4 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.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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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