Genesis 15:7-21

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”

10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.

11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.

13 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.

14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age.

16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.

18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—

19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites,

20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,

21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

One each of the five acceptable sacrificial animals (cow, sheep, goat, pigeon, dove) was to be slain by Abram and laid on the altar. The slain animals were placed in two rows, one bird in each, along with a half-portion of each of the other animals. This arrangement was evidently intended to conform to the custom of the day, when a covenant was made between two parties; each would pass between the two rows, as a sign that he was bound by the terms of the contract. The intimation perhaps was that, if he broke it, the substitutionary death of the animals would no longer be efficacious and he himself (or possibly his cattle) would be subject to death. …

After Abram made the preparations, however, nothing happened during the rest of the day, and finally the sun went down. The delay possibly symbolized the fact that, although God’s covenant would be sure, its accomplishment would take a long time. In the first place, Abram himself would have to wait many years for the promised seed. Even then, it would still be many long centuries before the seed would become a great nation and possess the promised land, and many millennia before the ultimate fulfillment would take place, with all nations being blessed through the nation of Abram’s seed. 

During the wait, as could be expected, Abram had to drive off the birds of prey that dried to devour the carcasses. This experience, no doubt symbolized the attempts of Satan to thwart the plans of God. — Morris, page 326

Up to this day in Abraham’s life, God was wont to say to him, “I will give thee this land,” but from the hour of this blood-sealed covenant, He says, “I have given thee this land;” for promises based upon the precious blood of Christ are so absolutely sure that faith can claim them as already possessed. — Williams, page 20.

The reason for the delay, God said, was that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Just as God delayed the judgment of the Flood for 120 years, so here He waited four hundred years. “God is not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).

then, when it was dark, a smoking firepot and a flaming torch, representing God’s presence in the covenantal relation with Abram, passed between the two parts of the sacrifice. Only God passed through, not Abram, denoting an unconditional promise on God’s part, not dependent on Abram’s fulfilling his part of the contract, since he had no such part. It was all of God, in response to Abram’s believing faith. In order for God to keep His covenant, there must first be suffering, with glory then to follow. This is suggested by the furnace and the lamp.

The covenant, already made, is now expounded. The land which God will give Abram is from the Nile to the Euphrates, the land then occupied by Canaanites, represented by the ten tribes named. For a very brief time, under Solomon (1 Kings 8:65) and possibly again under Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25), the children of Israel ruled all this territory, as a token of the final and permanent possession they will have in the future. — Morris, page 328.

Having affirmed—and hence, for the moment, assuaged Abram’s doubt about—the promise of an heir, God next affirms the covenant promise of Abram possessing “this land” (i.e., Canaan). Not unexpectedly, this prompts a new expression of doubt on the part of Abram, who responds to God’s affirmation by asking, “How may I know that I shall possess it?”—to which, again, God responds with patience and grace. I this instance, however, since the provision in view is abstract (i.e., the right of possession/ownership) rather than material (such as an heir and descendants), God affirms His promise and assuages Abram’s doubts by condescending to participate in the accepted human convention of covenant “ratification” (i.e., establishing a “binding” agreement), which was for the covenantee to be “bound” to the conditions of the agreement by the blood of a sacrifice—either by walking between the bloody parts, as here, or being sprinkled by the blood, as in Exodus 24:6-8, where both Israel and God (represented by the altar) are sprinkled with the sacrificial blood, both sides having certain conditions to fulfill. In this instance, though God adopts the generally accepted form of ratification, He “tweaks” it to conform to the unconditional nature of His promise to Abram. Thus, while Abram is waiting for God, as the superior party, to pass between the pieces, he falls into a deep sleep (induced by God), during which God passes between the pieces in the form of a smoking oven and a flaming torch—thereby ensuring that the pieces were completely burned up in the process (as in 1 Kings 18:38). Consequently, when Abram awoke, he would have perceived that (1) God had passed between the pieces, and (2) that He had done so in such a way as to prevent Abram from doing so afterward, the point thus being clearly driven home that the only one to whom the covenant is “bound” for its fulfillment is God—i.e., it is unconditional. This is likewise Paul’s point in his comment on this event in Galatians 3:17, in which he clearly states that the Abrahamic covenant was “ratified by God” alone, hence justifying his designation of it as a “promise” (= unconditional covenant) rather than “law” (= conditional covenant). — Wechsler, pages 189-190.

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Genesis 15:1-6

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”

Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Lord God (v.2) = Adonai (Master) Jehovah (G0d)

Not only does this remarkable verse [verse 1] contain the first mention of “word,” but it also introduces for the first time in Scripture the words “vision,” “shield,” and “reward.” Even more significantly, this is the first of the great “I am’s” of Scripture. — Morris, page 323

Now [verse 6], once again we have a first mention, this time of the word “believe.” Abram “believed God and He counted [or ‘imputed’] it to him for righteousness.” Here is the great principle of true salvation, set forth for the first time in the Bible. Not by works do men attain or manifest righteousness, but by faith. Because they believe in the Word of God, He credits them with perfect righteousness and therefore enables sinful man to be made fit for the fellowship of a holy God. In this verse is also the first occurrence of “imputed” and the first occurrence of “righteousness” (except in the name “Melchizedek’; also, a similar word, though not the same, was applied to Noah, in Genesis 6:9, translated “just”). … This wonderful verse is quoted in three epistles of the New Testament (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). — Morris, page 325

The imputation of righteousness to Abraham is here founded upon his believing in the Lord as the Quickener of the dead. It is in this character that He reveals Himself in a world where death reigns; and when a soul believes in Him as such, it is counted righteous in His sight. This necessarily shuts man out, as regards his cooperation, for what can he do in the midst of a scene of death? Can he raise the dead? Can he open the gates of the grave? Can he deliver himself from the power of death, and walk forth, in life and liberty, beyond the limits of its dreary domain? Assuredly not. Well, then, if he cannot do so, he cannot work out righteousness, nor establish himself in the relation of sonship. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” and therefore, so long as a man is under the power of death, and under the dominion of sin, he can neither know the position of a son, nor the condition of righteousness. Thus, God alone can bestow the adoption of sons, and He alone can impute righteousness, and both are connected with faith in Him as the One who raised up Christ from the dead.

It is in this way that the apostle handles the question of Abraham’s faith, in Romans 4, where he says, “It was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed onto him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Here, the God of resurrection is presented “to us also” as the object of faith, and our faith in Him as the alone ground of our righteousness. If Abraham had looked up into heaven’s vault, spangled with innumerable stars, and then looked at “his own body now dead,” how could he ever grasp the idea of a seed as numerous as those stars? Impossible. But he did not look at his own body, but at the resurrection-power of God; and inasmuch as that was the power which was to produce the seed, we can easily see that the stars of heaven and the sand on the sea-shore are but feeble figures indeed; for what natural object could possible illustrate the effect of that power which can raise the dead? 

So also, when a sinner hearkens to the glad tidings of the gospel, were he to look up to the unsullied light of the divine presence, and then look down into the unexplored depths of his own evil nature, he might well exclaim, How can I ever get thither?—how can I ever be fit to dwell in that light? Where is the answer? In himself? Nay, blessed be God, but in that blessed One who traveled from the bosom to the cross and the grave, and from thence to the throne, thus filling up, in His Person and work, all the space between those extreme points. There can be nothing higher than the bosom of God—the eternal dwelling-place of the Son, and there can be nothing lower than the cross and the grave; but, amazing truth! I find Christ in both. I find Him in the bosom, and I find Him in the grave. He went down into death in order that he might leave behind Him, in the dust thereof, the full weight of His people’s sins and iniquities. Christ in the grave exhibits the end of everything human—the end of sin—the full limit of Satan’s power. The grave of Jesus forms the grand terminus of all. But resurrection takes us beyond this terminus, and constitutes the imperishable basis on which God’s glory and man’s blessing repose forever. The moment the eye of faith rests on a risen Christ, there is a triumphant answer to every question as to sin, judgment, death, and the grave. the One who divinely met all these is alive from the dead, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens; and not only so, but the Spirit of that risen and glorified One, in the believer, constitutes him a son. he is quickened out of the grave of Christ: as we read “And you, being dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).

Hence, therefore, sonship, being founded on resurrection, stands connected with perfect justification—perfect righteousness—perfect freedom from everything which could in anywise be against us. God could not have us in His presence with sin upon us. He could not suffer a single speck or stain of sin upon His sons and daughters. The father could not have the prodigal at his table with the rags of the far country upon him. He could go forth to meet him in those rags, he could fall upon his neck and kiss him in those rags,—it was worthy and beautifully characteristic of his grace so to do; but then to seat him at his table in the rags would never do. The grace that brought the father out to the prodigal, reigns through the righteousness which brought the prodigal in to the father. It would not have been grace had the father waited for the son to deck himself in robes of his own providing, and it would not have been righteous to bring him in in his rags,  but both grace and righteousness shone forth in all their respective brightness and beauty when the father went out and fell on the prodigal’s neck, but yet did not give him a seat at his table until he was clad and decked in a manner suited to that elevated and happy position. God, in Christ, has stooped to the very lowest point of man’s moral condition, that, by stopping, He might raise man to the very highest point of blessedness, in fellowship with Himself. From all this, it follows that our sonship, with all its consequent dignities and privileges, is entirely independent of us. We have just as little to do with it as Abraham’s dead body and Sarah’s dead womb had to do with a seed as numerous as the stars which garnish the heavens, or as the sand on the sea-shore. It is all of God. — Mackintosh, pages 163-166

In ratifying the promise (i.e., the “Abrahamic Covenant”), therefore, God is not “activating” it, but rather establishing the certainty of its fulfillment in the mind of Abraham—i.e., here, as continually throughout the history of redemption, God condescends to “meet” man in his lack of faith by doing more (or less, depending on one’s perspective) than required by the ideal since the depraved man that He interacts with are so far from that ideal. — Wechsler, page 186. 

As in the initial expression of God’s promise in Genesis 12, so too here the scene commences immediately with God’s active expression of what He will do for Abram (and his descendants in the line of Promise). And so too here, as in the latter part of Genesis 12, God’s declaration of promise is followed by a clear expression of doubt on the part of Abram. In the present instance this doubt is represented by Abram’s questioning response, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” By this question, in other words, Abram is, at best, seeking to “force” God’s “hand” into specifying and fulfilling His previous statement, “I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:2); at worst he is rhetorically denying that God can in fact give him the son that he so desires, Sarai being barren (see Genesis 11:30) and postmenopausal to boot (see Genesis 18:13), in which latter case Abram’s statement in verse 2 should be understood as the despondent statement of an old man of little faith anticipating his death (as is perfectly consistent with the Hebrew grammar). As in chapter 12, however, God responds not with judgment, but with patience and grace, thus emphasizing the unconditional nature of His promise. — Wechsler, page 187.

[Genesis 15:6] is referring to the fact that Abraham, who is already a believer, believed even more so (but still far from perfectly; see Genesis 17:17) in God’s specific promise of an heir, and this inner “act” of expressing greater faith was therefore credited to Abraham as a specific act of righteousness (thus yielding an added “notch” to his reward in the hereafter). … This is absolutely consistent with Paul’s citation of this verse in Romans 4, the point of which chapter is, simply, that righteousness is based first and foremost on faith (i.e., the inner “acts” or affirmations, of one’s heart)—whether that be one’s initial faith in Christ as the resurrected Lord, resulting in the overall righteousness of justification, or (as in the present instance) the believer’s subsequent and growing faith in the specific promises and commands of God’s Word, as reflected in the righteous acts that he performs in obedience to those promises and commands. — Wechsler, pages 188-189.

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Genesis 14:18-24

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.

19 And he blessed him and said:  “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth;

20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all.

21 Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth,

23 that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’—

24 except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

[Melchizedek] is referred to nine hundred years later by King David (Psalm 110:4) and one thousand years later than that by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1-21), where he is mentioned by name no less than nine times!

His name means “King of Righteousness” (Hebrews 7:2), and his title “King of Salem” means also “King of Peace.” For an individual to have such a name in such a place as Canaan, filled with wickedness and demonism as it was is sufficiently remarkable in itself. All indications, however, show that his name was appropriate. He is the first priest mentioned in the Bible (and this is also the first mention of “peace”), and he obviously had a unique relation to the true God. He used the name El Elyon (the “most high God”) to stress the absolute superiority of God to the multitude of gods and goddesses worshiped in Canaan. He also identified God as “the possessor of heaven and earth,” thus referring back to Genesis 1. Abram gladly recognized Melchizedek as representing the same God, who had called him to Canaan, and he “gave him tithes of all.” Melchizedek had brought bread and wine and, assuming this was meant for the refreshment of the weary fighters and travelers, it would have required a very large amount. — Morris, page 318

Abram gave a tenth of “all” to Melchizedek. This is the first mention of tithing in the Bible. It is normally assumed that this refers to a tithe of the spoils of the battle, but Scripture does not actually say so. It is possible that Abram, overwhelmed by the presence and blessing of Melchizedek, really did give him a tenth of all that he had.

As far as the actual spoils of battle were concerned, the king of Sodom (who had in the meantime reappeared from the slimepits where he had fled from the armies of the four kings) recognized that their recover was due entirely to Abram, and told him to take all the goods, returning only the people who were captives back to their homes. Abram, however, knew that the victory was not due to him, but to God, and would not take any of the goods. — Morris, pages 321-322

Two of my commentaries state that Melchizedek appeared at this moment to remind Abram that he had been blessed by God and, therefore, did not need the material things offered to him by the king of Sodom, the taking of which would have made him indebted to the evil king. The text doesn’t say this. I don’t know if that was part of the purpose of Melchizedek’s appearance, but it did certainly have that effect.

It is indispensable to a full appreciation of of the canonical significance of Melchizedek that one bear in mind the consistent principle that, in the general priestly economy of God, the nature of the priest inevitably and commensurately determines the nature of his priestly work (cf. Hebrews 7:26-28). It is for this reason, we believe, that the discussion of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7 commences with an explicit discussion of the titles/names (there being no semantic distinction between names and titles in biblical Hebrew) by which he is here introduced—namely, Melchizedek, meaning “King of Righteousness,” and King of Salem, meaning “King of Peace.” In other words, insofar as “righteousness” and “peace,” as biblically defined, are qualities centered in and administered by God, the implication right at the outset is that Melchizedek is none other than God Himself—yet another example of the many theophanies in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, reflective of their divine connotation, these two titles/names are not employed for any other individual—king, priest, or otherwise—in Israel, and the two names employed within an Israelite context that come semantically closest to these are, not surprisingly, prophetically applied to the Messiah in His eschatological role of eternal priest-king—to wit, “the Lord our righteousness” in Jeremiah 23:6 and “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah 9:6.

This identification of Melchizedek with God thus explains why Abram immediately recognized and submitted to Melchizedek’s superiority—not simply out of social respect, but as an expression of faith and worship, allowing himself to be blessed (which typically proceeds from “greater”; cf. Hebrews 7:7) and responding by giving Melchizedek a tithe, which is portrayed throughout the Hebrew Bible as a specific act of worship. The implication of Melchizedek’s deity is further explicated in Hebrews 7 by (1) the contrast in verse 8 between the receiving of tithes by the Levites, who are “mortal men,” and the receiving of tithes by Melchizedek, who “lives on” (i.e., who is immortal); and (2) the statement in verse 3 that he—that is, per the context, Melchizedek in Genesis 14—”abides a priest perpetually.” This begs the question: if Jesus , as the writer of Hebrews goes on to state, “abides forever” (Hebrews 7:24) in the role of high priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:17)—and there can only be one high priest—then how can the Melchizedek of Genesis 14, whom we are told “abides [present tense!] a priest perpetually” (Hebrews 7:3), be anyone other than Christ, the believer’s great high priest?— Wechsler, pages 184-185

For the record, I agree with Wechsler. Melchizedek was Jesus Christ in a pre-incarnate appearance.

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Genesis 14:1-16

1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations,

that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).

All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea).

Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him came and attacked the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim,

and the Horites in their mountain of Seir, as far as El Paran, which is by the wilderness.

Then they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and attacked all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazezon Tamar.

And the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim

against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of nations, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five.

10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains.

11 Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.

12 They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.

13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram.

14 Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

15 He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus.

16 So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.

made war (v.2) — These are the first battles recorded in history.

Archaeology has confirmed that, during those early years of Abram in Canaan, all the lands from Syria through Sinai were peaceful and fruitful. Then, however, the calm was broken, and broken severely, as a great northeastern confederation of kings swept through the land, devastating everything in their path.

The confederacy consisted of the kings of Shinar (Babylonia), Ellasar (the leading tribe in southern Babylonia), Elam (the original kingdom of Persia), and Goiim (translated “nations,” but probably a tribe of northeastern Babylonia.

At this time, of course, kingdoms were still small, probably not much more than city-states; so these invading armies were not comparable to those that invaded Palestine in later times. Nevertheless they were fierce and cruel and could well have destroyed all the inhabitants. Archaeology has revealed … that such invasions and destructions were common all through the Middle East, as each tribe sought to obtain for itself the most desirable lands and mineral resources. This particular invasion probably had as its goal the rich metal deposits of the region.

Chederlaomer, king of Elam, was the acknowledged leader of the group. … According to the Bible, this confederacy had come earlier into the region and had placed the local kings under tribute. These included the five city-states of the Jordanian plain and southern Dead Sea area: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Zoar. This area was called the “vale of Siddim,” meaning “fields,” probably because of the high fertility and extensive agriculture at the time. Evidently Moses added the editorial explanation, “which is the Salt Sea,” for later readers. Quite possibly the Salt Sea (which came to be known as the Dead Sea in the second Century A.D. and was sometimes also called the Asphalt Sea by early writers) was not originally salty when it first began to fill up after the post-Flood topographic upheavals. Centuries of salt-laden tributary inflows, combined wit heavy evaporation and no outlet, gradually made it salty. Another unusual characteristic is indicated in verse 10: “And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits” [asphalt pits in NKJV]. As a rich source of bitumen, this may also have been one of the attractions of the area to the invading kings.

After the cities of the plain had been under tribute for twelve years, “in the thirteenth year they rebelled” (v.4). This is the first occurrence in the Bible of the number “thirteen,” and it is interesting that it should be associated with rebellion (as it often seems to be throughout the rest of Scripture. — Morris, pages 311-313

[A leading archaeologist writes:] The rebellion of the small kings of the cities on the east side of the Dead Sea against what must have been the extortionate rule of absentee suzerains was brutally crushed. This comparatively minor insurrection was thereupon utilized as a pretext to settle old scores and to raid and ravage with unleashed ferocity for as much booty as could possibly be won. And old order was crumbling. From southern Syria to central Sinai, their fury raged. a punitive expedition developed into an orgy of annihilation. I found that every village in their path had been plundered and left in ruins, and the country side laid waste. The population had been wiped out or led away into captivity. for hundreds of years thereafter, the entire area was like an abandoned cemetery, hideously unkempt, with all its monuments shattered and strewn in pieces on the ground. — from Morris, pages 313-314

After thus routing all who might stand in their way, the eastern confederacy then turned its full attention to the rebellious kings of the five cities of the south. They joined battle with them in the Vale of Siddim, decisively defeating them, so that the “kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled,” possibly hiding in the asphalt pits, with many of their followers fleeing to the mountains. 

Chedorlaomer’s armies then gathered up all the possessions of the vanquished cities, including the women and children and servants, as well as many captured soldiers, and headed north again. Unfortunately for them, however, they also took Lot and his family captive as well. Lot was living in Sodom proper by this time. In spite of his carnality, Lot was a “righteous man” (2 Peter 2:8), as well as a nephew of Abram, who had received God’s call; so God would not allow Lot to be carried off by Chedorlaomer. — Morris, pages 315-316

Hebrew (v.13) — This is the first time the word Hebrew appears in the Bible. It may come from Eber, Abram’s ancestor (Genesis 10:25).

trained servants (v.14) — hired soldiers

One of the inhabitants, presumably an Amorite, came to warn those of his tribe who were living near Abram by the grove of Mamre. Mamre, and his brothers, Eshcol and Aner, were “confederate with Abram.” …

Abram by this time was practically a king, or at least a tribal chieftain. From his retinue, he was able to gather 318 men, all of them trained in his own household, to pursue the kings and to rescue Lot. It seems probable that a number of the Amorites went with him.

In any case, their total number was surely no match for those invading armies who had already overwhelmed many armies much larger than the contingent following Abram. … But God was with them. Quite probably, the returning armies were relaxing and enjoying the spoils of war, and the idea of a sudden nighttime attack was absolutely the remotest thought from their minds at this time. Abram suddenly attacked them from different directions at once, and they soon became utterly demoralized. they fled, but Abram pursued them all the way to north of Damascus, recapturing Lot, as well as all the other captives and the booty they had taken. — Morris, pages 316-317

This passage concerning the conquest of the five Canaanite kings by the four kings of the east, though at first sight seemingly tangential in nature, serves the following three contextually-thematically significant purposes: first, it presents us with the first explicit evidence of the truly prophetic nature of Noah’s statement in Genesis 9:25-26, according to which (the descendants of) Canaan would be subordinated/enslaved to (the descendants of) his siblings and uncles (this being the general sense of “brothers”), for the conquering quartet is led by the king of Elam, and the Elamites are descendants of Shem (see Genesis 10:22). This historical precedent would also have served as further encouragement for the Israelites, likewise descended from Shem, in their divinely ordained conquest of the Canaanites. Second, it provides an extremely vivid example of God’s military solicitude for Abram, who succeeds in rescuing Lot (who was taken captive with the Sodomites) by defeating, in turn, the four kings from the east. Insofar as this military solicitude is guaranteed under the Abrahamic Covenant, this would also have served as a historical precedent of military success for the Israelites, Abram’s descendants in the line of Promise, both in their initial conquest of Canaan as well as in their ensuing battles to maintain control of the land. Third, it sets up the immediately following episode in which Abram gives “a tithe of all” the spoil (i.e., the spoil he had taken from the four eastern kings, who had themselves taken it from the five Canaanite kings) to Melchizedek, which is one of the most theologically important encounters in the Bible. — Wechsler, pages 183-184

Some of my commentaries tried to make of this passage an application about how living in the world (Lot) leads to captivity, but living apart from the world (Abram) gives victory.

While there is certainly truth in that, it’s not the reason the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write it (or edit it, as the case may be). I very much appreciate Wechsler’s take (above)  with his explanation of why this account appears in the Bible.

  • It fulfills prophecy.
  • It encourages the Israelites—who were the chief audience for Moses’ writings.
  • It sets up Abram’s meeting with Melchizedek, which is a significant moment in God’s plan to redeem the world through Israel and, ultimately, through Christ.

If you want to tack an application on the end, fine, but first make sure you understand the actual purpose of the passage.

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Genesis 13:14-18

14 And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:

15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.

17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.

18 Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord.

God in grace once again confirmed His covenant with Abram to give him the land. … Abram never actually owned the land himself, however, during his lifetime. Nor, for most of human history, have his descendants actually owned the land, especially those of the promised seed, Isaac. … Since God promised the land to Abram and his seed forever, this can ultimately … be fulfilled only in the new earth of Revelation 21. It will … be fulfilled precursively, however, during the coming millennial age. 

God also assured Abram again that He would make him a great nation, with his seed numbering “as the dust of the earth.” The descendants of Abram today include not only the Jews but also the Arabs, and the number indeed is great. Once again, though, for the promise to be strictly literal, there must be a future fulfillment. During the Millennium, according to Revelation 20:8, earth’s population will be “as the sand of the sea.” Since it would be physically impossible to have as many people on earth as there are grains of sand (say, perhaps a billion billion), this expression evidently is a figure of speech for a number too great for actual enumeration. [But] there is no reason to doubt the reality of its promised literal fulfillment. God does not break His word, nor change His mind, and this promise was given unconditionally. Abram … was promised a nation that would bless other nations. — Morris, page 305

Abram pulled up his tent again and descended from the mountain into the plain of Mamre (or the terebinth “grove of Mamre,” as rendered by the newer versions) near Hebron. Hebron, of course, was not yet in existence as a city by that name (Numbers 13:22), so this reference to Hebron should be understood as an editorial insertion by Moses into Isaac’s “generations” document to identify the location for future readers. The same will be found true of a number of other localities mentioned in Genesis.

Here in Mamre (so named after an Amorite chieftain who had settled there earlier—see Genesis 14:13), Abram built another altar. This was to be his home for some time now, and he wanted a place where his family and servants could meet for formal worship of God. — Morris, page 306.

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Genesis 13:1-13

13 Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South.

Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.

And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,

to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.

Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents.

Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.

And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.

So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.

Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”

10 And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.

11 Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.

12 Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom.

13 But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.

Abram, probably aware of how far from God’s will he had been in Egypt, returned not just to the land God had given him, but to Bethel, where he had first lived and where he had built an altar to God. Once again Abram called on the name of the Lord.

Morris repeats many of the applications often given with this passage, although the Bible itself doesn’t state any of them.

Lot and his servants … no longer felt the reverent admiration they once had felt for Abram, and began to be self-seeking. … This situation was also aggravated by the great wealthy they had observed in Egypt, including the considerable portion of it with which they themselves had returned. … Material possessions of God’s people, especially if they have been acquired by worldly methods, often lead to such problems.

Abram had learned that God could take care of his needs no matter where he was, so that he offered Lot the choice of fields. As the older man and the leader of the clan, Abram by all rights should have had priority; but he graciously offered it to Lot. Instead of deferring to Abram, as he should have done, Lot seized the opportunity to his own advantage (as he thought). — Morris, pages 302-303

The region of these cities [on the plain of the Jordan River] now is almost unbearably hot and desolate, but in those early days there was still abundant rainfall in the region. The temperature, also, was much more pleasant than now, probably because of the lingering effects of the great Ice Age for to the north. According to verse 10, the Jordanian plain was “as the garden of the Lord.”

That was what Lot saw, as he lifted up his eyes. Abram, on the other hand, “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).  — Morris, page 303

At that time, the land of Canaan was sparsely inhabited, with most of the settlements concentrated along the seacoast, along the northern plain of Esdraelon, and here along the Jordanian plain. Abram had the more rugged hill and desert country almost to himself, in what is now termed the Negev (usually translated simply as “the south, in the KJV.

Lot first “pitched his tent toward Sodom,” but soon he “dwelt in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12), and finally “sat in the gate of Sodom” (Genesis 19:1) as one of its business leaders. — Morris, page 304.

At the end of the previous section, despite Abram’s lack of faith and multiple sins, God already began to fulfill the material aspect of the blessing he promised Abram by moving Pharaoh to allow Abram to keep the vast wealth he had received in exchange for Sarai in Genesis 12:16 (another clear indication that the covenant does not depend on obedience!) That material wealth provides the basis for focusing on the provision of the land—specifically, establishing Abram’s “hold” on and reputation in Canaan, the Land of Promise. — Wechsler, page 180.

The competition for this fruitful land was fierce [“Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.”]—all the more so due to the increased wealth in livestock and servants that Abram had acquired in Egypt from Pharaoh, and that in addition to the large entourage that Abram had already brought with him from Mesopotamia (conservatively numbering at least 500 people and their necessary provision. — Wechsler, page 180.

The [current] inhospitable, barren state of that portion of the upper Negev and lower Jordan Valley (i.e., the “Dead Sea”) region is the direct result of the manner by which God judged the grievous sins of the Canaanites who lived there.

The sudden transformation of this region which well watered and filled with life—”like the garden of the Lord”—to a region whose land and water are all but dead serves not only as an enduring reminder throughout redemption history of the consequences of sin (2 Peter 2:6), but also sets up and reinforces the prophetic expectation of God bringing life back to that very same region in the same sudden way when He establishes His kingdom in conquest of sin (see Ezekiel 47:8-12). — Wechsler, page 181.

Lot was certainly wrong to court evil and lose control of his family the way he did. But the only comment the Bible makes about Lot’s moral character and spiritual state is found in 2 Peter 2:6-7: And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked.

In other words, Lot was likely no worse than any of us, and he had faith so that God considered him righteous. I think it’s important to remember that about Lot along with his failings.

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Genesis 12:10-20

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.

11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance.

12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.

13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”

14 So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. 

The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house.

16 He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.

18 And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?

19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.”

20 So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.

At this time, a particularly severe trial of Abram’s faith took place. A grievous famine developed in the land, and it looked as though the land could no longer sustain him and his family and flocks. God’s promise had not changed, however, and Abram needed to learn to trust God not only when his needs were being supplied freely but also when it appeared that suffering and privation were imminent. But Abram was not equal to this test, and he soon yielded to the temptation to take matters into his own hand. — Morris, page 297.

If Abram openly acknowledged Sarai to be his wife, he reasoned, he would probably be killed and she would be taken by the Egyptians into who-knows-what circumstances of moral degradation. If he said she was one of his servants, his own life might be spared; but she herself would probably be taken and defiled in perhaps even greater ways. The best solution would be to call her his sister. Actually, he reasoned, this was really true, because she was his half-sister (Genesis 20:12). … If Sarai were recognized as his sister, both she and Abram would be treated with respect and his life would not be endangered. It is true that this might mean she would be approached by the Egyptians for sexual purposes, but that would be true also if Abram were killed for her sake; so this seemed the best of a bad bargain.

Sarai no doubt saw it in this light also, and so she went along with the half-truth. … Actually, it turned out better than they had hoped. Instead of becoming involved with the ordinary Egyptians, Sarai came to the attention of Pharaoh himself. She was seen by Pharaoh’s princes, and they “commended” her to Pharaoh as a prime candidate to become one of his wives!

The word used here is the Hebrew hallal, meaning “to praise.” This is the first occurrence of this word in the Bible, and, in accordance with the principle of first mention, as it applies to important Biblical words, it seems to have a special significance here. Nearly always, it is used in reference to praising God, but here first of all it is used in reference to praising a godly woman…. The first use of hallal in this connection, therefore, seems to be reminding us that unsaved men will only come to praise God if they have first been constrained to praise those who manifest God to them. Pharaoh’s princes could see something unique in Sarai, not only her physical beauty, but also an “adorning” with a meek and quiet spirit, an inner beauty (1 Peter 3:3-6). Rather than taking her for themselves, they were constrained to “praise” her to Pharaoh himself. Rather than defiling her, however, he began to consider her for marriage. Furthermore, rather than Abram’s being murdered for Sarai’s sake, as he had feared, he was lavished with presents from Pharaoh, with flocks and herds and servants in abundance. — Morris, pages 298-299.

But what would happen when Pharaoh actually decided to take Sarai has his wife? Would both Abram and Sarai still continue the deception to that point? Having involved themselves so deeply, what else could they do? It had been God’s intention to bring the promised Seed into the world through them, and this development would certainly prevent that from happening. …

Whether God actually spoke to Pharaoh, or whether he found it out by talking to Lot or to one of Abram’s servants, the king of Egypt soon came to realize that Sarai was already married. …

Pharaoh now feared to harm either Sarai or Abram; but he did sharply rebuke Abram, and no doubt Sarai also. He lost all respect and affection for them, and of course was not attracted to their God, even though he had to recognize that God was with them and that he could not harm them. …

The Lord surely could have supplied their needs in Canaan, even in time of famine. But once in Egypt, they should have been careful to maintain a good testimony at all costs. God could have protected them there, too, without such a degrading compromise. After all, He did protect them and provide for them, even in spite of their compromise. — Morris, pages 300-301

When faced with a famine in the land to which God had brought him, rather than trusting God would bless and provide for him in the midst of famine (as he does for Isaac during famine: see Genesis 26:1-3), or seeking guidance through sacrifice and prayer (as does Jacob during the famine in his day; see Genesis 46:1-4), he is portrayed as taking matters into his own hands and adopting a course of “situational ethics” which is naught but a chain of ever-deepening sin borne of a faith that is all but nonexistent. First he demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s provision, prompting him to leave Canaan and go to Egypt. Then he demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s protection, prompting him to lie—and ask Sarai to lie as well—about their marital relationship. Rather than loving his wife as himself (see Ephesians 5:33; Leviticus 19:18)—considering her welfare and guarding her honor—Abram is exclusively concerned with his own welfare—”that it might go well with me.” Indeed, Abram’s self-interest and weak faith at this point are such that he remains silent not only when Sarai is taken to the palace, but also when she is taken as Pharaoh’s wife—and in so doing, Abram is the cause of the additional sin of adultery on the part of Sarai and Pharaoh. Though some translations attempt to soften the situation by paraphrasing Pharaoh’s words in verse 19 in a way that suggests he had not yet married her, the Hebrew text itself is quite clear, with Pharaoh employing the typical verbal idiom for marriage—i.e., “to take so-and-so to oneself as a wife” in a form signifying completed (past) action. — Wechsler, page 178.

The purpose of this episode—which is unquestionably among the lowest points in Abram’s career—is not to single out Abram as more depraved than anyone else, for in the end he is merely symptomatic of the human condition and the virus of depravity endemic to us all. Rather, by presenting this episode immediately after God’s declaration of the Abrahamic Promise (Covenant), Scripture is reinforcing our appreciation of the unconditionality of that promise by making clear that it was not only bestowed in the absence of merit (the point of Genesis 11:27-32), but that it is maintained even in the presence of demerit—and if so with respect to Abram, then so too with respect to us today who benefit from that preeminent provision of blessing in Abraham’s Seed. — Wechsler, page 179.

Morris and another commentary say that this event was an attempt by Satan to destroy God’s plan to bring His promised seed through Abraham and Sarah—that if Sarah had borne Pharaoh’s child, she couldn’t have borne Isaac who continued the line to the Messiah. But Genesis 11:30 states that Sarah was barren, so she couldn’t have borne a child to Pharaoh. She could only have Isaac after God intervened. So, if Wechsler is right that Pharaoh and Sarah did commit adultery, it wouldn’t ruin God’s plan. It would just be another example of God using sinners.

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Genesis 12:4-9

So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.

Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.

It was a long journey to Canaan, approximately four hundred miles to the southwest of Haran. The testimony of Hebrews 11:8 tells us that “by faith, Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” Abram knew where he was going in general, but not where he would settle in particular. Trade routes from Haran down into Damascus and the Canaanite countries were already established at this time. As he entered Canaan, he stopped for a time at Sichem (or Shechem) near the center of the land, where he built an altar unto the Lord. This was near a well-known landmark of the time, the oak or terebinth grove (a more likely translation of the Hebrew word than “plain”) belonging to a Canaanite named Moreh. 

At this point, God “appeared unto him.” This is the first time in Scripture where we read of an actual appearance of God. God had “walked” and spoken with Adam, Enoch, and Noah, and perhaps He also had been visible in some way to them, but Scripture does not say so. Here, however, there must have been an actual visible manifestation—a theophany—and, therefore, we must understand this as a preincarnate appearance of Christ (John 1:18). 

The Lord here confirmed His promise to Abram, adding the specific promise that his seed would inherit this land, though at the time he owned none of it (Acts 7:5). Abram continued traveling, then stopped for a time at a mountain east of Bethel, about thirty-five miles farther south of Shechem. Here he built another altar and again called on God for guidance and help. Then he continued on, going still farther south, toward the Negev, finally traveling the entire length of the land of Canaan. — Morris, pages 295-296.

The altar and the tent give us the two great features of Abraham’s character. A worshiper of God, a stranger in the world—most blessed characteristics! Having nothing on earth—having our all in God. — Mackintosh, page 135.

In response (not as a prerequisite) to God’s declared promise, we are told that Abram … departed from Haran and continued on to Canaan with Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew. This statement, together with the reference in 11:32 to their halting in Haran (mostly likely due to ailment or infirmity on the part of Terah), suggests that the declaration in Genesis 12:1-3 was in fact God’s second, given to Abram in Haran, and not the first declaration given to him in Mesopotamia (see Acts 7:2-3). The implication for Abram’s faith at this point is hardly flattering, for this would suggest that he was contemplating a return to his home-city following Terah’s death, hence prompting God to repeat his call and exhort Abram to continue the journey that his father had begun. On a theological level, however, this is perfectly consistent with the manner in which the Abrahamic Covenant is introduced—to wit, as a promise that is actively and sovereignly made by God to a passive and undeserving recipient. At the same time, it should be noted, Abram responds to God’s promise with commendable obedience … — Wechsler, page 177.

The verb “give” appears over 1,000 times in the Bible, with the greatest frequency in relation to God’s giving the land of Palestine to His people, Israel, a truth here announced for the first time but repeated in nearly 150 passages in the Old Testament, from the days of the patriarchs to the return from the exile (Nehemiah 9:35-36) and even incorporated in the [Ten Commandments] (Exodus 20:12). — Scofield, page 20.

Negev (also spelled Negeb and translated “south” in K.J.V.) is the transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “dry.” It is a geographical term which refers to a specific section of Palestine (e.g. Genesis 13:1) located between Debir and the Arabian Desert. It is an arid region most of the year. Since this area was south of the larger part of Israel, the word also came to be used to denote that direction (cp. Genesis 13:14; Daniel 8:4, 9; 11:5; etc.) — Scofield, page 20.

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Genesis 12:1-3

12 Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.

I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The Fourth Dispensation: Promise. This dispensation extended from the call of Abram to the giving of the law at Sinai (Exodus 19:3ff.). Its stewardship was based upon God’s covenant with Abram, first cited here, and confirmed and enlarged in Genesis 13:14-17; 15:1-7; 17:1-8, 15-19; 22:16-18; 26:2-5, 24; 28:13-15; 31:13:35:9-12. — Scofield, page 19.

These three verses constitute the first and foundational expression of God’s great promise to Abraham—what is otherwise known as the Abrahamic Covenant. As here expressed, this covenant consists of the following three essential provisions: (1) Land (v. 1b), at this point generally identified as “the land of Canaan” (11:31; 12:5), the content and borders of which are increasingly specified throughout the course of the Pentateuch, culminating in the detailed description of Numbers 34:1-12; (2) a great nation (v. 2a), in which, significantly, the word translated “nation” is the one typically applied to the Gentile nations and only rarely to Israel, thus hinting at God’s broader, human-centered purpose in bestowing this covenant—as is also implied by God’s reference to making a “name,” which was previously the undertaking not of just one family, but all of mankind (11:10-26); and (3) blessing (vs. 2b-3), which last provision is given the most space in God’s declaration, thereby bearing out its preeminence among the provisions as well as the various circumstances in which that blessing will be applied. These circumstances, specifically, are three-fold and increasingly expansive—to wit, Abraham, his descendants (cf. Psalm 105:8-10), and all the families of the land. It is significant that in this first expression of the covenant God employs the term “families,” which in the Hebrew Bible generally denotes extended families—i.e., a living patriarch and all the members of his household by blood or marriage. God’s love, we thus see, is seeking to “push” His blessing as far as His justice will allow. — Wechsler, pages 176-177.

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Genesis 11:10-32

10 This is the genealogy of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old, and begot Arphaxad two years after the flood.

11 After he begot Arphaxad, Shem lived five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.

12 Arphaxad lived thirty-five years, and begot Salah.

13 After he begot Salah, Arphaxad lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.

14 Salah lived thirty years, and begot Eber.

15 After he begot Eber, Salah lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.

16 Eber lived thirty-four years, and begot Peleg.

17 After he begot Peleg, Eber lived four hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters.

18 Peleg lived thirty years, and begot Reu.

19 After he begot Reu, Peleg lived two hundred and nine years, and begot sons and daughters.

20 Reu lived thirty-two years, and begot Serug.

21 After he begot Serug, Reu lived two hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters.

22 Serug lived thirty years, and begot Nahor.

23 After he begot Nahor, Serug lived two hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.

24 Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and begot Terah.

25 After he begot Terah, Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years, and begot sons and daughters.

26 Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

27 This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot.

28 And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans.

29 Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah.

30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.

32 So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.

Just like the genealogies in chapters four, five, and ten, the genealogy comprising this section follows immediately after a brief narrative describing the commission of a grave sin (i.e., Genesis 4:1-15 [the murder of Cain]; Genesis 4:23-26 [unjust capital punishment]; Genesis 9:20-28 [sexual perversion]; and Genesis 11:1-9 [collective rejection of God]), thus “moderating” the negative tone of the previous episode by demonstrating that God’s fundamental blessing of man in Genesis 1:28 remains intact—and if intact in its physical aspect, then also, potentially, in its spiritual aspect. — Wechsler, page 172. 

Terah seems to have been the one who kept the brief, but important, record from Genesis 11:10 through 11:27a. Apparently, the only thing which he (or better, the Holy Spirit) judge worthy of recording during this period as the family genealogical record.

He began by tying his own record back to that of Shem, using Shem’s name as the progenitor of his own line. “Shem was a hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood.” Evidently, therefore, Shem was 97 when the Flood began and 98 a year later when it ended. Perhaps two of Arphaxad’s brothers, Elam and Asshur, were born in the two years immediately after the Flood (their names are listed before Arphaxad’s in Genesis 10:22). However, the purpose here is not to give all the names in the various families but only the direct line from Shem to Terah. — Morris, page 280.

It is obvious, in comparing Genesis 5 and 11, that patriarchal longevity began to decline immediately after the Flood. Noah lived 950 years (about the same as his antediluvian forebears), but Shem lived only 600 years, Arphaxad 438 years, Salah 433 years, and Eber 464 years. A still sharper decline took place after Peleg, as noted below. — Morris, page 281.

According to the record, when Abram was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4), it had been 367 years since the Flood, and thus about 267 years since the Dispersion. … It is reasonable to assume 11 generations since the Flood at this stage in world history. … If each such generation were to experience a 500 percent increase, slightly less than did the first generation [after the Flood] (and this certainly was not impossible or unreasonable in those early days), then the world population at this time could have been at least 300 million people. Of course, it is more likely that this rate of increase fell off as time went on, but at least it is clear that the world population in Abraham’s time could have easily been large enough to account for all the evidences of civilization at that time throughout the world. — Morris, page 284.

Nahor … married his niece, Milcah, daughter of Haran. As Abram seems to have become Lot’s guardian when Haran died, it may have been that Nahor similarly took care of Milcah. As she grew into womanhood, then, he took her to be his wife. … Evidently, Sarai was also a daughter of Terah, but Terah had more than one wife, so she was only a half-sister of Abram. Such close marriages were later forbidden in the Mosaic law; but … at this early date they were not particularly dangerous from a genetic point of view, and so were not uncommon. … Note is made of Sarai’s barrenness at this time, so that Abram unlike Haran and Nahor (Genesis 22:20-24), had no children in either Ur or Mesopotamia. The child of promise must be born in the land of promise. — Morris, page 287.

This passage suggests that Terah himself may have received some kind of command from the Lord to go to the land of Canaan. If so, he only obeyed in part. He left Ur alright, but instead of striking directly westward across the desert to Canaan, he moved northwest up the Mesopotamian valley, finally reaching Haran. …When they left Ur, Terah took Abram and Sarai with him, as well as his grandson Lot. Nahor stayed behind in Ur, apparently with Lot’s sister Milcah (who became Nahor’s wife) and possibly his other sister, Iscah, as well. Later on, however, Nahor must have brought his own family on up to Haran, or to the nearby city of Nahor (Genesis 22:20-24), so that the family probably was reunited for a while. … Perhaps God appeared to both Terah and Abram in Ur, and they both set out to Canaan together, father and son. Terah, however, delayed long in Haran and it eventually became apparent to Abram that his father no longer intended to go on to Canaan. The prosperity and comfort at Haran were too great a temptation for him. Eventually, Terah even began to get involved in the Chaldean idolatries, which were part and parcel of both the trade and the culture of the region (Joshua 24:2, 14-15). — Morris, pages 288-289.

It is Terah, not Abram, who is presented as the one taking the initiative to set out towards Canaan. This is clear from verse 31a, which portrays Terah actively as the one who took Abram, Lot, and Sarai, with the latter three thus portrayed passively as the ones who were “taken.” Insofar as the immediately following “episode” concerns God’s issuing of the Abrahamic promise (covenant), this passive portrayal of Abram is extremely significant, for it disallows the conclusion that the promise was given to Abraham as a result of anything especially meritorious that he did. … This view of Terah as the initiator of the journey does not contradict Stephens’ statement in Acts 7:2-4, in which he indicates that Abram received his call from God “when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran.” Having received this call, Abram would have sought, quite naturally, to consult with the family Patriarch, who, in affirming the validity of the call, would have recognized that it was incumbent on him to take the lead in obedience. — Wechsler, pages 175-176. 

Ur (v.28) — This city was located in southern Mesopotamia. Excavations have shown that its material civilization was far advanced, even long before the time of Abram; its houses show a level of material welfare in Abram’s day equal to that of Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s time, more than 1000 years later. — Scofield, page 18.

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