The Obedience of Abram1 Now the Lord said ▼
▼ The Lord called Abram while he was in Ur (see Gen 15:7; Acts 7:2); but the sequence here makes it look like it was after the family left to migrate to Canaan (11:31–32). Genesis records the call of Abram at this place in the narrative because it is the formal beginning of the account of Abram. The record of Terah was brought to its end before this beginning.to Abram, ▼
▼ The call of Abram begins with an imperative לֶךְ־לְךָ (lekh-lekha, “go out”) followed by three cohortatives (v. 2a) indicating purpose or consequence (“that I may” or “then I will”). If Abram leaves, then God will do these three things. The second imperative (v. 2b, literally “and be a blessing”) is subordinated to the preceding cohortatives and indicates God’s ultimate purpose in calling and blessing Abram. On the syntactical structure of vv. 1–2 see R. B. Chisholm, “Evidence from Genesis,” A Case for Premillennialism, 37. For a similar sequence of volitive forms see Gen 45:18.▼
▼ It would be hard to overestimate the value of this call and this divine plan for the theology of the Bible. Here begins God’s plan to bring redemption to the world. The promises to Abram will be turned into a covenant in Gen 15 and 22 (here it is a call with conditional promises) and will then lead through the Bible to the work of the Messiah.
“Go out ▼
▼ The initial command is the direct imperative (לֶךְ, lekh) from the verb הָלַךְ (halakh). It is followed by the lamed preposition with a pronominal suffix (לְךָ, lekha) emphasizing the subject of the imperative: “you leave.”from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household
to the land that I will show you. ▼
▼ To the land that I will show you. The call of Abram illustrates the leading of the Lord. The command is to leave. The Lord’s word is very specific about what Abram is to leave (the three prepositional phrases narrow to his father’s household), but is not specific at all about where he is to go. God required faith, a point that Heb 11:8 notes.
2 Then I will make you ▼ into a great nation, and I will bless you, ▼
▼ I will bless you. The blessing of creation is now carried forward to the patriarch. In the garden God blessed Adam and Eve; in that blessing he gave them (1) a fruitful place, (2) endowed them with fertility to multiply, and (3) made them rulers over creation. That was all ruined at the fall. Now God begins to build his covenant people; in Gen 12–22 he promises to give Abram (1) a land flowing with milk and honey, (2) a great nation without number, and (3) kingship.
and I will make your name great, ▼
▼ Or “I will make you famous.”
so that you will exemplify divine blessing. ▼
▼ Heb “and be a blessing.” The verb form הְיֵה (heyeh) is the Qal imperative of the verb הָיָה (hayah). The vav (ו) with the imperative after the cohortatives indicates purpose or consequence. What does it mean for Abram to “be a blessing”? Will he be a channel or source of blessing for others, or a prime example of divine blessing? A similar statement occurs in Zech 8:13, where God assures his people, “You will be a blessing,” in contrast to the past when they “were a curse.” Certainly “curse” here does not refer to Israel being a source of a curse, but rather to the fact that they became a curse-word or byword among the nations, who regarded them as the epitome of an accursed people (see 2 Kgs 22:19; Jer 42:18; 44:8, 12, 22). Therefore the statement “be a blessing” seems to refer to Israel being transformed into a prime example of a blessed people, whose name will be used in blessing formulae, rather than in curses. If the statement “be a blessing” is understood in the same way in Gen 12:2, then it means that God would so bless Abram that other nations would hear of his fame and hold him up as a paradigm of divine blessing in their blessing formulae.
3 I will bless those who bless you, ▼
▼ The Piel cohortative has as its object a Piel participle, masculine plural. Since the Lord binds himself to Abram by covenant, those who enrich Abram in any way share in the blessings.
but the one who treats you lightly ▼
▼ In this part of God’s statement there are two significant changes that often go unnoticed. First, the parallel and contrasting participle מְקַלֶּלְךָ (meqallelkha) is now singular and not plural. All the versions and a few Masoretic mss read the plural. But if it had been plural, there would be no reason to change it to the singular and alter the parallelism. On the other hand, if it was indeed singular, it is easy to see why the versions would change it to match the first participle. The MT preserves the original reading: “the one who treats you lightly.” The point would be a contrast with the lavish way that God desires to bless many. The second change is in the vocabulary. The English usually says, “I will curse those who curse you.” But there are two different words for curse here. The first is קָלַל (qalal), which means “to be light” in the Qal, and in the Piel “to treat lightly, to treat with contempt, to curse.” The second verb is אָרַר (’arar), which means “to banish, to remove from the blessing.” The point is simple: Whoever treats Abram and the covenant with contempt as worthless God will banish from the blessing. It is important also to note that the verb is not a cohortative, but a simple imperfect. Since God is binding himself to Abram, this would then be an obligatory imperfect: “but the one who treats you with contempt I must curse.”I must curse,
and all the families of the earth will bless one another ▼
▼ Theoretically the Niphal can be translated either as passive or reflexive/reciprocal. (The Niphal of “bless” is only used in formulations of the Abrahamic covenant. See Gen 12:2; 18:18; 28:14.) Traditionally the verb is taken as passive here, as if Abram were going to be a channel or source of blessing. But in later formulations of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen 22:18; 26:4) the Hitpael replaces this Niphal form, suggesting a translation “will bless [i.e., “pronounce blessings on”] themselves [or “one another”].” The Hitpael of “bless” is used with a reflexive/reciprocal sense in Deut 29:18; Ps 72:17; Isa 65:16; Jer 4:2. Gen 12:2 predicts that Abram will be held up as a paradigm of divine blessing and that people will use his name in their blessing formulae. For examples of blessing formulae utilizing an individual as an example of blessing see Gen 48:20 and Ruth 4:11.by your name.”
4 So Abram left, ▼ just as the Lord had told him to do, ▼
▼ Heb “just as the Lord said to him.”and Lot went with him. (Now ▼
▼ The disjunctive clause (note the pattern conjunction + subject + implied “to be” verb) is parenthetical, telling the age of Abram when he left Haran.Abram was 75 years old ▼
▼ Heb “was the son of five years and seventy year[s].”▼
▼ Terah was 70 years old when he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran (Gen 11:26). Terah was 205 when he died in Haran (11:32). Abram left Haran at the age of 75 after his father died. Abram was born when Terah was 130. Abram was not the firstborn – he is placed first in the list of three because of his importance. The same is true of the list in Gen 10:1 (Shem, Ham and Japheth). Ham was the youngest son (9:24). Japheth was the older brother of Shem (10:21), so the birth order of Noah’s sons was Japheth, Shem, and Ham.when he departed from Haran.) 5 And Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew ▼
▼ Heb “the son of his brother.”Lot, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired ▼
▼ For the semantic nuance “acquire [property]” for the verb עָשָׂה (’asah), see BDB 795 s.v. עָשָׂה.in Haran, and they left for ▼
▼ Heb “went out to go.”the land of Canaan. They entered the land of Canaan.
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the oak tree ▼
▼ Or “terebinth.”of Moreh ▼
▼ The Hebrew word Moreh (מוֹרֶה, moreh) means “teacher.” It may well be that the place of this great oak tree was a Canaanite shrine where instruction took place.at Shechem. ▼
▼ Heb “as far as the place of Shechem, as far as the oak of Moreh.”(At that time the Canaanites were in the land.) ▼
▼ The disjunctive clause gives important information parenthetical in nature – the promised land was occupied by Canaanites.7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants ▼
▼ The same Hebrew term זֶרַע (zera’) may mean “seed” (for planting), “offspring” (occasionally of animals, but usually of people), or “descendants” depending on the context.I will give this land.” So Abram ▼
▼ Heb “he”; the referent (Abram) has been supplied in the translation for clarification.built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
8 Then he moved from there to the hill country east of Bethel ▼ and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped the Lord. ▼ 9 Abram continually journeyed by stages ▼
▼ The Hebrew verb נָסַע (nasa’) means “to journey”; more specifically it means to pull up the tent and move to another place. The construction here uses the preterite of this verb with its infinitive absolute to stress the activity of traveling. But it also adds the infinitive absolute of הָלַךְ (halakh) to stress that the traveling was continually going on. Thus “Abram journeyed, going and journeying” becomes “Abram continually journeyed by stages.”down to the Negev. ▼
▼ Or “the South [country].”▼
▼ Negev is the name for the southern desert region in the land of Canaan.
The Promised Blessing Jeopardized10 There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt ▼
▼ Abram went down to Egypt. The Abrahamic narrative foreshadows some of the events in the life of the nation of Israel. This sojourn in Egypt is typological of Israel’s bondage there. In both stories there is a famine that forces the family to Egypt, death is a danger to the males while the females are preserved alive, great plagues bring about their departure, there is a summons to stand before Pharaoh, and there is a return to the land of Canaan with great wealth.to stay for a while ▼
▼ The Hebrew verb גּוּר (gur), traditionally rendered “to sojourn,” means “to stay for a while.” The “stranger” (traditionally “sojourner”) is one who is a temporary resident, a visitor, one who is passing through. Abram had no intention of settling down in Egypt or owning property. He was only there to wait out the famine.because the famine was severe. ▼
▼ Heb “heavy in the land.” The words “in the land,” which also occur at the beginning of the verse in the Hebrew text, have not been repeated here in the translation for stylistic reasons.11 As he approached ▼
▼ Heb “drew near to enter.”Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “Look, ▼
▼ The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”) is deictic here; it draws attention to the following fact.I know that you are a beautiful woman. ▼
▼ Heb “a woman beautiful of appearance are you.”12 When the Egyptians see you they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will keep you alive. ▼
▼ The Piel of the verb חָיָה (khayah, “to live”) means “to keep alive, to preserve alive,” and in some places “to make alive.” See D. Marcus, “The Verb ‘to Live’ in Ugaritic,” JSS 17 (1972): 76-82.13 So tell them ▼
▼ Heb “say.”you are my sister ▼
▼ Tell them you are my sister. Abram’s motives may not be as selfish as they appear. He is aware of the danger to the family. His method of dealing with it is deception with a half truth, for Sarai really was his sister – but the Egyptians would not know that. Abram presumably thought that there would be negotiations for a marriage by anyone interested (as Laban does later for his sister Rebekah), giving him time to react. But the plan backfires because Pharaoh does not take the time to negotiate. There is a good deal of literature on the wife-sister issue. See (among others) E. A. Speiser, “The Wife-Sister Motif in the Patriarchal Narratives,” Oriental and Biblical Studies, 62–81; C. J. Mullo-Weir, “The Alleged Hurrian Wife-Sister Motif in Genesis,” GOT 22 (1967–1970): 14-25.so that it may go well ▼
▼ The Hebrew verb translated “go well” can encompass a whole range of favorable treatment, but the following clause indicates it means here that Abram’s life will be spared.for me because of you and my life will be spared ▼
▼ Heb “and my life will live.”on account of you.”
14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 When Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. So Abram’s wife ▼
▼ Heb “and the woman.” The word also means “wife”; the Hebrew article can express the possessive pronoun (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, #86). Here the proper name (Abram) has been used in the translation instead of a possessive pronoun (“his”) for clarity.was taken ▼
▼ The Hebrew term וַתֻּקַּח (vattuqqakh, “was taken”) is a rare verbal form, an old Qal passive preterite from the verb “to take.” It is pointed as a Hophal would be by the Masoretes, but does not have a Hophal meaning.into the household of Pharaoh, ▼
▼ The Hebrew text simply has “house of Pharaoh.” The word “house” refers to the household in general, more specifically to the royal harem.16 and he did treat Abram well ▼
▼ He did treat Abram well. The construction of the parenthetical disjunctive clause, beginning with the conjunction on the prepositional phrase, draws attention to the irony of the story. Abram wanted Sarai to lie “so that it would go well” with him. Though he lost Sarai to Pharaoh, it did go well for him – he received a lavish bride price. See also G. W. Coats, “Despoiling the Egyptians,” VT 18 (1968): 450-57.on account of her. Abram received ▼
▼ Heb “and there was to him.”sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
17 But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with severe diseases ▼ because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram and said, “What is this ▼
▼ The demonstrative pronoun translated “this” adds emphasis: “What in the world have you done to me?” (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 24, #118).you have done to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her ▼
▼ The preterite with vav (ו) consecutive here expresses consequence.to be my wife? ▼
▼ Heb “to me for a wife.”Here is your wife! ▼
▼ Heb “Look, your wife!”Take her and go!” ▼
▼ Heb “take and go.”20 Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, ▼
▼ Heb “him”; the referent (Abram) has been specified in the translation for clarity.and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions.
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