GENESIS 12:1-8


As we come to the 12th chapter of Genesis, there is a sudden and dramatic change it the character of the book.  We have already noted the literary style of Moses.  He always deals first with the overview, stating it in brief and concise terms.  Then he returns to that part of the narrative which is central to his main theme to cover it at length.


He does the same here.  The first 11 chapters have gone through primeval history of man at breakneck speed.  Now the pace shall slow down as we take a more careful look at the history of the Patriarchs and the Covenant.


Genesis 1 - 11

Genesis 12 - 50

Events are Central...

• Creation

• Fall

• Flood

Tower of Babel

People are Central...

• Abraham

• Isaac

• Jacob

• Joseph

Takes place over a period of more than 2000 years.

Takes place over a period of about 250 years.

Human Race as a whole

Family of Abraham


Thus, the main emphasis of Genesis is on PEOPLE.  This ought to be our emphasis in ministry, as well.


As we study the narrative accounts of the first three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), a certain similar pattern in these accounts will emerge.


1.         Each is given a series of promises by God which includes the following:

• A Seed.

• A Land.

• A Blessing.

• Blessing to the Nations.


2.         Each live as aliens in the land of Canaan, wandering among the inhabitants of the land.


3.         Each had wives who experienced barrenness before giving birth to the promised sons.


• Sarah (11:20; 15:2‑3; 16:1).

Rebekah (25:21).

• Rachel & Leah (29:31; 30:9; 30:17; 30:22).


4.         Each had to deal with rivalry among his sons.


Abram, or as he is later called, Abraham, is seen in history as the father of both the Jews and the Arab nations.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam hold him up as a spiritual leader.  This means that a study of the life of Abraham will be important to our understanding, not only of the major religions of the world, but also to western culture.





            1 Now 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;

            2 And I will make you a great nation,

            And I will bless you,

            And make your name great;

            So you shall be a blessing;

            3 And 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 shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1‑3).


The early chapters of Genesis tell of the creation of mankind and his placement into a garden.  But then came the fall and man was cast out of the garden.  There had been a promise of eventual redemption and now that promise begins to see fulfillment.  Where man had been driven away, now one particular man would be brought back into a special land.  A land flowing with milk and honey.  A land that shall be likened to a garden.


Where man had once been told to be fruitful and to multiply and to fill the earth, now we read of a promise given to one man that he would be a great nation and that he would be a blessing.  Where the earth had once been cursed on man’s behalf, now we read that through this one man all of the families of the earth will be blessed.


1.         A Call to Leave.


            Now 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” (Genesis 12:1).


Abram had already been described in the previous chapter as having left Ur of the Chaldees to come to Haran.  But more is required.  He is called to leave his country and his relatives.  They will remain in Haran.  He must travel to another land.


2.         A Promise of Greatness.


            And I will make you a great nation,

            And I will bless you,

            And make your name great;

            So you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).


This promise of greatness has at its core the promise that Abram will be a great nation.  This sets up the problem that will run throughout the narrative history of this man.  The problem is that he has no son.  This has already been established in the previous chapter.  In Genesis 11:30 we read that Sarai was barren and that she had no child.


This promise is given in the setting of a difficult situation.  God says Abram is going to bring forth a great nation, yet he does not even have a single child, let alone an entire nation of children.


3.         A Promise of Blessing.


            And 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 shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3).


This section begins with the Lord speaking to Abram.  This is a call for Abram to receive a gift.  Abram was to become a manager of that gift.


           It was a sovereign call.  God did not call Abram on the basis of some merit on the part of Abram.  It was not a matter of Abram initiating the call.  It was God who began this process.


           It was a gracious call.  Abram was to receive abundant blessing that he did not deserve and which he had not earned.  These blessings would overflow Abram to touch the lives of others.


           It was a demanding call.  In order to accept this call, Abram would have to leave his home and his family and travel to a place he had never been.




            4 So 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. 5 And Abram 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. (Genesis 12:4-5).


Abram responded to the call of God by leaving his home and extended family and departing for the land to which he had been directed.  From Haran, a traveler desiring to go down into Canaan can take two different roads.


           The King's Highway.


This road ran down through Damascus.  From there, its course ran along the west bank of the Jordan River Valley, past the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and down into the Sinai Desert, which it reached Ezion‑geber on the Gulf of Aqaba.


           The Way of the Philistines.


This route ran along the Mediterranean Sea, past the Phoenician cities of Sidon and Byblos, along the Plains of Sharon and the cities of the Philistines, and then into Egypt.


If Haran is the hub of the wheel, then Canaan is one of the major spokes of that wheel.  The land of Canaan acts as a narrow land‑bridge between Mesopotamia and the continent of Africa.  This is a relatively small area of land, no larger in area than Lake Erie or the state of Maryland.  The name “Palestine” takes its name from the ancient name Peleset, meaning “land of the Philistines.”  That would be a later designation.  For now, it was known as the land of Canaan.


1.         The Topography of Canaan.


Canaan is one of the most diverse lands in the world. Within its small area, one can find snow‑capped mountains, fertile plains, steaming deserts and lush forests.  It is home both to sparkling waterways full of fish as well as the most desolate body of water in the world.


a.         The Coastal Plain.


The coastline of Canaan is devoid of any natural harbors from Tyre all the way down to Egypt. The plain itself is generally low, fertile and open. It is broken only once where the Mount Carmel Promontory juts out into the Mediterranean.


b.         The Central Mountain Range.


A long ridge of mountains runs parallel to the Coastal Plain from the Mountains of Lebanon all the way down to the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The lowest point of this ridge is 15 feet and many of its segments rise to twice that height.


This Central Spine is a natural impediment to east‑west travel. At some places it consists of up to five parallel ridges, each separated by deep valleys.  This Mountain Range is broken only once by the long Valley of Jezreel, also known by the more popular name of Armageddon.


c.         The Jordan River Valley.


This valley is a part of the Afro‑Arabian Rift Valley, one of the longest and the deepest fissures in the world, following a geological fault line from the Amanus Mountains of southeastern Turkey through Syria, Lebanon and Israel, down the Gulf of Aqaba and then running the entire length of the Red Sea to Ethiopia and then continuing southward to become a part of the Great African Rift Valley.


The Jordan River finds its major source in the melting snows of Mount Hermon which towers 9,200 feet above sea level.  Hundreds of small streams cascade down to flow into Lake Hula.  ln Abram's day, Lake Hula was a shallow marsh.  Since the formation of the nation of Israel in 1948, the lake has been drained for farm­land.  This has created an ecological imbalance in the Sea of Galilee.  The swamp used to act as a natural filter, straining out any impurities from the waters which flowed southward into the Sea of Galilee.


The Sea of Galilee rests in the crater of an extinct volcano which, in ages past, spewed out its lava over the Golan Heights to the east. The Sea is 600 feet below sea level and is surrounded on all sides by steep hills.


From the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River runs south down the sunken rift.  This narrow valley used to be a fertile forest full of wildlife, including lions and boar.


The word “Jordan” derives from a verb meaning “to descend.”  It flows downhill in its long, meandering course until it reached the Dead Sea.


The shore of the Dead Sea is the lowest point on the surface of the earth, lying 1300 feet below sea level.  The salt level of this sea is six times that of the ocean and, as a result, no fish can live in its waters.


d.         The Transjordan Plateau.


The Arabian Desert was not nearly so impassible in antiquity as it is today.  Several trade routes dissected its breadth.

Rising up sharply from the Jordan Valley is a high, fertile tableland between 30 to 80 miles in width and stretching from Damascus to the Gulf of Aqaba.  The northern regions of this tableland are well‑watered and fertile.


To the east of this plateau, the land gives way to the impassible Desert of Arabia.


2.         The Climate of Canaan.


In Egypt, the chief deities were the sun and the Nile River. The most important deity of the Canaanites was Baal, the storm god of wind and rain.


It never needed to rain in Egypt or Mesopotamia, since their river systems were fed by mountains hundreds of miles away.  Canaan, on the other hand, had no great rivers and depended heavily upon the regular rainfall to feed the small mountain streams which irrigated the land.   The chief deity of the Canaanites was Baal, the god of rain and thunder.


The “Early Rains” begin in October and the rainy season continues through until the “Latter Rains” of April and May.  The heaviest rainfall comes during the winter months. There is not a drop of rain from June to September.


The topography of the country is broken enough to provide some striking local variations in temperature.  In summer along the Coastal Plains, the winds tend to hold down temperatures from reaching oppressive levels.  Further in­land, where the wind has lost its affect, the temperatures can rise to stifling degrees.


In the winter months along the Coastal Plain the climate is mild and frost is virtually unknown, due to the incoming wind of the Mediterranean Sea.  As one travels up into the mountains, temperatures decrease markedly with height.  The winter months in the mountain region produce a long‑lying snow cover.


This was the land to which Abram was called.  It was the land of promise.  Abram’s response to this call was threefold.


1.         Abram Responded with Unquestioning Obedience:  So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him (Genesis 12:4).


We do not read of any debate.  There is no argument.  We are not told that Abram asked any questions or that he set down any conditions.  God said, “Go!” and Abram went as he had been told.


2.         Abram Responded with Justifying Faith.  How do I know this?  After all, Abram’s faith will not be mentioned until chapter 15.  I know that Abram responded with faith because I can read of his actions.


There is a lesson here.  It is that your inward faith will always result inoutward actions.  Faith without works is not really faith at all.  Abram’s obedience serves as a sign of his faith.


3.         Abram Responded with Evangelistic Worship.  There are two references in this passage that suggest these elements.  The element of evangelism is seen in verse 6 where we read that the Canaanited was in the land.  The element of worship is see two verses later when Abram built an altar and called upon the name of the Lord (12:8).


We are called to do the same thing.  We are to call upon the name of the Lord in the midst of a pagan society so that they might hear us and see us and be drawn to the One whom we worship.





As Abraham first entered the land of Canaan, he traveled down the Central Mountain Ridge to the site of the ancient town of Shechem.


            And Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land." (Genesis 12:6).


The town of Shechem would later be built in the pass that runs between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It would be on this site that Jesus would later hold an afternoon discussion with a woman by the well.

In Genesis 9 a curse was placed upon the descendants of Canaan.  Now we see a promise that Abraham and his descendants would inherit their land.


When the Scriptures says that the Canaanite was then in the land, it is a reminder that the land of Canaan was not some uninhabited wilderness. It was a land of cities and towns, of merchants and farmers and shepherds.


Abraham came into this land as a nomadic shepherd-merchant.  He did not take up residence in any of the Canaanite cities, but remained a pilgrim and a nomad. This led to some seasonal migrations, especially in times of famine.





            7 And the 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.

            8 Then 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. (Genesis 12:7-8).


We have already seen the idea of sacrifices and altars in the book of Genesis.  Noah built an altar to the Lord after coming out of the ark (Genesis 8:20) and both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord.  It could be argued that the coats of skin given to Adam and Eve constituted the first sacrificial offering.


This instance of worship was instituted by the Lord.  He appeared to Abram and reiterated the promise that had been previously given.  Instead of being “the land which I will show you” (12:1), the Lord says, “To your descendants I will give THIS land.”


In response to the assurance of the Lord that this is the land that will be given to him, Abram builds an altar to the Lord.  This will be the beginning of a series of altars built by Abram.  Each place in the land to which he comes, he will be seen building an altar to the Lord.  In verse 8, he moves to a location between Bethel and Ai and again builds an altar.  This time we read that he calls upon the name of the Lord.


This promise must be seen in contrast to the exile from Eden.  In the early chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden.  Now Abram is brought to a new land and is told that this land will be given to him.


Adam and Eve


Exiled from the garden of Eden

Brought into the land of Canaan

Exile was the result of his sin

Coming into the land was the result of his faith and obedience

The loss of their land

Promise of a new land


We normally think of the first promises of the land being given to Abraham.  But the idea of a land that was given is found first here in Genesis 2 where the first man was given the first land.  It was a paradise.  This means that the promise of a land that was given to Abraham is a promise of a redeemed land.  It is a promise of a return to a new paradise.


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