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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 12

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-20

Genesis 12:1. Had said. The God of glory appeared to Abraham, and enjoined him to leave his idolatrous country. Joshua 24:2. Acts 7:3.

Genesis 12:2. I will make of thee a great nation, yea many nations. All these are princely benedictions, conferring sovereignty, and adding a curse on the head of him who dare to rebel. Genesis 27:29.

Genesis 12:6. The Canaanite was then in the land. Abraham did not wander like other patriarchs to a vacant country, but to a land already occupied by the children of Canaan. Africa was their lot, as descendants of Ham; but they had stopped on the road in the best of all lands.

Genesis 12:7. The Lord appeared to Abram; the Messiah, as Angel, realized his personal presence. The religion of the whole primitive world is founded on the appearances of God, or Messiah, the Angel to man. In the tenth conference of the Danish missionaries with a brahmin, when they pressed him with the different figures of his idols, he replied; “Our God has appeared eleven times, and in one place he is made as he appeared at one time, and in another place as he appeared at another time.” The Egyptians have the same traditions of their Osiris. The Greeks in the Iliad of Homer, and in the Theogony of Hesiod, and in their poets, abound with the same traditions. Our Gothic fathers, in the poem Voluspa, amused their long evenings with runes or mysteries of religion. These runes formed the Edda, or code of instruction to posterity. All antiquity is coincident with the assertion of St. Paul, that “God at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past to the fathers.” Hebrews 1:1. Thy seed. St. Paul, who read the scriptures with an eagle’s eye, says, that God spake in the singular number, not of many but of One; that is, of Christ. This was the first promise, and highest favour of God to man; to Abraham, to Judah, and to David. Chap. 2 Samuel 7:0; 2 Samuel 7:0. The Messiah was from the beginning the hope, the rock and protection of his saints, in all the weary years of their pilgrimage. They kept him ever before their eyes as the dawn of future day.

Genesis 12:8. And there (in Sichem) he built an altar to the Lord, and by faith took possession of the land, and near the place where the Hebrews crossed the Jordan.

Genesis 12:10. Egypt. The famine compelled Abraham to seek shelter there. Josephus quotes an ancient author to say, that he taught the Egyptians Astrology and Arithmetic. These sciences passed from Chaldea into Egypt, and from Egypt into Greece.

Genesis 12:13. My sister. She was his uncle Nahor’s daughter; but that circumstance is scarce a mitigation of Abraham’s fault. The fear of man bringeth a snare, and often leadeth into sin. He doubted of God’s promised protection; but it was at a time when sorely pressed with famine.


The Jews are uniform in asserting, that Abraham suffered persecution for disputing with the Chaldeans concerning the being and perfections of God, and against idolatry. He being, in fact, almost the only man who fully adhered to the covenant made with Adam, and renewed with Noah, God was pleased to call him to be the father of the promised Seed, and very much to leave the gentiles to their own way, and to their corrupt devotion.


The call of Abraham forms one of the most important events in the annals of the church. God who had saved the family of Noah from the wickedness of the old world, now separated the Hebrew family from those who served other gods beyond the Euphrates: else it is likely that they also would have been borne away with the prevailing torrent of carnal charms, ever attendant on idol-worship. The Almighty had higher designations in the call of this patriarch. These were to show the world the superior happiness of a nation which remain in the covenant, and in the pure worship of God; to open a way for the conversion of proselytes; to call a people to preserve his oracles, the glory of the ritual law, and to prepare the way for the coming and kingdom of the Messiah, the diffusion of the gospel law, and the conversion of the gentile world.

Every sinner, in a moral view, is called like Abraham to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house. When our friends and relatives fear not God, he says, come out from among them, be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.

Like this patriarch we are all called to seek a heavenly Canaan, not yet seen indeed, but promised. God will show it unto us on our approach: and this high and holy calling is rational, for the fashion of this world passeth away. God supported his weak faith by a suitable series of promises, that he should be the father of the promised Seed, of a great nation, and in fact, the father of the faithful in all ages of the church. Just so does God support the christian pilgrim. He will establish with him and his children the exceeding great and precious promises of the New Covenant; he will bless all his friends and benefactors, and curse and confound all his impenitent foes.

The world would no doubt exclaim against Abraham’s folly, and augur his ruin; and they are apt to do the same concerning men who enter on a religious course, and seek the happiness of heaven. But let the faithfulness of God to Abraham encourage us to persevere.

He received these promises in uncircumcision, but he believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Venture then sinner on this promised Saviour, and you shall now be accepted as righteous by faith only, for faith is the first condition of the covenant. On embracing Christ you are justified by his blood, and accepted in his person. You are then accounted righteous through Christ, and have a full title to eternal life.

Abraham’s faith was afterwards made perfect by works. View him leaving his country, venturing among strangers, and resting on the promises alone. He neither built a city, nor returned in the time of famine and persecution; but fixed his heart, his stedfast heart on a better country. Brethren, let us follow his example, and let us not fail to bring our families with us as he did; for the promises are made to us and our children.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 12". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-12.html. 1835.
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