A. God’s promise to Abram.
1. (1-3) God’s previous covenant with Abram.
Now the LORD had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
a. Now the LORD had said to Abram: In Acts 7:2-4, God revealed through Stephen that this promise was made to Abram when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran. Genesis 12:1-3 repeats a promise that God had said to Abram. God repeated the promise now that his father was dead and Abram was compelled to a more complete obedience.
i. Abram’s partial obedience did not take God’s promise away. Instead, it meant the fulfillment of the promise was delayed until Abram was ready to do what the LORD told him to do.
ii. Abram would certainly become a giant of faith, even being the father of the believing (Galatians 3:7); yet he did not start as a hero of faith. We see Abram as an example of growing in faith and obedience.
iii. More important than Abram’s faith was God’s promise. Notice how often God says I will in these verses. Genesis chapter 11 is all about the plans of man. Genesis chapter 12 is all about the plans of God. Genesis 12:1-3 explains how God promised Abram a land, a nation, and a blessing.
b. To a land I that I will show you: After stating He wanted Abram to leave his country and his relatives, God promised Abram a land. Specifically, God promised the land of Canaan, what might be called “greater Israel.”
c. I will make you a great nation: God promised to make a nation from Abram. He will have children and grandchildren and further descendants, enough to populate a great nation.
d. And make your name great: God promised to bless Abram and to make his name great. There is probably no more honored name in history than the name of Abram, who is honored by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
e. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you: God also promised He would bless those who bless you and to curse him who curses you. This promise – inherited by the covenant descendants of Abram, the Jewish people – remains true today and is a root reason for the decline and death of many empires.
i. Historically speaking, nations that have treated the Jewish people well have often been blessed. “When the Greeks overran Palestine and desecrated the altar in the Jewish temple, they were soon conquered by Rome. When Rome killed Paul and many others, and destroyed Jerusalem under Titus, Rome soon fell. Spain was reduced to a fifth-rate nation after the Inquisition against the Jews; Poland fell after the pogroms; Hitler’s Germany went down after its orgies of anti-Semitism; Britain lost her empire when she broke her faith with Israel.” (Barnhouse)
ii. This promise has also affected the church. The times when the church took upon itself the persecution of the Jewish people were dark times not only for the Jews but also for the church.
f. In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed: Not only was Abram promised blessing, but God also promised to make him a blessing, even to the point where all the families of the earth would be blessed in Abram. This amazing promise was fulfilled in the Messiah that came from Abram’s lineage. God’s blessing to Abram was not for his own sake, or even the sake of the Jewish nation to come. It was for the whole world, for all the families of the earth through Jesus Christ.
i. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham (Galatians 3:8-9).
ii. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). The work of Jesus will touch every people group on the earth.
iii. Boice quoted the observation of Martin Luther, who said the promise in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed should be written “in golden letters and should be extolled in the languages of all people,” for “who else… has dispensed this blessing among all nations except the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ?”
iv. This also indicated a missionary vision that God intended Abraham’s covenant descendants to have. They were to look beyond themselves to all nations, to all the families of the earth. “There, you see, was the missionary character of the seed of Abraham, if they had but recognized it. God did not bless them for themselves alone, but for all nations: ‘In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.’” (Spurgeon)
2. (4) Abram’s departure from Haran.
So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
a. And Lot went with him: This was more partial obedience by Abram. God commanded him to go out from your family (Genesis 12:1) yet he brought his nephew Lot. Lot would not be a blessing to Abram. He would be nothing but trouble and inconvenience.
b. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran: Abram came into the land of Canaan at this advanced age. Fathering a child through Sarai seemed a long-forgotten hope.
3. (5-6) Abram’s arrival in Canaan.
Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.
a. All their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran: Abram left Ur of the Chaldeans with his father and his nephew Lot, stopping in Haran long enough to acquire many possessions and people.
b. So they came to the land of Canaan: Abram came into Canaan as a stranger, to live in a land populated by tribes that were set in violence and sin (Genesis 34:1-5) but would become even worse (Genesis 15:16).
c. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem: This was Abram’s first stopping point in Canaan. He came to a notable oak tree (the terebinth tree of Moreh).
i. The name Shechem means shoulder. It probably gets its meaning from the geography of the area. The idea may be that the two hills Gerazim and Ebal were like “shoulders” with Shechem in the midst of them. Shechem was not only in the midst of two mountains but it was also right in the middle of Canaan.
· This is where Jacob came safely when he returned with his wives and children from his sojourn with Laban (Genesis 33:18).
· This is where Jacob bought a piece of land from a Canaanite named Hamor, for 100 pieces of silver (Genesis 33:19).
· This is where Jacob built an altar to the Lord and called it El Elohe Israel (Genesis 33:20). This established the connection between Jacob and what became known as Jacob’s well.
· Shechem was the place where Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, was raped – and the sons of Jacob massacred the men of the city in retaliation (Genesis 34).
· This was the plot of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph, land Jacob had conquered from the Amorites with his sword and bow in an unrecorded battle (Genesis 48:22).
· This is where the bones of Joseph were eventually buried when they were carried up from Egypt (Joshua 24:32).
· This is where Joshua made a covenant with Israel, renewing their commitment to the God of Israel and proclaiming: as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24).
· Shechem’s New Testament name is Sychar – where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 (John 4:5-6).
d. And the Canaanites were then in the land: Abram came to the land God promised, yet the Canaanites were still in the land. They had no intention of giving the land to Abram, and would not give it up until they were forced out some 400 years later.
4. (7-9) God appears to Abram in Canaan.
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he 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. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.
a. Then the LORD appeared to Abram: Once Abram was in the land, God reminded him of His promise. The land Abram saw belonged to Abram and his descendants. It was actual land that Abram saw with his physical eyes.
b. To your descendants I will give this land: Abram never owned any of this land except the burial plot he bought (Genesis 23:14-20). Yet God’s promise was enough evidence to assure Abram that he did indeed own the whole country.
c. And there he built an altar to the LORD: The altar was important to Abram because it was a place to meet with God, to offer sacrifice for sin, to show submission to God, and to worship God.
i. Christians have an altar also (Hebrews 13:10). We meet with God at our own place where we remember the sacrifice Jesus made for sin (Ephesians 5:2), where we submit to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), and where we offer the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).
d. He pitched his tent: Even in the land God gave him, Abram never lived in a house – he always lived in a tent. Tents are the home of those who are just passing through and do not put down permanent roots.
i. We too are to live like tent-dwellers, as pilgrims on this earth (1 Peter 2:11). We should live as people who have their permanent dwelling place in heaven, not on earth. Too many Christians want to build mansions on earth and think they would be happy with tents in heaven.
ii. A pilgrim is someone who leaves home and travels to a specific destination. A pilgrim isn’t a drifter; a pilgrim has a goal. Abram’s goal was God’s heavenly city (Hebrews 11:8-10, 14-16), and this is also our goal.
B. Abram in Egypt.
1. (10) Abram’s faith is tested by famine.
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.
a. There was a famine in the land: A famine was a serious problem. Many people died from hunger, and it was right for Abram to be concerned about famine and feeding his family. But Abram was wrong in thinking God would not provide for his needs in the place where God called him to live. After all, God called Abram to Canaan and not to Egypt.
i. Abram, like most of us, found it easier to trust God in the far-off promises than in the right-now needs.
b. Abram went down to Egypt: When we are tested in this way, we often believe our actions are all right because no harm can come. Though God blessed and protected Abram even in Egypt, he came away with excess baggage and a rebuke from a pagan king. Harm came from his trip to Egypt.
i. The harm especially shows up later when a slave girl named Hagar – whom Sarai received when in Egypt – became a source of great trouble to Abram’s family.
2. (11-13) Sensing potential danger in Egypt, Abram persuades Sarai to lie on his behalf.
And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
a. I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance: Abram was concerned about his 60-year-old wife’s attractiveness to the Egyptians. This shows Sarai was not only a woman of particular beauty but also that not every culture worships youthful appearance the way modern culture does.
i. The long lifespan of Abram and Sarai also helps to explain her beauty. Since Abram lived to be 175 and Sarai to 127, this was only middle age for her, perhaps corresponding to what we think of as her thirties.
ii. A Jewish legend says when Abram went into Egypt, he tried to hide Sarai in a box. When Egyptian customs officials asked what he had in the box, he said, “barley.” “No,” they said, “it contains wheat.” “Very well,” answered Abram. “I’ll pay the custom on wheat.” Then the officers said it contained pepper. Abram said he would pay the custom charges on pepper. Then the officers said it contained gold. Abram said he would pay the custom charges on gold. Then the officers said it contained precious stones. Abram said he would pay the custom charges on precious stones. By this time, the officers insisted on opening the box. When they did, all of Egypt shined with the beauty of Sarai. These same legends say that in comparison to Sarai, all other women looked like monkeys. She was even more beautiful than Eve (cited in Ginzburg).
b. Please say you are my sister: This was in fact a half-truth. Sarai was Abram’s half-sister (Genesis 20:12). Yet this half-truth was a whole lie. Abram’s intent here was clearly to deceive, and he trusted in his deception to protect him instead of trusting in the LORD.
i. If we want to do something wrong, we can find some good reasons to do it. If we can’t think of the reasons our self, the devil is happy to suggest them.
ii. Ideally Abram would say, “God promised me children, and I don’t have them yet; therefore, I know I am indestructible until God’s promise is fulfilled, because God’s promises are always true. God will protect me and my wife Sarai.”
3. (14-15) Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s house.
So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house.
a. The Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful: Sarai attracted attention both because she was very beautiful and because she was the companion of an obviously wealthy and influential man (Abram).
b. The woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house: Understanding the place Abram and Sarai have in God’s redemptive plan, we realize how serious this was. God did not want Sarai’s womb to be defiled by a gentile king, because the Messiah would come from her line of descendants.
4. (16-20) Abram leaves Egypt after being rebuked by Pharaoh.
He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. But the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.” So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.
a. He treated Abram well for her sake: God blessed Abram even when he didn’t do what he should. God continued to protect Abram, even when Abram acted like a liar. God did not call back His promise to Abram, because the promise depended on God and not on Abram.
b. What is this you have done to me? Sadly, a pagan king had to rebuke Abram. God’s divine protection of Abram and Sarai shows that if he would have trusted in God and told the truth, everything would have been all right.
i. But God is in the business of growing Abram into a man of great faith, and this requires circumstances where Abram must trust God. “Faith is not a mushroom that grows overnight in damp soil; it is an oak tree that grows for a thousand years under the blast of the wind and rain.” (Barnhouse)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission