Genesis 12

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your country and your kindred, your father’s family, and go to the land I will show you. 2Your family will become a great nation, and I will reward you and make you famous so that you will be a blessing to them. 3Furthermore I will reward those who treat you well, and whoever curses you I will curse. All the families of earth shall be blessed through you.”

4So Abram went as God had instructed him and took his nephew Lot with him. Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. 5He made the journey with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all their belongings, as well as the servants and others they had gotten in Haran. They set out for the land of Canaan and when they arrived 6Abram continued on to Shechem, to the famous oak grove owned by Moreh. The Canaanites were living there in those days.

7When they arrived, the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your children.” Abram built an altar there and made sacrifices to the LORD who had appeared to him.

8From there he moved to the hill country east of Bethel and set up camp there, between Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. He built an altar to the LORD there and called on the LORD’s name. 9Camping here and there Abram made his way on toward the Negeb.

10A famine struck that territory, so Abram traveled on to Egypt and lived there as a foreigner because the famine was very severe in the land of Canaan. 11As they were entering Egypt he said to Sarai, “You are a beautiful woman. 12When the Egyptians see you and think you are my wife, they will murder me so they can have you. 13Tell them you are my sister, and that way things will go well with me, and my life will be spared because of you.”   

14When they came into Egypt the Egyptians took notice of Sarai, who really was quite beautiful. 15Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her beauty to Pharaoh, and he took her into his house. 16And because of her Pharaoh treated Abram very well indeed, giving him sheep and oxen, male and female donkeys, male and female slaves, and camels.

17But the LORD sent plagues into Pharaoh’s house because of Sarai. 18Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he charged. “Why didn’t you tell me she is your wife? Why did you say she was your sister, and allow me to take her for myself? Now here is your wife. Take her and leave!”

20Pharoah ordered his men to see that Abram went on his way with his wife and all he now owned.

Commentary

1-3: In Genesis 3 we saw God forming two human beings and placing them in a garden. That “experiment” failed. The man and woman sinned and forfeited the land God had given them. Next, God allowed the man and woman to make more people – Cain and Abel. That “experiment” ended in even worse disaster, with Cain murdering his own brother, resulting in his being banished from the land. With each succeeding generation people became more and more violent until God banished all of them from the land except Noah and his family. A few more generations passed and Noah’s descendants settled in Shinar and tried to build a tower to heaven to show themselves as great as God. They, too, were banished from the land and scattered over the face of the earth.

At the end of each of these “failures” there was a sign of God’s grace: clothing for Adam and Eve, a protective mark on Cain, a covenant of peace with Noah. At the tower of Babel, however, there was no sign of grace; the people are simply scattered over the earth.

Now God is choosing another person, Abram, from Ur (dangerously close to the scene of the tower!). There is only one fact about Abram that distinguishes him from everybody else: his wife cannot have children (11:30)! God is starting over again with an old man and his barren wife!

What’s more, this time God begins by uprooting the man and woman from the land they had settled! It is obvious that with the selection of Abram and Sarai, God is starting all over again with a different formula for success. God promises Abram right at the beginning that his name will be great, so the temptation to make a name for himself (like the folks who built the tower of Babel) is removed at the start.

What’s more, God has determined from the beginning with Abram that every family on earth will be blessed because of him, removing the possibility that the earth would be cursed again!

4-9: Abram goes to the land of Canaan where Ham’s descendants have settled and camps at Shechem. (Ham was one of Noah’s three sons, while Abram is a descendant of Ham’s brother, Shem.) God appears to Abram there and promises to give the land to Abram’s offspring, but what does that mean? Abram’s wife is barren! But Abram builds an altar there. He moves on to Bethel and builds another altar and calls “on the name of the LORD” (compare 4:25, where it is first mentioned that people began to call on the name of the LORD). He is heading toward the Negeb wilderness in the southern part of Canaan.

10-16: A drought strikes the land, and Abram goes down to Egypt just as his grandson Jacob will do many years hence. This is the first record of contact between God’s chosen people and the Egyptians. There will be many more. Abram tells Sarai to claim to be his sister because he is afraid the Egyptians might kill him if they know he is her husband. She agrees, and soon finds herself in Pharaoh’s harem. Abram benefits greatly from the arrangement.

17-20: But God is teaching Abram and Sarai how to be God’s people, and so afflicts Pharaoh’s household with plagues; a situation that will be repeated years later in the time of Moses. It is clear that Pharaoh had taken Sarai as his wife, which disturbs us to no end, especially since we know she is barren, and Abram is thus risking nothing. It is hard not to label Sarai as a prostitute and Abram as her pimp. In any case, it is clear that with Abram God has chosen (deliberately?) someone who is not pure and innocent. God will continue to do that throughout the Old Testament. But remember that after the flood God seemed to concede that humans would continue to be less than perfect. God said then, “I will never curse the ground again because of humankind, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from adolescence” (see 8:21).

Takeaway

Early in human history God does not hand down a “legal code.” That awaits the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai many years from Abraham. God expects obedience from Abraham, to go where God tells him to go, but as yet no rules have been given about sexual relationships and many other facts of human activity.