{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 origin of Abram was explained in Gen 11:27–32. At the beginning of ch.12, Abraham was in Haran. The call and promise from God is a recurring feature of the patriarchal history in ch.12—50. This is the first recorded speech of God after His word of judgment at Babel.

·         The promise was almost always 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). Abram was the passive recipient of the divine will. Only God was the participant as only He passed through the animal sacrifice. Circumcision was simply the obedient step of faith.

·         The promise was preceded by a command: “Leave” and Abram obeyed without any question.

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




11:26   Terah: It is likely that Terah’s family was involved in the worship of moon god (called Sin) which was common in ancient Ur. This is confirmed by Joshua (Jos 24:2,15). On the other hand, Laban later referred to God as “the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father (referring to Terah)” so that these 3 might all be believers of Yahweh. Also, it was Terah who led his children on the way to Canaan.

o        There will be a logical difficulty if Abram was the eldest son. Consider: [a] Terah was 70 years older than Abram (Gen 11:26). [b] Terah moved from Ur to Haran (Gen 11:31) and he died in Haran at the age of 205 (Gen 11:32). At Terah’s death, Abram should be 135 years old. [c] Abram moved from Haran to Canaan after Terah died (Ac 7:4) so the move happened when Abram was 135 years old or older. [d] Yet, Gen 12:4 recorded that Abram moved from Haran to Canaan when he was 75 years old. Conclusion: [c] and [d] are in contradiction.

o        The proper reading should be: If Abram (age 75) left Haran soon after Terah died (age 205), then Terah was 130 years older than Abram. If there is an elapsed time period between Gen 11:32 and Gen 12:1, then the difference in age between Terah and Abram would be even greater than 130. Since Terah’s eldest son was born when Terah was 70, Abram was at least 60 years younger than his elder brother (Haran or Nahor).

o        Some scholars maintained that Abraham was the eldest son. They try to harmonize the passage by proposing that Abraham left Ur (the first calling) at the age of 75 (Ac 7:2). But the problem remains because Ac 7:4 specifies that Abraham left Haran after Terah died. If Abraham was the eldest son, he could only migrate to Canaan after he passed 135 years of age. Yet, it was clear that Isaac was born in Canaan when Abraham was 100 years old.

While Abram was named before the other 2 sons of Terah, it does not mean that Abram was the eldest son (see the example of Shem, Ham, and Japheth). It only means that Abram was in the chosen line. The verse simply points out that Terah had a son when he was 70 years old and two more afterwards.

As Haran died even before his father, and Nahor (Haran’s brother) married his niece (Haran’s daughter) Milcah (Gen 11:29); it is most probable that Haran was the eldest son.

11:27   generations: a new “toledot” section (the 6th of 10 in Genesis).

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. Nahor had 12 sons (Gen 22:20–24).

Haran: name meaning “holy place”; probably Terah’s eldest son. He was born when Terah was 70 years old; he died in Ur before Terah migrated north.

11:28   Ur of the Chaldeans: name meaning “light” or “fire”, perhaps originated from the moon worship; present day city of Orfa in Iraq.

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. [Some even suggest Sarai was Abraham’s half sister.] She was 10 years younger than Abraham. Later God changed her name to Sarah (Gen 17:15). [Both Sarai and Sarah mean “princess”.]

Marriages to close relatives might have taken place because these men did not want to marry pagan women around them. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all married to someone one generation below them (if counted from Terah). [Isaac married Rebekah (Gen 24:15; granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor); Jacob married Leah and Rachel (Gen 29:12; great granddaughters of Abraham’s brother Nahor).]

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 unable, through the infirmities of age, to proceed in his journey. The route followed the Fertile Crescent region: Ur going northwest to Haran, then Haran going southwest to Palestine.

11:32   Terah died in Haran: The city Haran was about 600 miles northwest of Ur and about 400 miles northeast of 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. Abram only knew

·         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 as a nation (v.2) will require land.

12:2     great nation: (2) Nation: A nation is characterized as a political unit with common land, language, and government. 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).

I will bless you: Blessings in Genesis are mainly 2 types: descendants and material wealth. Wealth was measured by the amount of livestock, precious metal, and human labour. By ch.14, Abram could summon a large group of 318 trained men (Gen 14:14).

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 two words for “curse” are different. The first means “to make insignificant” while the second refers to the more seriour curse. 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. Among the many gods, Canaanites regarded Baal and his wife Ashtoreth as the greatest.

12:7     The LORD appeared: “appeared” may indicate visible presence. God ressured Abram by reinterating the 2 signal promises: children and land. Abram immediately worshipped God by building an altar at Shechem which is situated at a strategic mountain pass 65 km north of Jerusalem (also in ch.33,34,49).

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

built an altar: Building altars to worship God became a routine activity as Abram moved to new places. It showed Abram’s faith and reliance on God. It also showed Abram’s non-conformity against the polytheism of the Canaanites. This required courage.

12:9     the Negev: the southern land.

12:10   went down to Egypt: Egypt was less vulnerable to famine than Palestine because of the water from the Nile River.

to live there for a while: meaning “sojourn”—living among people with no family affiliation nor citizenship rights.

12:12   they will kill: Abram was afraid that he would be murdered by some unethical powerful men because of Sarai’s beauty (who was 65 years old; she died at 127). However, Abram’s action revealed his lack of faith in God’s protection.

12:13   Say you are my sister: They had the same ancester Terah so it was a half-truth.

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.

12:18   Pharaoh summoned Abram: The Bible did not say how Pharoah found out about the lie but he was enraged and asked 3 successive questions. Abram’s household was immediately expelled.

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, like what God did to Laban (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 (Gen 11:31), he knew nothing about where he would end up or what conditions he would face. 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.