Chapter 12

Submitted by admin on Wed, 2019-12-11 15:39.

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YHWH directed Abram to leave the country where he had settled after leaving the city of Ur and the relatives of his father’s family who were residing in that country and to go to the land he would be shown. His willingness to respond would be richly rewarded. YHWH is quoted as saying, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great. And you will be a blessing. And I will bless those blessing you and curse the one cursing you. And by you all the families of the earth will bless themselves.” (12:1-3)

Abram did become a great nation, for he came to have many descendants. He was blessed with much wealth and a long life. Most importantly, he came to be known as YHWH’s “friend.” (Isaiah 41:8) The greatness of his name likely relates to his outstanding reputation as a man with exemplary faith in and devotion to YHWH. To this day, millions of people acknowledge the greatness of the name of Abram (Abraham). Historically, individuals and peoples who aligned themselves with descendants of Abram were blessed, but those who demonstrated themselves to be bitter enemies suffered serious consequences. (Joshua 2:9-13; 6:22, 23, 25; 11:16-20; Ruth 1:16, 17; 4:13-22; Amos 1:3-15; Matthew 1:5) Targum Jonathan includes the example of one who would attempt to curse the descendants of Abraham. “Bileam [Balaam], who will curse them, I will curse, and they will slay him.” Abram would prove to be a source of blessing for other peoples, for through his line of descent the sacred writings that reveal the identity of YHWH, the only true God, and his will and purposes were preserved. Moreover, the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, came through the line of Abram. In Abram, through his descendant Jesus Christ, all the families living on earth can obtain the greatest blessing possible. When Jesus Christ surrendered his life for the human family, including future generations, people everywhere were provided with the basis for having their sins forgiven and coming to enjoy an approved relationship with God as his beloved children. Moreover, as Paul wrote (Galatians 3:7), the real children of Abraham are such “out of faith” or on the basis of their faith. Therefore, their being blessed “in” Abraham could also mean that people of the nations would share in the blessing by reason of belonging to Abraham. He is their spiritual forefather or ancestor. As his spiritual children, they share in his blessing. (12:2, 3)

The Genesis account does not disclose how YHWH spoke to Abram. It could have been in a dream, a vision, or through his representative angel. Abram, though, understood God to have been the source of the message that was revealed to him, and he responded in faith. It would not have been easy for Abram and his wife to leave family behind and to head for a foreign land about which they knew nothing. At the age of 75, he, with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the “souls” or servants he had acquired, left Haran in upper Mesopotamia for Canaan. They also took with them all their possessions, which would have included domestic animals. Upon arriving in Canaan, they traveled through the land in which the Canaanites were residing until they reached Shechem by a well-known landmark — the tree of Moreh (the “lofty oak” [LXX]). Shechem has been linked to Tell Balata about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Jerusalem and at the east end of the Nablus Valley. (12:4-6)

At Shechem, YHWH (probably the angel of YHWH) appeared to Abram and declared that he would be giving the land to Abram’s “seed” or descendants. In view of the appearance (the nature of which is not revealed), Abram built an altar there to YHWH. Thereafter Abram and all those with him traveled southward, reaching an elevated site to the east of Bethel (identified with Beitin situated about 11 miles [c. 7.5 kilometers] north of Jerusalem and at an elevation of approximately 3,000 feet [over 900 meters] above sea level. There, between Bethel on the west and Ai on the east, Abram set up his tent, built an altar to YHWH, and “called on the name of YHWH.” Apparently he presented an offering on the altar and prayed. The area in the vicinity of Bethel was not where Abram chose to settle. With his wife, his nephew Lot, his servants, and domestic animals, Abram headed southward, arriving in the Negeb, the semi-arid region to the south of the mountainous territory in the land that centuries later came to be assigned to the tribe of Judah. (12:7-9)

At an unspecified time, the people in the land of Canaan experienced a severe famine, and Abram decided to go to Egypt. Before entering Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai that, because she would be desired as a wife on account of her beauty, he feared that he would be killed, whereas she would be preserved alive. Therefore, he entreated her to identify herself as his sister so that he would be spared from death. (12:10-13)

Evidence exists that Abram’s fear was justified. Unas, an ancient Pharaoh, had the following expression attributed to him on an inscription in his pyramid: “Unas is the lord of seed, he who takes the women from their husbands, wherever Unas wants, according to the desire of his heart.” (Unas Pyramid Texts, Utterance 317) An extrabiblical manuscript (The Genesis Apocryphon [1QapGen], thought to date from the late first century BCE or the early first century CE) relates that Abram acted out of fear because of a dream he had. In his dream, he saw a cedar tree and a palm tree. When someone tried to cut down and uproot the cedar, the palm tree spoke up, requesting that the cedar not be cut down, and the plea of the palm tree saved the cedar. Abram interpreted this dream to mean that the Egyptians would seek to kill him but would spare his wife Sarai. Therefore, he asked Sarai to tell them that he was her brother and thereby protect him from being killed.

The account in The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) continues: While in Egypt, Sarai was very careful that the Egyptians would not see her. After five years had passed, three Egyptian princes, including Harkenosh, came to see Abram to inquire about his affairs and about his wife, and they presented him with numerous gifts. At that time, the princes saw Sarai and, upon returning to Pharaoh, described her exceptional beauty and added that no virgins or brides entering the bridal chamber were more beautiful than she. Her beauty was superior to that of all other women. In addition to beauty, she possessed much wisdom. The glowing report about Sarai prompted Pharaoh to send for her and take her away from Abram. Impressed by her beauty, Pharaoh took her as his wife and planned to kill Abram. Sarai intervened, telling him that Abram was her brother and thereby saved him from death.

According to the Genesis account, the Egyptians, including princes of Pharaoh, who saw Sarai did notice that she was very beautiful. The princes praised her to Pharaoh, leading to his taking her into his house to be his wife. As he believed Abram to be Sarai’s brother, Pharaoh treated Abram well on her account. Therefore, Abram came to have sheep, cattle, male and female donkeys, camels, and menservants and maidservants. The mention of camels has often been referred to as an anachronism, but an ancient drawing, a pottery head, and an ointment pot that were found in Egypt suggest that camels appear to have been known in that land from a time before Abram arrived. (12:14-16)

The “great plagues” that affected Pharaoh and his house or the entire royal establishment may have included the inability to conceive or to bring babies to full term. (12:17; compare 20:18) Commenting on the plague that came upon Pharaoh and subsequent developments, Josephus (Antiquities, I, viii, 1) wrote: “God put a stop to his unjust inclinations [to enjoy Sarai] by sending upon him a distemper, and a sedition against his government. And when he inquired of the priests how he might be freed from these calamities, they told him that this his miserable condition was derived from the wrath of God on account of his inclination to abuse the stranger’s wife. He then out of fear asked Sarai who she was …” The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) refers to the cause of the affliction that affected Pharaoh and his household to have been a God-sent pestilential spirit that attacked him and every member of his household. Pharaoh was unable to approach Sarai and had no sexual relations with her during the two years she remained with him. At the end of the two years the distress he and his household experienced intensified. Pharaoh then summoned the sages of Egypt, all the magicians, and all the physicians, desiring that they heal him and the members of his household. They could do nothing, for the pestilential spirit attacked all of them, and they fled. Thereafter Harkenosh, one of Pharaoh’s princes, came to Abram, requesting that he pray for the monarch and lay his hands on him so that he might recover from the affliction. It was on account of Pharaoh’s dream that Harkenosh had been sent to Abram. Lot spoke up, “My uncle Abram cannot pray for the king while his wife Sarai remains with him. So now go and tell the king that he should send [Sarai] … back to her husband. Then he will pray for him, and he will recover.”

Upon coming to know the actual relationship of Abram and Sarai, Pharaoh reproved Abram, asking him why he did not tell him that she was his wife and say that she was his sister. Sarai was Abram’s half sister (or, according to ancient Jewish sources, his niece), the daughter of his father Terah but not the daughter of his mother. (20:12; see the Note section.) Nevertheless, when concealing their relationship as a married couple out of fear, Abram implied that she was available for marriage. Therefore, Pharaoh had taken her to be his wife. Upon coming to know the full truth, he returned Sarai to Abram and instructed him to leave Egypt. Additionally, he gave orders to men in his service to conduct Abram, his wife, and everything he owned out of Egypt, apparently to provide them with safe passage. (12:18-20)

The Genesis account does not censure Abram for concealing that he and Sarai were married but simply reports what he did. Abram was childless at the time, and God’s promise to make him into a great nation could not be fulfilled until he had a son. Faith in that promise, however, was not then strong enough to overcome fear for his life and to trust in God to protect him and Sarai. Nevertheless, God did not abandon Abram, but came to his aid so that Sarai was not violated and that his purpose respecting Abram would be fulfilled. From what happened to Abram and Sarai, God-fearing persons can take comfort. Through God’s providential care for them, they may mercifully be shielded from the consequences of past regrettable actions on account of having yielded to fear instead of relying fully on God.


The Hebrew word for “father” can designate a grandfather or even an earlier ancestor. Targum Jonathan identifies Iscah (Genesis 11:29) as Sarai. This identification is only possible in the event that Terah was the grandfather of Sarai but the father of Abram. If Terah was her grandfather, she would have been Abram’s niece. This is what Josephus (Antiquities, I, vi, 5) understood the relationship between Abram and Sarai to have been, for he wrote that Abram and his brother Nahor “married their nieces.”