GOD’S CALL AND PROMISE TO ABRAHAM
The first three verses give us the threefold promise of God to Abraham (Abram), and actually this is the hub of the Bible. The rest of Scripture is an unfolding of this threefold promise.
The first of the threefold promise is the land. God says, “I am going to show you a land, and I am going to give it to you.”
The second part of the promise is the nation—”I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great.” He also promises him, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.”
The third part of the promise is that He would make him a blessing: “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” This is God’s threefold promise.
Genesis 12:1-3 KJV
 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.
- As in the days of Noah, God chooses to break the cycle of rebellion by working through an individual: Abram. He is to leave the post-Babel population centers and journey to a new land of promise.
- As with Noah following the flood (Genesis 9:8–17), Abram’s commission emphasizes God’s ongoing plan to re-create people as a way of preserving a faithful “seed” that will undo the work of Satan (3:15). Also as with Noah, God accomplishes this purpose by entering into a covenant, or contract, with an individual of outstanding faithfulness, someone who will pass the promise through the line of his descendants.
- God’s covenant with Abram is patterned after ancient suzerain-vassal treaties. In these arrangements, a great king declared sovereignty over a weaker subject king and demanded absolute loyalty in exchange for military protection and overall security. The terms of these agreements could be extended across generations, provided that the vassal king’s heirs agreed to fulfill the conditions of obedience. Covenants of this kind were typical of ancient empires such as Egypt and Assyria, which ruled vast regions through local client kings.
- In the present case, the supreme sovereign, God, offers a local tribal leader, Abram, blessings in exchange for obedience to God’s unilateral terms. These terms in the verse before us are that Abram must leave everything—including his country, his kindred (ethnic/tribal group), and even some of his more immediate relatives (his father’s house)—and undertake a journey to an unspecified location. God’s terms suggest that this is a permanent migration; there is no indication that Abram will ever return to his homeland.
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.
- God continues by stating the benefits of the covenant. First, the promise that God will produce through Abram a great nation means that Abram will have many descendants. Moreover, they will form a distinct and influential people group (see also Genesis 15:5; 17:2–4). This aspect of God’s promise is notable in that Abram’s wife, Sarai, has been unable to conceive children to this point in time (11:30). This problem will become a driving theme in Abram’s story (15:1–8; 16:1–6; 17:15–18; 18:9–15).
- The benefits of the covenant require supernatural intervention, a reality that will further demonstrate God’s power to fulfill His plans and purposes. The term great nation further implies what will be stated explicitly later: Abram is leaving his current homeland to occupy a new territory, Canaan, which will belong to his descendants (Genesis 12:7; 13:14–17; 15:7; 17:8).
- The remaining benefits to Abram emerge from the first. I will bless thee stresses the divine protection Abram will enjoy as he travels and as his influence expands. Further, even though he has no children as of yet, the size of Abram’s clan will expand his reputation and renown (thy name great) dramatically.
- Abram and his descendants will also bless others, not only in the political and economic sense but also, and more particularly, through their witness to the faithfulness of the one true God.
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
- More benefits that will proceed from God’s covenant are revealed. The first implies that God will relate to other nations as those nations choose to relate to the nation that is to come from Abram. Those who ally themselves with God’s people will be rewarded for doing so, but those who stand in opposition will be fighting against God. Such language is again typical of suzerain treaties, where the great king pledges to send aid and military support to defend the vassal king’s homeland.
- Another benefit reflects God’s ultimate purpose: all people groups will ultimately be blessed somehow. What is unknown to Abram is known to us: that blessing is Christ (see Acts 3:25, 26; Galatians 3:8). Abram’s descendants will thus serve to fulfill God’s original plan to create a world that Satan cannot destroy (Genesis 3:15; 6:18; 9:1, 9).
In verse 1 we read: “Now the LORD had said unto Abram.”
We know from other Scriptures that God had called Abram when he lived in Ur of the Chaldees: “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. Then came he out of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell” (Acts 7:2–4).
Abraham obeyed God by leaving his home, his business, and the high civilization of Ur, “not knowing whither he went.”
Yet it was not complete obedience because we read that he took with him some of his family. He took with him his father, Terah, and God had told Abraham not to take him.
Why was it that God wanted to get him out of the land and away from his relatives?
We learn the answer in the Book of Joshua. “. . . Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor; and they served other gods” (Josh. 24:2). They served other gods—Abraham was an idolator.
The world was pretty far gone at that time. God had to move like this if He was going to save humanity. The other alternative for Him was to blot them all out and start over again.
Genesis 12:4-9 KJV
 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
 And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth–el, and pitched his tent, having Beth–el on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
 And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.
So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
- Apparently without hesitation, Abram sets out for Canaan (Genesis 12:5). This trip is the start of a nomadic existence, with Abram moving his family members, servants, and livestock stock from place to place while receiving no specific indication from God that the land through which he travels will belong to him in his own lifetime.
- The author of Hebrews refers to Abraham (Abram’s later name) as a model of faithfulness because he departed without knowing where he was going and lived as an alien in a land not his own (Hebrews 11:8–10).
And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
- Abram took Sarai, his wife, and that was all right, of course.
- “And Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran.” The time Abram had spent in Haran was a period of just marking time and of delaying the blessing of God.
- God never appeared to him again until he had moved into the land of Palestine, until he had separated at least from his closer relatives and brought only Lot with him.
- “And into the land of Canaan they came”—now verse 6:
And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
- Here is the record of the fact that the Canaanites were the descendants of Ham’s son Canaan. I want to add something very important right at this point. A great many people think that Abram left a terrible place in Ur of the Chaldees and came to a land of corn and wine, a land of milk and honey, where everything was lovely. They think that Abram really bettered his lot by coming to this land. Don’t you believe it. That is not what the Bible says. And through archaeology we know that Ur of the Chaldees had a very high civilization during this time. In fact, Abram and Sarai might well have had a bathtub in their home! Ur was a great and prosperous city.
- Abram left all of that and came into the land of Canaan, “and the Canaanite was then in the land.” The Canaanite was not civilized; he was a barbarian and a heathen, if there ever was one. Abram’s purpose in coming to Canaan was certainly not to better his lot. He came in obedience to God’s command.
- Now he has obeyed, and notice what happens—
And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
- Abram builds an altar unto the Lord when He appears to him this second time. While he was in Haran, the place of delay, God had not appeared to him.
- You see, one of the reasons that you and I are not always blessed in the reading of the Bible is because the Bible condemns—we are not living up to the light which God has already given to us. If we would obey God, then more blessing would come.
- We see in Abram’s experience that God did not appear again to him until after he had moved out and had begun to obey God on the light that he had. Now God appears to him again. Then Abram builds an altar, and we will see that he is a real altar-builder.
And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth–el, and pitched his tent, having Beth–el on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
- Abram does two things when he gets into the land. He pitches his tent—that is like buying a home in a new subdivision and moving in. He “pitched his tent”—that’s where he lived. Then “he builded an altar.” That was his testimony to God, and everywhere Abram went, he left a testimony to God.
- My friend, what kind of a testimony do you have?
- To have a testimony, you don’t need to leave tracts in front of your house and you don’t have to have a “Jesus Saves” bumper sticker on your car (then drive like a maniac down the freeway, as some folks do). That is no testimony at all.
- May I say to you that Abram quietly worshiped God, and the Canaanites soon learned that he was a man who worshiped the Lord God.
And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.
- South is the right direction to go for warmer weather; so this man is moving south. He has itchy feet. He’s a nomad.
- Now we come to the blot in his life, actually the second one.
ABRAHAM’S LAPSE OF FAITH
Abram was in the land, and this was the place of blessing. God never told him to leave. But a famine was in the land, and I think one morning Abram pushed back the flap of his tent, looked out, and said, “Sarai, it looks like everybody’s going to Egypt. There’s a famine, you know, and it’s getting worse. Maybe we ought to think about going down.” And I suppose Sarai said, “Anything you want to do, Abram. I’m your wife and I’ll go with you.” After a few days had gone by and Abram had talked to some of these travelers (probably coming from north of where he was living and bringing the news that the famine was getting worse and was moving south) I imagine that he said to Sarai one evening, “I think we had better pack up and go to Egypt.” So Abram and Sarai start down to Egypt.
Notice that God had not told him to do that. When God had appeared to him the last time, He had said, “This is it, Abram, this is the land I am going to give you. You will be a blessing, and I am going to bless you here.” But, you see, Abram didn’t believe God. He went down into the land of Egypt. In the Bible, Egypt is a picture of the world. You will find that all the way through. I think it is still a picture of the world. But Abram went down to Egypt.
Genesis 12:10-20 KJV
 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:
 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.
 The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.
 And 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 that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?
 Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.
 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.
And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
- It’s amazing how the world draws Christians today. So many of them rationalize. They’ll say, “You know, brother Joyce, we’re not able to come to church on Sunday night because we have to get up and go to work Monday morning.” Well, almost everybody has to do that. And it’s amazing that those same people can go to a banquet on a week night and sit through a long-winded program with lots of music and lots of talk and not worry about getting up for work the next morning. It’s amazing how the world draws Christians today and how they can rationalize.
- I think that if you had met Abram going down to Egypt and had said, “Wait a minute, Abram, you’re going the wrong direction—you should be staying in the land,” that Abram could have given you a very good reason. He might have said, “Look, my sheep are getting pretty thin and there’s not any pasture for them. Since there’s plenty of grazing land for them down in Egypt, we’re going down there.” And that’s where they went.
- However, immediately there is a problem, and it concerns Sarai because she is a beautiful woman.
And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:
- As you probably know, over along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, ancient scrolls were found in the caves there, and they are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. At first the unbelieving scholars thought that they had found something that would disprove the Bible. But have you noticed how silent the higher critics have become? They just don’t seem to have found anything that contradicts the Bible.
- Among the scrolls was a set which couldn’t be unrolled because they were so fragile—they had been wrapped so long that they would just shatter and come to pieces.
- One name could be seen, the name Lamech, so they were called part of the book of Lamech and said to be one of the apocryphal books of the Bible.
- Boy, how incorrect that was!
- The nation Israel bought them, and in the museum the experts began to moisten and soften them until they were unrolled. The scholars found that they contained Genesis 12, 13, 14, and 15, not in the Bible text but rather an interpretation of it.
- In the part that deals with chapter 12, it tells about the beauty of Sarai, actually describing her features and telling how beautiful she was. It confirms what we read of her in the Word of God.
Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
- The same scroll gives a description of Abram’s exploration after God told him to “walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it” (Gen. 13:17).
- The scroll gives a first person account by Abram of his journey. It confirms what the Bible has said about the land’s beauty and fertility.
- The eyewitness (whether or not it was really Abram, we do not know) certainly confirmed the Bible record. A great many people who visit that land today can’t understand how it could be called a land of milk and honey. Well, in the Book of Deuteronomy we learn what caused the desolation that is seen there today. But it was a glorious land in Abram’s day.
- However, there were periods of famine, and Abram left the land and went down to Egypt during such a time.
- As Abram neared Egypt, he recognized that he would get into difficulty because of the beauty of his wife. So he said to Sarai,
Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
- “Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister.” That was half a lie, as we shall see. Half a lie is sometimes worse than a whole lie, and it certainly was intended to deceive.
- Abram’s fears were well founded because Pharaoh did take Sarai.
- We know from the Book of Esther that in those days there was a period of preparation for a woman to become a wife of a ruler.
- And during that period of preparation, God “plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues,” and let him know that he was not to take Sarai as his wife.
And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.
- The Egyptians had taken notice of Sarai and her beauty was such that it made its way to Pharaoh
The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
- And before Abram knew it, Sarai was sitting in Pharaoh’s house
And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.
- And because they thought Abram was just Sarai’s brother, they ensured he was treated well because of her.
Did you notice the irony?
Abram tells Sarai to lie so that he would be treated well because of her. He meant that he would be able to live and escape with her.
Yet in the end, Scripture records the same phrase in describing how Abram collects this wealth from the sale of his sister.
And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife.
- God, you see, was overruling in the lives of Abram and Sarai, but God did not appear to him while he was in the land of Egypt. There are seven categories of material that Abram receives, suggesting that the Lord was at work in blessing Abram despite his sin.
- And yet we’ll learn later that one of the female servants Abram receives from Pharaoh was a woman called Hagar. Abram’s sin in Egypt sows the seed of his own future turmoil.
- The Jewish Rabbi Rashi declared that the plague was a skin disease that made sexual contact impossible, thus protecting Sarai.
- And yet the disease didn’t affect Sarai, thus leading Pharaoh to discern that Sarai was the key
And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?
- The Pharaoh seems to be a victim here in light of the fact that he knew nothing of the deception. He paid for his bride, But God has made promises to Abram that depend on Sarai remaining Abram’s wife.
- This led to the conversation with Abram. The Pharaoh chastises Abram for lying and causing this trouble.
- Of course the Pharaoh doesn’t say that had Abram told the truth, they would have abducted his wife and killed him. Still, that doesn’t justify Abram’s lie.
Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.
- And so God acts to preserve His promise. Since God has said that those who are against Abram would be cursed, here we see that statement proving true. God working to defend Abram from his enemies.
- And we also notice God acts to protect Sarai as she obediently obeys and respects her husband even as he makes serious mistakes.
- He stepped into the ungodly world and had to play by their rules. Bringing one compromise after another.
And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.
- And yet even though Abram was unfaithful, God remains faithful to His promises. Clearly the covenant is working and is in force.
- Clearly the covenant is unconditional, without dependence on Abram’s behavior
I hope that you have really enjoyed this post,
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