Exploring New Direction


Biblical Truth: God’s promises and call to faith do not necessarily include immediate clarity or conflict-free accomplishment.

Called to Change: Gen. 12:1-3.

[1]  Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; [2]  and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; [3]  and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”     [NASU]

[1]  The language of the call in 12:1-3 possesses many poetic characteristics, such as parallelisms and rhyme. The most prominent feature is the repetition of the pronoun “you/your”, referring to Abram, and the first-person verbs, “I will”, referring to God. This interplay between second and first persons shows Abram as the recipient and the Lord as the Promisor. There are three phrases which identify the spheres of influence in his life that Abram must leave behind, from the broad to the specific: from your country, your relatives, your father’s house. The repetition of from reinforces the command of separation required of Abram by God. The solace of country and family must give way to a higher allegiance. This is the requirement of those who enter the kingdom, as Jesus taught in Matthew 10:37. All is placed in the Lord’s hands who will show him the land of destiny, Canaan. The land which I will show you is the only road map that Abram can follow. Abram can depart and cohabit with his wife, but it is the Lord who will make of this alien and childless couple a great nation.

[2]  After the promise of a land, the second promise is a numerous population base, a great nation. A nation is generally characterized as a political unit with common land, language, and government. This is the most startling promise, for Abram at seventy-five years has no children, and Sarai is barren. Abram’s industry could have obtained for himself a land, wealth, and fame, but in the acquisition of children by Sarai he was helpless without God. The couple’s vain attempts at a substitute successor [15:2-3; 16:2] admit their impotence to achieve the promise. Following the promises of land and descendants, the Lord announces He will enrich Abram materially: I will bless you. Bless in Genesis describes primarily two benefits: progeny and material wealth. Here bless indicates material wealth for Abram, since the promise of a populous nation had already been made. The third promise, I will make your name great, pledges that Abram’s influence will be widespread, even across generations. Whereas chapters 1-11 depict the folly of human efforts to obtain wisdom and fame by unlawful means, the patriarch receives a name by divine grant. Although this promise speaks to Abram’s stature in his own time, it also anticipates the change in Abram’s name to Abraham which is conferred by God who will make him a father of future nations and kings [17:5-6]. Abraham will be revered as father by a host of peoples whom he will influence throughout the centuries. The telling reality of this promise is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam look to Abraham as their spiritual progenitor. The fourth promise, so you shall be a blessing, transitions the focus of the promises from the individual Abram and his descendants to all families who are influenced by him. The statement is nonspecific, focusing attention at this point only on the mediator of the blessing, namely, Abram.

[3]  The final triad of promises explains how Abram will achieve a blessing for others. Promises five and six are expressed explicitly as the actions of the Lord (I will). Although the precise meaning of the last promise is disputed, the verse in context indicates that the Lord, not Abram, is the dispenser of blessing for the nations. Abram has no exclusive claim on God’s blessing; rather, God has exclusive claim on Abram and on all those who submit to his God. The fifth and sixth promises are parallel expressions, two sides of the same coin. Bless and curse are integral terms in Genesis. In chapters 1-11 curse is the consequence of unlawful behavior; now curse is explained by how a people mistreats Abram, the appointed heir of the blessing. The purpose of calling Abram is to bless, for blessing dominates the call, but curse is also purposeful since the call assumes that opposition is the reality Abram faces. The final, seventh promise reveals the inclusive character of the promissory blessing, all the families of the earth will be blessed. How this blessing is received involves Abram, although the precise way this is achieved is ambiguous in the language. Probably the best understanding according to the context is that God is the source and Abram the channel of the blessing. This indicates that God has a plan to bless all families through Abram. Nothing is said in this passage to indicate how this blessing will take place. But as we trace the promise of this blessing throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament we discover that the blessing is fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially as it applies to the Gentiles (see especially Galatians 3:13-14).

Clarity Follows Obedience: Gen. 12:4-8.

[4]  So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. [5] Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. [6]  Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. [7]  The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. [8]  Then he proceeded from there to the mountain 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.     [NASU]

[4-5]  So Abram went forth as the Lord has spoken to him reports the first step of obedient faith. Two parenthetical statements reflect the chief obstacles to the patriarch’s faith that he must overcome. First, his age at seventy-five years establishes the timeline that measures his twenty-five year wait for the gift of an heir. Second, Canaanites inhabited the land Abram hoped to receive. He trusted, however, that the Lord by some unrevealed means would enable his descendants to dispossess Canaan’s inhabitants.

[6-7]  Upon Abram’s entry into Canaan, the Lord confirms the promises and in doing so recognizes Abram’s act of obedience. First, He appears to Abram at Shechem, his first residence in the land. This theophany reassured Abram of the Lord’s presence; the patriarch responded by building an altar, the first of many. Second, the Lord reassured Abram by reiterating the two signal promises: children and land.

[8]  Abram’s travelogue involved these locations: Shechem (oak of Moreh), Bethel/Ai, and the Negev. Both Jacob and later Israel make their claim to the land at these same sites. Shechem is situated at the strategic pass between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal in central Palestine, about forty-one miles north of Jerusalem. Shechem became an important religious and political center for later Israel. Its association with the patriarchs Jacob and Joseph made it a historic place among the Hebrew people. From Shechem Abram traveled south, where he set up camp on the mountain located between Bethel and Ai, also situated in central Palestine. He revisited the place when retracing his steps from Egypt [13:3]. The appearance of the Lord to Jacob at Bethel underscores its importance [28:19; 31:13; 25:1-16]. Bethel remained an important religious site [Judg. 20:18,26-28; 1 Kings 12:29; Hosea 12:4], second only to Jerusalem, until the destruction of its sanctuary by Josiah [2 Kings 23:15]. Abram continued southward toward the Negev; the Hebrew construction indicates he repeated the pattern of journeying by stages, where he built altars to the Lord. The Negev is the region south of Judah where Abram and Isaac resided for brief periods [13:1,3; 20:1; 24:62].

Conflict Comes: Gen. 13:5-7.

[5]  Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. [6]  And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. [7]  And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.    [NASU]

Lot and Abram had prospered. They had much livestock and many servants, some of whom had come from Egypt. So when they got back to the hill country from which they had set out, they found that the land that had been able to sustain them when they were less wealthy was now inadequate. Quarreling inevitably arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. Whose flocks should have the choice pasture? Whose should be first at the wells? In a situation like this, the petty quarreling between the servants of the two men was bound to affect their own relationship. So Abram, the wiser of the two, determined to nip it in the bud. He suggested that the two should part company. Here was a mature and sensitive move on Abram’s part. As the older man and the leader in the entire adventure, it was his right to have

first choice. But he had learned something important. When he had gone to Egypt, he had chosen for himself and had gotten into great difficulty. Now he was content to leave the choices with God and to trust God for his future provision. He did not need to take care of “number one.” God would do that. Therefore, since he was sure God would provide, he held the things of this world loosely. If God gave them, that was all right. Abram would hold them in trust from God and use them for God’s glory. But if God took them away, that was fine too. For Abram had God and, having Him, had the only thing that ultimately mattered. Poor Lot! His life was shallow, and confronted with a choice like this, he could not help but choose what seemed better materially, regardless of the company he would have to keep in order to have it. He looked from the heights of Bethel to the plain of the Jordan, saw that it was well watered and chose the Jordan. Lot’s heart was not set upon God but on his possessions, and for that he lost everything.

Count on God’s Promises: Gen. 13:8-9,14-16.

[8]  So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. [9]  Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.” [14]  The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; [15]  for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. [16]  I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered.”     [NASU]

[14-18]  Abram had temporarily lost prime real estate in Canaan by giving Lot first choice in the matter of the land. Moreover, he had lost Lot. But God came to Abram to say that Abram had abandoned nothing that would not be more than compensated for, both in this life and in the life to come. Had Abram lost the best land? Not so; God was giving him the entire land of Canaan. He was to have all the land north and south, east and west. Had Abram lost family for the sake of his discipleship? No, God was giving him offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then could his offspring be counted. But he would have to do two things: (1) He would have to lift up his eyes and see what God was giving, and (2) he would have to walk through the length and breadth of the land and thus possess it piecemeal. There are two places in this account where we find the idea of lifting up your eyes. The first is in connection with Lot who lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan [10]. This looking was in actuality a deep longing, for it grew out of the uncommitted and covetous heart of Lot. He wanted this good land. The other looking is by Abram, who lifted his eyes at God’s command. This was not longing. This was obedience. Therefore, as Abram obeyed, the site of surrender became a place of possession through his already growing faith.

Questions for Discussion:

1.          In 12:1-3, list the commands of God to Abram. Now list the promises of God to Abram if he obeys God. Do you rely on God to make your name great or are you making a name for yourself? How would relying on God for honor affect your current decisions and priorities?

2.          What can we learn about Abram’s character from his actions in 12:4-9? List the qualities you observe and how he shows them. See Hebrews 11:8-10 for examples.

3.          What further details can we learn about Abram’s character from how he handled the situation with Lot in 13:1-16? Contrast the character of Abram with that of Lot? How did God respond to the way Abram handled this difficult situation?

4.          What can we learn from these verses concerning how God expects us to live and how He will respond to the decisions we make?


Genesis 12-36, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis 11:27-50:26, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

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