January 4, 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.2: The Generations of Terah. Gen. 11:27-32.                                                           

 


Gen. 11:27-32 (KJV)

 

27 Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.

28 And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.

29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.

30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

 

 

Introduction

 

The story of Abram, whose name is famous in both Testaments, begins with this passage. He comes on the scene at a time when almost everyone had become worshippers of false gods. Abram's brethren were, Nahor, and Haran, the father of Lot, who died before his father. Haran died in Ur, before the happy departure of the family out of that idolatrous country. Abram left his home in Ur of the Chaldees, with his father Terah, his nephew Lot, and the rest of his family, in obedience to the call of God. This passage leaves them about mid-way between Ur and Canaan, where they dwelt till Terah's death. Now this is very sad; many begin the journey well, and yet fall short of Canaan; they are not far from the kingdom of God, and yet never get there.

 

 

Commentary

 

27 Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.

 

Now these are the generations of Terah.

 By “generations” is meant the genealogy of his descendants, which in this case is a very short list, because it includes only his three sons.

Terah is important because he is the father of Abraham, or Abraham, as he is called in the beginning. In Joshua 24:2, it is recorded that Terah served other gods on the other side the flood. It is shocking that idolatry had gained a footing in the world so soon after the Flood.

By this time, the sons of Noah had grown into numerous families, and due to the dispersion caused by the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, there arose a variety of nations, differing in language, manners, and customs, and by degrees they had become increasingly estranged from one another. At the same time, the seeds of idolatry, contained in the different attitudes of these nations towards God, grew into the polytheistic religions of heathenism, in which the glory of the immortal God was changed into an image made like to mortal man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things (Romans 1:23). Therefore, if God was to fulfil His promise to never again destroy every living thing because of the sin of man [“And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:21-22)], and still prevent the moral corruption which was the cause of that destruction, He would have to form a nation for Himself, that could live beside those nations having different attitudes. This nation was to be the recipient and preserver of His salvation, and must fulfil that role in spite of the opposition of the emerging kingdoms of the world. His kingdom would provide man with living, saving fellowship with Himself. The foundation for this nation was laid when God called for Abram to separate from his people and his country, and made him, by special guidance, the father of a nation from which the salvation of the world would come in the person of God’s Son. Through Him all the families of the earth would be blessed [“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: 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: 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 . (Genesis 12:1-3)]. With the choice of Abram, the revelation of God to man assumed an exclusive character, given that, from this time forth God manifested Himself to Abram and his descendants alone as the author of salvation and the guide to true life; while all other nations were left to determine their own course without fellowship with the living God. Without Him, it was impossible for them to find peace for their souls, and the true blessedness of life [“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27)].


Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

We were told in Genesis 11:26, that when Terah was seventy years old he begat Abram, Nabor and Haran, which seems to indicate that Abram was the eldest son of Terah, and was born when Terah was in his 70th  year; yet by comparing Genesis 11:32, which says that Terah died in his 205th  year, with Acts 7:4, where it says that Abram removed from Haran when his father was dead, and Genesis 12:4, where it says that he was 75 years old when he removed from Haran, it appears that he was born when Terah was 130 years old; therefore, Abram was probably his youngest son. Why then, is Abram mentioned first, since that is contrary to how Scripture lists children, almost always placing the oldest first. He must have been mentioned first because of his spiritual preeminence as the head of the line that would bring the Redeemer into the world.

There are other instances in Scripture where the youngest son is listed first, one of which we have already seen. In Genesis 5:32, Noah’s children are listed as Shem, Ham, and Japheth; however it is evident from other Scriptures that Shem was the youngest son, but he is named first as a mark of his excellence and distinction, as Abram is here; and Japheth the eldest, is named last, as Haran is here. In addition, Moses is mentioned before his elder brother Aaron. These examples are sufficient to remove all difficulty from this verse. Note, Abram was 43 years old when the confusion of tongues occurred, and when Sodom was destroyed, he was 99 years old.

Abram is unique in the way he is called the friend of God (James 2:23); Abraham, Your friend forever (2 Chronicles 20:7); Abraham, My friend (Isaiah 41:8).We all know the value of having friends in high places. Abram had a Friend in the highest place! Men and women in the Bible are famous for many different things, but Abram is great for his faith. Moses was the great lawgiver; Joshua a great general; David a great king, and Elijah a great prophet. Most of us know we can never be great in those things, but we can be great people of faith. We can be friends of God.

If you despair in knowing you do not have Abram’s faith, take comfort in knowing you have Abram’s God. He can build in you the faith of Abram, because He built it in Abram himself.


And Haran begat Lot.

In the next verse, we are told that Haran, the father of Lot, died before his father Terah. It’s likely that he died in Ur of the Chaldees, before the family left that idolatrous country. Lot is mentioned several places in Scripture, such as Genesis 13:1—“And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.


28 And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.

And Haran died before his father Terah.

This expression, “Died before his father,” has been understood in several ways:

  1. Haran died in his father’s presence.
  2. Haran died while his father was alive.
  3. Haran died upon the face of his father.
  4. There is a Jewish fable that may be discarded that says Terah was, at this time an 'idolater, that he accused his sons to Nimrod, who cast them into a furnace for refusing to worship the fire-god, and that Haran perished in the flames in his father’s sight.

 Haran is the father of Lot, Milkah, and Iskah. His brother Nahor married his daughter Milkah. If Iskah is the same as Sarai, Haran her father must have been older than Abram, since Abram was only ten years older than Sarai; and hence her father, if younger than Abram, must have been only eight or nine when she was born, which is impossible. Hence, those who believe Iskah to be Sarai, must regard Abram as younger than Haran.

The decease of Haran is the first recorded instance of the natural death of a son before his father. 

In the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.

“Ur,” which is rendered “valley” by some, was the place of Haran’s and Abram’s birth. It was in that part of Mesopotamia called the land of the Chaldeans; which was confirmed by Stephen in Acts 7:2 [“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”]. Josephus says, that Haran died among the Chaldeans, in a city called Ur of the Chaldees, where, he adds, his grave is shown to this day. The Jews have a fable concerning the death of Haran [and this is interesting, even if it is only a fable.]. They say that Terah was not only an idolater, but a maker and seller of images, and that one day he was going abroad, so he left his son Abraham in the shop to sell them. But during his father's absence, he broke them all to pieces, except one. Upon his return Terah found what was done; he was so angry that he had Abram brought before Nimrod, who ordered him to be cast into a burning furnace, and he would see whether the God he worshipped would come and save him. And while he was in it, they asked his brother Haran in whom he believed? He answered, if Abraham overcomes, he would believe in his God, but if not, in Nimrod; at which point they cast him into the furnace, and he was burnt; and with respect to this it is said, "and Haran died before the face of Terah his father"; but Abraham came out safe before the eyes of them all. 

The twenty-fourth chapter of Joshua adds some credence to this fable, because it clearly declares, that this whole family was not less infected with superstition than the country itself [“And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:1, 2).]. The name Ur is derived from fire: names, however, are customarily assigned to cities, either due to their location, or some particular event. It is possible that the people there cherished the sacred fire, or that the splendor of the sun was more conspicuous there than in other places. Others say that the city got its name because it was situated in a valley, for the Hebrews call valleys “Uraim.” But there is no reason why we should spend any more time on this matter: let it suffice, that Moses, speaking of the country of Abram immediately afterwards declares it to have been Ur of the Chaldeans.


29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.

And Abram and Nahor took them wives.

 It was very probably after the death of their elder brother Haran that Abram and Nahor took them wives from his daughters, at least one of them did, and some think both. 

The name of Abraham's wife was Sarai.

 We are not told whose daughter she was, unless she is Iscah [mentioned in the next paragraph], the daughter of Haran, and therefore had two names; Iscah being her name before marriage, and Sarai (her name means “contentious”) after it. Many Jewish writers believe them to be the same; but according to Genesis 20:12 [“And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife”], Sarai was the daughter of Terah, the father of Abraham, by another woman; and so the Arabic writers say, “the mother of Abraham died, whose name was Juna; and Terah married another wife, whose name was Lahazib; she bore him Sarah, whom Abraham afterwards married:" She was ten years younger than Abram.

In the next verse it says Sarai was barren.” - From this statement it is evident that Abram had been married for some time before the migration took place. It is also probable that Milkah had begun to have a family; a circumstance which would render the barrenness of Sarai the more painful. But Abram’s and Sari’s lack of children will play an important role in God’s plan of redemption.


And the name of Nahor's wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.

Nahor married his brother's daughter (his niece), which was allowed at that time, as was marriage between brothers and sisters formerly permitted, but afterwards was strictly forbidden in the Levitical law (Leviticus 18:9, 14). 

This account of Nahor's wife, was probably given to show the lineage of Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah: some think, as mentioned before, that Abram married the other daughter of his brother Haran, Iscah, and that she is the same as Sarai (the same person with two different names); but this is improbable, since Iscah is expressly said to be the daughter of Haran, and Sarai was the daughter of Terah (Genesis 20:12).


30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

From this statement it is evident that Abram had been married for some time before the migration took place. It is also probable that Milkah had begun to have a family, which would have made the barrenness of Sarai even more stressful and embarrassing. There are some who say that Abraham was impotent, and Sarai was not barren; but this verse clearly refutes that idea, since it clearly asserts, “Sarai was barren.” Abram would have Ishmael and other sons by Keturah, which is another proof that the lack of children was not due to the impotence of Abram. Before children were born to Abram and Sari, God made him a promise—“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” (Genesis 15:5). “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

Now we know the reason why Abram was without children, to be exact, the sterility of his wife. The Holy Spirit probably revealed this information in order to show that it was nothing short of an extraordinary miracle, when afterwards Sari gave birth to Isaac (We will study this remarkable event fully when we come to that place in the life of Abraham.). God had good reasons for humbling his servant, and without a doubt Abram would suffer from this privation. He sees the wicked springing up everywhere, in great numbers, to cover the earth; and it seems that he alone is deprived of children. Because the name “Abram” means “Father,” it must have constantly amazed those meeting Abram to discover he had no children. But his present lack of children will play an important role in God’s plan of redemption.


31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife.

Moses ascribes the leadership in this journey to Terah, as if Abram had set out under his command and direction, rather than in obedience to the command of God: because this is an honor conferred upon the family’s patriarch. It could have been that when Abram saw his father willingly obeying the calling of God that he reacted by being more obedient to him. Therefore, the authority is ascribed to the father and thus he took his son with him. It will soon become clear that Abram had been called by God before he moved a foot from his native soil. We do not read anywhere that his father had been called. It may be assumed, therefore, that the command of God had been made known to Terah by his son, because the divine command directed to Abram concerning his departure, did not prohibit him from informing his father that his only reason for leaving him was that he preferred the command of God to all human obligations. Two things we know for certain from the words of Moses—that Abram was divinely called, before Terah left his own country; and that Terah had no other desire than to go to the land of Canaan as a voluntary companion of his son; though he could have been motivated by a desire to participate in his son's inheritance. Therefore, he must have left his country a short time before his death, since it would be absurd to suppose that when he departed from his own country, to go directly to the land of Canaan that he would have stopped half way to his goal and remained there for sixty years as a stranger in a foreign land. It is more probable, that they stopped because Terah was an old man, worn out and weighed down with disease and weariness. Abram may have delayed their journey to enable Terah to regain his strength, or it is even more likely that he understood that his father would not recover, and he waited in Haran for his death to occur.

The prime motive to this change of country and residence was the call to Abram recorded in the next chapter. Moved by the call of God, Abram "obeyed; and he went out not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11:8). But Terah, as noted above, was influenced by other motives to put himself at the head of this movement. The death of Haran, his oldest son, loosened his attachment to the land of his birth. Besides, Abram and Sarai were no doubt especially dear to him, and he did not wish to lose their fellowship. Also, the inhabitants of Ur had fallen into polytheism, the worship of many gods. Terah had joined his neighbors in worshipping idols; but it is probable that the revelation Abram had received from heaven was the means of removing this cloud from his mind, and restoring in him the knowledge and worship of the true God. This would account for his desire to keep up his connection with Abram, who was called of God.

We have already mentioned the controversy surrounding Sari; we are left pretty much in the dark about who Sarai was. One Bible scholar made this observation: if she was the sister of Abram and daughter of Terah, the Scripture would have said, Terah took Abram his son and Sarai his daughter, and wife of Abram; and if she was the sister of Lot, it would have said, and Sarai the daughter of his son, as it does of Lot. Personally, I agree with those who contend that she was Terah’s daughter, but had a different mother than Abram (Abram’s half-sister).

Nahor and his family may have accompanied Terah, since afterwards we find them at Haran, or the city of Nahor [“And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor” (Genesis 24:10).].


And they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan.

This assertion has been interpreted in several ways:

  1. Jarchi interprets it—Terah and Abram went forth with Lot and Sarai.
  2.  Josephus says, that all went into Charan of Mesopotamia, the whole family of Terah; this may have included Nahor and Milcah. Josephus characterizes Terah as hating the country of Chaldea, because of his mourning over the death of Haran.
  3. The Arabic historian expresses it—"Terah went out from Chorasan, and with him Abram, Nahor, Lot, his children, and their wives, and he went to Charan, where he dwelt.'' Surely, if Nahor and his wife did not set out with them, they followed very soon afterwards, because Haran was called the city of Nahor, where his family dwelt in later times (see Genesis 14:10). 

They went forth, those named and those who are not named, from Ur of the Chaldees, to go to the land of Canaan—Chaldea is sometimes understood as comprising the whole of Babylonia; at other times it is said to be that province towards Arabia Deserta, called in Scripture The land of the Chaldeans. The capital of this place was Babylon, called in Scripture “The beauty of the Chaldees' excellency” [“And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19).].Joshua 24:2 [“And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.”] describes Abram before the LORD called him. He was from a family of idol worshippers and was probably an idol worshipper himself.Later, when Abram’s grandson Jacob went back to Abram’s relatives, they were still worshipping idols.

No doubt, Terah set out on his journey, as soon after the call of Abram as the preparatory arrangements could be made. Now the promise God made to Abram was given four hundred and thirty years before the exodus of the children of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 12:40). During this long period his seed was a stranger in a land that was not theirs for four hundred years ["And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13.]. Hence, it follows that Isaac, his seed, was born thirty years after the call of Abram. Now Abram was one hundred years old when Isaac was born, and consequently the call was given when he was seventy years of age—about five years before he entered the land of Kenaan [“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” (Genesis 12:40.]. This whole calculation exactly agrees with the incidental statement of Paul to the Galatians Gal 3:17 that the law was four hundred and thirty years after the covenant of promise. Terah was accordingly two hundred years old when he undertook the long journey to the land of Kenaan; for he died at two hundred and five, when Abram was seventy-five. Though proceeding by easy stages, the aged patriarch seems to have been exhausted by the length and the difficulty of the journey.


And they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

Haran is called “Charan of Mesopotamia” by Josephus, and yet Stephen speaks of Abraham being in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Charan. Mesopotamia, then, is to be taken both in a more general and a more limited sense; in general, it took in Mesopotamia and Chaldea, and in the eastern part of it was Ur of the Chaldees, and when Abram went from Ur to Haran, he came into Mesopotamia. Stephen calls it Charran. What detained Terah and his family at Haran, when they intended to go further, is not said; but it has been proposed that the “agreeableness of the place to Terah caused him to continue there;” but it is very probable that he was seized with a disease which required them to stay there, and later on he died of that disease. Abram may have lingered in Haran, waiting to take his father with him to the land of promise, if his condition should improve enough that he was fit to continue the journey. Love of family, no doubt, kept Abram watching over the last days of his esteemed parents, who probably still cling to the fond hope of reaching the land of promise. Hence, they all dwelt in Haran for the remainder of the five years from the date of Abram's call to leave his native land. But it was not the fate of Terah to enter the land, where he would only have been a stranger. He is taken to the better country, and by his departure contributes no doubt to deepen the faith of his son Abram, of his grandson Lot, and of his daughter-in-law Sarai. This explanation of the order of events is confirmed by the statement of Stephen: "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran. 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" (Acts 7:2-4). This passage makes it clear that the call of Genesis 12:1-3 [“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: 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: 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.”] came to Abram while he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. When he received this call from God he was only partially obedient, because he took his father Terah with him to Haran even though the LORD called him to go from Ur by himself.


32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years.

His days are summed up in a way that is different from the rest in this genealogy, perhaps to show that immediately after his death Abram left Chaldea and went into the land of Canaan, which was given to him and his seed for an inheritance [“Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell” (Acts 7:4).]. 

One Arabic historian says he died in Haran in the month Elul, in the year of his age two hundred and sixty five; but he gives him sixty years too many. A Jewish chronologer says he died in the thirty fifth year of Isaac. But here it says, “And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years.” So, if Abram was born in Terah's 70th year, Terah must have been 145 when Abram left Haran, and must have survived that departure sixty years; however, if Abram was born in his father's 130th year, then Terah must have died before his son s departure from Haran, which agrees with Acts 7:4.

And Terah died in Haran.

Sometimes we can gain understanding from names in the Bible. The name Terah means, “delay.” The name Haran means “parched, barren.” When Abram was in partial obedience, then delay and barrenness characterized his life. When we delay in drawing close to God we also experience barrenness.

Perhaps Terah gave the name to this place, where he dwelt a while, in memory of his son Haran—which, before it was changed, might have been called by another name; Padanaram.


"And Terah died in Haran" indicates that he would have gone with the others to the land of Canaan if his life had been prolonged.

This chapter leaves them in Haran, or Charran, a place about mid-way between Ur and Canaan, where they dwelt till Terah’s death, probably because the old man was unable, because of the infirmities of age, to proceed in his journey.

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