LEAVING FOR CANAAN Genesis 12–14
“So Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (Gen. 12:4).The focus in Genesis now shifts from the race as a whole to a single man, Abram. The rest of the Old Testament is about Abram and his descendants. Abram is both a historical figure and an exemplar. We are to see in his faith response to God the key to a personal relationship with the Lord, which all are invited to experience in Jesus. Looking into Abram’s life provides insights for us that can transform our own walk with God.
Abram was given six promises, and then traveled to Canaan (12:1–9). His early adventures revealed both Abram’s personal weaknesses (vv. 10–20) and his great strengths of character and faith (13:1–14:24).
Understanding the Text
“I will” Gen. 12:1–3, 7. The theme of gracious promise continues, as God told Abram what He would do. There is no hint of conditions here. Abraham had demonstrated his faith by obeying God’s command to leave his homeland (12:1). Now God was free to shower unconditional gifts on His servant. Some of the six promises to Abram have been kept. Others have implications that extend into the future. The six are:
|I will make you a nation (12:2).||Abram fathered the great Hebrew and Arab peoples.|
|I will bless you (12:2).||Abram lived a full, rich life.|
|I will make your name great (12:2).||Jews, Christians, and Muslims honor Abraham as founder of their faiths.|
|You will be a blessing (12:2).||The Scripture and the Saviour came through Abraham.|
|I will bless those who bless you, curse those who curse you (12:3).||Nations have risen and fallen in accord with their treatment of the Jewish people.|
|To your offspring I will give this land (12:7).||This promise is viewed as the Jews’ title deed to Israel.|
As God made great commitments to Abram, so He makes commitments to all who exhibit Abram’s trust in the Lord. Ur of the Chaldeans Gen. 11:28. Excavations at Ur reveal that Abram chose to leave a wealthy city, then at the height of its power and influence. Gold sculptures and inlaid harps reflect Ur’s culture. Mighty city walls and public buildings reflect its strength. Records of business transactions reveal its prosperity. Let’s not suppose that Abram was some poor wanderer living in a tent when he heard God’s voice. He was a wealthy man, living in a city with almost modern sanitation and with houses constructed to cool hot summer air. Yet the text says “so Abram left” (12:4). He did not know where he was going. But even at 75 years of age Abram was willing to go to a land God said “I will show you” (v. 1). In a sense our relationship with God follows this same pattern. God calls us to abandon our concern with what the world holds dear, and set out on a personal journey of faith. Our guide on this journey is God’s own Word. What sustains us is the conviction that each day God will show us our next step. Like Abram, Christians who view life as a journey of faith can never settle down or call earth’s cities “home.” In the words of Hebrews 11:16, we are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” We know that God has “prepared a city” for us, and that the heavenly city is our true and only home. “Abram went down to Egypt” Gen. 12:10. God had led Abram to Canaan. But when a famine struck that land, Abram went to Egypt to live. There is no hint here of divine guidance. What we sense is Abram’s fear and doubt as the drought in Canaan grew severe. We need to remember that difficulties do not release us from obedience. Sometimes God wants us to remain where we are and trust Him through the dry times in our lives. We need a more direct word from God than circumstances can provide to show us His will. “Say you are my sister” Gen. 12:11–20. Abram had faith. Yet like all of us, Abram too was flawed by sin. On the border of Egypt Abram asked Sarai to pass herself off as his sister. Fear motivated Abram to lie and, even more awful, to put his wife Sarai at risk. God delivered Abram in spite of these actions. And from Scripture’s totally honest portrayal of Abram’s weakness, we learn several important lessons. * Even those with great faith can fail. Let’s not be shocked at our own or at others’ weaknesses. * Personal failures affect others. What we do and are always has its impact on those around us. * Only God can redeem our failures. Never let guilt or shame turn you away from God. He is the only One who can help. * God does not abandon us when our weaknesses betray us. God can and will intervene for us when we turn to Him. “Lot went with him” Gen. 13:1–18. Genesis 13 and 14 display Abram’s great character strengths, even as 12:10–20 display his weaknesses. The first strength is shown in his relationship with his nephew, Lot. When the herds of each man increased so much they had to part company, the older Abram gave Lot his choice of the land. By rights first choice belonged to the elder. That Abram did not demand his rights showed a noncontentious spirit that has great value in God’s sight (2 Tim. 2:24). Lot chose “the whole” of the well-watered plains, leaving his uncle only drier hill country. The choice was selfish. It may have appeared “good business.” But these plains were dominated by Sodom and Gomorrah, which had a population already noted for wickedness. Later, when God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, all of Lot’s wealth would be destroyed along with the two cities (Gen. 19:15). Abram’s selflessness assured his future. Lot’s selfishness assured his doom. God rewarded Abram with a reminder. All he could see in every direction from his position atop the hills was given to him and to his offspring—forever. Lot’s momentary possession of the richest land paled to insignificance when compared to the covenant promise made by Abram’s God. “They carried off Lot” Gen. 14:1–16. Archeologists have traced the route taken by military forces traveling from the north into Palestine. Many armies marched south to attack the cities of Syria-Palestine even in the centuries before the events described here. A consortium of four kings attacked and defeated Sodom and Gomorrah, and carried off all their goods and food as booty. In early biblical times most warfare involved raiding for booty rather than an attempt to invade and control additional area. Lot and his goods were carried away with those of the other residents of Sodom. When Abram heard, he mustered his own small force and pursued. Attacking at night, Abram routed the larger enemy force and freed not only Lot but also the others. Here Abram displayed the traits of loyalty and courage. Melchizedek, king of Salem Gen. 14:18–20. Biblical names often have great significance. Melchizedek means “king of righteousness,” and Salem means “peace.” The text says this king was a “priest of the Most High God,” one of the descriptive names the Old Testament uses in speaking of the Lord. Even though Abram must have been aware of his own significance as one called by God and given unique promises, Abram accepted the blessing offered by Melchizedek. This act speaks of Abram’s humility, for in Old Testament times the greater person blessed the lesser, and to offer a blessing involved an implicit claim of superiority. In this we see another of Abram’s strengths: he remained humble despite his special relationship with God. The New Testament treats Melchizedek as a theophany, a visible representation of God as a human being. Only Jesus, with a human nature supplied by a human mother, has a claim to be God enfleshed. The Book of Hebrews sees Melchizedek as the model for Jesus’ unique priesthood. The Old Testament is silent both about Melchizedek’s origin and demise. With typical rabbinical insight, the author of Hebrews argues that Christ, whose origin is in eternity and who will now never die, is a Priest “in the order of” this person rather than in the line of levitical priests established by Moses. “I will accept nothing belonging to you” Gen. 14:21–24.When the king of Sodom offered Abram the booty he had won back from the invading kings, Abram refused. His reason is clearly stated. He would accept nothing, lest people later say that the men of Sodom had made Abram rich. In this Abram had in view the glory due to God. Abram wanted only that which came so unmistakably from God’s hand that others would be forced to say, “God has blessed His servant.” This is yet another of Abram’s great strengths. He now was ready to depend fully on the Lord, and to give God the glory for any blessings he might receive. We can appreciate these strengths in Abram’s character and turn to him as a model of unselfishness, loyalty, courage, humility, dependence on God, and readiness to publicly give God glory for what He does in our lives.
As the Lord Told Him(Gen. 12:1–9)
More than one commentator has suggested that God’s promises to Abram were conditional promises. They say that the condition was obedience to God’s call to leave Ur. After all, if Abram had not left, none of the things God promised could have come true. This view distorts both the biblical text and a vital truth about the spiritual life. God’s promises are not activated by our obedience. Our obedience is activated by the promises of God. Sometimes you and I make the mistake of thinking that God is like the electrical wiring in our houses. There is tremendous power in those electrical wires. And you and I are the ones who cause the power to work! We activate the power by flipping a light switch, turning on a TV, or pushing in the control knob on our clothes washer. God too has tremendous power. And some Christians assume that they can turn that power on and off by what they do. If they flip the right switch, God acts. If they turn the dial to the right channel or push the control into the right setting, God will come through on call. But this is not what happens in our lives at all! What happens is that faith establishes a relationship with God, the ultimate source of power. Faith maintains that relationship. It is an active trust in God and His promises that causes us to obey. We see it so clearly in Abram’s life. Because Abram believed God’s promises, he abandoned Ur and its wealth to live a nomadic life in a new land. The promise of God activated Abram’s obedience. His obedience did not activate the promises. Later, in the land, Abram took his eye off the promises and became afraid. He feared the famine, and he feared what might happen if the Egyptians saw and wanted his beautiful wife. Because Abram forgot the promises, he disobeyed. Yet even then God was faithful to His commitment! He got Abram out of the mess his departure from Canaan and his lies had created, and brought Abram safely back to the Promised Land. There Abram again fixed his gaze on the promises. He was unselfish in his relationship with Lot because he believed God had granted him the whole land. He was loyal and courageous because he believed God’s promise to bless him. He was humble because he knew that with God on his side he had nothing to prove. He was unwilling to take the wealth offered by the king of Sodom because he wanted all to see clearly that God alone was the source of all the good that he received. It was the promise, and faith in the promise, that freed Abram not only to obey God, but also to become the unselfish, loyal, courageous, humble, and straightforward kind of person we can all admire. It must be this way with you and me too. We can keep on thinking that we must do this or do that to merit God’s favor—and wonder why, when we push the right buttons, the power doesn’t flow. Or we can simply keep our eyes fixed on God and on His promises to us, and let His overflowing grace enable us to obey.
“Lord, as I keep my heart fixed on You and Your promises to me, make me the kind of individual that Abram became.”
“Often, actually very often, God allows His greatest servants, those who are far advanced in grace, to make the most humiliating mistakes. This humbles them in their own eyes and in the eyes of their fellowmen. It prevents them from seeing and taking pride in the graces God bestows on them or in the good deeds they do, so that, as the Holy Spirit declares: ’No flesh should glory in the sight of God.’ “—Louis-Marie Grignion De Montfort