The Promise Maker

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15-1-6 ESV

Abram has just received a blessing from Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God.

Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth. – Genesis 14:19 NLT

Sometime after his encounter with the king-priest Melchizedek, God provided his servant with a confirmation and explanation of that blessing in the form of a vision. The Most High God referred to Himself as Abram’s shield or protector. In the same way that Abram had protected and delivered his nephew Lot during his time of captivity, God would be Abram’s defender and deliverer. And while Abram had turned down the king of Sodom’s offer of all the plunder taken from Sodom, he could be certain that God would reward him with something of far greater value.

One of the questions this passage raises is why God opened up His address to Abram with the words, “Fear not.” What was it that Abram feared? Some believe that, upon receiving an unexpected vision of the Most High God, Abram was filled with fear and awe. This would have been a normal and natural reaction to such an encounter with God. When Moses was given a vision of God in the form of a burning bush, “he hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6 ESV).

But based on the context of chapter 14, it makes more sense to see Abram’s fear as horizontal in nature, rather than vertical. Due to his victory over the four Mesopotamian kings, Abram had just made himself some powerful enemies. Not only that, by displaying his military might, he had inadvertently placed a target on his back. Whether he liked it or not, he was the new sheriff in town and everyone would be gunning for him. Abram was essentially a shepherd and not a warrior, and the thought that his enemies might seek retribution on him and his household was keeping him up at night. So, God assured his fearful servant that he had nothing to worry about. Abram could rest in the knowledge that God would protect and provide for him. It is the same message that God would give to Abram’s descendants centuries later.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Abram’s response to God’s words of comfort and encouragement is less than confident.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” – Genesis 15:2 NLT

With this statement, Abram reveals that his greatest fear was that of failure. He knew that God had promised to bless him. He couldn’t stop thinking about the words God had spoken when he was still living in Haran.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

Abram had been 75-years-old when God made that promise. And now, years later, he had only grown older and his wife’s fertility problem had not improved. All the way back in Genesis 11:30, Moses had disclosed the sad state of Sarai’s reproductive health: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.”

All of these factors weighed heavily on Abram’s mind. Based on the circumstances, he could see no way that God’s promise could ever come to fruition. Abram had resigned himself to the fact that one of his household servants would end up as his heir. He informed God about the desperate nature of his situation and even blamed Him for it.

You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:3 NLT

It appears that Abram was growing impatient. During his time in the land of Canaan, he had seen his financial prospects improve. He had grown rich and his herds had grown in number. And here was God promising to shower him with further rewards. But what difference would it make if he had no one to whom he could leave his great wealth?

It’s not difficult to ascertain how Abram had assessed his situation and come up with a possible solution. He had given up on Sarai ever giving birth to a son, and had assumed that they would end up adopting one of their household servants as their son and making him the rightful heir to their estate. There had probably been a time when Abram had believed Lot, his nephew, would be the logical choice. But there had been a fallout between the two of them. So, at this point, Abram had determined that his heir would end up being Eliezer of Damascus.

What is ironic about Abram’s conclusion is that Eliezer’s name means “God is help.” Yet, it would appear that Abram was the one who was attempting to help God. He was offering God a logical solution to the whole fruitlessness problem. Abram was willing to settle for less. He was willing to accept a foreign-born “member” of his house as his heir rather than wait on God to do the impossible. But God had other plans. He was not going to compromise. And Sarai’s barrenness was not going to be a problem. So, God gently but firmly broke the news to Abram.

“No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” – Genesis 15:4 NLT

In essence, God said, “Thanks for the tip, but no!” The Creator-God didn’t need Abram’s help or advice. If anything, Eliezer’s presence in Abram’s house was meant to be a constant reminder that “God is help.” Eliezer wasn’t intended to be the solution. No, every time Abram said Eliezer’s name, it should have reminded him that God was the solution. And to stress the miraculous nature of His promise, God took Abram outside and told him to “look up into the sky and count the stars if you can” (Genesis 15:5 NLT). Then, as Abram stood staring up into the night sky, overwhelmed by the sheer number of stars, God boldly proclaimed, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Genesis 15:5 NLT).

This was not the first time Abram had heard such an outlandish prediction from God. Earlier, when Abram had separated from Lot, God had assured him that all the land of Canaan would be his and that land would be filled with his descendants.

I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! – Genesis 13:16 NLT

This blessing would not come through Eliezer or any other substitute. God had promised to give Abram a son, and He was well aware of Sarai’s barrenness. In fact, as the sovereign God of the universe, her barrenness had been part of His plan all along. The improbability and impossibility of it all had been baked into the cake. God wanted Abram to understand that everything about this promise would be miraculous and supernatural.

And then Moses adds a somewhat surprising conclusion. Despite all of Abram’s former doubts and fears, he “believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT). Suddenly, Abram’s mental state went from doubt to assurance. He went from trying to help God out to having hope in God’s promise. His confidence in God grew deeper and richer.

It’s interesting to note that Abram had always believed that God would give him an heir. His doubts had been focused on the means by which God would fulfill that promise. He had been hung up on Sarai’s barrenness. That’s why he had come up with what he believed to be an acceptable and logical alternative solution. But now, his belief focused in on the power of God to accomplish the impossible. He went from believing in the promise to believing in the God who made the promise. And there is a huge difference.

In the great “Hall of Faith” found in chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, the author states, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Abram was learning that his faith in God was the key to the promise of God. That does not mean that faith is what determines our reward, but that faith or belief in God is the means by which we appropriate the promises of God. We have to believe, trust in, and place our confidence in the God behind the promise.

The author of Hebrews goes on to explain how Abram displayed faith in God. And he describes how Abram’s faith developed and deepened over time until it influenced even his wife, Sarai.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:8-12 ESV

Moses declares that God counted or credited Abram’s faith as righteousness. Abram was justified or made right with God because he chose to believe and trust, not only in the promises of God but in the God behind the promises. Abram had transferred his hope in the promise to the divine promise maker. And the author of Hebrews goes on to point out that faith in the God of the promise is what sets His people apart. Whether a child of God ever sees the promise fulfilled in their lifetime, they will continue to trust in the word and reliability of the promise maker.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. – Hebrews 11:39 NLT

Abram would eventually see a son born to his barren wife. But he would never own any land in Canaan. He would never live to see the day when his descendants, as numerous as the stars in the sky, would occupy that land. But he would continue to believe that His God was good and could be trusted to do what He promised, whether Abram lived to see it or not. That is the essence of faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The King of Righteousness

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.’” Genesis 14:17-24 ESV

Having won a God-ordained victory over the four kings of Mesopotamia, Abram returned home with his nephew, Lot, and all the plunder that had been taken from Sodom by King Chedorlaomer. Upon his return, Abram was greeted by two kings. One was Bera, the king of Sodom, while the other was Melchizedek, the king of Salem. While Bera was introduced in verse two of this same chapter, Melchizedek makes his first appearance. It seems quite obvious why Bera would come out to meet Abram and his troops as they returned from battle. His city had been sacked and plundered by the coalition of kings from Mesopotamia and Abram had “brought back all the possessions” (Genesis 14:16 ESV) that had been taken. Abram has rescued all of the city’s stolen treasure and the citizens who had been taken captive, and Bera wanted to express his appreciation. He even offered to let Abram keep all the plunder as a payment for his efforts.

Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered. – Genesis 14:21 NLT

But it seems that Abram wanted nothing to do with Bera or his treasure. He firmly, but graciously refused the offer, stating, “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise, you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ I will accept only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre” (Genesis 14:22-24 NLT).

Moses has already made it clear that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV). Even the king’s name bore witness to his own immorality and evilness. In Hebrew, his name, בֶּרַע (beraʿ) means “son of evil.” This raises the question of how any parent could burden their child with such a harsh and almost prophetic name. And interestingly enough, the king of Gomorrah was saddled with a similarly unflattering name. His was בִּרְשַׁע (biršaʿ) which can be translated “with iniquity.” These two men ended up ruling over two of the most wicked and godless communities on the face of the earth. They were the epitome of the attitude that had pervaded the earth right before God destroyed it.

everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

So, Abram’s decision to refuse an offer from this corrupt king makes sense. He didn’t want anything to do with Bera or his treasure. And Abram had already made a vow to God that he would not accept any reward for his services. He knew that to do so would place him in a position of subservience to Bera. This godless, pagan king could claim that he was the one who made Abram wealthy and use that as a future bargaining chip to obligate Abram for additional help when needed. Abram would owe Bera.

The reward Bera was offering Abram must have been substantial because it would have made Abram wealthier than he already was. According to Genesis 13, Abram was well-off.

Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But while Abram was unwilling to accept any compensation, he allowed his men to choose their share of the reward. He didn’t attempt to burden his men with the requirements of the personal vow he had made to God. Rather than force his convictions on them, Abram graciously allowed them to decide for themselves.

This now brings us back to the second king mentioned in the narrative: Melchizedek, the king of Salem. As if out of nowhere, this king shows up in the story without introduction and with no explanation as to who he was. His name appears nowhere in the opening verses of the chapter. He was not one of the nine kings involved in the battle. And his name appears in none of the genealogies recorded in the earlier chapters of Genesis. There are only three other places in Scripture where Melchizedek is mentioned. The first is in a psalm written by King David. In it, David states that God has declared him to be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4 ESV). Jesus would later use this same psalm to prove His claim to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel (Matthew 22:41-46). So, he believed this song of David to be a prophetic statement about Himself. He was that priest after the order of Melchizedek. The fact that Melchizedek appears on the scene with no apparent genealogy and then disappears with no mention of his death makes him a type of Christ. He was the king of Salem, the future site of Jerusalem. Melchizedek, which was likely his title and not his  name, means “King of Righteousness.” This appellation is meant to stand in stark contrast to that of Bera, the “son of evil.”

In the midst of the predominantly pagan Canaanite culture, this “righteous” king suddenly appears on the scene, offering bread and wine to Abram and his men. Moses describes him as “a priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18 ESV). In other words, he was far more than just another king. He was a servant of Yahweh, the God who had called Abram and who had promised to make of him a great nation. This would have been the first time that Abram encountered another human being who also worshiped El Elyon (God Most High).

Once again, Melchizedek receives little mention in the Scriptures, but where his name does appear, it is associated with Jesus. In the book of Hebrews, the author presents Jesus as the better high priest, stating:

…no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,

“You are my Son.
    Today I have become your Father.”

And in another passage God said to him,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 5:4-6 NLT

In the very next chapter, the author declares that Jesus “leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary” and “has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20 NLT. And then the author provides some much-needed explanation as to Melchizedek’s identity and his relationship with Jesus.

This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.” There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. – Hebrews 7:1-3 NLT

Melchizedek was meant to foreshadow the great high priest who would come to earth offering bread and wine in the form of His own body. In an upper room in the city of “Salem” (Jerusalem), Jesus would share a final Passover meal with His disciples and, just like Melchizedek, offer His disciples bread and wine.

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.” – Matthew 26:26-28 NLT

Melchizedek fed Abram and his men, then pronounced a blessing.

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” – Genesis 14:19-20 ESV

In doing so, he confirmed Abram’s desire to honor God with his victory. Melchizedek emphasized the sovereign power of Abram’s God. It was God Most High who had brought about the defeat of the four kings. Abram had enjoyed victory over his enemies only because God had ordained it. This blessing was meant to encourage Abram in his faith. His God was great and fully capable of doing the impossible. This reminder was going to come in handy in the days ahead when Abram found himself doing battle with doubt rather than waging war with human kings. He was going to need constant reminding that His God was truly great. The days ahead were going to require great faith. And Jesus, like Melchizedek, would provide His followers with similar words of encouragement.

“…truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20 ESV

And as a result of Melchizedek’s gracious gift of bread and wine and the comforting words of his blessing, “Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20 ESV). Once again, the author of Hebrews provides an explanation for Abram’s actions.

Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. – Hebrews 7:4 NLT

Abram recognized the superior nature of this priest/king and gave to him a tenth of all the spoil he had brought back from the battle. He honored this man as a servant of God and returned the blessing by sharing a portion of the riches that God had allowed him to recover. But as great as Melchizedek was, he stands in the shadow of the greater high priest.

…a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared. Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied.

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 7:15-17 NLT

There is no mention of Melchizedek’s death. And the author of Hebrews states that “He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:3 NLT). He points to the one to come who will offer Himself as the bread of life and whose blood will be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV). God blessed Abram through Melchizedek, but God would bless the nations through Jesus, the offspring of Abram.

But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. – Hebrews 7:24-27 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Battle is the Lord’s

1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people. Genesis 14:1-16 ESV

Abram and Lot have separated, with Lot taking up residence near the city of Sodom, while Abram continued his nomadic lifestyle, setting up a temporary camp by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron. But Abram’s separation from Lot would not last long. His nephew’s presence in the land would come back to haunt him.

This new season of Abram’s more independent life was going to be rocked by unexpected events that were outside of his control. What chapter 14 reveals is that Abram was far from alone in the land of Canaan. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been little mention of other nations, but the story recorded in this chapter will reveal that Abram has company and lots of it.

The chapter opens with news of a coalition of four kings whose nations lie outside the boundaries of Canaan. It’s difficult to determine with any certainty the exact locations of these ancient realms, but it seems that they each were located within the fertile crescent, an area known as the land of Shinar. It is important to recall that Shinar was the location of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). It was there that God decided to confuse the language of the people who attempted to build a tower that would reach to the sky. As a result of the confusion caused by the proliferation of new languages, the region became known as “Babel,” a word that literally means “confusion.” This region would later bear the name of “Babylon” and play a vital role in the history of the Hebrew people.

These kings all hailed from the region of Mesopotamia that stretched from the northern tip of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.  One of these kings, Chedorlaomer, had earlier invaded southern Canaan and forced its occupants to become his vassals. The people living in Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Zoar), had found themselves subjugated to a foreign power for 13 long years. But at one point their kings had decided to throw off the yoke of this foreign oppressor. And their decision had forced King Chedorlaomer to form a coalition with three of his fellow kings from Mesopotamia and invade Canaan yet again.  

This entire scene is meant to display the interconnected nature of all that has gone on before. Every event that has happened up to this point is linked together in God’s plan. There are reasons for everything. And there are repercussions for every decision made by men and consequences for every act of a sovereign God. Nothing happens by chance. The ill-fated decision of the people to disobey God and construct a tower to glorify their own greatness had produced a myriad of nations that were dispersed across the earth. And the confusion created by their disparate languages would eventually turn into conflict.

In chapter 13, Moses recorded God’s reiteration of His promise to Abram.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. – Genesis 13:14-15 ESV

And yet, here we have nine different kings vying for the right to control the land that God had given to Abram and his descendants. Ever since the gates to Eden had been slammed shut, mankind had been busy trying to grab up the remaining territory. Rather than steward that which belonged to God, they had been attempting to claim it as their own. Instead of acknowledging God as King, they had chosen to set up their own petty kingdoms here on earth. And here in this story, nine of these would-be gods were facing off in a battle of will and weapons, all in an effort to control what really belonged to God.

This coalition of four Mesopotamian kings slowly made their way south, defeating various clans, tribes, and nations along the way. They were successfully demonstrating their superior strength and telegraphing to the five kings of southern Canaan that their prospects for victory were dim. But refusing to consider surrender, the five kings joined forces and faced their enemy in the Valley of Siddim. Things did not go well. The tar pits that covered the valley floor proved to be their undoing. Many of the soldiers became mired in the sticky muck and were captured. As a result, the five kings were unable to put up a fight and their forces were easily defeated. And Moses provides a summary of this demoralizing debacle.

So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. – Genesis 14:11-12 ESV

What makes this rather brief recap of the battle stand out is its focus on Sodom and Gomorrah, and its mention of Lot, the nephew of Abram. If you recall, chapter 13 chronicled Lot’s decision to choose the well-watered lands near Zoar as the place to pasture his flocks. But he actually “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). This nephew of Abram made a determined choice to seek refuge among “the men of Sodom,” who “were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV).

Somewhere along the way, Lot had given up his tent and sought shelter within the walls of Sodom. Moses makes it clear that he “was dwelling in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12 ESV). And that decision would prove to be far from wise. When the four Mesopotamian kings looted Sodom, Lot was taken captive along with all his possessions. He was enslaved.

But news of his capture eventually reached the ears of his uncle. Abram was about to discover that his separation from Lot had been anything but permanent. And his decision to give Lot his choice of the land as his own had probably been a mistake. Now, Abram had a decision to make. Would he intervene and rescue Lot from his predicament or allow him to suffer the consequences? Moses records that Abram spent no time deliberating over his decision.

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. – Genesis 14:14 ESV

One can debate the wisdom of Abram’s decision, but there is an overwhelming sense of God’s sovereignty woven throughout this entire event. The actions of the five kings, while autonomous and self-determined, are actually the byproducts of God’s providential will. Nothing happens outside His control or in opposition to His predetermined plan. These events came as no surprise to God. They were simply part of the sovereign strategy He was orchestrating so that His will might be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). What He had preordained was coming to fruition, just as He had planned.

Abram and his 318-man army went to battle against the coalition of kings and their superior forces, and he won. That outcome would have come as no surprise to Moses’ readership. They knew that, for them to exist as a people, Abram had to have won. His victory was assured because God had promised to make of him a great nation. And nothing was going to stand in the way of that promise being fulfilled. Whether the number of enemy kings was four or forty, it didn’t matter. Regardless of the size of the foe, God could give victory.

This story should bring to mind another battle fought by a servant of God against superior forces. Years later, Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, would find himself going up against the Midianites. He was outnumbered and outgunned. But much to Gideon’s surprise, God informed him that he had too many soldiers. In a series of bizarre events, God whittled down Gideon’s force until he only had 300 men left. And with that diminutive army, Gideon defeated the Midianites.

And, in a similar fashion, Abram defeated the five kings of Mesopotamia. His “surprising” victory allowed him to rescue Lot and bring back all the possessions that had been stolen. Lot had been redeemed by Abram. He didn’t deserve it and he hadn’t earned it. Abram simply extended unmerited mercy and grace to his young nephew. And this story provides a foreshadowing of another undeserved rescue that will take place in the lives of Abram’s descendants after another army from the north will invade Canaan and take God’s people captive. God will graciously and dramatically rescue them, returning them to the land and fulfilling the promise He had made to Abram.

This event is simply one of many illustrations of God’s goodness, grace, and sovereignty as displayed in the life of Abram. And there are many more to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Tale of Two Travelers

10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.

14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.  Genesis 13:10-18 ESV

After Abram gave Lot the offer of a lifetime, his much-younger nephew took full advantage of the opportunity. In order to settle their dispute over pasture land, Abram had given Lot choice to claim any of the land of Canaan as his own.

“Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” – Genesis 13:9 NLT

You would think that Lot would have refused this magnanimous gesture out of gratitude to his uncle for taking him under his wing. But that thought never entered Lot’s mind. No, he took Abram up on his offer and secured for himself a prime piece of real estate.

Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. – Genesis 13:10 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Lot taking a quick scan of the local surroundings. No, he looked long and hard. He literally “gazed” at the landscape in order to assess which tract of land would prove to be preferable an, ultimately, the most profitable. He his look was evaluative in nature. In fact, it is the same word used to describe God’s assessment of His creation.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! – Genesis 1:31 NLT

In the same way, Lot “looked over” the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley and deemed them good. And Moses adds an interesting aside. He states that the valley was comparable to “the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10 NLT). In other words, this land was fertile and fruitful, just like Eden had been. It was well-watered and abounding in lush pasture lands, the perfect setting for raising domesticated livestock. So, after a careful search, Lot made his decision.

Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. – Genesis 13:11 NLT

But Moses provides another parenthetical statement that foreshadows the dark cloud looming on the horizon. The Jordan Valley was a beautiful and bountiful place, but “This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” (Genesis 13:10 10 ESV). At this point in the story, everything was “good,” but that was about to change. A darkness would soon descend upon the Jordan Valley. It’s God-ordained beauty would become marred by sin and scarred by divine judgment.

There is an eerily familiar feel to this story, that should remind the reader of the dramatic change that took place between chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis. God had deemed His creation as “very good” and then sin entered the scene and everything suddenly changed. Curses were leveled and circumstances took a dramatic turn for the worst. Soon sin began to spread like an infectious disease, until God “observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5 NLT). The “very good” had become very bad. All because of sin.

Moses records that the two men, Abram and Lot, parted ways with Abram settling in the land of Canaan and Lot settling “among the cities of the valley” (Genesis 13:12 NLT). And, as if to telegraph the plot of the story, Moses indicates that Lot eventually “moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 NLT).

The original readers of Moses’ book would have been very familiar with the histories of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two ancients cities had storied and sordid pasts. They were legendary among the Hebrew people. And the names, Sodom and Gomorrah had become synonymous with wickedness and immorality. But just in case anyone might have forgotten, Moses opines, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV).

Lot had gone from admiring the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley to gazing upon the immoral city of Sodom and moving ever closer to its gates. He was slowly edging his way toward wickedness and away from God.

But, unexpectedly, Moses shifts the story away from Lot and back to Abram. This rather abrupt shift in the narrative was meant to provide a stark contrast between the two men. Abram settled in Canaan, while Lot made himself at home near Sodom. And while Lot was pitching his tend, Abram was receiving a message from the Lord.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! – Genesis 13:14-67 NLT

Notice that God did not speak until Abram had separated himself from Lot. This parting of the ways finally left Abram in compliance with the original conditions God had placed on His call of Abram.

Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 NLT

With Lot out of the picture, God reiterated His original promise to Abram, declaring that all the land of Canaan would belong to he and his descendants. And not only that. God would provide Abram with so many descendants that their number would be incalculable. And despite Abram’s decision to reward Lot with his choice of the best land, God restated His promise to give it all the Abram and his descendants. Even the Jordan Valley, containing the immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, would eventually become the inheritance of Abram’s ancestors.

It would be centuries later that the descendants of Abram, the nation of Israel, made their way back to the land of Canaan after their 400-year hiatus in Egypt. And when they returned to the land, they would divide it among the 12 tribes. But they were forbidden by God from occupying the lands of Moab and Edom. He warned them, “‘Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land” (Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT). And as far as the Edomites were concerned, God told the Israelites, “Do not detest the Edomites…because the Edomites are your relatives” (Deuteronomy 23:7 NLT).

To understand this divine get-out-of-jail-free card that God extended to the Moabites and Edomites, it is essential to understand their relationship with Israel. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac. Esau was the grandson of Abram. And the Moabites descendants of Moab, the son of Lot, the byproduct of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter. These two people groups ended up settling in the land near where Lot had pitched his tent. And despite some poor choices on Lot’s part, that land would end up being occupied by relatives of Abram.

This one little corner of the world where Lot chose to sink down roots was nothing compared to the vast tract of land that God would give to Abram. And God instructed Abram to “walk through the land in every direction” (Genesis 13:17 ESV), and take in all the beauty and abundance reserved for him. God flatly and confidently asserted, “I am giving it to yo” (Genesis 13:17 NLT).

So, Moses did as he was told, and after scoping out the land, he pitched his tent at the Oaks of Mamre, near Hebron, and there he built another altar to the Lord. He offered sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God for His gracious gift. Lot pitched his tent near Sodom. But Abram pitched his tent in the middle of the land of Canaan, as an expression of faith in God’s promise.

It’s fascinating to consider that Lot was quickly associated with a city, the infamous city of Sodom. But Abram was a man who never owned a house or occupied a city. In fact, the author of Hebrews states that when Abram “reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” (Hebrews 11:9-10 NLT).

As the story unfolds, we will discover that Lot eventually moved into the city of Sodom, and with less-than-stellar consequences. But Abram continued to live the life of a nomad, patiently waiting for the city that God had in store for him. According to the author of Hebrews, Abram and all the other Old Testament saints mentioned  in chapter 11, “were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16 NLT).

While Lot struggled with “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV), Abram kept his eye on the true prize. Rather than settle down and settle for less than God had promised, he kept moving, waiting, and hoping. And he would be recognized and greatly rewarded for his faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. – Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Generous to a Fault

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Genesis 13:1-9 ESV

After Abram’s close call with Pharaoh, he decided to leave Egypt behind and return to the land of Canaan. The text doesn’t mention whether the famine there had come to an end, but it seems safe to assume that Abram returned because he had received permission from God to do so. According to verse 1, Abram made his way back to the Negeb, located on Canaan’s southernmost tip. But this arid region would prove to be an inhospitable environment for Abram’s newly acquired flocks and herds. He had received as a bride price for Sarai, whom Pharaoh had added to his harem as a concubine. When Pharaoh learned that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife, he released her and had Abram and his family escorted from the land of Egypt.

Abram walked out of Egypt far wealthier than when he had entered.  Despite his deception and narcissistic attempts at self-preservation, he ended up being rewarded.

Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 NLT

And Moses opens chapter 13 with what appears to be a parenthetical statement, designed to set up and explain the rest of the chapter’s story.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But not only did Abram have additional herds and flocks in his possession, he was still accompanied by his nephew, Lot. And the text reveals that Lot had also prospered during their stay in Egypt.

And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. – Genesis 13:5-6 ESV

Lot had benefited greatly from his association with Abram. He had been blessed vicariously and undeservedly, just for being Abram’s nephew. But sometimes blessings can end up being a curse. Prosperity, while highly beneficial in so many ways, can also bring about unexpected conflicts and temptations. You see the potential for this outcome in Moses’ instructions to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land of Canaan. God has promised to bless them with a rich and fertile land filled with well-fortified and well-stocked cities equipped with modern conveniences like hand-carved cisterns designed for storing rainwater.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the LORD, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the LORD your God and serve him.” – Deuteronomy 6:1-13 NLT

There was high probability that the people of Israel would find their newfound prosperity to be a temptation to become prideful and forgetful. Rather than focusing on the gracious Giver, they would end up obsessing on the gifts He had given. Agur, the author of Proverbs 30, reveals an insightful degree of self-awareness when he asks God for two favors.

O God, I beg two favors from you;
    let me have them before I die.
First, help me never to tell a lie.
    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. – Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT

Abram and Lot had both been blessed by God. Now, the question would be whether they would allow those blessings to become a curse. Would they become fat and happy, self-consumed, and overly self-sufficient? Would their good fortune lead to further dependence upon God or a growing sense of independence and self-sufficiency?

Sandwiched in-between the disclosure that Abram was “very rich” (Genesis 13:2), and Lot “had flocks and herds and tents” (Genesis 13:5), Moses states that Abram “journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 13:3-4 ESV). And Lot went with him.

Abram, despite his less-than-stellar showing in Egypt, returns to the site where he had built the altar, and he offers sacrifices to God. It seems that Abram understood that his timely departure from Egypt, with his wife by his side, had been the work of God. And he wanted to express his appreciation by offering some of his newfound wealth as a thank offering to God. There is no indication that Lot participated in this selfless display of thanksgiving. He had been equally blessed by God but displayed no awareness of God’s gracious benevolence, and he offered no gifts of gratitude. But, in time, he will display an unflattering tendency toward self-interest and self-indulgence.

Moses describes the situation between Abram and his nephew as untenable.

the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together – Genesis 13:6 ESV

This is an interesting statement because it portrays the land of promise as rather unpromising. Perhaps the famine had decimated the available pasture land, rendering the current location as an insufficient source of food for the enlarged herds of Abram and Lot. But there seems to be something more significant going on in this passage.

When God had issued His original call, He had made the conditions of that call clear:  “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NLT). Yet, as the text reveals, “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4 NLT).

The land had been promised to Abram, not Lot. In a sense, Lot should not have been there and his presence was proving to be problem. The land was sufficient for the flocks and herds of Abram, but not for both. Somewhere along the way, in keeping with the command of God, Abram should have separated himself from Lot. But he had failed to do so. Now, God was stepping in and forcing these two men to part company. As the herdsmen of Abram and Lot attempted to shepherd their respective flocks on the same parcel of land, tempers flared.

…there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

And, at this point in the story, Moses provides another parenthetical aside.

At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

This is intended as a reminder that the land was already occupied. God had led Abram to a country where other people groups had settled and put down roots. Their presence would have further limited the available pasture land. This disclosure by Moses was also meant to foreshadow the miracle that God will have to perform in order to make this already-occupied land available to Abram’s descendants.

Verses 8-13 reveal Abram’s solution to the dilemma. In an effort to appease Lot and his disgruntled herdsmen, Abram gave his nephew his choice of permanent pastureland.

“Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” – Genesis 13:9 NLT

This is viewed by many as a sign of Abram’s magnanimity. He takes the high road and gives his undeserving nephew first dibs on the available land. But in some sense, this reflects a lack of reverence for God’s promise. God had clearly told Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While Lot was Abram’s blood relative, he was not his offspring. It’s highly likely that Abram’s decision to share the land with Lot was driven by his belief that Lot would eventually be his heir.  After all, Abram wasn’t getting any younger and his wife was still barren. So, he probably believed that this young man would end up being the means by which God fulfilled His promise to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).

But that was not God’s plan. And it will soon become clear that Abram’s gracious offer to Lot was going to end up backfiring on him. This young man would display a disregard for the well-being of his uncle and a myopic preoccupation with his own success. Lot was out to make of himself a great nation. He was choosing the best land so that he might enjoy the best possible outcome. But his choices would prove to be far from wise and less than beneficial. And Abram’s decision to pacify Lot by parceling out the land given to him by God would only lead to greater turmoil in the days ahead.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Flawed Hope of Self-Salvation

11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.  Genesis 12:11-20 ESV

Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Abram was forced to seek refuge in Egypt. But upon his arrival, Abram immediately began to second guess the wisdom of his decision. He was far from home and way out of his comfort zone. Find himself in unfamiliar surroundings yet again. Abram quickly recognized that his new neighbors looked and sounded nothing like him. And his reaction to these uncomfortable circumstances reveals a great deal about Abram’s current mindset.

Even before arriving in the land, Abram began to develop a plan for dealing with what he believed would be a far-from-friendly welcome. Just as he was about to cross the border into Egypt, he came up with a strategy for dealing with what he expected would be a culture of questionable morals.

he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.” – Genesis 12:11-12 ESV

Abram feared that his wife’s stunning beauty would make her an object of desire to the Egyptians. And he feared that once they discovered that Sarai was his wife, one of them would simply kill him so he could have her as his own. In ancient cultures, women were often seen as little more than the personal property of their husbands. It was usually considered illegal to take a man’s wife. But if the husband were to die “unexpectedly,” then she would become available for purchase.

So, fearing the worst, Abram orders Sarai to tell anyone who asks that she is his sister.

“Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:13 ESV

Notice Abram’s self-obsessed outlook. He can’t stop talking about the need to protect his personal well-being. He wanted things to “go well” for him, but he shows little concern for how his little ruse might impact the life of Sarai. And as soon as they crossed the border into Egypt, Abram’s worst fears were realized.

When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. – Genesis 12:14-15 ESV

Now, to be fair, when Abram commanded Sarai to say that she was his sister, it was technically true. According to Genesis 20:12, Sarai was Abram’s half-sister because they shared the same father but different mothers. And Abram would use this convenient half-truth as a clever means of self-protection when dealing with those of less scrupulous character. But little did Abram know that his plan would backfire in such a dramatic fashion. Pharaoh himself developed an eye for the lively Sarai and had her taken into his house. And, strangely enough, Abram actually benefited from his self-centered strategy.

And for her sake he [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 ESV

Believing Abram to be Sarai’s older brother and official guardian, Pharaoh offered Abram what was essentially a bride price for having taken Sarai into his harem. She became Pharoah’s property and Abram was reward for it. All along, it had been Abram’s hope that things would “go well” for him, and now it had. He had benefited greatly from Sarai’s compromising situation.

But, as has been the case all along in the book of Genesis, God was operating in the background, unseen by Abram, Sarai, or Pharaoh. But it wasn’t long before He made His presence known.

…the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. – Genesis 12:17 ESV

This leader of the nation of Egypt had used his great power and wealth to purchase another trophy for his harem. And Abram had experienced a sizeable boost to his financial net-worth. But both of these men were in for a shock. Pharaoh suddenly found  his royal house facing a series of devastating plagues. Unknowingly, he had taken the bride of Abram and enslaved her as one of his servants. She had gone from being the wife of Abram to just one of the many concubines in Pharaoh’s royal harem.

Once again, the original Jewish audience to whom Moses wrote this book would have sat up and taken notice upon hearing this story from the lives of Abram and Sarai. They would have immediately seen the parallels between the enslavement of Sarai and that of their ancestors. Years later, 70 descendants of Abram would seek refuge in the land of Egypt, attempting to escape a famine in the land. They would enter Egypt as the “bride” of Yahweh. But in time, they would become the personal slaves of Pharaoh. And God would bring upon Pharaoh and his royal house a series of ten plagues, each designed to force the release of His people. The prophet Isaiah would later remind the nation of Israel of their unique status as God’s bride.

For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5 ESV

So, there are tremendous similarities between the story found in Genesis 12 and that of the Israelites recorded in the book of Exodus. Unlike his successor, the Pharaoh in Abram’s day proved to be teachable and ready to rectify the grave mistake he has made.

So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” – Genesis 12:18-19 ESV

Pharaoh, suffering under the judgment of God, was ready to repent and make restitution. Rather than punishing Abram for his deceitfulness and the pain he had brought upon the royal house, Pharaoh released Sarai, and sent Abram on his way with his wife restored and his newly acquired wealth intact.

You would think that Abram learned a valuable lesson from this potentially devastating encounter with Pharaoh. But, amazingly, he would live to lie another day. Just a few chapters later, Moses records yet another incident where Abram pulled this highly flawed strategy out of his bag of tricks. Despite its highly questionable efficacy, Abram would utilize this same plan  years later when dealing with Abimelech, the king of Gerar. He seems to have learned nothing from his former attempt at self-preservation.

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. – Genesis 20:2 ESV

As before, God intervened and delivered a terrifying message to Abimelech in a dream.

“Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” – Genesis 20:3 ESV

Fearful for his life, Abimelech declared his innocence to God and was told to return Sarai to Abraham. Essentially, God told the petrified king, “No harm done.” He had sovereignly protected Abimelech from doing anything to Sarai. But when the king confronted Abram and demanded to know why he had done such a thing, Abram was quick to justify his actions and explain his warped rationale.

“Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” – Genesis 20:12-13 ESV

And like the earlier story, Abram walks away blessed rather than chastened by God.

Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him.  And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you. – Genesis 20:14-15 ESV

God was not rewarding Abram for his deception and dishonesty. Nor was He condoning Abram’s methods. He was simply fulfilling the promise He had made to bless Abram (Genesis 12:2). And he was slowly teaching His stubborn servant a much-needed lesson about divine sovereignty and providential care. Even Abram’s ill-fated attempts to act as his own god could not jeopardize God’s plans or prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled. This was so much bigger than Abram. He was simply a conduit through whom God would bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth. And God was not going to allow Abram to derail the divine plan for mankind’s redemption.

Mankind’s constant attempts at self-salvation will always fall short. But God’s promise of future blessing will never fail to come to fruition.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

All In God’s Timing

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. Genesis 12:10 ESV

Abram was on the move. He had built a second altar in the hill country near Bethel, but then had “journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb” (Genesis 12:9 ESV). Once again, the text provides no reason for Abram’s choice of destinations, but since the entire book showcases the sovereignty of God, it makes perfect sense to assume that these excursions were divinely ordained and directed. Abram was being led by God.

And, after having passed through Shechem in central Canaan, Abram had traveled further south to the region just east of Bethel. And while Abram had pitched his tent there, he did not stay long, choosing instead to continue his journey to the southernmost tip of Canaan, a desert region known as the Negeb. This name, in Hebrew, is נֶגֶב (neḡeḇ), which literally means “south.” For some undisclosed, but sovereignly ordained reason, Abram was moving away from the heart of Canaan, the very land that God had promised to give to his descendants. And verse 10 provides the first hint at what might be behind God’s rather strange navigational directions to Abram.

Now there was a famine in the land. – Genesis 12:10 ESV

For some seemingly inexplicable reason, God had directed Abram to leave behind the rich and fertile heart of Canaan and travel to the most arid region in the entire land. But there was a method to God’s madness. He was sovereignly orchestrating the entire scene and putting into place all the factors that would lead to Abram’s brief but consequential “sojourn” to Egypt.

So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. – Genesis 12:10 ESV

The Hebrew word for “sojourn” is גּוּר (gûr), and it means “to temporarily dwell.” To be a “sojourner” was to live temporarily as a “stranger” in another land. Because of the severity of the famine, Abram was forced to seek refuge and sustenance in the land of Egypt. But, once again, this decision appears to be God-ordained and orchestrated. For the Jews who read Moses’ account, this retelling of Abram’s flight into Egypt would have helped to explain their own historical ties to the land of the Pharaohs. There had been a time when their patriarch, Jacob, had made a similar decision to seek shelter in Egypt. Genesis 42 retells the story of Jacob’s fateful decision to send his sons to Egypt to buy grain because there was a famine in the land of Canaan.

“Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. – Genesis 42:2-3 ESV

But when the brothers arrived in Egypt, they discovered far more than grain. They reconnected with their younger brother, Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery years earlier. Much to their surprise, the brother whom they had assumed to be dead, was very much alive and had risen to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. And rather than seeking revenge on his brothers, Joseph chose to bless them, inviting them to fetch their father and return to Egypt where they could live out the famine.

The brothers did as they were told. They traveled back to Canaan, broke the news to Jacob that his long-lost son was alive, and issued Joseph’s invitation to relocate the entire family to Egypt. And Genesis 46 reveals that Jacob “came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac”

Jacob did as his grandfather had done before him. He called upon the name of the Lord, worshiping the Almighty for his goodness and grace. And while at Beersheba, God visited Jacob in a dream, providing him with a powerful promise.

And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:2-4 ESV

The similarities are undeniable and fully intentional. Abram’s relationship with Pharaoh and the land of Egypt was meant to foreshadow the future of his own descendants. Egypt would end up playing a significant role in the redemptive history of the people of Israel. This land of Abram’s sojourn would become the God-ordained source of Israel’s future, serving as a divine petri dish in which God would cultivate a nation and fulfill the promise He had made to Abram.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. – Genesis 12:2 ESV

Whether Abram realized it or not, his decision to seek shelter in Egypt was ordained by God. There was going to be a long and, sometimes, tumultuous relationship between Abram’s descendants and this land located to the east of Canaan. In fact, not long after Abram’s temporary foray into Egypt, Abram would receive one of those “I’ve-got-good-news-and-bad-news” announcements from God.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

God had promised to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s ancestors, but now there was a famine in the land. This “unexpected” natural disaster forced Abram to temporarily relocate his family, and Egypt seemed to be the only logical location. Famine-stricken Canaan lay to the north and the arid and barren Nebeb to the west was out of the question. So, Abram had only one option: Seek refuge in Egypt. This “choice” by Abram foreshadows Jacob’s future flight into the Valley of the Nile, but it also points to another divinely orchestrated escape from certain death.

In Matthew 2, the apostle records the story of the birth of Jesus, whom he describes as “the son of Abraham” in the opening verse of his book (Matthew 1:1). According to the genealogy recorded in chapter 1, Jesus was a direct descendant of Abram. And, not long after Jesus’ birth, Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, received a vision from God, warning him of King Herod’s plans to kill the boy.

…the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” – Matthew 2:13-15 ESV

It was not safe for Joseph and his young family to remain in the land. Death loomed over them but God had already planned a way of escape. For a time, they “sojourned” in Egypt, while Herod enacted his pogrom of infanticide, aimed at eliminating “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 ESV).

But Herod’s attempts to kill Jesus would fail. And in time, this human “famine” would come to his own ignominious end, paving the way for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to return to the land of promise.

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. – Matthew 2:19-21 ESV

For the people of Israel, the land of Egypt would always be a place marked by refuge and heartache. At times, it would prove to be a haven of hope and safety, while at other times it would be a place associated with great pain and sorrow. In the case of Abram, Egypt was a logical alternative to remaining in famine-plagued Canaan. Egypt also provided a source of sustenance from certain starvation to Jacob and his family. But it was also the place where Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph, was restored to him. He who was once thought dead was “resurrected” and restored to life. And Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, would find Egypt to be a safe haven from the deadly plans of Herod. His young son would live to see another day because God had provided refuge in the land of Egypt.

God had promised to bless Abram, and He was going to do so by sending him to the unlikely land of the Pharaohs and the pyramids. This trip into Egypt had not been a mistake by Abram. His actions do not reflect a lack of faith any more than Jacob’s or Joseph’s did. He was simply following the directions of God. But that does not mean that his time in Egypt would be without problems. The fact that God led him into Egypt is no guarantee that Abram would find himself well-fed and completely free from pain or suffering. His days as a stranger in a strange land would be a time of testing. But it would also be a time of great blessing, as God sovereignly orchestrated His plan to make of Abram a great nation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Name Above All Names

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. Genesis 12:4-9 ESV

Abram followed in the footsteps of his ancestor Noah, who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). When God told Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 ESV), he went. And the text makes it clear that Abram went, “as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:4 ESV). He not only proved to be compliant but comprehensive in his obedience. He did everything just as God had commanded him to do. But there is one small detail that stands out.

When it came time for Abram to comply with God’s command, he “took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:5 ESV). It all sounds good, except for the fact that God had clearly told Abram to leave behind his country and his kindred. The Hebrew word for “kindred” is מוֹלֶדֶת (môleḏeṯ), and it can refer to “offspring” or “relatives.” Considering the context, it seems clear that God was telling Abram to leave his extended family behind. Abram and his wife, Sarai, had no children because she was barren.

And yet, the text reveals that Abram brought along his nephew, the son of his brother, Haran. A look back at the genealogy in chapter 11 reveals that Haran had fathered a son named Lot while the clan was still living in Ur of the Chaldeans. But Haran died, leaving his son, Lot, without a father. Under the circumstances, Terah, the boy’s grandfather, assumed responsibility for his care and protection. He became a surrogate father to Lot. So, when Terah moved his entire extended family to the land of Haran, Lot accompanied him. But in time, Terah died as well, leaving Lot fatherless once more. It seems that Abram and Sarai, without children of their own, assumed responsibility for the boy’s well-being. And when they packed up their belongings to follow God’s will and move to Canaan, Lot was in their company.

Abram was not explicitly violating the command to leave his kindred behind. Lot had become part of his immediate family. It is almost as if he and Sarai had made the decision to adopt this young man. After all, she was barren and they were doomed to a life without children of their own.

But what can’t be ignored is the distinct possibility that Abram and Sarai viewed Lot as a possible heir and the means by which God would fulfill His promise to produce a great nation from them. In a way, Lot could have been Abram’s ace in the hole – a security blanket that helped mitigate any doubts he may have had about God’s plan and promise. If one believes in the sovereignty of God, then it seems obvious that the death of Haran and Terah was no surprise to God. And the fact that this young man had twice been rendered fatherless was not a byproduct of chance or bad luck. There was a divine strategy in play in which God was providentially orchestrating the details surrounding Abram’s life. Terah’s decision to leave Ur had been God-ordained. The birth of Lot and his father’s eventual death were also part of God’s plan. And Abram’s “adoption” of Lot when Terah died in Haran must also be seen as the handiwork of God.

There is no indication as to how long the journey from Haran to Canaan took. But it would have been an arduous and extremely lengthy trip as Abram and his retinue made their way through strange lands occupied by many of those foreign-speaking nations that had been scattered by God after His judgment at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

Evidently, Abram was leading a rather large caravan, transporting all the possessions and people he had “acquired” while living in Haran (Genesis 12:5). It would appear that Abram had livestock and slaves in tow. A few of these unnamed servants or slaves will play important roles as the story unfolds. But their presence in the traveling party would have made progress slow and demanded greater resourcefulness when it came to provisions and protection.

But eventually, Abram arrived in the land of Canaan, just as God had commanded. And Moses indicates that Abram “passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6 ESV), where “he built there an altar to the Lord” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While there’s no indication from the text that God directed Abram’s steps by providing him with detailed navigational instructions, it seems only logical that God was guiding His servant all along the way. Once again, the sovereign hand of God was determining every aspect of Abram’s pilgrimage from Haran to Canaan, even choosing Shechem as the place where Abram would erect an altar. Two times in verse 7, Moses discloses that God had appeared to Abram. These divine theophanies or manifestations of God’s presence had probably occurred all along the way, providing Abram with guidance and assurance that he was not alone.

Shechem was located in the center of Canaan, and it was there, in the heart of this foreign land that God instructed Abram to build an altar and offer sacrifices. Most likely exhausted by the long and arduous journey, Abram still obeyed God and did just as he was told. He “called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8 ESV). This phrase refers to much more than just worship. It reveals an underlying awareness of the holy and righteous character of God as embodied in His divine name. The first occurrence of this phrase is found in Genesis 4:26, where it reads, “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

The “name of the Lord” is synonymous with His character.  To devalue God’s name is tantamount to profaning His character. To call upon His name is to recognize that God alone is God. He is the transcendent and holy “other.” There is no other god besides Him. Man was made in the image of God and given the unique role of glorifying His great name by living in humble submission to His will. To call upon His name is to acknowledge one’s complete reliance upon Him and trust in Him. That is why God would later command the Israelites to treat His name with respect.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. – Exodus 20:7 ESV

To treat God’s name vainly or flippantly has much more to do with behavior than speech. Later on, God would provide His people with an example of what it meant to treat His name vainly.

You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:21 ESV

Proverbs 30:8-9 indicates that a life of self-sufficiency is a way to profane the name of the Lord.

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.

When men make the false assumption that they can be their own benefactor and provider, they rob God of glory and profane His name. The prophet Isaiah described the anger of God against those who give Him lip-service, but whose actions reveal that they have no respect for His name and character.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

At this point in the story of Abram’s life, he is revealing his deep dependence upon God. He recognizes that his journey from Haran to Canaan has been the work of God and he wants to express his gratitude through sacrifice and praise. And having completed his sacrifice to God, Abram continued to his journey to “the hill country on the east of Bethel” (Genesis 12:8 ESV). And there, he pitched his tent, erected a second altar, and called upon the name of the Lord. Here we have a picture of the nomadic lifestyle that Abram would come to know. He would spend his entire life on the move, relocating from one place to another within the land of Canaan. Even after pitching his tent in Bethel, Abram would eventually break camp and continue his tireless trek through the land God had promised to give him as a possession. And the author of Hebrews reveals that Abram’s transient lifestyle was motivated by a firm belief that God had something great in store for him.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

He was a man on the move, but with a faith that was firmly founded on the faithfulness of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Call and a Commitment

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter 12, Moses provides his Hebrew readers with an important history lesson that solidifies their unique role in God’s redemptive plan for all mankind. For generations, the Jews had rightfully viewed themselves as God’s chosen people. They considered themselves to be a people who had been set apart by God and declared to be His “treasured possession.” Those were the very words that Moses had communicated to them not long after God delivered them out of captivity in Egypt.

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

Years later, when the people of Israel were standing on the border of Canaan, preparing to enter into the land that God had promised to give them, Moses reminded them of their privileged position as God’s set-apart people.

For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

When reading the story of Abram’s call, it is essential to keep this unique relationship between God and the nation of Israel in mind. The original audience to whom Moses wrote would have relished this retelling of their storied history, but it’s likely that they missed some of the key messages that God had intended for them to hear. They would have brightened at the mention of Abram’s name. This would have been the part of the story where they sat up and took notice. God’s call of Abram had been the impetus for their very existence.

And while that was true, there is something far more significant in the story of Abram’s call than the formation of a single, set-apart nation. For generations, the descendants of Abram had missed the divine purpose behind their existence. They had not earned their favored status with God. The Almighty had not looked down from heaven, noticed their righteous behavior, and decided to reward them with a promotion. In fact, Moses had fully dispelled any thought of their favored status being a reward.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-8 NLT

That last line is the key to understanding Genesis 12. The Hebrews, as descendants of Abram, had been created by God. Despite their long and storied history, they had not always existed. There had been a time when not a single Jew walked the face of the earth. Even Abram was not of Jewish descent. He was a Chaldean. But from this one man came a people whom God would set apart. Like the rest of the universe in Genesis 1, the Hebrew people would be created by God, ex nihilo (out of nothing). And the 12th chapter of Genesis begins the story of this “new creation” by God.

The apostle Peter picked up on this theme when writing his first letter. He was addressing Christians who were living in Asia Minor and suffering persecution because of their faith. At one point in his letter, he describes them as “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11), living in the midst of the spiritual darkness that surrounded them. And he used language that compared them to the people of Israel.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

That last line is critical. At one time, these people had not been “a people.” Oh, they existed, but they lacked a relationship with God. The apostle Paul addressed the Gentile believers in Ephesus with a similar thought.

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12 BSB

And Paul went on to remind them of the dramatic transformation that God had brought about in their lives.

Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household… – Ephesians 2:19 BSB

So, back to Genesis 12. With the opening line of the chapter, Moses describes God as sovereignly inserting Himself into the affairs of humanity once again. After all the genealogical lists describing the various lines of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, God focuses His attention on one man: Abram. And to this one individual, God issues a call and provides a promise.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

According to chapter 11, Abram had been born in Ur of the Chaldeans, located in the land of Shinar. But at one point, his father had made the decision to move his entire family to Canaan. The text provides is no explanation for this costly and difficult relocation. But it is not difficult to see the sovereign hand of God orchestrating this entire affair.

It would have taken a great deal of time and effort to make the long journey from Ur to Canaan. Because the arid and impassable Arabian Desert was located immediately east of Ur, Terah was forced to take a time-consuming detour that eventually led them to Haran. And, once in Haran, Terah had a change of heart and decided to settle down. but God had other plans for Abram. In time, Haran became home to Abram. He too settled down and began to put down roots. But at some point, God commanded him to leave everything behind.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. – Genesis 12:1 NLT

This was a huge “ask” on God’s part. In those days, family ties were essential to survival. By this time in human history, the world had become a hostile place occupied by disparate people groups based on clans and tribal relationships. After God had scattered the nations across the face of the earth (Genesis 11:9), territorial boundaries and indigenous communities had become commonplace. Everyone had staked out their claims and was protecting their particular piece of the global pie. So, it would not have been easy for Abram to leave the safety and security of his clan behind.

But God’s command came with a promise. He was going to provide Abram with a new home in a new land. And it just happened to be the very same land that Terah had intended as his family’s destination. Perhaps Terah had given up on Canaan because he heard it was already occupied by other, more powerful clans. But this would prove to be no problem for God. For the first time since God had placed Adam in Eden, a man was going to be given a specific tract of land to occupy. And like Eden, Canaan was a beautiful and fruitful land, “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 ESV).

According to God, this new land would become the sole possession of Abram’s descendants. In a sense, Canaan had Abram’s name on the deed. And it would be in this land that God would bless Abram and produce through him “a great nation.”

But there is a problem. It was mentioned in chapter 11 but only in passing. In the listing of Terah’s descendants, Abram is described as taking a wife for himself – a woman named Sarai. And then, almost as an aside, the test reveals, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:30 ESV). Abram would have been completely unaware of Sarai’s condition. But God knew. And yet, knowing that Sarai was incapable of bearing children, God declared that Abram would become the father of a great nation. God was going to bless Abram by giving him offspring. And those offspring would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. An undeserving man and his barren wife would become the means by which God would pour out His blessings on all humanity.

And this is the point that the Hebrew people tended to miss. They considered themselves to be blessed by God because they were descendants of Abram. But they neglected to remember that their blessing came with a responsibility: They were to have been a blessing to the nations. God had set apart Abram and all his descendants so that they might serve as His representatives to the nations. God had promised to make them His “treasured possession among all peoples” (Exodus 19:5 ESV). But they had a job to do.

…you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation… – Exodus 19:6 ESV

Priests were intended to be the mediators between God and man. The Hebrew people had been set apart by God so that they might minister on His behalf to all the nations of the earth. But they had proved to be unfaithful priests and far from a holy nation. But God’s promise would still be fulfilled. Because it would be through the line of Abram that He would bring the offspring through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Jesus would accomplish what the nation of Israel had failed to do.

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations… ” – Isaiah 42:6 ESV

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

That is what sets this chapter apart. In it is contained the hope of all eternity. The coming of the Messiah is weaved into the fabric of Abram’s call and provides the underlying foundation for God’s promise of future blessing for all mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Fine Line From Cursing to Blessing

10 These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood. 11 And Shem lived after he fathered Arpachshad 500 years and had other sons and daughters.

12 When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah. 13 And Arpachshad lived after he fathered Shelah 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he fathered Eber. 15 And Shelah lived after he fathered Eber 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he fathered Peleg. 17 And Eber lived after he fathered Peleg 430 years and had other sons and daughters.

18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he fathered Reu. 19 And Peleg lived after he fathered Reu 209 years and had other sons and daughters.

20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he fathered Serug. 21 And Reu lived after he fathered Serug 207 years and had other sons and daughters.

22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he fathered Nahor. 23 And Serug lived after he fathered Nahor 200 years and had other sons and daughters.

24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he fathered Terah. 25 And Nahor lived after he fathered Terah 119 years and had other sons and daughters.

26 When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran. Genesis 11:10-32 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter 11, Moses provides an explanation of an earlier comment he made regarding Peleg, a descendant of Shem.

To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided – Genesis 10:25 ESV

Bookending the story of the tower of Babel are two genealogical lists. In chapter 10, beginning in verse 11, Moses provides an abbreviated version of Shem’s lineage, because it provides no branch for Peleg, the son of Eber. In reference to Peleg simply states: “in his days the earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25 ESV). The story of Babel is what follows. When humanity decided to settle down in the land of Shinar, build a city, and erect a tower as a monument to their own glory, God took action. They shared a common ancestry and enjoyed the benefits of a common language. This unified connection gave them a sense of invincibility and fueled their desire for autonomy. That is why God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6 ESV). 

Rather than obeying God’s mandate to fill the earth, they had determined to remain in one place and construct a city that would reflect their own greatness. Rather than honor God, they chose to glorify themselves. So, God stepped in and “confused” their language. He miraculously divided their number by creating a barrier to further communication. Suddenly, they found themselves unable to understand one another. This God-enforced diversity resulted in their dispersal across the face of all the earth.

And it is at this point, that Moses picks back up the genealogical record of Shem’s descendants. With the story of Babel explained, Moses is able to reveal what happened to Peleg after “the earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25 ESV).

Back in chapter five, Moses recorded another genealogical record that began with Adam and ended with Noah and his three sons. This list contains the names of all those who descended from Adam and Eve and vividly portrays the life-altering consequences of the first couple’s sin and the divine curse it incurred.

First of all, it states that Adam “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3 ESV). This statement stands in stark contrast to the creation account where God had said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis1:26 ESV). Because of the entrance of sin into the perfect environment of Eden, mankind was permanently damaged. Adam and Eve would pass on to their descendants their proclivity for sin and the divine decree of death as its punishment. The original man and woman were to be God’s image-bearers. But like a marred mirror, this first couple and all their progeny would be incapable of perfectly reflecting the glory of God – all because of sin. Their children would be born in their image and bear their likeness. 

And the list found in chapter five contains another sober reminder of the consequences of the fall. With each successive generation, Moses repeatedly and intentionally states “he fathered” and “he died.” While the creation story in chapter one emphasizes the glory and wonder of new life, the genealogical list in chapter five provides the new post-fall reality of death.

But Moses leaves out that dark and depressing aspect of mankind’s fate in the genealogy of Shem recorded in chapter 11. While the age of each father is listed, there is no mention of death. This distinction is subtle, yet significant. Moses is attempting to paint a more hopeful future for humanity. Even after the debacle of Babel, when “the earth was divided” by God (Genesis 10:25) because of the pride and arrogance of man, this second genealogy of Shem is intended to reveal a new line of humanity that will result in another new beginning.

The first part of this list is much like the one found in chapter 10. But this time, Moses traces the branch of Eber’s family tree through his son, Peleg. According to the list, Eber had other sons and daughters. In other words, there were other branches to his family tree that could have been traced, but Moses concentrated all his attention on Peleg and the line of descent that flowed through his son, Reu. Moses is very specific and has an end in mind. His methodical record of Peleg’s lineage has actually been reverse-engineered and intended to trace the ancestral pedigree of a particular offspring of Adam. Notice where the genealogy ends.

When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. – Genesis 11:26 ESV

After listing generations of descendants from Shem, the list suddenly stops. Moses has reached his desired destination. And the name of Abram would have caught the attention of Moses’ Hebrew audience. After all, he was their revered patriarch, the father of the Hebrew nation. This entire exercise in genealogical authentication was meant to validate Abram as a descendant of Noah and an offspring of Adam. And one of the reasons this is so important is because of the curse God had leveled against the serpent for his role in the fall of man.

And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 NLT

Of all the genealogical lists contained in Genesis, this one is intended to provide a sense of hope and anticipation. The world is broken and marred. And with the birth of each new generation, mankind is slowly moving further away from God. And yet, here in chapter 11, an offspring of Eve is born who will play a significant role in fulfilling the divine curse that God had leveled on the enemy. Satan would pay dearly for his attempt to dethrone God by deceiving and damaging His image-bearers. Despite the subsequent generations that flowed from the first couple and the track record of wickedness that plagued them, God had a plan for restoring them. He had a preconceived strategy for redeeming fallen humanity even before He had breathed life into the first man.

This chapter is intended to be a turning point in what has been a somewhat bleak story. Moses is preparing to reveal the next chapter in his history of mankind by introducing a new character who will play a vital role in God’s redemptive plan. Up to this point in the Genesis account, there have been two primary protagonists: Adam and Noah. One represents humanity in its pre-fall and post-fall states. The other spans the pre-flood and post-flood periods of mankind’s existence. But now, Moses introduces a third character whose life will greatly influence the unfolding story of God’s redemptive plan.

What should stand out in all of this is God’s sovereignty. He is operating behind the scenes, orchestrating and overseeing every aspect of His creation. Nothing escapes His notice or happens outside of His sovereign and providential will. The birth of Abram was not a case of blind luck, fate, or cosmic karma. It was the preordained will of God Almighty. God had predetermined the birth of Abram because He had always planned to use this one man as a conduit through whom He would one day pour out His blessings on humanity. As will become evident as the story unfolds, God had grand plans for this seemingly insignificant descendant of Adam. The One who ordained Abram’s birth would one day divulge Abram’s calling.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

That last line speaks volumes. God was going to use a solitary offspring of Eve to reverse the curse and pour out His blessings on all the families of the earth. This one man, Abram, would prove to be the divinely ordained conduit thought whom God would bring hope to a sin-damaged world and the gift of life to all those living under the curse of death.

And Moses ends chapter 11 with Abram moving from his home in Ur to the distant land of Haran. Moses describes Abram’s slow but steady migration east, bringing him ever closer to the land of Canaan. And Moses intended this far-from-subtle insight into Abram’s former home and ultimate destination to remind his Jewish readers of their roots. They hailed from the land of Shinar, the infamous site of Babel and the future home of Babylon. Their patriarch was a Chaldean and not a Jew. And their distinct Hebraic language had been the result of God’s judgment against the rebellious people of Babel. Their heritage was marred. Their patriarch was far from pristine. But their God had a plan that would put all these pieces together to form a perfect plan so that He might bless the nations of the earth.

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