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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 12

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verse 1

Genesis 12:1

I. All the life of Abraham was a special training for a special end. Chosen, as are all God's instruments, because he was capable of being made that which the Lord purposed to make him, there was that in him which the good Spirit of the Lord formed, through the incidents of his life of wandering, into a character of eminent and single-hearted faithfulness.

II. This work was done not for his own sake exclusively. He was to be "a father of many generations." The seed of Abraham was to be kept separate from the heathen world around it, even until from it was produced the "Desire of all nations"; and this character of Abraham was stamped thus deeply upon him, that it might be handed on through him to his children and his children's children after him.

III. And so to a wonderful degree it was; marking that Jewish people, amongst all their sins and rebellions, with such a peculiar strength and nobleness of character; and coming out in all its glory, in successive generations, in judge and seer and prophet and king, as they at all realised the pattern of their great progenitor, and walked the earth as strangers and pilgrims, but walked it with God, the God of Abraham and their God.

S. Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 165.

References: Genesis 12:1 . J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 337; J. B. Mozley, Ruling Ideas in Early Ages, p. 1; Parker, vol. i., p. 186.

Verses 1-3

Genesis 12:1-3

(with Genesis 9:1-9 )

No one has ever doubted that the words in Genesis 9:1-7 are a Divine blessing upon the human race.

I. There is something especially appropriate in this language to the inhabitants of a restored earth. Compare it with the simple records of the garden life of Adam, and you perceive that you are entering upon a more advanced stage in human history. Two steps in advance have been taken: (1) Every man is now his brother's keeper. Every man is shedding his own blood when he sheds his brother's blood. The words "every man's brother" expanded the principle of the family to a higher power. They declared that the race was a family; they intimated that society was to be built up on the recognition of an actual relationship among the different members of it; (2) a higher dignity is put upon life than it had before, whether it dwells in a man or only in an inferior creature.

II. This is the first occasion on which we meet with the phrase "covenant." Man was a party to the covenant in the sense that he might believe or disbelieve the sign which was said to bear that Divine testimony. All his future acts would depend on this difference, because they would depend upon the question whether he worshipped a being in whom he trusted, or one whom he regarded as an enemy. Man lives by faith; and till faith is called forth in him he is still but an animal with the capacities of a spirit.

III. The history of Abram is the grand illustration of this truth. Every unfaithful man of the race of Abram, every unfaithful man anywhere, would be a god; he would not claim the right of knowing God and being like Him. Therefore all such were tempted to make gods of their own, and to forget the living God. Abram's faith consisted in not doing this in acknowledging the Lord to be God. He believed God's promise. He counted it the highest blessing and glory, not that he should be blessed, but that he should be the channel of blessing to multitudes unknown.

F. D. Maurice, The Patriarchs and Law-Givers of the Old Testament, p. 68. Reference: xii 1-3. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 394.

Verses 1-4

Genesis 12:1-4

I. At some time in our lives a call from God sends its trumpet tone through each of our souls, as it did when Abraham heard it, and he went forth with the future stretching broad and far before him.

II. God's call to Abraham was: (1) a call to closer communion with Himself; (2) a call which led him to break with his past; (3) a call into loneliness.

III. The reason why so many of us, who are good and honourable men, never become men of great use and example and higher thought and true devotion, is that we dare not be singular. We dare not leave our kindred or our set. We will not leave our traditional views and sentiments, and we cannot leave our secret sins. God speaks, and we close our eyes and turn away our heads, and our hearts answer, "I will not come." How long will all this last? Will it last until another solemn voice shall speak to us, and at the call of death we say, "I come"?

W. Page-Roberts, Liberalism in Religion, p. 178.

Verses 1-20

Genesis 12:0 , etc.

I. Notice first the call of Abraham. (1) The call was addressed to him suddenly; (2) it required him to forsake his country and his kindred, while giving him no hope of return; (3) it sent him on a long and difficult journey, to a country lying more than three hundred miles away. Yet Abraham obeyed in willing submission to the command of God.

II. Notice Abraham's conquest over the kings. This is the first battle recorded in the word of God. It was after his rescue of Lot that Abraham was met by the mysterious Melchizedek. An awful shade of supernaturalism still rests upon this man, to whom some of the attributes of the Godhead seem to be ascribed, and who is always named with God and with God's Son. There are two lessons deducible from Abraham's conquests: (1) that military skill and experience are often easily vanquished by untaught valour, when that is at once inspired by impulse, guided by wisdom, and connected with a good cause; (2) that Christian duty varies at different times and in different circumstances.

III. Notice the covenants which were established between Abraham and God. From them we learn: (1) God's infinite condescension; (2) our duty of entering into covenant with God in Christ.

From the history of Abraham we see that God's intention was: (1) to secure to Himself one great accession from the idolatrous camp; (2) to send Abraham as a forerunner and a first step into the land which God had selected as His peculiar property; (3) to create a family link of connection between God and a distinct race of people for long ages. Abraham was to be the microcosm to the coming macrocosm of the Jewish people, as they and their polity again were to be the microcosm to the sublimer macrocosm of Christianity.

G. Gilfillan, Alpha and Omega, vol. i., p. 308.

References: Genesis 12:0 Parker, vol. i., p. 192; F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 33; R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i., p. 181; S. Leathes, Studies in Genesis, p. 96. Genesis 13:4 . Parker, vol. i., p. 362

Verse 2

Genesis 12:2

When God called Abraham, and, in Abraham, the Jewish nation, He cradled them in blessings. This is the way in which He always begins with a man. If ever, to man or nation, He speaks otherwise, it is because they have made Him do so.

I. Many of us account religion rather as a possession to be held, or a privilege to be enjoyed, than as a life which we are to spread, a kingdom we are bound to extend. Consequently our religion has grown too passive. It would be healthier and happier if we were to cast into it more action.

II. Wherever Abraham went he shed blessings round him, not only by his prayers and influence, but by the actual charm of his presence. As Abraham was a blessing to the Jews, still more were the Jews a blessing to the world.

III. Then came the climax. He who so blesses with His blood, He who did nothing but bless, He was of the seed of Abraham.

IV. As joined to the mystical body of Christ, we are Abraham's seed, and one of the promises to which we are admitted is this, "Thou shalt be a blessing." The sense of a positive appointment, of a destiny to do a thing, is the most powerful motive of which the human mind is capable. Whoever desires to be a blessing must be a man of faith, prayer, and love.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 293.

References: Genesis 12:2 . J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. x., p. 113; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 205.

Verse 3

Genesis 12:3

I. A double stream of narrative runs through the first four books of the Pentateuch. One of these may be called the Priestly narrative the other, the Prophetical narrative. The text sets before us one of the characteristic features of the Prophetical narrative that consciousness of the ideal destiny of Israel which developed afterwards into the definite hope commonly called Messianic. Unfettered by the political and material limitations of his age, the narrator discerns in dim outline the far-off goal of Israel's history, and enables his reader to discern it with him. We have first the familiar Protevangelion of the third chapter, where hope already steps in to alleviate the effects of the fall. Then comes the blessing given to Shem, and then the promise of our text.

II. What is the source of this conception of the ideal destiny of Israel which dominates so many points of the Old Testament? Israel was the people of Jehovah. They knew that the God of heaven and earth had really become their God, and had separated them to Himself as a peculiar people. Israel is the people of God: here is the fruitful germ of their whole future. The earliest records of the Old Testament are inspired by the consciousness of a noble ideal, which, so far from proving itself an illusion, was more or less completely realised. We may notice some of the more salient aspects of its development: (1) The establishment of the monarchy forms an epoch in Israelitish history. The monarchy created in Israel a sense of unity, and gave a new impulse to national feeling. (2) The great prophets amplify in different directions the thought of Israel's ideal future. (3) In the great prophecy of Israel's restoration, which occupies the last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah, we find the nation no longer viewed as an aggregate of isolated members, but grasped as a whole, dramatised as an individual, who stands before us realising in his own person his people's purposes and aims. In his work as prophet he endures contumely and opposition, and though innocent himself, he sacrifices his life for others. Such is the personality upon whom, in the mind of Isaiah, the future alike of Israel and the world depends. In Christ as King and Christ as Prophet, the Founder and Head of a new social state, the hope of Israel, which but for His advent had been as an illusion or a dream, finds its consummation and its reward.

S. R. Driver, Oxford University Herald, Oct. 31st, 1885.

"All the families of the earth."

St. Paul finds the key to the constitution and the order of the human home in the spiritual sphere. Christian philosophy is inevitably transcendental that is, it believes that earthly things are made after heavenly patterns, and that the "things seen and temporal" can only be fully understood by letting the light fall on them from the things which are not seen and eternal.

It was the redemption of the home when Christ's redeeming love to the world was made the pattern of its love. That home is the highest in which love reigns most perfectly.

I. The home is the instrument of a double education. Its function is to develop the Divine image in parent and in child. The sentence on man after the fall was disciplinary, while on the tempter it was penal. The sentence on the tempter was utter and final degradation, while on man it was literally a sentence to a reformatory school. In sorrow, toil and tears, he was to learn how the devil had cheated him, in the hope that when he had learnt that lesson his heart might be open to the instruction of God once more.

II. As the first step to the fulfilment of his purpose in restoring man to his own image, God set "the solitary in families," He laid the foundation of the home as the fundamental human institution, the foundation of all true order, the spring of all true development in human society. Out of the home State and Church were to grow; by the home they were both to be established. And so God took the dual head of the first human home, the father and mother, and made them as gods to their children, and He set them there to study the pain and the burden of the godhead as well as the power and the joy. This was the only way by which man could gain the knowledge of the mind and heart of God.

J.Baldwin Brown, The Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 341,

From the text we learn three things: (1) there was to be a seed, a natural seed, including a spiritual seed, and this again including an individual seed. (2) The seed of Abraham is to have a relation to all the families of the earth. As Abraham was not a head of all mankind, like Adam or Noah, it was necessary to emphasize the universality of the blessing. (3) The benefit conveyed by the seed is here characterised by the word blessed. Blessing is like mercy in this: that it sums up in one word the whole salvation of which the Bible is the gospel. It involves redemption and regeneration, both of which are necessary to salvation.

J. G. Murphy, The Book of Daniel, p. 12. Reference: Genesis 12:3 . Expositor, 2nd Series, vol. viii., p. 200.

Verses 4-5

Genesis 12:4-5

(with Acts 16:10 )

I. Taken together, these texts may be paraphrased geographically, by saying that they contain a direction to the Law and the Gospel to move westwards, like the sun. The forefather of the Jews was ordered to quit his home for a land that looked westwards; the Apostle of the Gentiles was ordered to commence travelling westwards, turning his back on the east. One text limited the earlier dispensation to a single branch of the Semitic race; the other threw open the later dispensation to all the families of the earth. As we cast our eyes upwards along the stream of time to the call of Abraham, we are met on all sides by decisive tokens of a worldwide purpose. Abraham was called 430 years before the law was given; but could any place have been selected more felicitously for its programme than the country to which Abraham moved? Palestine was, by desert, river, and mountain, as closed to the east as it lay open by sea to the west; and thus was as fitted for a nation that was to be kept separate for ages in utter exclusiveness and isolation, as it was also ready to become the starting-point at another time of a system with cosmopolitan aims, and designed especially to spread in the west. That system had hardly been inaugurated before it commenced moving of itself, slowly and majestically, to a destination traced for it by no human hand.

II. The inspired writers themselves never dreamt of the Gospel turning out, as it has done, an essential maritime power. Instead of the Gospel diverging eastwards to convert the east, the east poured westwards in countless hosts after the Gospel. Nation after nation burst over Europe with the vehemence of a cyclone, and shattered in pieces the whole fabric of the Roman empire. All the new comers became followers of Christ. The most striking part of the Gospel programme is yet to come namely, the conversion of the Jews. The Jews have been compelled to wait as long for their conversion as the Gentiles did for their call; yet both events were foretold with the 6ame clearness at the beginning of each dispensation. The conversion of the Jews, whenever it occurs, will be like the transformation scene of the old English play, a scene of overpowering brilliancy, the beginning of the end.

E. S. Ffoulkes, Oxford and Cambridge Undergraduates' Journal, Oct. 26th, 1876. Reference: Genesis 12:4 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 89.

Verse 6

Genesis 12:6

This is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible. It is so simple and yet so sure. It tells us that the end is certain if the beginning is right.

I. The text is written from heaven's side of the question. It is the history put in short of all the saints who ever went to glory. They took a long journey, and at last they got safely home. The rest how it was, why it was, all that makes up the interval is the grace of God.

II. There were difficulties by the way: why are we not told of them? Because from the mountain top the way by which we have travelled looks level and easy. Things that were great at the time seem so small from that height that we do not care to see them.

III. What is it really to set out? It is to recognise and answer God's call. The great secret of life is to have a strong aim. All through his life Abraham had one single object in view. It was Canaan. The record of each antediluvian patriarch was, "He lived so many years, and he died." That is one side of the picture, but there is another: "They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came."

J. Vaughan, Sermons, Eleventh Series, p. 221. Reference: Genesis 12:5 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 843.

Verse 10

Genesis 12:10

Went down from one civilisation to another, went down from one society to another, went down from one religion to another. Man is a traveller not in one sense, but in all senses; and he is always travelling. We have to go out into the world; the question is, How are we going?

I. A widened world always tries a man's first faith and first ways of doing things; he gets the true perspective as he moves through widening space. Abraham went down from Ur of the Chaldees with a very narrow policy, and when he came into great Egypt he encountered the new civilisation with a lie. When a young man comes from comparative quietness and leisure to the bustle and strife of a great city, he must expect to have his faith rudely and constantly attacked. Christianity has to fight for every inch of its progress.

II. The great thing to be kept in mind is, that we have to enter into a hundred new worlds. We do not enter into the world once for all: within the world there are a thousand other worlds. We need guidance and preparation in view of the new worlds and Egypts into which we have to go. There has been only one man in this world who could safely go into every circle and society which this world contains. Jesus Christ was His name. With the spirit of Christ you can go anywhere and everywhere, and you can give all languages a new accent and a new meaning, and lift up all the relations of life into a nobler significance.

Parker, The Fountain, June 9th, 1881.

I. Egypt was to Abraham, to the Jewish people, to the whole course of the Old Testament, what the world with all its interests and pursuits and enjoyments is to us. It was the parent of civilisation, of learning, of royal power, of vast armies. From first to last this marvellous country, with all its manifold interests, is regarded as the home and refuge of the chosen race. By the stress laid on Egypt the Bible tells us that we may lawfully use the world and its enjoyments, that the world is acknowledged by true religion, as well as by our own natural instincts, to be a beautiful, a glorious, and, in this respect, a good and useful world. What was permitted as an innocent refreshment to Abraham, what was enjoined as a sacred duty on Moses and Apollos, what was consecrated by the presence of Christ our Saviour, we too may enjoy and admire and use. Power and learning and civilisation and art may all minister now, as they did then, to the advancement of the welfare of man and the glory of God.

II. The meeting of Abraham and Pharaoh, the contact of Egypt with the Bible, remind us forcibly that there is something better and higher even than the most glorious or the most luxurious or the most powerful and interesting sights and scenes of the world. The character and name of Abraham, as compared with that of the mighty country and the mighty people in the midst of which we thus for an instant find him, exemplify, in the simplest yet strongest colours, the grand truth that 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' To be in the world, but not of it; to use it without abusing it, this is the duty which we find it so hard to follow; but it is the very duty which Abraham first, and our Lord afterwards, have set before us.

A P. Stanley, Sermons in the East, p. 1.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Genesis 12". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/genesis-12.html.
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