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|Genesis 12:1||Genesis 12:14-19|
GENESIS 12:1-3 (A three-strand Covenant with Abraham)
12:1 Abram (later renamed Abraham, 17:5) had heard the call to move before the family left Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31). In the New Testament we have the comment that “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). But when they arrived in Haran Terah decided to settle there (11:31). As a result Abraham had to make the break from his family and move on with his wife Sarai (renamed Sarah, 17:15) and his nephew Lot to the south (12:5).
In the New testament Abraham’s faith is given as the heart of Christian faith (Romans 4:1-5). But it was not Abraham’s attachment to the land of Canaan that counted but the fact that “he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrew 11:10). Neither for Jews or Arabs or Christians is faith a matter of fighting for territory. Faith is looking to the Creator God of Abraham and looking forward to the city of God. As Jesus explained to his disciples at the Last Supper, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).
Note: In connection with the 3,800 year quarrel about the land between Jews and Arabs it is important to read Genesis very carefully. The promise to Abraham concerning the land (12:1) said nothing about a permanent homeland for the Jewish people. At that time Ishmael and the Arab nation were not yet in view. But when Lot chose the Jordan Valley, Abraham was told “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring for ever”(Genesis 13:14-15, 17). At that time Abraham still had no heir.
After Abraham had been ten years in Canaan (16:3) Ishmael was born, and he was counted as Abraham’s rightful heir for fourteen years (16:16, 21:5). But when Sarah conceived in her old age (21:1-3) she wanted her own son Isaac to be the family heir, and she insisted that Ishmael and his mother Hagar be sent away (21:10).
Abraham found this very upsetting (21:11-13), but God promised that he would also make a great nation of the Ishmaelites. The twelve original Ishmaelite tribes and their locations in Arabia are carefully listed (25:12-18). This is the only record of the Arab family origins. And in time all the Arab nations were counted as bene Ishmael or children of Ishmael (for a reconstruction of the story see Ishmael the Arab). .
The first references to a more permanent Jewish (as opposed to Arab) occupation of the land were given to Isaac (26:3) and to Jacob (28:13), but Jews have viewed this promise as having been originally given to Abraham (Psalm 105:9-11). Many years later after the Exodus from Egypt, Moses saw the land from the top of Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 34:1-3), and he was told that this was the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 34:4). Meanwhile the bene Ishmael (Arabs), who later included all the other descendants of Abraham, had moved out south-east into the vast area of Transjordan and Arabia (13:11-12; 21:20-21; 25:1-6, 12; 28:6-9; 32:3; 33:16; 36:1-43)
The extent of Jewish territory was wrongly given as extending to the Euphrates (based on Genesis 15:18, Exodus 23:31, Deuteronomy 1:7, Joshua 1:4 NRSV, Jeremiah 13:4-7). That would have taken the boundary 400 miles (640 km) north to the Euphrates, including the whole of Syria. But the word translated nahar parat in these verses means an overflowing river, which can mean the Euphrates of Mesopotamia, but Jordan was also an overflowing river (Joshua 3:15, 4:18). As a river the Jordan was not as big as the Euphrates, but it was the only great river in Israel. The land claimed by the Jews has always been from Dan in the foothills of Mount Lebanon mountains to Beersheba in the south (Judges 20:1, 1 Samuel 3:20, 2 Samuel 17:11, 24:2, 15, 2 Kings 4:25, Ezekiel 47:13-20). It was bounded on the west by the Mediterranean and on the east by the Jordan river below the sea of Galilee.
12:2 The second strand of the covenant with Abraham promised that his descendants would become a great nation. In Canaan he was later told that they would be as numerous as the stars in the night sky (15:5). Abraham had the faith to believe this, and on the basis of this faith the LORD counted him as righteous (15:6). This was the basis of the Reformation doctrine of justification (being made right or counted right) by faith alone (explained by Paul in Romans 4:1-5).
After Ishmael and his mother Hagar were sent away to the east, Abraham was upset that his first-born son was being excluded, but God promised that the Arab nation descended from Ishmael would also become a great nation (21:11-13). After the sacrifice of Isaac (Muslims say it was Ishmael) the promise about Abraham’s offspring being as numerous as the stars was repeated (22:17). And in fact both Jews and Arabs have multiplied and had a huge influence in the world.
12:3 By far the most important part of the threefold covenant with Abraham is the promise that “in you all families of the earth shall be blessed.” But this third strand of the promise has been mostly neglected by both Jews and Arabs. Jews have naturally focused on their own security, both in the dangerous environment of the persecutions and holocaust of their European exile, and in trying to preserve their foothold (since 1948) in their promised land. Fundamentalist Arabs have assumed that the nations of the world can only be blessed by submission to Islam including adopting Shariah Law. For many Arabs the supreme concern that has crowded out all other issues is ending the Jewish occupation of Palestine, and extremists want them driven into the sea.
By a strange turn of history God has used Christians to take the faith of Abraham and the love of God to nations all over the world. After his conversion to faith in Jesus as the Messiah Paul argued that the one thing that matters for people anywhere is turning to faith in the God of Abraham. And this is nothing to do with trying to be put right by obeying the rules of Judaism (or of Islam, or for that matter of our legalistic Christian denominations). “To one who without works trusts him who justifies (makes right) the ungodly, such faith (the faith of Abraham) is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).
At their best Christians have translated the Bible into hundreds of languages, and left people free to live out their faith without the control of people from other countries. But the sad story of the Crusades reminds us that Christian denominations have again and again thought in terms of dominating territory rather than making the good news of the faith of Abraham known to all peopleThis website does not claim to be prophetic but we wonder if the only hope for peace in the Middle East might be if Jews and Arabs and Christians could agree that the third strand of the covenant with Abraham requires us to make the faith of Abraham known all over the world..
12:4 At the age of 75 Abraham and Sarai (Sarah) arrived in Canaanite territory.
12:5 They were accompanied by the son of Abraham’s brother who had died before the family left Ur of the Chaldees (11:27-28). There were also family servants and slaves. In Canaan they would have found people speaking a Hamitic language (wrongly called Semitic, see note on 10:6). This was related (perhaps as closely as Italian and Spanish) to the Hamitic language of the Horn of Africa (Cush) which had displaced Sumerian in Mesopotamia (see Nimrod, 10:8-11). Though it was not his mother tongue, Abraham would have learned to speak Akkadian before leaving Ur, and it would have enabled him to get by in both Canaanite and Egyptian (12:10). His sons, Ishmael and Isaac both spoke Canaanite, and as a result both classical Hebrew and classical Arabic had a Canaanite origin.
12:6-7 Their first encampment was in Shechem (10 miles, 16 km, south-east of Samaria). As was explained in the New Testament, no one has ever seen God the Father, but his Son has kept making him known (John 1:18). This is the first record (after Adam and Eve) of the Messiah Son of God appearing in bodily form (see 16:13; 17:1; 18:1; 26:2, 24; 28:13; 32:27- 30; 35:1). As Noah had done (see note on 8:20) Abraham would have butchered an animal for the tribe to eat and burned the fat and entrails on the altar he had built.
A hundred a fifty years after Abraham had built this altar in Shechem, Jacob bought a plot of land there (33:18-20) and built an altar in the same place as his grandfather. After completing his campaigns in the promised land Joshua gathered the people in Shechem to adopt the first Jewish constitution (Joshua 24:25-26). The later division between the northern tribes and the house of David began when Jeroboam “built Shechem in the hill country of Shechem and resided there (1 Kings 12:25).
12:8 Bethel was 20 Miles, 32 km, due south of Shechem, which probably meant a two or three day journey further south moving with all the baggage. Ai was two miles of Bethel, and it was the place that later defeated Israel before being destroyed by Joshua (Joshua 7:2-8:22). Jeroboam made Bethel the northern center of sacrificial worship in opposition to Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-33)
GENESIS 12:9-19 (Abraham’s disastrous move into Egypt)
12:9-10 Having been promised the land of Canaan to live in, Abraham and his family soon encountered a severe famine in that area. We can imagine their disappointment when they had to move “by stages”65 miles, 100 km, towards the Negeb. Then they had to go another 180 miles (290 km) west into Egypt to find food. Abraham still had no heir, and the New Testament commented that “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:20-21).
12:11-13 He did waver in his faith as he feared for his own life. When he arrived in Egypt he might get killed, and Sarai (Sarah) would be taken into Pharaoh’s harem. She was not only beautiful but very wealthy (12:16). So Abraham told her to say she was not his wife but his sister. This was a half truth because she was his sister (20:12).
12:14-19 As Abraham had deviously planned, Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s harem, and his own life and wealth was preserved. But the LORD overruled Abraham’s abominable behavior, and kept Sarai from becoming one of Pharaoh’s wives. When the whole royal household was immediately struck with a terrrible plague, Pharaoh soon found out that he had no right to take Sarai since she was legally married to Abraham. He rebuked Abraham for his deceit, and sent Abraham back to Canaan from where he had come.
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