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Genesis 12


Abram Journeys to Egypt Promise to Abram God's Call of Abraham God's Call to Abram The Call of Abram
12:1-3 12:1-3 12:1-3 12:1-2 12:1-3
 (1-3)  (1-3)    (1-2)  (1-3)
12:4-9 12:4-9 12:4-9 12:4-5a 12:4-5
  Abram in Egypt Sarah in Jeopardy (12:10-13:1) Abram in Egypt Abram in Egypt
12:10-16 12:10-13 12:10-16 12:10-16 12:10-20
12:17-20   12:17-13:1 12:17-20  



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



1Now the Lord said to Abram,
"Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father's house,
To the land which I will show you;
2And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

12:1-3 It is often hard to tell the difference between Hebrew poetry and "elevated" prose. Notice how the English translations see the genre in the different verses.

Poetry 1b-3 1   3
Prose 1a 2-3 1-3 1-2

Obviously there are no textual markers, just the opinions of the translation committees.

These verses are repeated in the next few chapters with slight modifications and explanations, but this context is the great initial promise of God used by Paul in Romans 4 (i.e., Gen. 15:6). YHWH will act through Abram and his/His seed to reveal Himself to the whole world. Covenant (see Special Topic at 13:15) becomes the key concept of the Bible. The sovereign God initiates it and sets the agenda, but He has mandated that humans must respond appropriately and continually!

12:1 "Now" "Now" and "had said" are both placed in this verse by translators who believe that these verses refer to a previous call of God at Ur (cf. Gen. 15:7; Neh. 9:7; Acts 7:2).

▣ "Lord" This is YHWH, the covenant name of God (cf. Exod. 3:14). Notice this call is based on God's gracious invitation, not Abram's worth (cf. vv. 10ff). God always takes the initiative (cf. John 6:44,65; Eph. 2:8-9).


▣ "the Lord said" This strongly implies specific verbal communication, not a revelation through a dream or vision, though that must remain a possibility. Verse 7 implies a physical appearance similar to 3:8-12; 4:9-15; 6:13-22; 8:15-19; 9:1-7,8-17.

▣ "Abram" On the possible meanings of the name see the note at 11:26.

Abram is not depicted as a special person. His family are polytheistic, probably worshipers of the moon god/goddess. As a matter of fact, Abram is disobedient in

1. not leaving his family

2. leaving Canaan for Egypt

3. getting his wife to lie in order to save him (twice)

4. lying to Pharaoh and Abimelech in order to save his life

Only in 22:15-18 does his faith shine through, even though it is alluded to in 15:6.

▣ "Go forth from your country" The verb (BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative) means "to go." The marginal note of NASB asserts it implies "go for yourself." It is assumed to relate to all three clauses of v. 1b,c,d. To what country does this refer, Ur or Haran? Notice that 11:31 speaks of Terah leaving Ur for Canaan, but settling in Haran. Ur and Haran were both centers for moon worship and Terah and his family, because of the supposed meanings of their names (however, the meaning of the family name is uncertain), may have been involved in the worship of the moon god/goddess Sin, Nana (cf. Josh. 24:2). This is why he was willing to move.

For Abram to leave his family and their birth land would be a public acknowledgment that he was leaving all inheritance claims behind. This break with his family may have also denoted a break with the family gods. This is why Terah and Lot accompanying him was forbidden by God and, therefore, so surprising. Was it an act of disobedience to YHWH's call or was it a way to fulfill family expectations (i.e., care for parents) and at the same time, obey YHWH? As usual the literary genre of "historical narrative" (see several relevant appendices) does not specifically answer these kinds of questions. One must look at the whole narrative and "connect the dots."

▣ "from your relatives" YHWH's call was conditional on Abram's response. Abram did not fulfill his part (go from your relatives and from your father's house) immediately. Obedience is crucial (cf. 18:19; 22:18).

▣ "from your father's house" Acts 7:4 says Terah died in Haran before Abram left, but combining 11:26 and 12:4 and relating this with 11:32, it seems Terah lived sixty years after Abram left. Possibly 11:26 is the key. Abram may have been listed as the first child not because of age, but because of prominence. It seems Abram's culturally expected family duties were the biggest hindrance to God's call.

▣ "To the land which I will show you" From 11:31 we know this to be Canaan. Canaan is promised to

1. Abraham - Gen. 12:1; 15:18-21

2. Isaac - Gen. 26:3-5

3. Jacob - Gen. 28:13-15; 35:9-12

4. Israel - Gen. 15:16; Exod. 6:4,8; Deut. 4:38,40; 5:31; 19:10; 20:16; 21:23; Josh. 1:2,3,6,11,13,15; 2:9,24; 18:3; 21:43; 24:13

Abram's faith is characterized in Heb. 11:8. This promise of a special homeland becomes the focus of the OT (i.e., Israel was given a land by YHWH).

12:2 "I will make you a great nation" The word for nation (BDB 156) implies a homeland. It also implies many descendants (i.e., 22:17). It may even denote a new nation not mentioned in Genesis 10.

Verse 2 has three cohortative statements of YHWH's promised actions.

1. "I will make you a great nation" - BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

2. "I will bless you" - BDB 138, KB 159 Piel imperfect used in a cohortative sense

3. "I will make your name great" - BDB 152, KB 178, Piel cohortative

This promise of "a seed" will become the focused hope of one special seed/descendant, the Messiah, who will bring all nations to YHWH. Abraham is but one act in the full drama of redemption!

It is also theologically significant that original creation was blessed for growth (cf. 1:28; 9:1,7), but sin affected YHWH's desire. Now He starts again, but with one man, one family, one nation to develop into a redeemed people from all nations (a reversal of the Tower of Babel; they, too, wanted "a name" for themselves, 11:4). This passage is both a promised blessing and a conditional promise. However, the focus is on the undeserved blessing (grace act, 15:7-21; 28:13-15) by YHWH. This blessing/promise is conditional (cf. v. 1) on obedience (supreme example is Genesis 22) and from Gen. 15:5, faith. It becomes a paradigm for how to relate to God (cf. Romans 4; Galatians 3).

▣ "make your name great" The rabbis see this in the sense of pronouncing a blessing by his name. It implies that all people will know and respect him.

"you shall be a blessing" This is a Qal imperative amidst cohortatives. "To be a blessing" implies an action on Abram's part. YHWH's blessing was to enable Abram to be a blessing and from v. 3, a universal blessing.

12:3 "I will bless those who bless you" YHWH's blessing will come through Abram's blessing. YHWH chooses to act, but in particular ways.

The verbs in v. 3 form a pattern.

1. YHWH blesses - BDB 138, KB 159, Piel cohortative

2. those who bless Abram - BDB 138, KB 159, Piel participle

3. bless those who curse Abram - BDB 886, KB 1103, Piel participle

4. YHWH curses them - BDB 886, KB 1103, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense


"the one who curses you I will curse" There are two Hebrew words here for "curse." The first means "to speak evil of" (BDB 886, KB 1103, cf. 8:21; 16:4,5; Exod. 21:17; 22:28; Lev. 19:14; 20:9 [twice]; 24:11,14,15,23; Deut. 23:4) and the second is the judicial curse of God (BDB 76, KB 91, cf. 3:14,17; 4:11; 5:29; 9:25; 27:29 [twice]; 49:7; Exod. 22:28; Num. 5:18,19,22,24 [twice],27; 22:6 [twice],12; 23:7; 24:9 [twice]; Deut. 27:15-26; 28:16-19). Those who revile Abraham cut themselves off from YHWH and therein is the curse. YHWH reveals Himself primarily through Abram and his family (note Melchizedek, Job, Jethro).

NRSV, Peshitta
"and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed"
NRSV footnote, JPSOA

"by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves"
TEV"and through you I will bless all the nations"TEV footnote
"All the nations will ask me to bless them as I have blessed you"
NJB"and all clans on earth will bless themselves by you"
LXX"and in you shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed"
REB"All the peoples on earth will wish to be blessed as you are blessed"
REB footnote"All the peoples on earth will be blessed because of you"

The Niphal perfect (BDB 138, KB 159) stem is usually passive (LXX, NASB, "shall be blessed," cf. 18:18; 28:14), but in 22:18 and 26:4 the Hithpael perfect stem is used, which is reflexive ("bless themselves"). It is possible that the Hithpael denotes a continuing action through time. It is significant that God includes all nations in His promise to Abram, which is significant in light of the universal rebellion of chapter 11. God chose Abraham to choose all humans made in His image (cf. Ps. 22:27; 66:4; 86:9; Isa. 66:23; 49:6; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8)! Also see note at 22:18.

This is really an important passage. It shows clearly God's purpose of using Abram to reach all the world. The universal promise of Gen. 3:15 is being implemented, even amidst the purposeful rebellion of Noah's children (i.e., Genesis 11). It is not only to those who show favor to Abram, but to those who will show favor to Abram's seed (i.e., the Messiah, cf. Gal. 3:16). There was/is a universal purpose in YHWH's choice of one to bring prophesied redemption through the special "One" of his descendants. In the big picture, this is not a text about an attitude toward Jews, but a faith response to the Jewish "promised One."



So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. 6Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. 7The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. 8Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev.

12:4 "Abram went forth" Josephus (Antiq. 1.8.1) says Abram left because his family refused his new message of revealed monotheism, which was unique in the Ancient Near East.

▣ "Lot went with him" Josephus (Antiq. 1.8.1) says Abram adopted Lot because he had no children. This is possibly another example of Abram trying to help God with His promise of descendants (cf. chapter 16). Taking Lot (and also his father Terah, cf. 11:31) seems to violate YHWH's directive of 12:1c.

▣ "seventy-five years old" The people mentioned early in Genesis (chapters 4-9) lived to extreme ages. It is uncertain why.

1. sin had not spoiled the earth

2. years were counted differently

3. literary symbolism (like pre-flood Sumerian kings)

Whatever the reason, Abram was still a "young" man.

When one compares this verse with Acts 7:4 and Gen. 11:32, there seems to be a sixty year discrepancy. However, probably Abram was not listed as the first son because of age, but rather renown (cf. Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 49). Often modern interpreters treat the ancient Hebrew text and culture as if it were our own. Their view of "accurate" history and ours is not the same. One is not better than the other, just different.

▣ "Haran" In Genesis 11:26 "Haran" (BDB 248) is Terah's son who died in Ur. Here it is a city (BDB 357) to the northwest. Both of the cities Ur and Haran were centers of worship to the moon god/goddess, Zin. The name means "roads" (BDB 357) in Sumerian and, therefore, was probably on a major trade route (Nineveh, Carchemish to Damascus). In Gen. 48:7 Jacob says he came from "Paddan" (BDB 804), which also means "roads" and may be another way of denoting Haran in Aram or Syria (cf. Deut. 26:5). It is also probably "the city of Nahor" (cf. Gen. 24:10) from which Jacob got his wife Rebekah, sister of Laban.


12:5 "Abram" This name (BDB 4) means "exalted father," "exalter of father," or "exalted one is my father." See note at 11:26.

▣ "Sarai" The meaning of this form of Abram's wife's name is uncertain (BDB 979, KB 1354). The new form in 17:15 means "noble lady" or "princess" (BDB 979 II, KB 1354 II, cf. Jdgs. 5:29; I Kgs. 11:3; Isa. 49:23).

▣ "persons they had acquired in Haran" "Acquired" meant "made" (BDB 793). Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) says Abram made people through magic to show God's power. The rabbis say this refers to converts from Abram's preaching, but in context it refers to bought slaves and servants, as well as their children.

▣ "the land of Canaan" The term "Canaan" (BDB 488) originally refers to a son of Ham (one of Noah's sons, cf. Gen. 9:18,22,25,27; 10:15). Part of the area his descendants occupied took on this name. It came to mean "low land" as opposed to "high land" (low hills), therefore, it denoted the coastal plain from Egypt to Sidon in Phoenicia. However, after the Philistines settled on the southwestern coast, just north of Egypt, it came to denote the coastal area north of Philistia. As it was invaded by the Hebrews in the book of Joshua it came to refer to land on both sides of the Jordan River. The land of Canaan had about 100 miles of coast land and at its longest was about 180 miles in length and its width varied from 20 to 120 miles.

12:6 "Shechem" The name (BDB 1014) means "shoulder blade." This city is located between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It is the site of several momentous occasions: (1) the blessing and cursing of the covenant (cf. Deut. 11:29-30; Josh. 8:30-35); (2) covenant renewal service (cf. Josh. 24); (3) site of the meeting between Rehoboam (Solomon's son) and Jeroboam (northern labor leader) after Solomon's death, which resulted in a split between Judah and Israel (922 b.c.).

▣ "oak of Moreh" Moreh means teacher (BDB 435). Trees marked sacred sites for Semitic people. This was possibly the site of a Canaanite altar or oracle (cf. Gen. 35:4; Deut. 11:30; Jdgs. 9:37). The tree is a terebinth (BDB 18, "big tree"), possibly an oak (cf. LXX). A good source for information on the plants and animals mentioned in the Bible is UBS', Fauna and Flora of the Bible, second edition.

▣ "the Canaanite was then in the land" This is viewed by most commentators, even Ibn Ezra, as a later addition, but seen in light of Genesis 9, it implies that the land was populated by descendants of Canaan.


12:7 "The Lord appeared" This is the common verb "to see" (BDB 906) used in a specialized sense (i.e., a physical visual appearance of Deity, cf. 12:7 [twice]; 17:1; 18:1; 26:2,24; 35:1,9; 48:3). In v. 1 YHWH speaks to Abram, but here He appears! Often YHWH appeared in the form of "the angel of the Lord."


▣ "To your descendants I will give this land" This was a great promise for Abraham's descendants (lit. "seed," cf. 13:15; 15:18), but Paul saw the singular "seed" as referring to the Messiah (cf. Gal. 3:16).

▣ "so he built an altar there" These altars were ways of commemorating special events or appearances (i.e., 8:20; 13:18; 22:9; 26:25; 33:20; 35:7; Exod. 17:15; 24:4; Josh. 8:30; Jdgs. 6:24; 21:4; I Sam. 7:17; 14:35; II Sam. 24:25). Sacrifice was a way of expressing in a visible way one's sense of God's presence, care, and provision. The visible sacrifice became invisible in smoke and rose to God.

12:8 "Bethel" This means "house of God" (BDB 110). From 28:19 we learn that this city was originally called Luz until Jacob's day. This later name and the last phrase of v. 6 imply that this account was recorded later and may have existed for a period as oral tradition. The exact time, person, and methodology of the composition of OT books is uncertain. See Introduction to Genesis, vol. 1A, D. 1.

▣ "called upon the name of the Lord" When one compares this verse and 4:26 with Exod. 6:7, there seems to be a contradiction. However, possibly the name was originally used without understanding its full covenant significance. This phrase implies a worship/ritual setting (cf. 4:26; 12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25).


▣ "Ai" This meant "heap of stones" (BDB 743) and was a city, or possibly the ruins of a city, close to Bethel.

12:9 "journeyed on" This literally means "pulled up tent pegs" (BDB 652, KB 704, Qal imperfect). It reflects the nomadic life of Abram, as does "pitched his tent" in v. 8.

▣ "Negev" This means "the south" (BDB 616, cf. 13:1,3). It is not desert, but arid pasture land at certain times of the year.

Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 12and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you." 14It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 16Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.

12:10 "famine" This is literally "empty stomach" (BDB 944). God tested Abram's faith. He failed (cf. vv. 12-13)! The Bible shows humans, warts and all. Abraham is not special; YHWH is special!

12:11 The wives of the Patriarchs were beautiful (cf. 12:11; 24:16; 26:7), but barren, women. YHWH showed His power, presence, and purpose by allowing each of them to produce descendants. This was His way of showing that He was in charge of Israel's history, not human generations or planning.

12:12 "they will kill me" God had promised to make him a great nation, but here he tries to protect himself at his wife's expense. In chapter 20 he repeated his action and in chapter 26 his son did the same thing.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Satanic Attempts to Thwart the Messianic Line

12:13 "Please say that you are my sister" This seems strange to us, but (1) they were half brother and sister (i.e., same father, cf. 20:12) and (2) from Nuzi Tablets we learn that this custom of marrying within families was common in Hurrian upper society or (3) else simply calling wives "sisters" was common (as in Egypt and Song of Songs 4:9,10,12; 5:1,2).

12:15 "Pharaoh" This title (BDB 829) is used of Egyptian kings from the eighteenth dynasty forward. The etymology of the Egyptian word is "great house."

12:16 "gave him" Abram's wealth did not all come from Pharaoh (cf. 12:5b).

Although sheep and cattle, as well as donkeys, were common domestic stock and a source of wealth in the ancient world (i.e., Abram was given a dowry price for Sarai), camels were not widely domesticated until later (i.e., end of the second millennium b.c.). There is some archaeological evidence for domesticated camels earlier in the second millennium b.c. in Mesopotamia, but only for the elite class (see R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 311).

Also notice in this verse that the slaves and servants are listed with the property (cf. 20:14; 26:14; 30:43; 32:5)!

But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. 18Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go." 20Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.

12:17 "great plagues" These plagues were apparently related to Sarai's protection. In Genesis 20:18 it refers to "closed wombs" of Abimelech's wives. The verb "struck" (BDB 619, KB 668, Piel imperfect) is the same root as "plagues" (BDB 619), which was a grammatical way of intensification.

"because of Sarai" This is "by words of." Rashi says she ordered the angel to protect her. Apparently she informs Pharaoh of the situation (cf. v. 18).

12:18 The plague is obviously related to Sarai's physical/sexual protection. The question is how Pharaoh knew the reason for the plague.

1. YHWH revealed it to him

2. Egypt's wise men (cf. Exod. 7:11,22; 8:7)?

3. Sarai herself

This might be another example, like Daniel 4 or the Magi of the NT, where God speaks to non-Jews to reveal His purposes.

12:19-20 Abram's departure from Egypt was not a request, but a command.

1. "take" - BDB 542, KB 534, Qal imperative

2. "go" - BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative

3. "Pharaoh commanded his men" - BDB 845, KB 1010, Piel imperfect

4. "escorted him away" - BDB 1018, KB 1511, Piel imperfect



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is this covenant so important? Who is included in it? Define its terms.

2. Did Abram immediately fulfill his part? How is God's grace seen in this chapter?

3. Was Terah dead when Abram left Haran?

4. How did God test Abram in this chapter? Did he pass?


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