Bible Commentary: Genesis 12

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Genesis 12

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The Call of Abraham and God’s Promises

Genesis 12 presents the story of the call of Abraham, who was at this time known as Abram. God spoke to Abram, saying: “Get out of your country, from your kindred, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (verses 1-3). From this one promise springs all the rest of the Scriptures. For this foundational covenant, called the Abrahamic Covenant, contains the seed from which grows all the history of Israel and the work of Christ. (Of course, it should be noted that part of this promise goes back to the time of Adam and Eve—the promised seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 Genesis 3:15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
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being a Messianic prophecy.)

God promised Abram physical and spiritual blessings—if he would leave his father’s house and go where God would lead him. From Abram would descend a great nation, a nation that would not only be great in population but also a blessed nation, itself a blessing to others, enjoying God’s protection. This aspect of the promise is entirely physical—the promise of national greatness. But the aspect of the promise contained in the statement “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” was primarily spiritual, fulfilled in the Messiah, a descendant of Abram, through whom salvation would be offered to all men—as well as in the Bible itself eventually being produced and widely distributed through Abram’s offspring.

Related to this Abrahamic Covenant is the statement in verse 7, where God promises the land of Canaan to Abraham. But we should understand that the Abrahamic Covenant and this specific promise are actually separate and distinct, and that the fulfillment of one in a particular way at a particular time did not require the fulfillment of the other in the same way or at the same time. Yet ultimately, they will find fullest fulfillment together.

Surprisingly, this chapter that records Abram faithfully responding to God’s call also shows him later employing a faithless strategy of deception that backfires. Here we see a pattern repeated throughout the Bible—that it is sometimes hard on its heroes. The Bible shows their weaknesses, mistakes and problems. God knows that we slip up, sin, stumble and make mistakes. Yet “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” when we repent and admit our sins (1 John 1:9 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
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). God tells us that the examples recorded in the Scriptures “were written for our learning” and are examples for us (Romans 15:4 Romans 15:4For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
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; 1 Corinthians 10:11 1 Corinthians 10:11Now all these things happened to them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the world are come.
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). While the Bible records the sins and problems of many men and women of faith, it also often shows the consequences of those sins—the problems they and others suffered as a result. It also shows that they were forgiven upon repentance and overcame, and that God considers them righteous—as He will consider us if we likewise repent and overcome.

Supplementary Reading:Archaeology and Genesis: What Does the Record Show? (Part 2),” Good News Magazine, Nov.–Dec. 1996.

Map of Abraham's
Map of Abraham's Journey

Abraham’s Sojourn: Born in Ur; Called out of Haran; Builds altar in Shechem; Builds altar in Bethel; Journeys to Egypt; Returns to Bethel; Dwells at Mamre/Hebron; Rescues Lot north of Damascus; Entertains angels at Mamre/Hebron; Dwells in Gerar; Makes covenant in Beersheba; Told to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah; Returns to Beersheba; Buries Sarah in Hebron; He is buried in Hebron.

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