Genesis 12-15 Listen
We see from Genesis 11:31 (see notes) that Abram and his family were originally from Ur, a place located in what is today southeastern Iraq. They had previously moved up to Haran, which was, by established roads, on its way to Canaan. Abram's father, Terah, had intended to go all the way into Canaan (according to Genesis 11:31, see notes), but stopped short in Haran. It was there that Abram gets the call from God in verses 1-3. Over the next 5 chapters there is a considerable expansion of detail regarding this call, but for right now, let's just consider these three verses. First of all, Abram is told to leave his home and family, pack up and head southwest to a yet-undisclosed land. That, in itself, took faith. He is told that out of him will come a great nation who will, in turn, be a blessing to many others. Now here's the really awesome part in verse 3, "And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." That's a significant promise packed with implications. It becomes the core of what we know as the Abrahamic Covenant (see below).
In case you are wondering why Abraham is called "Abram" in this passage; the name change doesn't take place until Genesis 17:5 (see notes) when he is told by God that he will become "a father of many nations."
The destination was Canaan. This land was inhabited by the descendants of Ham's son, Canaan (verse 6), who had moved there after the dispersion following the debacle at Babel. This land would later become the nation of Israel. We aren't told in scripture, but it seems plausible that this move is the beginning of the fulfillment of the curse against the descendants of Canaan found in Genesis 9:25-26 (see notes); Abram was a descendant of Shem. Upon arrival, Abram gets this word from God in 12:7, "And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land:" That settles it; this land now officially belongs to the descendants of Abram, not the Canaanites. Oh, and two incidental facts need mentioning; he was 75 years old when he took off for Canaan, and he took his nephew, Lot, with him.
You'll notice in verse 8, and again in Genesis 13:3 (see below) a reference to a place named "Hai." The Hebrew letter equivalent to our English "H" is the definite article in the Hebrew language. The word "ai" is defined as "heap of ruins." When the definite article is placed in front of it, it becomes "the heap of ruins." Joshua reduced Ai to a "heap" in Joshua 8:28 (see notes), "And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day."
One more name merits a clarification. "Sichem" in verse 6 is later rendered "Shechem."
Abram ran into a little difficulty when the land experienced famine, so he decided to pack up and head to Egypt for some relief. One problem though - he was afraid for his life if the Egyptians thought Sarah was his wife. Sixty-five year-old Sarah must have been a very attractive woman - at least compared to the Egyptian women. What was he thinking when he introduced her as his sister instead? We see from Genesis 11:28-29 (see notes) that she was, in fact, his half sister, but first and foremost she was his wife. Well, the inevitable happened; she was a hit in Egypt and was invited to live in the BIG house - Pharaoh's house - what a life! Abram prospered in Egypt, but then the bad news in verse 12:17, "And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abrams wife." So, Abram, add this to your resume: kicked out of Egypt!
Sarah's name was originally Sarai, but was changed per God's instructions to Sarah in Genesis 17:15 (see notes) upon the announcement that she will bear Abraham a son who shall be his heir to the promise issued in Genesis 12:1-3 (see above).
I'm of the opinion that we shouldn't try to sugar coat Abraham's actions in this passage. He did what he did. The fact is, Abraham lacked the faith that his God, who had made him a promise of prosperity in verses 1-3, could follow through and deliver him safely through the famine. However, Abraham grows in his relationship with Jehovah God by the time we get to Genesis 22 (see notes). At that point in time, he is fully prepared to follow through with God's command to sacrifice Isaac because he was completely certain of God's promise to provide descendants through Isaac. Here's an example of faith growing through experience.
Perhaps this is a good time to point out that Egypt is apparently where Hagar joins Abraham's entourage. She was undoubtedly one of the "maidservants" seen here in verse 16. She's not actually mentioned by name until Genesis 16:1 (see notes).
An accumulation of wealth became a problem for Abram and Lot as they moved back to Canaan; their people didn't get along - time to split up. Abram gives Lot the choice, and Lot chooses the really nice land east toward the Jordan River. Oh, by the way, Sodom and Gomorrah are over there - already known for their wickedness (verse 13). Abram chooses to stay around Bethel where he had originally built the altar upon arrival into Canaan. Incidentally, Bethel remained the let's-get-back-to-God location for the Hebrews for centuries after this. Oh...and Lot runs into problems with the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 (see notes).
After Lot's departure, God speaks to Abram once again regarding his legacy. Look around Abram; all of this land belongs to you. We'll see more detail regarding the property allocation in Genesis 15:18 (see below). However, there's a particularly significant promise included here in Gen. 13:16, "And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered." Whoa! That's a lot of seed! The Apostle Paul makes a Messianic point about this seed in Galatians 3:16 (see notes). We'll have more to say about this in chapter 15 (see below), but hang on for the moment.
Abram leaves Bethel and makes a move south about 30 miles to Hebron. That's about 20 miles south of Jerusalem, the city that would later become the capital of Israel under King David.
What pulls Abram into this battle is the capture of Lot (verse 12). Don't mess with my kin! From among his servants, he raises a substantial army and defeats the confederate forces of four warring factions, thus winning the release of his nephew, and he saves Sodom and Gomorrah while he's at it. Don't let the word "king" here give you a false impression. The Hebrew word translated "king" is simply the most common word for chief magistrate and is similar in meaning to several other words usually translated "lord, captain, ruler, prince, chief" and such like. If a man ruled over a city with 200 or 300 people, he called himself their king back then. Abram rounds up 318 of his "trained" servants and wins Lot's release...and he takes a nice spoil from the battle as well.
Abram gets a special visitor after his victory in winning the release of Lot against the aggressive kings. You will notice that Abram tithes to this person, and notice his description in verse 18, "he was the priest of the most high God." Melchizedek was more than just a person in my view; he was the incarnation of Jesus himself. Read the article to the right of this window regarding Melchizedek, or click here for full screen. Abram declines to accept the offer from the King of Sodom to retain the rescued spoil which had belonged to Sodom.
Abram has another talk with God. He wants kids, or how about just one! Then God makes him a promise in Gen. 15:5, "And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be." Actually, that's a repeat of a previous promise (Genesis 13:14-18, see above), but this time Abram fully embraces it when it is said of him in Gen. 15:6, "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." That's the definition of saving faith - a believing covenant relationship with God. People have never been saved by works; it's always been about faith just as in this verse.
The provisions of God's covenant with Abraham roll out over six chapters in Genesis (12-17). We know these promises as the Abrahamic Covenant. Here's the sacrifice that seals the covenant with Abraham. It's an animal sacrifice per God's specifications and God passes between the pieces of sacrifice to mark his acceptance and agreement. Apparently this was an ancient custom for sealing covenants (contracts) between two parties. Not much is known about this custom, but ancient extra-biblical sources indicate that the divided animals signified that if you break the provisions of this covenant, what has happened to the animals will happen to you. It is further worth noting that the term "make a covenant" is really "cut a covenant" in the Hebrew language. That seems to be a reference to the manner in which covenants were made - blood sacrifice with the dividing of animals. Later on, covenants between parties would not necessarily involve this kind of animal sacrifice, but the Hebrew word for "cut," which is "kaw-rath´," continued to be used to describe covenant transactions. Now notice the sealing of the covenant in verse 17, "And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces." Make no mistake about it, this formal ceremony clearly marked the establishment of the provisions of the covenant God made with Abraham.
There's a provision in this covenant in verses 13-16 which must have been a little unsettling to Abraham: His descendants would end up being servants for a period of time. That's right; it's a reference to the Egyptian captivity which really began when the family moved to Egypt in Genesis 46 (see notes).
Note: Abraham = Abram (the name change takes place in Genesis 17:5.
Here's the land grab. God made another promise to Abram on the day this covenant was made in verse 18, "In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:" That's from the Nile to the Euphrates. That passage has caused some confusion because the tribes of Israel did not inhabit all of that land when they arrived in the Book of Joshua. However, upon closer inspection, we see that David did, in fact, control the territory all the way over to the Euphrates. We see this in I Chronicles 18:3 (see notes) "And David smote Hadarezer king of Zobah unto Hamath, as he went to stablish his dominion by the river Euphrates." So, while the Israelites did not choose to live that far away, nonetheless David's kingdom extended to that point, thus fulfilling the promise God made to Abram in Genesis 15:18. To see a map of Israel's promised land, click here. There was a downside to God's provisions that day - Egyptian captivity for 400 years in verses 13-14. Abraham knew about it before it would even happen.
There's one more issue that should be mentioned regarding Abraham's seed. There was, of course, the physical blessing of prosperity for Israel as a significant part of this covenant's provisions. There is an additional component which involves Believers. Look at Galatians 3:16 (see notes), "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." Paul makes the point that we are all recipients of the promise God made to Abraham through Abraham's most notable descendant, Jesus Christ our Lord. When God said in Genesis 12:3, "...and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed," that's talking about us - Christians! Specifically, the verse to which Paul was certainly making reference regarding the "seed" issue is Genesis 22:18 (see notes), "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." So, the physical descendants of Abraham got land and physical prosperity out of the covenant, but we all get Christ and eternal life out of it.