of Abram's name was only because Yahweh's Name was put within it, making it Abraham. This contrasts with how the people of Babel had wanted to make themselves a name, and were judged for doing so. "Great", gdl, alludes to the "tower" of Babel, Heb. mgdl. The things of God's Name manifest in His people, Abraham's seed, were to be the eternal things- rather than the city and tower of Babel which was destroyed. The "all nations" who had united to build Babel were divided and scattered- but they were to be reunited in that the "all nations" would become one eternal nation within 'Israel'.

You will be a blessing- Whoever drinks of the water of life will have within them a spring that also gives eternal life (Jn. 4:15). The purpose of a spring is to give water to men. Experiencing the Lord's words and salvation inevitably leads to us doing likewise to others, springing from somewhere deep within. This was in fact one of the first things God promised Abraham when He first instituted the new covenant: "I will bless thee (i.e. with forgiveness and salvation in the Kingdom)... and thou shalt be a blessing" , in that we his seed in Christ would bring this same blessing to men of all nations by our witness (Gen. 12:2,3 AV).

There is no record of God authenticating His claims to Abram through miracles, fulfilled prophecies etc. Rather Abram is presented as a random Middle Eastern guy who heard the essence of the Gospel and believed it, and then acted upon that faith. Simple as that. Later, Abraham is commended for believing "against hope", when there was no visible reason to hope (Rom. 4:18). Faith is not therefore based upon empirical evidence, as Heb. 11:1-3 clearly state. This is the mystery of faith, and an essay in the power of the Gospel of itself to elicit faith in its own message. That may at first blush sound circular reasoning; but the fact so many have believed a message which had no external authentication is proof enough- that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing on account of the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).

12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you- People from all families would be blessed in Abraham- because they 'blessed' Abraham. God's salvation program began with 'blessing' Adam (Gen. 1:22; 5:2); when that intention didn't work because of human sin, Noah was then chosen, saved and blessed (Gen. 9:1). That pathway too had come to a dead end with the apostacy of his descendants. And now God seeks to bless Abram, and all those who identified with him. In the first instance, the "families of the eretz" were those listed in Genesis 10. Whoever blessed Abram as he travelled around that territory would be blessed, and any who cursed him would be cursed. He need not fear that the inhabitants of that land would persecute him as a foreigner. And yet he and his descendants did so often fear that this would happen at the hands of the local inhabitants, and chapter 12 goes on to give an example of where he failed to believe this simple promise. He is hardly portrayed as brimming with faith and obedience, but rather one who clung on to God's clinging on of him. And this is really the lead characteristic of all who would later be his spiritual descendants.

The Abraham family should have focused upon the wonder of being blessed by God. But as we see in Gen. 27 and elsewhere, they placed too great a value upon human blessings. And this speaks directly to us too. To be humanly blessed appears of critical importance; but if we believe we have the Divine, Abrahamic blessing, then such blessings ought to be irrelevant.

There are examples of those who blessed the Abraham family being blessed; thus Laban blessed them (Gen. 24:31), and was in turn blessed (Gen. 30:27). But there are hardly any specific examples of those who cursed them being cursed. As ever, God's focus was upon the positive rather than the negative. "Blessing" in the Old Testament context largely referred to material blessings; but the language is taken over in the New Testament and applied to all the spiritual blessings we have in Abraham's seed, the Lord Jesus.

All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you- This is an evident allusion back to the cursing of the adamah / earth in Eden (Gen. 3:17). The implication was that the promised seed of the woman, who was to be the way of escape from that curse, was to somehow be "in Abraham". Although there's no mention yet of a specific son or seed, it seems to me that God was setting Abraham up to meditate upon the promise of the earth being blessed "in him", and figure out that this must mean that he was to have a descendant or son who would be the Saviour. Perhaps the subsequent specific promises about this were as it were God's reward for Abraham following through with where God was leading him. Gen. 28:14 makes explicit that the blessing of the adamah was to be "in your seed". I firmly believe, indeed have experienced, the way in which God prompts our minds to think of something, to work something through, and then reveals this specifically, or confirms our understanding, directly from His word. In our day and context, it would seem that daily reading of God's word is what's required in order to 'allow' as it were this process to happen. This, surely, is how God seeks to work out the same process with us as He did with Abraham. Even if at the time of reading we feel we 'get nothing out of that chapter', there will be prompts to thought and later reflection which are all in God's longer term educational purpose with us. Heb. 11:33 says that the likes of Abraham obtained promises by their faith. Yet the Old Testament record clearly enough states that the promises were just given to them by God; they weren't requested by the patriarchs. Indeed, David was surprised at the promises God chose to make to him. Conclusion? God read their unspoken, unprayed for desires for Messiah and His Kingdom as requests for the promises- and responded.

Abraham was only explicitly promised the land of Canaan, not the entire planet. Perhaps in speaking of Abraham as “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13) Paul is interpreting the promises that his seed would comprise “many nations” and that he would bring blessing on “all the peoples of the earth” (Gen. 12:2,3 etc.). In this sense, they would become his, and he would thereby inherit them. Thus Is. 55:3-5 likewise implies that Abraham’s promised inheritance was therefore not only the land of Canaan but by implication, the whole planet.

Grammatically, Gen. 12:3 can be read as passive ("be blessed", as AV, RV) or reflexive "bless themselves" (as RSV), i.e. implying those blessed have to do something to appropriate the blessing. In this we see how God will play His part, but we must play our part. And yet the covenant in Gen. 15 was one way, unconditional, from God to us. It's as if His part in our salvation is so much greater than our response. Yet there is still an obvious element of choice which we have to make. The way Gen. 12:1-3 is structured implies that Abraham receives an unconditional blessing, yet he therefore is to go forth and "be a blessing". And it's the same for us- and note how the "blessing" is interpreted as forgiveness in Acts 3:27-29. We are to forgive and generally bless others, in all forms of gracious generosity, as God has blessed us.
God promises to bless them (plural) who bless Abraham, and curse him (singular) who curse Abraham (Gen. 12:3). In other words, the blessings are to come specifically and individually to many people; whereas those who curse Abraham and his seed are just treated as one homogenous mass.

Gen. 12:3 LXX speaks of how all the tribes of the land of Israel will be blessed (i.e. forgiven) due to Abraham's seed, the Lord Jesus. This has yet to be fulfilled- but it will be if the tribes of the land (i.e. the native Arab peoples living between the Nile and Euphrates) repent and accept Messiah's forgiveness. The picture of Christ's Millennial rule in Ps. 72:8,9 is similar: " He shall have dominion from sea (the Mediterranean?) to sea (the Persian Gulf?) from the river unto the ends of the earth (land). They that dwell in the wilderness (the Arab peoples) shall bow  before him" .

All nations of the land were to be blessed because of Abraham and his seed, his one special seed [Jesus] and also his natural descendants. His children were intended to be a blessing to the other nations who lived around them, especially in that they were intended to bring them to Abraham’s God and Abraham’s faith. Now this is not to say that ultimately, Abraham and his seed will not bring blessing on literally the whole planet. Rom. 4:13 interprets the promise of the land of Canaan as meaning ‘the whole world’. But this was by later development, and on account of the universal blessing achieved by the sacrifice of Abraham’s greatest seed, the Lord Jesus. In the first instance, the blessing was to be upon all the families who lived on the ‘earth’ / land (12:3). There is a paradox here. For those already living in the land promised to Abraham, their land would be taken from them but they would be blessed. God was telling Abraham: ‘You will possess the land and all nations of that land will be blessed’. They were to give up their physical inheritance to receive a spiritual one- this was the ideal. Paul applies this idea to us when he says that if Gentiles have received the spiritual blessings of Abraham’s seed, ought they not to give their physical blessings to that same physical seed of Abraham? This is how and why he tells Gentile converts in Rome to send donations to the poor Jewish brethren in Jerusalem: “For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things… I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:27-29).

Gen. 12:1-3, the promises to Abraham, has a clear connection with the language repeatedly found in the table of nations in Gen. 10. "Country" (:1), "peoples" (:3), "nation" (:2) and "people/ race" (:1) are terms used throughout Gen. 10. The idea seems to be that all those nations are listed in Genesis 10 in order to help us understand what God promised Abraham. He was promised the inheritance of all the people, nations, countries and races of Gen. 10.

12:4 So Abram went, as Yahweh had spoken to him. Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed out of Haran- The comment "So Abram departed [Heb. 'went'- s.w. Gen. 11:31; 12:1], as the Lord had spoken unto him" (Gen. 12:4 AV) is surely the beginning of the wonderful theme of righteousness being imputed to Abraham! For he did not break with his relatives as asked, and he "went" from Ur because his father decided to emigrate. Heb. 11:8 records things from a positive perspective too, as if there was instant obedience from Abraham: "By faith Abraham when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went". Truly, the Biblical record imputes righteousness to Abraham, and thus sets a pattern for all of us, the equally faltering and stumbling children of Abraham.

The promises to Abram in Gen. 12:1,2 were conditional upon his obedience- he would receive the new land and family if he separated from his natural family and land. But he was induced to do even this by God. So grace truly abounded. Likewise in Gen. 17:1,2 "Walk before Me and be blameless so that I may establish My covenant between Me and you and increase you greatly". Abram was not "blameless"; he was only counted righteous because of his faith.  So the condition was set, but even the condition was not totally met by Abram unaided. And the covenant of Gen. 15 was without even these conditions. Although Abram did have faith, as Heb. 11 states, it was clearly weak and God imputed a lot of righteousness on the basis of a very small faith.

12:5 Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son- Abram and Sarai would have effectively adopted the orphaned Lot. The experience of adopting would have been part of God's preparation of the psychological background, so that they would have appreciated all the more the idea of a son, seed and dynasty of their very own.

All their substance that they had gathered, and the souls whom they had gotten in Haran, and they went to go into the land of Canaan. Into the land of Canaan they came- Abram's leaving of Haran was still a great act of faith; he had "gathered" much in the years of staying in Haran. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham stayed 23 years in Haran. All he had to go on was a word from the Lord which he'd received some years ago whilst living in Ur. There's no reason to think that Angels regularly appeared to him and kept urging him to leave, or that he could read the Lord's word in written form as we can. Presumably that one word which he received worked in his conscience, until he said to the family "Right, we're quitting this nice life for a wilderness journey to some place I don't know". We can underestimate the power of "just" one word from the Lord. We're so familiar with possessing His entire word in written form that we can forget the need to be obedient to just one of those words, to the extent of losing all we once held dear... In this I find Abraham a wonderful example. He must, presumably, have wondered whether he really had heard right, whether the whole thing wasn't just a weird dream- just as we may wonder whether really we are supposed to take God's word as it is and allow it to radically upset our settled, mediocre lives.

We read of all the substance that Abram had gathered  in Haran; the Hebrew for "gathered" implies an element of hoarding and materialism. It only occurs in passages concerning the patriarchs, as if to show that this was one of their characteristics. Gen. 31:18 comments on Jacob using his own wit and cunning to accumulate material wealth: "He carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten". The humanness of all this is strongly hinted at in Gen. 30:43: "The man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels and asses". This list is identical to that in Gen. 24:35 concerning Abraham. Jacob and Sons left Canaan with "their cattle, and their goods, which they had gotten" (Gen. 46:6). Esau too piled up his possessions; Gen. 36:6 speaks of his sons, daughters, servants, cattle, beasts, "and all his substance which he had got  in the land of Canaan". The way this Hebrew word for materialistic accumulation is used only about the Abraham family ought to be seen by us as a flashing light, pointing us to a definite characteristic in all of them. Against this background we can better appreciate Abraham's faith that he did now possess the land.

According to Jewish tradition, Abraham stayed 23 years in Haran. All he had to go on was a word from the Lord which he'd received some years ago whilst living in Ur. There's no reason to think that Angels regularly appeared to him and kept urging him to leave, or that he could read the Lord's word in written form as we can. Presumably that one word which he received worked in his conscience, until he said to the family "Right, we're quitting this nice life for a wilderness journey to some place I don't know". We can underestimate the power of "just" one word from the Lord. We're so familiar with possessing His entire word in written form that we can forget the need to be obedient to just one of those words, to the extent of losing all we once held dear... In this I find Abraham a wonderful example. He must, presumably, have wondered whether he really had heard right, whether the whole thing wasn't just a weird dream- just as we may wonder whether really we are supposed to take God's word as it is and allow it to radically upset our settled, mediocre lives.

12:6 Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh- God's promise to Abraham was made more specifically at "the oak of Moreh" (Gen. 12:6)- evidently a Canaanite shrine; and it's emphasized that "the Canaanite was then in the land". It's as if God's invitation to Abraham to have a unique relationship with Him was made amidst the calls and presence of many other gods, and in the thick of the Gentile world. Providence arranged that Abram travelled throughout the eretz; just as our experiences in this life give us peeks into the various aspects of our eternal inheritance. See on :9.

The Canaanite was then in the land- Moses’ books were helping the wilderness generation to see where they were coming from historically. Passages like Gen. 12:6 now take on special relevance: "The Canaanites were then in the land". Moses was saying this as his people were about to enter a Canaan likewise occupied by Canaanites; the idea would have been 'Then the Canaanites were there, just as they are now, and God shall be with us Abram's seed likewise'. He was bidding the people see their connection with their father Abraham, who then lived with Canaanites also in the same land. See on Gen. 13:3.

12:7 Yahweh appeared to Abram and said, I will give this land to your seed- Abraham was told to leave Ur and all he had there, and journey to a land he would be shown. Trying to keep up a sense of eagerness and hope for the new life, he made tremendous sacrifices, and journeyed to Canaan. When he finally got there, he didn’t realize he’d arrived. Then the Lord appeared to him and said that to his seed He would give this land (Gen. 12:1,7). To the human mind, this would have been a huge blow. He had given up all in the hope of a new life and inheritance, and now he is told that someone called his “seed” would inherit it. His response was to build an altar and worship, realizing he had served for nothing personally in this life, but with his mind filled with the glory and Kingdom of Christ, his future seed. God was so delighted with this attitude that later promises included Abraham personally, showing that because of his part in Christ, the seed, he would in fact personally have an inheritance too.

He built an altar there to Yahweh, who appeared to him- There may be an intended contrast between Abraham building an altar in recognition of the promises, at the same time as he pitched his tent (12:8)- as if to highlight the temporal nature of our present material situation in contrast to the permanence of the things we stand related to in God's promises. The building of altars was perhaps a public confession of faith; the surrounding peoples had their altars, but Abram and his family built altars to Yahweh, and left them behind them as a witness to their faith in the promises received and the relationship offered. Baptism would be one equivalent of this in our days- a public confession of faith in the same promises.

Commonly enough, the New Testament speaks of baptism as a calling upon the Name of the Lord. This must be understood against its Hebrew background- qara' beshem Yahweh, which originally referred to approaching God in sacrifice (Gen. 12:7,8; Ps. 116:4,17). God placed His Name upon places in order to make them suitable places for sacrifice to be offered to Him (Dt. 12:4-7,21; Jer. 7:12). Baptism was thus seen as a sacrificial commitment to Yahweh in solemn covenant.

Abraham only left Haran after his father died, suggesting Terah didn’t want to travel further, and so Abraham didn’t do so. He simply didn’t leave his father’s house / family. And when he does leave, he takes his family with him- Lot, Lot’s family and Sarah, his half sister (Gen. 12:5). And yet God continues working with Abraham; after he leaves Haran, God appears and tells him that He wishes to give “thee”, ‘you’ singular, the land (Gen. 12:7). In other words, the fulfilment of the promises was to Abraham personally, and that is why he was required to individuate from his unbelieving family in order to receive them. And because God simply wanted to fulfil the promises to Abraham, He arranged Abraham’s separation from his family in order to fulfil those preconditions.

12:8 He left from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to Yahweh and called on the name of Yahweh- The weaknesses of the patriarchs provides great inspiration to our feeble faith when we consider how they are held up in such exalted terms. The geographical record of Abraham's entry to Canaan describes him as appearing at certain key points in the land. Those same areas became the key points in the conquest of the land in Joshua's time- it was as if Abraham was seen as the example for all Israel. Thus the people in their weakness pitched "between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai" (Josh. 8:9,14)- the very expressions found about Abraham in Gen. 12:8. The contrast between tent and altar is purposeful; the things of the Kingdom are permanent and set in stone, whereas our present life is temporary.

12:9 Abram travelled, going on further toward the south- As noted on :6, this was all part of God's purpose, of getting Abram to travel around in the eretz which he should eternally inherit, to perceive the length and breadth of what God had promised him. And the famine meant that Abram would have had to keep moving his flocks.

12:10 There was a famine in the land. Abram went down into Egypt to live as a foreigner there, for the famine was severe in the land- "Severe" is Heb. 'heavy'. God's grace shines through again and again. Abraham went down into Egypt because of how "grievous" or 'heavy' the famine was; and comes up out of Egypt, thanks to betraying his wife, "heavy" [same Hebrew word] with riches (Gen. 12:10; 13:2). Everything he did was blessed, despite his weakness. The land he had been promised was not immediately flowing with milk and honey- on first arrival, it was parched. We likewise don't experience the full Kingdom blessings now. The Abram family several times went down into Egypt because of famine; and the more spiritually perceptive realized that they would always come up out of it, after hard experiences there. "To live as a foreigner there" may imply that he lived as a foreigner in Canaan, and now in Egypt, there too he was a foreigner. The constant insecurity in Abram's life (despite his wealth) was to make him yearn the more for the eternal permanence of possession which was intrinsic to the gospel preached to him (Gal. 3:8). And it's the same for us.

Abraham went down into Egypt because of famine, and "went up from Egypt" (Gen. 13:1). Whilst there, Abraham's life and existence were under threat. Sarah, the female Hebrew, was spared [as were the baby girls of the Hebrews]. Egypt and Pharaoh's house were plagued, and then Pharaoh 'releases' or 'sends away' Abraham and his people (Gen. 12:20). This is the same word used for Pharaoh doing this to the Hebrews; and all the other details and language fits. We could therefore reason back and assume that Jacob and his family were wrong to have migrated to Egypt, as Abraham was apparently wrong to have gone there. At least they were wrong to have remained there after the famine. But we also see how the perceptive amongst Abraham's seed would have realized that their experience in Egypt, even in weakness, was connecting them to Abraham and confirming them as his seed. Abraham was chosen as the representative of his seed exactly at a point of weakness, at perhaps the lowest recorded point of his entire spiritual journey. Abraham's weaknesses are therefore to encourage us as his seed to identify with him- and realize that his greatness was in his faith, and specifically his faith in righteousness being imputed to him.  It is facile and fruitless, therefore, to simply present Abraham as an icon of faith and urge us to rise up to his level. Rather are we to see him in weakness as every man, and to follow his example of faith in the face of personal spiritual weakness and failure. He is indeed a stellar example of faith, but that faith is in God's grace to us despite our weakness- just as Abraham's was. Truly did the Angel at the burning bush tell Israel "I am the God of Abraham...". The same God would work with them in the same way. We also see how in the lives of God's people, there is an overruling, guiding hand in our history. Our history is not random, nor is it totally unique in its outline form. History, even of our weaknesses, somehow has the Higher Hand guiding it; just as that same Hand guided the histories of others. For us history is not "one damned thing after another" (Henry Ford), nor is personal life like that either. But that is indeed the perception of those who reject that higher hand, both in their own lives and in human history.    

12:11 It happened, when he had come near to enter Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman to look at- "His wife" emphasizes that this is how God saw their relationship; even though He considered that marriage to a half sister was an abomination. But He accepted people where they were at, as we should. Abram's fear may have been because the middle aged Sarah was not only beautiful, but had lighter skin than the Egyptians, and was thereby attractive to them.

12:12 It will happen, when the Egyptians will see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; they will kill me, but they will save you alive- The fear of premature death was a reflection of his lack of deep faith in the promise just earlier recorded; that those who cursed him would be cursed, and he would be blessed, and ultimately given the land. At every turn, Abram is presented as of generally weak faith, although he did believe the overall representation of God to him, and that faith rose to a pinnacle in his willingness to offer Isaac, and his simple belief that really, his seed would become as many as the stars. But at this stage, his faith was weak when tested. And yet God still worked with him, as He does with us, and as we should with those whose faith is yet weak.

12:13 Please say that you are my sister- Throughout the records of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his children there is continual repetition in the manner in which the record is written. This repetition is of both experiences (e.g. lying concerning their wives: Gen. 20:3,13; 26:7) and of the language used to describe those experiences. The impression is that they didn't learn from history, just as we often do not- despite the wealth of Biblical history which we now have behind us.

That it may be well with me for your sake, and that my soul may live because of you- Straight after receiving the promises, Abraham goes down to Egypt [an act with spiritually negative overtones], and lies about his wife. Not only does he show a strange lack of protection for her, but his actions reflect a weakened faith in God's promises to him. For if Abraham was to have died at the hands of jealous Egyptians at that stage, how would the promises to him be fulfilled? In urging Sarah to deny she was his wife, Abraham comments to her in Gen. 12:13: "My soul shall live because of you". Ps. 33:18,19 appears to comment upon this: "Behold, the eye of Jehovah (Angelic language- and Abraham dealt with Angels] is upon them that fear him, Upon them that hope in his lovingkindness; to deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine (Abraham told the lie he did about Sarah because he trusted in Egypt to keep him alive in famine). Our soul hath waited for Jehovah: He is our help and our shield"- and it is God, not Sarah, who is described as Abraham's shield (same Hebrew word) in Gen. 15:1. Again, his faith is presented as weak; and yet he is set up as our example of faith.

12:14 It happened that when Abram had come into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful- Fears about possible futures are the very essence of lack of faith. In Abram's case, his fears were not baseless. But he went ahead, because he was not sure that he could remain in Canaan in time of famine. He probably could have personally survived, but his flocks wouldn't have done; and he couldn't bear to think of parting with all that wealth.

12:15 The princes of Pharaoh saw her, and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house- As so often in the record of Abraham's family, the surrounding world are presented as having more integrity than they did. Pharaoh's princes didn't rape her, they just commended her to their master. And she was taken into his house, but Pharaoh didn't sleep with her- presumably, new wives had to undergo a period of purification first, as the Mosaic law would also stipulate in some cases.

12:16 He dealt well with Abram for her sake. He had sheep, cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels- See on Gen. 14:22. As noted on :15, the Pharaoh appears of absolute integrity. He gave what was effectively a bride price to Abram, without having actually slept with Sarai. It would appear from :20 that Abram was allowed to keep all this. He apparently didn't suffer any consequences nor punishment for his undoubted sins and failures at this point. And sometimes, we don't. In this case, it seems Abram did well out of the whole experience. As if the experience of God's grace in blessing instead of punishing was intended to elicit in him a deeper understanding of God's grace.

12:17 Yahweh plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife- As noted on :13, situations and circumstances repeat over the course of Divine history. It is the same heavenly hand at work, and the intention is that we should learn from the history. For a later Pharaoh was also to be plagued because of the presence of the Abraham family amongst them; but the lesson was not learnt.

12:18 Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this that you have done to me?- The very words of God to Adam (Gen. 3:13). It was really God speaking through Pharaoh to Abram, just as He speaks to us through circumstances and unbelievers. The very same words are repeated to Abram later, by Abimelech, in the same context of lying about Sarah (Gen. 26:10). As noted on :17, circumstances and phrases recur in our lives, as the same Divine hand is at work to educate us.

Why didn’t you tell me that she was your wife?- Both Pharaoh and Abram knew the answer: 'Because I was afraid'. And they are the very words on the lips of the condemned man in Mt. 25:25, just as they were on the lips of Adam in his condemnation (Gen. 3:10). But despite still not learning from the situation, Abram is still set up as our example of faith.

12:19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’, so that I took her to be my wife? Now therefore, see your wife, take her, and go your way- Again we see the integrity of the Pharaoh, in that he had apparently taken her to be his wife, but had not slept with her. "See your wife" implies 'perceive, recognize her as being your wife'. It was a stinging rebuke. Abram is not presented as a good husband in this respect. "Take her" may well refer to taking a woman as a wife; Abram is being told to go on his way openly committed to his wife. And yet he fails in this again, as does his son Isaac. I noted on :18 that the Pharaoh is effectively speaking on God's behalf here; but Abram didn't hearken to that voice.

12:20 Pharaoh commanded men concerning him, and they brought him on the way with his wife and all that he had- To bring someone on their way meant being generous to them and providing them with what they needed for their journey. This was again repeated (see on :17) by Abimelech (Gen. 20:14). To be generous to those who have wronged us leaves us with the upper hand; it is the intention behind the Lord's teaching that if a man takes your jacket, then offer him your undergarment. The spirit of demanding restitution and prosecution to that end is the very opposite of this.