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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 12

 

 

Verse 1

THE PILGRIM FATHER

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.’

Genesis 12:1

Abraham was the father of the faithful, and we have here the first recorded test to which his faith was put. The first and one of the greatest.

I. The Substance of God’s call to Abraham.(a) He was called from rest to pilgrimage.—From his country and kindred and father’s house, to undertake lifelong journeying. He was at an age at which he would fain rest. His wanderings seemed to be begun at the wrong end of his life. But it was then God said, ‘Get thee out.’ It is as life advances that the idea of journeying, ‘getting out,’ comes home to men. The child rests in his home; but the outside world, with its responsibilities, self-direction and support, begins at last to open to him, and he must ‘get out.’ So with resting among old friends, etc. We must one day ‘get out.’ As years increase, all things seem in constant flow. Then at death. Above all, hear God’s voice telling you to set out on the Christian pilgrimage.

(b) He was called from the familiar to the untried.—The child’s familiarity with his environment is never attained to in after years. ‘New faces, other minds’ meet men’s eyes and souls; and they know, however peaceful their lot may be, that they are not in the old, familiar home. But let us extend our idea of home. The lifelong invalid would feel from home in another room of the same home. Let God be our home, the great house in which we live and move about; then wherever He is, we shall feel at home. Most so when we leave the lower room altogether to be ‘at home with the Lord’ above.

(c) He was called from sight to faith.—From the portion he had in his country and in his father’s house, to wait at all times on the unseen God, and go to the land which He would show him. Let us willingly make this exchange. God is better than country, and kindred, and father’s house.

II. The Characteristics of God’s Call to Abraham.(a) It laid clearly before him all that he was to surrender.—How full and attractive the picture is made to Abraham’s last sight of it; ‘thy country, kindred,’ etc. So, when from duty and loyalty to Christ, we make sacrifices, etc., the possessions will often seem peculiarly fascinating, just when we are to part with them.

(b) It was uncompromising.—‘Get thee out,’ with no promise or prospect of ever returning. The gifts of God are never repeated in exactly the same form. The pleasures of sin must be left ungrudgingly and for ever.

(c) It was urgent.—‘Get thee out.’ Now. ‘Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken to him.’ Let us give the same ready, instant obedience.

Illustration

‘Only a few generations after the awful warning of the Flood, the earth had again become corrupt. But it was not corrupt in quite the same sense. Before the Flood it was sensually corrupt; after the Flood it became religiously corrupt; violence was the earlier sin, idolatry the later. So God’s dealings differed. Idolatry put in peril the primary truths of His revelation to men, upon which the moral well-being of the human race rested. God therefore took measures for preserving these imperilled truths; and His plan was, to select a man, whose characteristic quality was “religious faith,” and make him, and his race, treasure-keepers for humanity, until the “fulness of times” should come. God wanted some one to take care of the two truths of His unity, and His spirituality; and our lesson tells us how He called Abram to this work, and how well fitted he was to undertake it. Abram kept these two great truths safe for us.’


Verse 3

BLESSING RECEIVED AND IMPARTED

‘And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.’

Genesis 12:3

I. A double stream of narrative runs through the first four books of the Pentateuch.—One of these may be called the Priestly narrative—the other, the Prophetical narrative. The text sets before us one of the characteristic features of the Prophetical narrative—that consciousness of the ideal destiny of Israel which developed afterwards into the definite hope commonly called Messianic. Unfettered by the political and material limitations of his age, the narrator discerns in dim outline the far-off goal of Israel’s history, and enables his reader to discern it with him. We have first the familiar Protevangelion of the third chapter, where hope already steps in to alleviate the effects of the Fall. Then comes the blessing given to Shem, and then the promise of our text.

II. What is the source of this conception of the ideal destiny of Israel which dominates so many points of the Old Testament? Israel was the people of Jehovah. They knew that the God of heaven and earth had really become their God, and had separated them to Himself as a peculiar people. Israel is the people of God: here is the fruitful germ of their whole future. The earliest records of the Old Testament are inspired by the consciousness of a noble ideal, which, so far from proving itself an illusion, was more or less completely realised. We may notice some of the more salient aspects of its development: (a) The establishment of the monarchy forms an epoch in Israelitish history. The monarchy created in Israel a sense of unity, and gave a new impulse to national feeling. (b) The great prophets amplify in different directions the thought of Israel’s ideal future. (c) In the great prophecy of Israel’s restoration, which occupies the last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah, we find the nation no longer viewed as an aggregate of isolated members, but grasped as a whole, dramatised as an individual, who stands before us realising in his own person his people’s purposes and aims. In his work as prophet he endures contumely and opposition, and though innocent himself, he sacrifices his life for others. Such is the personality upon whom, in the mind of Isaiah, the future alike of Israel and the world depends. In Christ as King and Christ as Prophet, the Founder and Head of a new social state, the hope of Israel, which but for His advent had been as an illusion or a dream, finds its consummation and its reward.

Rev. Canon Driver.

Illustration

‘Whoever would be “a blessing,” must always be thinking more of what he is to receive than what he is to impart. It is the filling of the vessel, and not the pouring out of it, which is the most important part. The water is sure to run, if the vessel is full enough. Therefore it stands first, “I will bless thee”; and then, “Thou shalt be a blessing.”

Therefore, whoever would be “a blessing” must be, as Abraham was, a man of faith, and a man of great prayer. He must live close to God, and separate from the world. He must grapple with God in earnest communion every day. He must go up much to the fountains of things. He must not be contented without taking in the mind of God. He must be a man whose converse is always of the unseen, the eternal, and the real.

And there is no blessing in anything which is not loving. Loving humility, loving intercession, loving faithfulness, loving labours, loving controversies, loving patience, loving self-denial, loving judgments of every man, loving looks, loving hands, loving thoughts. It is love that does the work.

Therefore go about lovingly. Feeling, “Oh! how has God loved me; that He ever thought of me! that He ever chose me! that He ever used me! How, at this moment, God is loving that soul to which I am speaking. O God, make me love like Thee! Steep me in love!”

If thus you go along the path of life, the words will go to you, “Thou shalt be a blessing.”’


Verse 4

THE FIRST COLUMBUS

‘So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him.’

Genesis 12:4

At this time there was no special nation belonging to the Lord. The Lord was even then but beginning to set apart a people for Himself. To create that people, He had first of all to make a family, and to make that family to select one man. After the Flood and the tower of Babel there was only one kind of people all over the world, and those people were very far from God. Here and there might be one who had a heart prepared; and there was one in that family, Abraham, and the Lord spoke to him and told him a very strange thing. ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.’ He is not even told the name of the land, or how he is to get there. ‘Get thee out.’ ‘So Abram departed.’ This is a marvellous word in its great simplicity. The Lord said to him, ‘Depart,’ and ‘so Abram departed.’

I. Abraham might have done a great many other things than that simple thing of going out because God had said, ‘Go out.’ Of course Abraham had some spiritual apprehension. He listened, he must have listened, or he would not have heard the voice of God. He listened, and he heard, and he understood, and he assented, and very likely he was staggered by the greatness of the promise made to him, that ‘all nations should be blessed in him.’ Who was he? Nobody! He was to leave his kindred and his land, and he might have taken a very long time to consider that command; he might have talked about it considerably. It was something to talk about. He might perhaps have written a song about it. It was a very fine subject for a song. There have been songs written about it. He might have sung a song called, for instance, ‘Faithful Abraham, go,’ and then have sat down.

II. But he would not have been the father of the faithful if he had done so.—What is it that he did? He obeyed; and the one thing that God asks of us is to obey; and if we will not obey, all the talking and singing and even praying goes for nothing.

There are many ways of being disobedient, but only one to be obedient. One may be disobedient in a very impudent kind of way. One may say, ‘No,’ to God; but, as Christ has pointed out in the parable, one may be disobedient in saying all the time also, ‘Yes.’ One may be disobedient to God most courteously, most piously; but he is disobedient for all that. One may be disobedient by constantly putting off to another month or year, or week, or day. ‘Not now, Lord.’ And then we lose the blessing and promise: and we may lose more than that; we may lose the faith altogether, because after a little while a man must agree with himself, and if his conduct does not agree with his faith, then he will make his faith agree with his disobedience.

So if God tells you to do a thing, do it. There is one thing that I know God tells you to do, each one of you. ‘This,’ said Christ, ‘is the work of God, that ye should believe on Him whom He hath sent.’ It is an act of obedience to believe in Christ. So much is it an act of obedience that Christ says that when the Holy Spirit comes, He shall convince the world of sin—Why? Because they are murderers, or thieves, or liars? No, ‘Because they believe not in Me.’

Illustration

During Colonel Sir Henry Havelock’s stay in England, a gentleman went one evening to his house in compliance with an invitation. In course of conversation Mrs. Havelock turned to her husband, and said, ‘Why, dear, where is Harry,’ referring to their son. Colonel Havelock started to his feet. ‘Why, poor fellow, he’s standing on London Bridge, and in this cold too! I told him to wait for me there at twelve o’clock to-day, and in the pressure of business I quite forgot the appointment.’ It was now about seven o’clock in the evening. The Colonel went to deliver his son from his watch on London Bridge, and excused himself for leaving his guest, saying, ‘You see, sir, that is the discipline of a soldier’s family.’


Verse 4-5

‘I DO NOT ASK TO SEE THE DISTANT SCENE’

‘So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; … and they went forth, to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.’

Genesis 12:4-5

I. This text may be paraphrased geographically, by saying that it contains a direction to the Law and the Gospel to move westwards, like the sun. The forefather of the Jews was ordered to quit his home for a land that looked westwards; as, long after, the Apostle of the Gentiles was ordered to commence travelling westwards, turning his back on the east. Our text limits the earlier dispensation to a single branch of the Semitic race; Paul’s ‘marching orders’ threw open the later dispensation to all the families of the earth. As we cast our eyes upwards along the stream of time to the call of Abraham, we are met on all sides by decisive tokens of a worldwide purpose. Abraham was called 430 years before the law was given; but could any place have been selected more felicitously for its programme than the country to which Abraham moved? Palestine was, by desert, river, and mountain, as closed to the east as it lay open by sea to the west; and thus was as fitted for a nation that was to be kept separate for ages in utter exclusiveness and isolation, as it was also ready to become the starting-point at another time of a system with cosmopolitan aims and designed especially to spread in the west. That system had hardly been inaugurated before it commenced moving of itself, slowly and majestically, to a destination traced for it by no human hand.

II. The inspired writers themselves never dreamt of the Gospel turning out, as it has done, an essential maritime power. Instead of the Gospel diverging eastwards to convert the East, the East poured westwards in countless hosts after the Gospel. Nation after nation burst over Europe with the vehemence of a cyclone, and shattered in pieces the whole fabric of the Roman empire. All the new comers became followers of Christ. The most striking part of the Gospel programme is yet to come—namely, the conversion of the Jews. The Jews have been compelled to wait as long for their conversion as the Gentiles did for their call; yet both events were foretold with the same clearness at the beginning of each dispensation. The conversion of the Jews, whenever it occurs, will be like the transformation scene of the old English play, a scene of overpowering brilliancy, the beginning of the end.

Rev. E. S. Ffoulkes.

Illustration

‘Family life began with Adam and Eve after the Fall. City life began with Cain. National life began with Abraham. History seems to emerge from the shadows and to be seen more clearly now.’ We are now half-way between Adam and Christ; the date 2000 b.c. As Noah could almost remember Adam, so, and more truly, Abram could almost remember Noah. Three long lives touching one another, or nearly so, cover the history of men thus far. Babel and the confusion of tongues must have prepared the way for national existence. A universal language might be convenient, but it would hinder rather than help patriotism and individuality. Abram is the first great emigrant. From Ur with its high civilisation, to Haran; and then by-and-by from Haran to Canaan. In God’s guidance of Abram we see perhaps the earliest example of the principle of purifying by separation. Ur, from whence Abram came out, was full of abominable idolatry. The Moravians at Herruhut, the pilgrim fathers in Massachusetts, illustrate this in later times. God says to His people, Come ye out from among them and be ye separate.’


Verse 10

A FATEFUL JOURNEY

‘Abram went down into Egypt.’

Genesis 12:10

I. Egypt was to Abraham, to the Jewish people, to the whole course of the Old Testament, what the world with all its interests and pursuits and enjoyments is to us.—It was the parent of civilisation, of learning, of royal power, of vast armies. From first to last this marvellous country, with all its manifold interests, is regarded as the home and refuge of the chosen race. By the stress laid on Egypt the Bible tells us that we may lawfully use the world and its enjoyments, that the world is acknowledged by true religion, as well as by our own natural instincts, to be a beautiful, a glorious, and, in this respect, a good and useful world. What was permitted as an innocent refreshment to Abraham, what was enjoined as a sacred duty on Moses and Apollos, what was consecrated by the presence of Christ our Saviour, we too may enjoy and admire and use. Power and learning and civilisation and art may all minister now, as they did then, to the advancement of the welfare of man and the glory of God.

II. The meeting of Abraham and Pharaoh, the contact of Egypt with the Bible, remind us forcibly that there is something better and higher even than the most glorious or the most luxurious or the most powerful and interesting sights and scenes of the world.—The character and name of Abraham, as compared with that of the mighty country and the mighty people in the midst of which we thus for an instant find him, exemplify, in the simplest yet strongest colours, the grand truth that ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ To be in the world, but not of it; to use it without abusing it,—this is the duty which we find it so hard to follow; but it is the very duty which Abraham first, and our Lord afterwards, have set before us.

Dean Stanley.

Illustration

‘We need guidance and preparation in view of the new worlds and Egypts into which we have to go. There has been only one man in this world who could safely go into every circle and society which this world contains. Jesus Christ was His name. With the spirit of Christ you can go anywhere and everywhere, and you can give all languages a new accent and a new meaning, and lift up all the relations of life into a nobler significance.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 12:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/genesis-12.html. 1876.

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