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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 12

 

 


Verses 1-20

THE CALL OF ABRAM

The Lord had before told Abram to leave his country, his kindred and his father's house, and go to a land He would show him. This call took place while he was still in Ur of the Chaldees (Acts 7:2-4). God declared that He would make of Abram a great nation, that he would be a blessing (v.2). More than this, God would bless those who blessed Abram and curse those who cursed him. Further still, in Abram all the families of the earth would be blessed (v.3). This is above all a prophecy concerning Christ, the Seed of Abram, through whom blessing is to come to the entire world.

In Isaiah 51:2 God speaking of Abraham says, "I called him alone." He had not called Terah nor Lot, yet we have read that "Terah took Abram ... and Lot" (ch.11:31). It appears evident that Abram told his father that God had called him, and his father, rather than have his son leave him, decided to go also. Abram too allowed his father to take the lead, which was not faith on Abram's part. How easily we too may be led by nature to go only halfway in the path of obedience to God!

Abram remembered that God had spoken to him before he came to Haran, and there was no need of God's speaking to him again until he had obeyed his first instructions. Yet only when God had removed his father by death was Abram prepared to go further than Haran, cross the Euphrates River and journey to Canaan. He departed "as the Lord had spoken to him." Lot "went with him," evidently moved by some attachment to his uncle, not by personal energy of faith. Abram's age at this time was 75 years. With his wife Sarai, Lot, the servants he had acquired, and his possessions, Abram began the trip. This time, when they "set out for the land of Canaan," rather than going part way, "they came to the land of Canaan." With the man of faith leading the intended object was attained.

Canaan is a picture of the heavenly inheritance to which all Christians are called now, as in Ephesians 2:6 we are told that God "has raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." This is not future, but present. The proper position of the believer is heavenly, not earthly, and he is called to enter into the enjoyment of heavenly things now, just as Abram was called to sojourn in the land of his inheritance.

Abram's first milestone in the land was Shechem and "the oaks of Moreh," The meaning of Shechem is "shoulder" and Moreh "teacher." Shoulder speaks of bearing responsibility. This is an initial step of real value for the child of God. Too many of us would rather avoid responsibility, but if we willingly accept the place of bearing a responsible witness for the Lord Jesus, we shall find good results in being well taught, as Moreh - "teacher" implies. We shall not be properly taught if we do not willingly accept the responsibility teaching brings with it.

Also we are told "the Canaanites were then in the land." Canaanite means "trafficker," reminding us that there are those professing Christianity who merely use it as merchandise, and this becomes a real trial of faith to those who desire to walk with God. But in spite of the Canaanites, Abram would both accept proper responsibility and would learn from God. Let us also not use the Canaanites as an excuse for failing to apply ourselves to obeying fully the word of God and learning that word in a living, vital way.

ABRAM'S FIRST ALTAR

At this time the Lord appeared again to Abram, the first time of so doing since His first calling him. When we have proven ourselves willing to take responsibility for a walk with God and to learn His word, then God will certainly encourage us with the blessing of His presence. He tells Abram that He will give that land to his descendants. Then Abram builds his first altar. The altar characterizes the positive side of Abram's history all through. This speaks of his relationship to God, for the altar is typical of Christ, whose sacrifice establishes the believer in righteousness before the eyes of God. Verse 8 of his tent, which indicates his relationship to the world, his not settling down, but passing as a pilgrim through a strange land. This may be a negative thing, but it accompanies the positive fact of his relationship to God in the altar. This first altar is the altar of submission and learning, a most important beginning of a path with God.

Abram moves on, going westward, and pitches his tent with Bethel to the west of him and Ai to the east. Ai means "ruins." The man of faith realizes that what he has left behind is of no real value, just as Paul writes in Philippians 3:7-8 : "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." Paul had before greatly prided himself on his outstanding advantages and accomplishments, but when the glory of the Lord Jesus burst on his vision, those things became totally worthless to him.

HIS SECOND ALTAR

Therefore, Abram had his back toward Ai and his face toward Bethel, which means "the house of God." He had left his father's house, to find infinitely greater value in God's house. The most important feature of the house of God is that God dwells there, yet God's house involves all of God's interests. Today the typical meaning of this for us is most significant, as is expressed in 1 Timothy 3:15, "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." God's interests in the present dispensation of grace are centered in the church of God, which includes every redeemed child of God worldwide This therefore pictures the leaving behind of selfish aspirations and advantages, to find true joy and blessing in the things of God, and in unselfish love and consideration toward every member of the body of Christ, the church. Here Abram builds his second altar, which we may well designate as the altar of decision. All true decision for God is based upon the value of the person of Christ (the altar itself) and His great work of atonement, His sacrifice.

DECLINE AND FALTERING FAITH

Abram continues journey southward. The south speaks of favorable, pleasant circumstances (cf.Acts 27:13). Though we may have made a firm decision to leave our former life behind and choose God's interests, yet there are still dangers to which we may be exposed. Pleasant, easy circumstances change, and we should realize that it is God who changes them, and therefore should seek the face of God as to every move we make. If we have been looking too much at circumstances, then when they change for the worse, as in Abram's case of a famine in the land (v.10), we are in danger of seeking means of adjusting ourselves according to circumstances instead of more earnestly seeking the guidance of God.

Could God have sustained Abram in the land in spite of the famine? Certainly He could! But Abram forgot to consider this: he went down into Egypt, which was outside the land of promise. It is a type of the world in a little different form than Mesopotamia, where he had come from. Egypt's idolatry may not have been so blatant as that of Ur of the Chaldees, but Egypt symbolizes the world in its independence of God. Its name means "double straits" because of its dependence on the river Nile to water the land on both sides. Its character is portrayed in Ezekiel 29:3, where she is quoted as saying "My river is my own; I have made it for myself.". Since the source of the river is far removed, she does not give God credit for having originated it.

DECEPTION

As they are about to enter Egypt, Abram, because of Sarai's attractiveness, asks her to say that she is Abram's sister rather than his wife (vs.11-13). How sadly we too may be guilty of deception because we are in the wrong place! Sarai speaks of the covenant of grace (Galatians 4:22-28), and she was the property of Abram, the man of faith. Grace cannot belong to the ungodly world, though they may admire grace as a true and beautiful principle. But when believers get into wrong associations, they will always in some way deny their proper relationship with God, which is based entirely upon His grace in Christ Jesus. How much more safe and happy is the path of simple, unswerving faith!

Abram too was fearful of that which was not actually a danger all. He thought if he told the truth that he might be killed (v.12). Whatever might happen, we ought never to compromise the truth in any way, but one failure, however small it seems, is likely to lead to another that will be more serious.

The matter does not end with their falsifying their relationship. When Pharaoh, king of Egypt, learned of Sarai's beauty and understands that she is an unmarried woman, he has her taken into his own house (v.15). Also he enriched Abram for Sarai's sake, giving him sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels and servants (v.16). A believer who mingles with the world and compromises his testimony for Christ in this way may often prosper materially; but ought not this to have greatly troubled Abram's conscience? Was he not also deeply disturbed by having his wife welcomed into the house of another man? Here were complications he had evidently not anticipated, and he found himself helpless to extricate himself.

But the Lord graciously intervened by sending great plagues on Pharaoh and his household (v.17). We are not told whether Pharaoh enquired as to why the plagues came, but he did find out that Sarai was Abram's wife. Whether or not we are willing to confess the truth, God will certainly bring it out. This is a great mercy for the child of God.

Then Abram has to face Pharaoh about this matter (vs.18-19), but he has nothing to say when Pharaoh charges him with treating Pharaoh in an unjust, unfair way. This is another result of his failure to walk in faith: he deals unfairly with an unbeliever. Therefore God uses the unbeliever to reprove him. How wonderfully wise is our God and Father. Rather than reproving Abram Himself, He left this in the hands of the unbeliever whom Abram had wronged. This kind of experience would be humiliating for any believer. He also finds that his fears were groundless: Pharaoh had a proper respect for the marriage bond, as many unsaved people do today. This is a case of an unbeliever acting more honorably than a believer. There are many, though they do not accept Christianity, who do show respect for those who have genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Pharaoh showed this respect for Abram in spite of his having to reprove him.

On the other hand, while Pharaoh gives Sarai back to Abram, he does not expect Abram to remain there. He tells him to "take her and go" (v.19), "and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had" (v.20). By this time also, Abram would surely realize that Egypt was not the place for him. God had brought him to this point of realization, for it is only His working that brings about restoration.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 12:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/genesis-12.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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