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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Genesis 12

Verses 1-6

The Calling of Abram

The Darby translation translates Genesis 12:1 that the LORD “had said to Abram”. This translation is to be preferred, for the LORD speaks to Abram while he is still in Ur of the Chaldeans (Acts 7:2-Numbers :). There God tells him to go out of his land, to the land God will show him. He has to leave his family to form a new one. He even has to leave his father’s house, of which he is still a member, to become a father of many nations. God’s calling is always personal. God’s way is always with the individual. God calls Abram when he is but one (Isaiah 51:2).

This calling of Abram should later make it clear to Israel that their existence as a people is entirely God’s work and started with a man who in faith obeyed what God has said to him. This should convince Israel of Abram’s Divine calling and of the necessity of faith when the people leave Egypt to go to Canaan.

When God calls, He always connects promises to it. Abram receives a sevenfold promise (Genesis 12:2-Leviticus :). That’s enough to get him on his way. He goes, without knowing where he will end up. This means that he goes in faith. As we saw at the end of the previous chapter, it took Abram time and effort to get out of his father’s house. Yet he goes. In Hebrews 11 we read about his obedience (Hebrews 11:8). God sees the willingness in his heart and has patience in overcoming the obstacles.

Abram obeys, in faith in the word of the LORD. This obeying in faith makes Abraham in Scripture the great example of faith: “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, [saying,] “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer” (Galatians 3:6-1 Samuel :; James 2:21-Isaiah :). Its characteristic is to give up the visible things for an invisible purpose (2 Corinthians 4:18).

When Abram comes into the land, the Canaanites are there, and they are the bosses. The land of Canaan is for Israel literally the promised land, in which God has all blessings waiting for them. The condition is that Israel remains faithful to the LORD and in His power fights to drive out the Canaanites.

For the Christian, the land of Canaan spiritually represents the heavenly places, in which he is blessed with all spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). But also for the Christian this blessing can only be enjoyed if he is willing to struggle for it. We read about this in Ephesians 6. Fortunately we do not have to struggle in our own strength (Ephesians 6:10). God makes His own armor available to us (Ephesians 6:11-Job :).

Verse 7

The LORD Appears to Abram

When Abram has arrived in Canaan, the LORD appears to him. He could not do that in Haran. Abram, after his calling and the promise of blessing for him and his descendants, receives here the promise that his descendants will receive the land in which he has now arrived. Following this announcement Abram builds an altar for the LORD. His heart is so full of thanks that he can only worship Him for His promises.

The LORD hath appeared to him; he hath seen Him. The LORD hath spoken unto him; he hath heard Him. Abram believes in Who appeared to him, and he believes in what the LORD promised him. This is living faith.

Thus the Lord also appears to us when we read His Word. Then we see Him. And we hear Him speak. We can be confident that He does what He says. If that lives for us, we will worship Him.

Verse 8

Abram: Tent and Altar

Abram’s life is characterized by a tent and an altar. He goes to the mountains, he seeks to be close to God. He puts up his tent between Bethel and Ai. His tent is a symbol of his pilgrimage. He is a traveler, someone who has no permanent residence and abode. He does not seek a place on earth. He expects the city of God (Hebrews 11:10).

His altar is a symbol of worship. A worshipper is a pilgrim and a pilgrim is a worshipper. The altar is for the LORD, and there he calls upon His Name (cf. Genesis 21:33; Genesis 26:23-Lamentations :). To call upon the name of the LORD means to call Him by His name ‘Yahweh’ and on that basis to approach Him in prayer and in worship. Abram honors God for Whom He is. He will have worshipped Him for the promises He has received from Him and of which He knows that they are fulfilled by Him. By this God has among the Canaanites, who live in the land, a witness for His Name.

“Bethel” means “house of God”. Thus in our time, the time of the New Testament, the church is called (1 Timothy 3:15). “Ai” means “ruin”. That is the actual situation of the house of God, the church. The Christian who is a pilgrim lives in the midst of the ruins of the Christian testimony of God on earth, while on the other side he tries to realize God’s thoughts about His church.

Verses 9-20

Abram in Egypt

With the departure from Bethel the deviation begins for Abram. He goes to a border area. It is always dangerous for a believer to live in a border area. This is the area where the danger of a spiritual fall is defied. Hunger comes in that area. In Bethel Abram was not hungry.

Abram goes even further away. He crosses the border and enters Egypt. He has not received a commission from God for this. By the way, he does not intend to live there, but to sojourn there, he wants to stay there as a foreigner, for as long as he considers it necessary. Egypt is a picture of the world. When we go back to that area, we increasingly lose sight of God.

The result is that Abram is afraid that something will happen to him. His trust in God is gone. He devises an excuse to secure himself at the expense of his wife. Here we see to what the most God-fearing believer can come when he leaves the place God has given him. His selfishness leads him to deny his wife Sarai her true relationship with him. He incites his wife to lie. What he says is partly true (Genesis 20:12), but he says it with the purpose of misleading.

It turns out differently than he thought. He wants to prevent Sarai from being lost by his lie, but by his trickery he loses her. Ironically, it indeed goes well with for Sarai’s sake, which he has given up as the motive for his misleading proposal of their relationship (Genesis 12:13; Genesis 12:16). However, all the gifts he receives do not compensate for losing Sarai. He also lost his altar, as well as his place in the land to which God has sent him. He has also lost the blessing attached to his stay in the country for him.

He who once strays from the way God has shown, loses a lot. For the world, too, someone who wanders off is not a blessing. We see that here too. Through Abram’s behavior God must bring plagues over Pharaoh and his house. Finally, Abram is admonished by Pharaoh, we can say the world. Something similar we see in the history of Jonah (Jonah 1:6).

All in all, the situation in which Abram finds himself is a very sad one. It is a great grace of God that He saves Abram from this situation. That is no honor for Abram, but all honor is to God.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-12.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.