January 30, 2013

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART II: AN ACCOUNT OF ABRAHAM—Gen. 11:10-25:18.

Topic A:HIS FAMILY AND HIS GREAT JOURNEYS—Gen. 11:10-13:4.                                

 

 


Lesson II.A.3: Abram's Migration into Canaan. Gen. 12:1-9.                                                           

 


Gen. 12:1-9 (KJV)

 

1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

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.

4 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

 

 

Introduction

From this point on, Abram and his seed are almost the only subject of this history, which Moses received from the Holy Spirit. In this lesson we have:

                               I.            God’s call of Abram to the land of Canaan (v. 1-3).

                            II.            Abram’s obedience to this call (v. 4, 5).

                         III.            His welcome to the land of Canaan (v. 6-9).

The call of Abram consists of a command and a promise.

The command is to leave his home, family, and friends, and go to a place he has never seen, and therefore did not know anything about. His faith will certainly be tested, since the reason may not be entirely evident to the mind of Abram. But he has total faith in the reasonableness of what God proposes. So with reason and faith he is willing to go to the unknown land. It is enough for him that God will show him the land to which he is now sent.

The promise is the Fourth Dispensation, which extends from Genesis 12.1 to Exodus 19.8, and was exclusively for the nation of Israel. It ended when Israel exchanged grace for law at Sinai: “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD” (Exodus 19:8). The specific promise given to Israel is the subject of this lesson. Dispensation is a term given to how God deals with mankind—or orders or arranges life and events. There are seven dispensations in the Bible, though some will make the number less: 

                                                       I.            INNOCENCE (Gen. 1:28)

                                                    II.            CONSCIENCE (Gen. 3:23)

                                                 III.            HUMAN GOVERNMENT (Gen. 8.21)

                                                  IV.            PROMISE (Gen. 12.1)

                                                     V.            LAW (Ex. 19.8)

                                                  VI.            GRACE (Jn. 1.17)

                                               VII.            KINGDOM (Eph. 1.10)

 

 

Commentary

 

1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

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.

 

Now the Lord had said unto Abram.

By virtue of His wise sovereignty God chose Abram and singled him out from among his fellow idolaters, though he and his family were idolaters, and he had done nothing to deserve this blessing: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16). Abram was probably brought to the knowledge and worship of the true God long before he received this particular call (command) for him to leave his homeland. It would be repeated while he was in Charran, before he went into the Promised Land. But why did God call Abram? There may be three reasons: (1) to reserve a remnant for Himself who would maintain the true worship of Him; (2) to have a people to whom He might give His oracles (divine communication, revelations); and (3) to have a people with whom His ordinances might be established until the coming of Jesus Christ. We learn from the speech Stephen made to the Sanhedrin that God appeared to him as the God of glory, and spoke to him while he was in Mesopotamia, his homeland: “And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran” (Acts 7:2). The revelation of God’s glory would have shown Abram the folly and vanity of the idol worship in Ur, and left Abram no room to doubt the divine authority of this call. Who wants to worship a dead idol when he has met the living God?


Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house

Four hundred and twenty-two years on the lowest calculation after the last recorded communication with Noah, the Lord again opens his mouth to Abram and tells him to leave his home. This command was a test for Abram to show if he loved God more than everything, and whether he could willingly leave everything behind and go with God. His country had become idolatrous, his relatives and neighbors had become a constant temptation to him, and he could not continue to live there without being infected by them. Abram obeyed, and it is frequently mentioned in the New Testament as a striking instance of his great faith—“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” (Hebrews 11:8). His obedience meant that he must renounce the certainties of the past to face the uncertainties of the future.

Abram only partially obeyed God, since he didn’t leave his family behind; but instead he took with him Terah and his family, and his nephew Lot. Also, he didn’t go directly to Canaan, but stopped in Haran and dwelt there for five years, because Terah was too sick to go any farther. After Terah died, only Abram and Lot continued on; Terah’s family, and Nahor remained behind in Haran.


Unto a land that I will show thee.

The “land that I will show thee,” as we now know, is Canaan, though it is not mentioned, and seems to be omitted to test Abram's faith; and that’s why it says in Hebrews—“he obeyed and went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8); however, we are told that when he and Terah came out of Ur of the Chaldees, "they went forth to go into the land of Canaan" (Genesis 11:31), and when he and Lot left Haran, the same thing is said of them (Genesis 12:5). This seeming discrepancy may be explained in this way: there was no mention made at first of what land he was to go to, and when he prepared for his journey he didn’t know where he was to go, but afterwards it was revealed to him that Canaan was the land, and therefore he set off to go their; but still, though he might know the name of the place where he was to go, he didn’t know how to get there, or what sort of country it was; and therefore God promises to show him the way, and give him a vision of it, so that he might see what sort of a country it was that he would give to his posterity. On the other hand, both Genesis 11:31 and Genesis 12:5 can be taken simply as Moses reporting a detail or fact; since he (Moses) knew where they were going.

God’s commands are accompanied by His promises and when men react to Him in obedience He rewards them, for He is not only our Commander, He is our Rewarder. If we obey the command, He will certainly perform the promise. There are six promises in these three verses:

  1. I will make of thee a great nation. When God took him from his own people, He promised to make him the head of another people. The great nation would not happen during his lifetime, but would wait for hundreds of years, and as yet there was no sign of an heir. He was 75 years old and his wife was past the age for bearing children. Why would God call such an unlikely couple for such a task? Paul gives you the answer in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31—“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised , hath God chosen , yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence . But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
  1. I will bless thee. He will give Abram a blessing greater than any given to his ancestors.
  2. I will make thy name great. Abram probably had a “good” name in the city of Ur, but when he left he lost his name there.
  3. Thou shalt be a blessing. God’s dealing with obedient believers are very kind and gracious. Godly men are a blessing to their country, and it’s an honor to be so. The life of Abraham is an example for all Christians who want to walk by faith.
  4. I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee. God promises to be a friend to Abram’s friends, and any kindness done to Abram would be recompensed as if it was done to Him.
  5. In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. This is the promise that tops all the rest; because it points to the Messiah, in whom all the promises are yea and amen.

All the true blessedness in the world now or to come any time in the future are due to Abram and his descendants. Through them we have a Bible, a Savior, and a gospel.

To summarize what has happened to this point in the history of Abram, we know from Acts 7:2 that he received the call while he was in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia. We don’t know how long it was after receiving the call that he and Terah left to follow God’s leading to the land of promise, but Acts 7:4 reveals that they stopped short of their goal and dwelt in the city of Charran for five years. “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, wherein ye now dwell.” These verses (Gen. 12:1-3), is the record of the second call, which he received during his stay in Charran (also called Haran).


4 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

 

So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him.

            It may have been a son’s love for his aged father that made Abram stay so long in Haran (Luke 9:59-62), but the day finally came when he and Sarah had to leave and go to the land God chose for them.

 

By faith Abram obeyed and departed not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8). He will follow God’s leading to the land of Canaan. He was convinced that the call, promise, and command were from the only true God. He was sure that the blessing of the Almighty was sufficient to compensate for all that he could lose or leave behind, and he was convinced that nothing but misery would follow if he was disobedient. This was the faith that produced obedience, though natural reluctance might be strong.

Most Bible scholars believe Abram interpreted the call of God to involve immediate departure for Canaan, though it is not specifically stated. How he knew Canaan was his destination is not explained. But God had said: “Get thee out . . . unto a land that I will show thee.” So Abram obeyed.


And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran.

Without hesitation he gathered together his family and set out on a major migration. Seemingly he had no fears, no doubts, and no misgivings. He traveled to Carchemish on the Euphrates and turned south through Hamath to Damascus in Syria. Josephus indicates that Abram during his stay in that capital city as acting in the capacity of a king over the people of Damascus.

In Haran many people (lit., “souls”) were acquired by Abraham and his family. This “getting of souls” refers either to servants or to people who were proselyted, that is, some Haranites were influenced by Abram to follow Yahweh.

The time Abram spent in Haran was a period of just marking time and of delaying the blessing of God. God never appeared to him again until he had moved into the land of Palestine, until he had separated at least from his closer relatives and brought only Lot with him. Lot’s prominence at this time may have been due to the possibility he offered Abram of an heir. The common practice of adoption would readily suggest itself to Abram under the circumstances of Haran and Terah’s death and Sarai’s barrenness (Genesis 11:28-30).

“And Abram took. . . Lot his brother's son” is a decision Abram may have come to regret. Abram’s obedience is still incomplete, because he is taking Lot with him.


And into the land of Canaan they came.

The land of Canaan is described in Scripture as comprising all the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean and from Syria to Egypt. Moab and Edom bounder it on the southeast. In the Bible the word “Canaanites” usually refers to the earliest inhabitants of the land, including any group that lived there before the coming of the Hebrews. The year of their arrival in Canaan is commonly thought to be 2090 B.C.

 

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem.

 

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem.

            We know nothing about their long journey from Haran to Canaan, because it was the destination that was important. Centuries later, God would give that land to Abraham’s descendents; but when Abraham and Sarai arrived they were “strangers and pilgrims” in the midst of a pagan society—“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:9).

Shechem was a Canaanite town located in the valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (Deuteronomy 27:4, 12), about fifteen miles west of the Jordan River and about thirty miles north of Jerusalem; it was an important settlement located at the juncture of the main commercial highways. This ancient city probably had a heathen shrine or sacred place. The Canaanites had shrines in groves of oak trees and Moreh may have been one of their cult centers.

Moreh was most likely a resident of the area for whom the tree was named. Abram made his way to the great tree of Moreh, which was probably a terebinth tree (The terebinth tree resembles an oak tree.) This was probably a sacred tree, under which a priest or teacher or soothsayer gave his instruction or teaching. Shechem became Abram’s first major stop in Canaan. Here he received a special message of promise and assurance from the Lord.


At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

            Here is the record that the Canaanites were the descendents of Ham’s son Canaan. There is something very important that must be clarified at this point. A great many people think Abram left a terrible place in Ur of the Chaldees and came to a place of corn and wine, milk and honey, where everything was just wonderful. They think Abram bettered his lot by coming to this land. Don’t you believe it. That is not what the Bible says. And through Archeology we know that Ur of the Chaldees had a very high level of civilization at this time. Ur was a great and prosperous city. Abram left all of that and came into the land of Canaan, and “At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” The Canaanite was not civilized; he was a barbarian and a heathen, if there ever was one. Abram’s purpose for coming to Canaan was certainly not to have a better life. He came in obedience to God’s command.

            Moses was writing approximately 700 years after Abram entered the land (1405 B.C.). The Canaanites of whom he wrote were soon to be the opponents of Israel as they entered Canaan.

The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land."

God was dealing with Abram not on the basis of a private promise, but with a view toward high and sacred interests far into the future, that is, the land  which his descendants was to inhabit as a unique people. The seeds of divine truth were to be sown there for the benefit of all mankind. It was chosen as the most appropriate land for the coming of divine revelation and salvation of the world.

Here, God gave the land to Abram as a possession, and promised that his descendents would possess it after him. Indeed, the only real estate Abram possessed in Canaan was a cave he had bought for his family burials (Genesis 23:17-20). With warlike tribes on every side, Abram would find it difficult to establish his claim to the new land. He made a good beginning, however, by immediately setting up an alter and offering sacrifices to Jehovah. As his life in Palestine took shape, he declared his utter dependence upon the Lord, and his whole-hearted dedication to him.

What comfort it must have brought to Abram and Sarai to receive this fresh revelation of God as they arrived in a strange and dangerous land—it must have increased his faith that this land was indeed His to give. When you walk by faith you know God is with you and you don’t need to be afraid—“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth” (2 Timothy 4:17). God will work out His purposes and accomplish in and through you all that He has in His heart.


So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

Abraham built an alter unto the Lord when He appeared to him this third time—He had appeared to him once in Ur, and once in Haran.

By this act, Abram made an open confession of his religion, established worship of the true God, and declared his faith in God’s promise. This was the first true place of worship erected in the Promised Land.


From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.

Bethel was seven miles north of Jerusalem and was later given its name by Jacob—“He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz” (Genesis 28:19). Ai was two miles east of Bethel, where Joshua later fought (Joshua 7, 8). This ancient city dates back to the twenty-first century B.C., and is mentioned more often in Scripture than any other city except Jerusalem.

Wherever Abram went in that land of Canaan, he was known by his tent and his alter. The tent marked him as a stranger and a pilgrim who did not belong to this world—“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11), and the alter marked him as a citizen of heaven who worshipped the true and living God. He gave a witness to all that he was separated from the world (the tent) and devoted to the Lord (the alter). Whenever Abram abandoned his tent and alter, he got in trouble.

There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

He pitches his tent—that is like buying a home in a new subdivision and moving in. He pitched his tent—that is where he lived. Then he built an altar. That was his testimony to God, and everywhere Abram went, he left a testimony to God. In these two symbolic acts, Abram declared his resolute faith in the power of Jehovah to carry out all His promises.

“He called on the name of the LORD” means that he proclaimed Yahweh by name. Luther translated this clause, “He preached the name of the lord.” From this we know that God had a witness in the midst of the Canaanites.

Abram could have derived little satisfaction in conversing with the Canaanites, who lived there, but he had an abundance of pleasure in communion with the God who brought him there, and didn’t leave him.


Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

After God confirmed His promise, Abram dwelt in the land waiting for the promise. But the Canaanites had all the good, fertile land: Abram had to set out from Bethel and move south in easy stages, probably because he had a large flock of sheep to contend with. The Negev was a dry land located in southern Palestine, between Kadesh-barnea and Beer-sheba. In the summer it was dry enough to be a desert, without water or vegetation. With all his flocks and herds, Abram found it necessary to have plenty of water and grass. The Negev would provide very little of either one. Archeological evidence of settlements in the Negev between the 21st and 19th centuries B.C. supports biblical chronological data placing the patriarchs’ residence there in that same period.

How did Abram know where to go and what to do? He called upon the name of the Lord (v. 8). He prayed to the Lord, and the Lord helped him. Abrams pagan neighbors saw that he had an alter but no idols. He had no “sacred places,” but built his alter to God wherever he pitched his tent. You could trace Abrams steps by the alters he left behind. He was not ashamed to worship God openly while his heathen neighbors watched.

Dear reader, May you be blessed by God’s word, as I have been by bringing it to you.

 

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