The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Genesis 12

Gen 12:1

Contrast between Nimrod and Abraham:

Shinar, idolatry (Gen 11:2)
Land of promise (Gen 12:1)
"Let us" (Gen 11:4): man's will
"I will" (Gen 12:1-3): God's will
A great name (Gen 11:4)
A great name (Gen 12:2)
City of Babel (Gen 11:4)
City of God (Heb 11:8-10)

The "Seed" in Genesis:
Gen 12. Promise of a seed,
Gen 13. who shall inherit the Land,
Gen 16. while the natural seed is disinherited.
Gen 21. His miraculous birth, and
Gen 22. Typical sacrifice, by father, to bless all nations (22:1n).
Gen 24. His marriage with his bride.

The promises to Abraham:

(1) Gen 12:1-3: God was making a covenant with Abraham that would involve a great blessing, not just for Abraham, nor even for Abraham's family only, but for all families of the earth.

(2) Gen 13:15-17: "All the land that you see I will give to you and your seed forever. I will make your seed like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your seed could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you." The "forever" indicates that this covenant will involve a resurrection and eternal life. The promise of a special Land (the land of Canaan, or the land of promise, identified in Gen 15:19-21) indicates that this eternal life will be enjoyed on the earth, in God's Kingdom.

(3) Gen 15:6: "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." In other words, God justified Abraham, or declared him righteous, not on the basis of some great work that Abraham completed successfully, but on the basis of Abraham's wholehearted and devoted acceptance in faith of God's promise.

(4) When Abraham asked how he might know that he would inherit this land forever (Gen 15:8), he was asking for a confirmation of this great and precious promise. In answer, God told Abraham to take certain sacrificial animals and divide them, arranging a part of each animal in each of two different portions, set opposite one another (vv 9,10). Then, when darkness came, "a smoking firepot with a blazing torch" -- an obvious reference to the Glory of Yahweh Himself -- "appeared and passed between the pieces" (v 17).

(5) Gen 17:5: Abram receives a new name, "Abraham", by which he is to be known subsequently, and to all generations. This indicates his new status in the sight of God: "a father of many nations" -- reminding us of the promise that all nations will be blessed through him.

(6) God now shows His faithfulness in His covenant with Abraham, by blessing Abraham and Sarah with a special "seed", Isaac, who is miraculously conceived (Gen 18:9-14; 21:1-2). Although hated by his brother (actually, half-brother) Ishmael, Isaac is nevertheless marked out as the special "seed" of Abraham, through whom the promises are to be fulfilled.

(7) Then, in Gen 22, the special "seed" Isaac is sacrificed by the father (not literally, but it was plain that Abraham was willing to do so: see how Rom 8:32 quotes Gen 22:16 in this regard) and then figuratively "resurrected": "Figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death" (Heb 11:17-19). This is all a pattern of the true seed who was to come, who would be conceived in an even greater miracle, who would be hated by his brethren, who would be (literally) put to death and (literally) raised from the dead. In this, Jesus would "possess the gate of his enemies" -- the greatest enemy being death and the grave (Gen 22:16-18; cp Rev 1:18; 20:6; 1Co 15:26,55,56).

(8) Finally, in Gen 24, Isaac -- after being "raised from the dead" -- receives a bride selected for him out of the Gentiles, and perpetuates the promised line from Abraham onward.

THE LORD HAD SAID: While Abraham was in Ur (Act 7:3).

TO ABRAM: God appeared in glory to Abraham: Gen 15:7,17; Act 7:2.

COUNTRY... PEOPLE (KINDRED)... HOUSEHOLD (FATHER'S HOUSE): A 3-stage separation: Abraham leaves homeland (Gen 11:31), kindred (Gen 12:4), and father's house -- ie from Lot (Gen 13:9). It was only after his separation from Lot that Abram was shown the land (cp Gen 12:1 with Gen 13:14)!

Cp Psa 45:10,11; 2Co 6:16-18: "What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?... Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord... I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

Cp the 3 stages in Mar 6:4: "Only (1) in his hometown, (2) among his relatives and (3) in his own house is a prophet without honor."

LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY: The land of Shinar (Gen 11:20, a land of idolatry (Dan 1:2,4).

YOUR FATHER'S HOUSEHOLD: But not necessarily your father. Abraham is called, but his father (the spiritual "old man") remains with him for a time: Joh 8:44.

THE LAND: Heb 11:8-10.

Though faith is not explicitly mentioned in this verse, it is implied, and it is the reason for Abram's obedience. The term "leave" (Heb 'yalak') is literally "go by yourself" and can emphasize loneliness and isolation; ideas of parting and seclusion are often implied. The subject is finding himself and establishing his own identity. He needs to find his own place by disassociating himself from the familiar and the group (Gen 21:16; 22:2; Exo 18:27; Song 2:10,13; 4:6). The text emphasizes the solitude of Abraham -- that although he took his wife and nephew and the people they had acquired in Haran, Abraham was really leaving his country, relatives and immediate family behind. The inward movement of the concentric circles, country -- relatives -- father's household -- highlights the radical nature and cost of obedience. Abram's faith in Yahweh gave rise to a radical obedience.

Gen 12:2

A GREAT NATION: Abraham's descendants to become a great nation: to Isaac in Gen 26:4; to Jacob in Gen 28:14. "As the dust": Gen 13:16; 22:17.

NATION: Heb "goy', the word usually referring to Gentile nations! An early suggestion that Abraham's "seed" will include people from all nations.

I WILL MAKE YOUR NAME GREAT: Ct Nimrod in Gen 11:4.

The blessing promised Abram is both personal and national, as well as international in scope and focus. "All peoples of the earth will be blessed through you." When God chooses Abram, an idolater, he moves toward him in order to bless him, and not only him, but the entire planet? Five times in vv 2,3 the term "blessing" is used. God wants to bless His people. At creation God blessed Adam and Eve (Gen 1:28) and then later that original blessing was repeated in Gen 5:2. God also blessed Noah and restated the mandate in creation, namely, that man would rule (Gen 9:1,2). God's plan is to bless the world. Indeed, the idea of blessing is used more in Gen than in any other book: 88 times, compared to a total of 310 in the rest of the OT. The term "blessing" (Heb 'barak') includes God's gracious provisions of personal wellbeing, long life, wealth, peace, abundance of food and crops, children, and personal knowledge of Himself and His ways.

God's plan is to bless the world. But, not everyone in the world wants His blessing, nor the way He has chosen to carry it out. There will be people who will curse or level insults and accusations against Abram and in so doing bring a judicial curse from God on their heads. They will be cut off from the hope of blessing.

The promise here in Gen 12:1-3 shapes the lives of patriarchs as narrated throughout Gen and can be seen to shape the entire OT. The great name promised Abram is developed in God's promise to David (as Abram's seed) in 2Sa 7:8-16, and the particular means by which universal blessing was to come to the world is developed in the new covenant in Jer 31.

Gen 12:3

(1) National blessing, (2) personal blessing, and (3) international blessing: Gal 3:8,16.

BLESS THOSE... CURSE... WHOEVER: Plural blessing: God is eager to bless; singular curse: God is reluctant to curse.

CURSES... CURSE: Two different words in Heb: the first, "qalal", sig "to make light of"; the second, "arar", sig "to execrate, to destroy".

ALL PEOPLES (FAMILIES)... WILL BE BLESSED: All of humanity; 70 families (Gen 10:5-32)!

Gen 12:4

For dates, see Dawn 26:211.

SO ABRAM LEFT: When his father Terah died (v 1; Act 7:4), then he left Haran: cp Gen 11:26n. "Old man" dies, then "new man" is manifested.

ABRAM WAS SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS OLD: Age is no hindrance to faith and taking bold steps for the Lord. In fact, it was through the problem of age that God showed Himself to Abram and Sarai as the God of the impossible.

Gen 12:5

And so Abraham became a "Hebrew", or "one who crosses over" (Gen 14:13). A journey of 300 miles. "A sojourner in a strange land" (Heb 11:9).

AND THEY SET OUT FOR THE LAND OF CANAAN, AND THEY ARRIVED THERE: Determination and will. A Biblical basis for two qualifications for success in life. One is to have the right destination. The second is to keep going after we have started!

Gen 12:6

SHECHEM: From rt "between the shoulders", ie "a burden-bearer". The site is between two peaks: Ebal and Gerizim. 41 mi north of Jerusalem. Later, a city of refuge (Jos 21:21). Here, Christ met the woman of Samaria (Joh 4:5-14).

GREAT TREE: Heb "elon", "plain" in AV. Rt "strength" or "oak". The Heb is consistently translated "tree(s)" in NIV, but "plain" in Gen 12:6; 13:18; 14:13; 18:1; Deu 11:30. Cp also Jdg 4:11; 9:6,37; 1Sa 10:3.

MOREH: Sig "archer" (points toward mark) or "teacher" (points the way). Thus the "strength (oak) of the teacher". "Moreh" (teacher) may indicate an ancient shrine or a place where oracles were declared by Canaanite priests. Hos 4:13 talks about the use of a terebinth tree for idol worship. Thus, living among idolatrous people -- people steeped in genuine unbelief -- was going to test Abram's faith. He himself was steeped in idolatry and the tendency to lapse into pagan religion would remain a very real and present danger to him and his family. And the Canaanites would prove a formidable enemy for the Hebrews to drive out of the land.

THE CANAANITES WERE IN THE LAND: Having possessed the land allotted to Shem, the Canaanites flourish: Gen 13:7; 15:21 (their name sig "to bend the knee"). These are two very significant facts in light of God's promise to the patriarch that he would possess the land. Somehow the Canaanites would have to be driven out, but that is not the primary concern of the text right now. The primary concern of the text right now is to show that Abram's growing faith in Yahweh was going to be tested. But both the inevitable loss experienced after leaving his home in Haran, and the bitter sorrow at the thought of being ultimately barren and having no son (cf Gen 15:1,2) were trials from within the house of blessing. The Canaanites, however, pose a serious struggle from without, upon the house of blessing. They threatened an even quicker extinction to the line of Abram and faith in Yahweh.

Gen 12:7

TO YOUR OFFSPRING I WILL GIVE THIS LAND: Absolute, not conditional.

SO HE BUILT AN ALTAR: "Yahweh in sacrificial manifestation": Heb 13:10. Apparently there had been no altar in Ur or Haran: Only when there is a separation from world can God truly be worshipped.

Did Abraham buy land there, as did Jacob later: Gen 33:19 -- for same purpose: ie to build an altar?

Gen 12:8

A beautiful panoramic view of all the Land. Cp Joshua's campaign: Jos 8.

BETHEL: Sig "house of God".

AI: Sig "ruin".

THERE HE BUILT AN ALTAR: An altar between "ruin" and "the house of God". The two possible destinies of the worshiper. Christ is the "altar" (Heb 13:10) to reconcile man (in "ruin") to the "house of God".

CALLED ON THE NAME OF THE LORD: Or, "called himself by the name of the LORD" (cp Gen 4:26). This phrase "called on the name of the Lord" is used in Gen 4:26; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25, etc. It means much more than simple worship. It also carries the idea of proclaiming the name of the Lord (cf Zep 3:9). God promised Abram to make his name great, and here Abram is making the Lord's name great in Canaan? In the midst of a foreign and thoroughly pagan land Abram erected an altar and there proclaimed the name of the Lord. What amazing faith! He truly shone like a star in the universe by holding out the word of life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (cf Phi 2:16).

Gen 12:9

TOWARD THE NEGEV: Or, the south. The southern desert on the edge of Sinai. Thus, "Bethel" (house of God) was on right hand, and "Ai" (ruin) on left!

Gen 12:10

Gen 12:10-13:2: Typ Israel in Egypt: in bondage, plagues, but leaving with great riches.

ABRAHAM WENT DOWN TO EGYPT: "Down" sig deterioration. Cp language: Isa 30:2. From its first reference on, Egypt is a menace to the people of God: cp Isa 31:1...

TO LIVE THERE FOR A WHILE: A sort of "resident alien". The "stranger" (Heb "gowr") was a transient, but he had certain legal rights (cp Num 19:10).

Gen 12:11

"Fear of man will prove to be a snare" (Pro 29:25).

EGYPT: "Mizraim" = "oppressor".

Gen 12:12

Abraham's sin: fear of man, selfishness, lying, distrust of God. The whole affair is repeated in Gen 20.

Gen 12:13

SISTER: Or niece, or half-sister: cp Gen 20:12. See also Gen 11:29n. Note use of "bro" for nephew: Gen 14:14.

SAY YOU ARE MY SISTER: An obvious expedient; could it be justified by Gen 20:12? Why did Abram not reason that his life and Sarai's were safe since as yet the promised seed (v 7) was not born? In Bible, character flaws of very faithful men and women are never hidden.

Gen 12:15

THEY PRAISED (COMMENDED) HER: The commendation of "Egypt" can lead to spiritual ruin: cp Luk 6:26.

Gen 12:16

ABRAM ACQUIRED SHEEP....: Profiting from the riches of "Egypt" can lead to strife and division (Gen 13:7).

CAMELS: One of the main indications of an anachronism in the Bible was thought to be that of the camel. Genesis reports that camels were mainstay beasts of burden and transportation already at the time of Abraham, in the 18th century BC. Yet it was originally thought that camels were first domesticated in the Middle East no earlier than the 12th century BC. This anachronism was a clear indication of the later writing of the Bible. Or so it was thought. All this changed with the turn of a shovel. Recent archaeological finds have clearly demonstrated that the camel was domesticated by the 18th century BC. What was previously thought to be a knockout punch against the Bible, is now evidence supporting it.

Gen 12:17

Abraham and family act out in their lives the later deliverance from Egypt of Abraham's seed (Gen 15:13...).

Gen 12:18

Psa 105:13-15: "They wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: 'Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.' " In ct to the promise of v 3, Abraham is not a blessing to all nations here!

Gen 12:19

Abraham is dismissed in disgrace.

Gen 12:20

"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11:1). And so Abraham leaves, materially enriched but poorer spiritually. (Prob Abraham acquired Hagar here: Gen 16:1.)

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