{2}         God’s covenant with Abram (Gen 12)


Part H. Abram’s Migration to Canaan (12:1—16:16)

H1.   Abram’s obedience (12:1–9)

·         The promise was in 3 elements: land, seed, and blessing. God’s promise was a covenant to be authenticated by the ritual of animal sacrifice (ch.15) and by the sign of circumcision (ch.17). There are 4 covenant passages (Gen 12:1–3; ch.15; ch.17; 22:16–18).

H2.   Abram and Sarai in Egypt (12:10–20)

·         Abram and Sarai went to Egypt because of a famine. Abram told a half lie about his relationship with Sarai (3 similar lies in ch.12,20,26). They were later expelled without being punished.

·         Chiastic arrangement (chiasmus) of the story of Abraham. Please observe the parallelism.


A 11:27–32 Genealogy of Terah

            B 12:1–9 Call and first test of Abram (land)

                        C 12:10—13:1 Abduction of Sarai (Egypt)

                                    D 13:2—14:24 Abram and Lot

                                                E 15:1–21 Covenant ceremony

                                                            F 16:1–16 Flight of Hagar and birth of Ishmael

                                                E’ 17:1–27 Covenant sign

                                    D’ 18:1—19:38 Abraham and Lot

                        C’ 20:1–18 Abduction of Sarah (Gerar)

                                                            F’ 21:1–21 Birth of Isaac and expulsion of Hagar/Ishmael

                                                                        G’ 21:22–34 Abraham-Abimelech covenant

            B’ 22:1–19 Second “test” of Abraham (seed)

A’ 22:20–24:67 Genealogy of Nahor



11:27   Abram: His name means “exalted father”; later God changed his name to Abraham at the age of 99 (name meaning “father of a multitude” or “father of many nations”, Gen 17:5).

Nahor: Both Isaac and Jacob had their wives from Nahor’s family.

Haran: probably Terah’s eldest son. He was born when Terah was 70 years old; he died in Ur.

11:28   Ur of the Chaldeans: name meaning “light” or “fire”, perhaps originated from the moon worship.

11:29   Sarai: Some believe that she was the same as Iscah, the daughter of Abram’s elder brother Haran. This was hinted later when Abraham said (Gen 20:12) that Sarai was the daughter (meaning descendant) of his father (Terah) but not the daughter of his mother. She was 10 years younger than Abraham. Later God changed her name to Sarah. [Both Sarai and Sarah mean “princess”.]

Marriages to close relatives happened because they did not want to marry pagan women around them.

11:31   to go into the land of Canaan: Canaan was Terah’s final destination. Yet, when they reached Haran, they settled down, possibly because the old man was too old to proceed. The route followed the Fertile Crescent: Ur northwest to Haran, then Haran southwest to Palestine.

12:1     Leave your country: Abram was commanded to leave behind his 3 spheres of influence (country or homeland, people, household). Abram was to separate from his old life and to follow God’s direction to the land which He promised.

·         The promise in following verses can be divided into 7 parts.

go to the land: (1) Land: Aram (where Haran was) appeared to be Abram’s birthplace (Dt 26:5). They moved south to Ur but was now back to their homeland. But God commanded Abram to go to the land of his destiny. The possession of the land would be completed by his descendants.

12:2     great nation: (2) Nation: As a result of the promise, Israel became a great nation. Similar, even the nonelect sons, Ishmael and Esau, also fathered populous tribes (Gen 21:3).

make your name great: (3) Name: Abram’s influence will be widespread. God will make him a father of future nations and kings (Gen 17:5–6). Eventually, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam will regard Abraham (Isa 51:2) as their spiritual ancestor.

you will be a blessing: (4) Blessing: Those who had a relationship with the patriarchal family will be blessed, such as Laban and Potiphar.

12:3     those who bless you: (5) Friends: Friends of Abram’s appointed heir will receive blessings as Pharoah and Potiphar discovered.

whoever curses you: (6) Foes: The promise means that those who dare to treat Abram “lightly” will receive the weight of God’s curse.

all peoples on earth: (7) World: Abram will become the channel for a worldwide blessing. This is fulfilled in the salvation of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:8).

12:4     seventy-five years old: Even though ancient people lived longer, Abram was no longer young. There was another challenge too: the land of Canaan was already inhabited by Canaanites (v.6).

12:6     great tree of Moreh at Shechem: The great tree is probably a place where Canaanites worshipped their gods. Canaanites regarded the gods Baal and his wife Ashtoreth as the greatest.

12:7     The LORD appeared: “appeared” may indicate visible presence.

12:8     pitched his tent: lived as a pilgrim, no permanent residence.

built an altar: Building altars to worship God became a routine activity. It showed Abram’s faith and reliance on God. It also showed Abram’s non-conformity against the Canaanites’ polytheism.

12:12   they will kill: Abram was afraid that he would be murdered by some unethical powerful men because of Sarai’s beauty. However, Abram’s action revealed his lack of faith in God’s protection.

12:16   Abram acquired: Abram gained material wealth from the incident, not because of God’s approval of lying but because of His grace.

12:17   serious diseases: “plagues” in Hebrew, the same word derscribing the 10 plagues in Exodus.

12:20   sent him on his way: Pharaoh did not actually punish Abram but just evicted his household. It was possible that Pharaoh was warned by God not to harm Abram (see Gen 31:29).


·         When Abram left Haran, he did not know where he was going (Heb 11:8). Although he knew the general direction was to Canaan, he knew nothing about where he would end up or what conditions. True faith is trust the guidance of God even though the exact conditions are unknown.

·         Even Abram, the hero of faith, could fall; just as 1Co 10:12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!”

·         Abram regularly built altars to God for 2 reasons: (1) for prayer and worship, (2) as reminders of God’s promise to bless him. For us, worship services not only help us to worship God but also to remember what God desires and motivate us to obey God.