Abraham: Father of a Nation

With the beginning of chapter twelve, the book of Genesis focuses once again on one specific individual. This time the writers will detail the life of Abraham who was to become the father of the Jewish nation and how the Seed of Promise was kept alive through him.
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In chapters ten and eleven, the narrators trace the genealogy of the nations from Noah's sons down through several generations. We looked at possible national origins derived from the names of these people and the names found in early civilizations:

  • Japheth – Europe, India, Middle East;
  • Ham – Africa, Middle East, Orient, North and South America;
  • Shem – Middle East, Jews.

They key idea was that all civilizations originally descend from these three. The next factor that had a profound significance on society was the events surrounding the tower of Babel.

  • God told them to fill the earth.
  • Man concentrated in one place and fell into a form of paganism.
  • God separated them by multiplying their languages.
  • This multiplication of languages set into motion the physical and geographic changes that resulted in different cultures, physiology and countries that we have today.

We then see two other writers pick-up the story from Shem who is the one writing the record that includes the tower of Babel incident.

Terah, a descendant of Shem provides a short record that includes the genealogy from Shem to himself through to Abram, who was later to become Abraham.

The story now shifts from a wide view of society and the world (having given us the details of how the world began and how it and society progressed. The narrative now shifts to a close-up of one man and his descendants. It will now remain in this close-up mode until the end showing how God will bring onto the stage of humanity the savior, Jesus Christ.

After Terah's record, another writer, Isaac, will continue telling the story of Abraham. He begins by naming the three sons of Terah and a little of their history.

Genesis 11:27-32:

  • Haran – dies young
  • Nahor – married his dead brother's daughter (his niece)
  • Abram – married his half-sister Sarai who is said to be barren.

We have few details but it seems that Terah along with his son Abram, Abram's wife Sarai, and his grandson, Lot, left Ur in order to make his way to Canaan. They only got as far as the city of Haran (probably built and established in memory of his dead son Haran) and remained there.

The story of Terah ends here. He may have refused to go on, he may have been sick, we do not know. All we do know is that his original journey was to Canaan and he never made it. This sets the scene for the call of Abram.


The Call – 12:1-9

1Now 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;
2And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3And 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."

4So 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. 5Abram 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. 6Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. 7The 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. 8Then 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. 9Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev.

Terah has died and the Lord calls Abram to leave Haran to finish the journey to Canaan.

In Acts 7:2, Stephen says that God called Abram while he lived in Ur which may mean that both Terah and Abram were called but Terah would not go further than Haran. The Lord calls him to leave Haran and the things that are keeping him there which would be his country, his culture, his people and his family. He has to leave everything, but God makes a series of promises to him:

  1. He will give rise to a great nation.
  2. He himself will become a great man.
  3. He will bless others with his life.
  4. God will protect him.
  5. The entire world throughout history will be blessed through Abram.

These sound like great blessings but consider Abram's state:

  1. He had to completely forsake home, family, nation and culture in order to have a great nation built from himself.
  2. He had to abandon the safety of what was familiar in order to go into the unknown with only the promise of God's protection but no visible sign of it.

The journey to Canaan was approximately 400 miles with his family and servants along with livestock and possessions.

In verse seven the Lord "appears" to Abram. It is the first time that this is expressed in this way – that the Lord appeared, and it was to add one more thing to the list of promises.

6. That the land he was living in would one day be the possession of his people.

Therefore, we see Abram worship the Lord for the first time in the land of Canaan. At this point Abram is living like a nomad, traveling southward towards Egypt.

Abram in Egypt – 12:10-20

What begins as a test of faith ends in a loss of faith and effectiveness from Abram and Sarai.

10Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.

A famine comes up which threatens their security and well-being. Abram decides to escape it by going into Egypt.

  • Note that he did not consult God in the matter or make any indication that he relied on any of the promises.
  • God promised He would care for them but when this was put to the test, Abram took matters into his own hands.

Going to Egypt seemed like a good idea, it was close by, prosperous, and they had no home or family in Canaan to hold them back. The problem, of course, was:

  1. God had told him to go to Canaan not Egypt.
  2. God had promised to care for them and that did not change even if there was a famine.
  3. Egypt was a pagan and immoral place that had food but also much temptation.
11It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 12and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you."

In these days a foreigner had no rights and a beautiful woman (especially a foreign one) was a profitable commodity.

Once in Egypt, they saw that there was danger of being killed or enslaved for this reason and so they concocted a plan whereby they said (which was partially true) that they were brother and sister. If someone wanted her, they would negotiate and not kill him because she was available as his sister. They also forgot God's other promise to protect them from harm.

14It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 16Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.

Not only was Sarai noticed, she was noticed by the princes who served Pharaoh. They praised her (Hallal – Hebrew word used for praise in worship used first time here for Sarai). It seems that her beauty and her character were worthy of such praise that she was not raped or taken as slave but the Pharaoh took her into his harem in order to prepare her for marriage. Abram was treated well because of her.

Their plan was working well: they avoided the famine, they avoided attack and they were becoming wealthy through the generosity of the king. Their plan was also causing some problems: They were losing each other, were jeopardizing the seed of the savior and they were forfeiting all the promises that God had made to them. It was a long-term loss for a short-term gain.

17But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. 18Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19Why 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." 20Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.

At this point God intervenes. We do not know what and for how long but Pharaoh's family and household begin to suffer plagues. In some way the Pharaoh is made to understand that the cause of his problems is Sarai, and that she is Abraham's wife. He is also made to understand that these people are protected by God. Otherwise, he would have killed them both or at least have killed Abram and enslaved Sarai. We see instead that the Pharaoh gives a sharp rebuke to Abram. In the rebuke the king reproaches him not only for his deception but his lack of faith:

  1. He is upset that he might have been fooled into taking another man's wife and suffered the wrath of God for this. He was also upset that Abraham, a man he blessed and seemed to admire (gifts, favors, etc.), would do this to him.
  2. He, at least, believed enough in the God of Abram to spare him and send him on his way. His rebuke is especially harsh because at this point he believes God more than Abram does since he has obeyed God in sparing these people.

In the end he does not take her as wife, allows Abram to keep all of his wealth and assures them the protection they need to leave the country safely.


Abram's early experiences in his walk with God provide some important lessons for us, even in this day and age:

1. It's about faith, not famine

We see the small picture but God sees the entire picture. Abram saw only food as the problem and compromised himself because of it. God used the famine as a way of testing Abram's faith. Ultimately Abram would be a model for faith, not how to survive a famine, and so the famine served God's purpose in testing faith, not Abram's resourcefulness in finding food. For every believer since Abram until today and forward until Jesus returns, it is always about faith, not famine or whatever else happens to us. If we could learn to interpret the good and bad that occurs in our lives as issues of faith (how will our faith react) we would probably have fewer famines and survive well the ones we do experience.

2. A promise is a promise

The geography or the circumstances did not change God's promises to Abraham. His problem was that he did not claim these promises through worship and prayer when the time came, instead he took matters into his own hands. God's promises are sure not because the circumstances favor their fulfillment, they are sure for three reasons:

  • God never lies, a promise is a promise.
  • Nothing is impossible with God so He can always fulfill His promises.
  • His promise depends on Him, not on us. He saved Abram even after Abram failed the test. Why? Because He promised!

3. You cannot share a faith you do not have

The Egyptians and the Pharaoh were impressed by Abram and Sarai. However, after the deception was found out, they were sent out of the country. Can you imagine if they would have relied on God and gave their witness of God's great power? They might have made the Pharaoh and his household believers in God. As it was, an opportunity to witness to a mighty king was lost because the witnesses themselves were unfaithful.

We do not all come before kings, but time and opportunity bring us close to many people who are interested in us because they see the light of faith shining in our lives. We need to be careful that our actions do not contradict the faith we profess to have.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize Genesis 12:1-9 and discuss how it serves as a model for Christians today.
  2. Summarize Genesis 12:10-20. Why, after all that God had shown and promised to Abraham, did he go to Egypt, and what is the implication for us?
  3. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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