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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 12

 

 

Verses 1-9

Genesis 12:1-9. The Call of Abraham, his Migration to Canaan, and Yahweh's Promise to Him.—From J, except Genesis 12:4 b, Genesis 12:5, which is clearly from P. Abraham is called to leave country, kindred, and home for an unnamed land. His faith is thus challenged at the outset (Hebrews 11:8); at the call of God, without question or demur, he abandons the tangible certainties of the present for a vague destination, and the hazards of travel and settlement in a new land. But he goes in confidence, staking his all on the faithfulness of God's promise, that He would make of him a mighty nation, the incarnation of blessedness, to such a degree that all nations would bless themselves by him, that is, use his name in the invocation of blessing on themselves, saying, "May we be as fortunate as Abraham." So he took his family and possessions and came to Canaan (p. 26), presumably by the usual route (described by Driver, p. 146), but no details of the journey are given. He then passed down the country from the north till he reached the "place," i.e. the sanctuary, of Shechem, where a "terebinth" (mg.) or turpentine tree grew. This is described in RV as "of Moreh"; but the Heb. means "directing" or "director"; it is, therefore, "the oracle-giving terebinth," or "terebinth of the oracle-giver." This was accordingly a sacred tree connected with the sanctuary at Shechem; the deity resident in the tree gave oracles to the inquirer (cf. Deuteronomy 11:30, Judges 9:37). Shechem (p. 30) is Nablus to the SE. of Samaria, between Ebal and Gerizim, important in later history (1 Kings 12:1*). Here Abraham learns that the land, the promise of which had been suggested to him, is Canaan, and the promise is now definitely made that it will be given to his descendants. He moves on 20 miles further S., near to Bethel, where he builds an altar, and travels by stages thence towards the Negeb (p. 32).

Genesis 12:3. be blessed: this rendering or "bless themselves" is permissible, the conjugation used (the Niphal), while properly reflexive, being often used as a passive. But in Genesis 22:18, Genesis 26:4 the conjugation is the Hithpael, which must mean (cf. mg.) "bless themselves." The view that the religion of Israel was to become the religion of the world is not so early as this passage.

Genesis 12:6 b was written after the Canaanites had been displaced by the Hebrews.


Verses 1-20

Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 25:18. The Story of Abraham.—In this section the three main sources, J. E, P are present. Gunkel has given strong reasons for holding that J is here made up of two main sources, one connecting Abraham with Hebron, the other with Beersheba and the Negeb. The former associates Abraham with Lot. (For details, see ICC.) On the interpretation to be placed on the figures of Abraham and the patriarchs, see the Introduction. The interest, which has hitherto been diffused over the fortunes of mankind in general, is now concentrated on Abraham and his posterity, the principle of election narrowing it down to Isaac, Ishmael being left aside, and then to Jacob, Esau being excluded.


Verses 10-20

Genesis 12:10-20. Abraham, Sarah, and Pharaoh.—This section creates difficulties by its similarity to Genesis 12:20; Genesis 26:6-11. The three are usually regarded as variants of the same story. In each case the patriarch makes his wife out to be his sister. That twice over a similar incident should have occurred with Sarah is improbable; the improbability would be heightened if we denied the documentary analysis, since in the former case she would be approaching seventy and in the latter ninety years old. Nor is it likely that Isaac should have repeated with Rebekah his father's experience with Sarah in the same place, Gerar, and with a king of the same name. The narrative Genesis 12:20 is from E. Both the present story and that in Gen 12:26 are Yahwistic, and their presence side by side is not easy to explain. Perhaps they belong to different strata or sources of J. Of the three, that in Genesis 12:10-20 is the most antique, the least refined in feeling.

In consequence of a famine in Canaan, due presumably to failure of rain, Abraham, as often happened in other cases, went to Egypt, which was fertilised by the overflow of the Nile, and therefore independent of rain. He anticipates that the beauty of his wife will rouse the desire of the Egyptians, who may remove the legal obstacle to possession by killing her husband. To save his life he is prepared to sacrifice his wife's honour, and indeed, as it would seem (Genesis 12:13 b), to enrich himself by so shameful a sacrifice, less shameful of course to the patriarch and the narrator than to us. He begs his wife to pass herself off as his sister. She does so, and matters turn out as Abraham anticipated. The Egyptians are struck by her beauty, the princes see her for themselves, and commend her to Pharaoh. He takes her into his harem and richly endows her husband. But Yahweh intervenes to restore her. Pharaoh is smitten with sickness and learns the truth, in what way the narrative no longer says. He upbraids Abraham for his lie, which there is no attempt to palliate; but realising that he is dangerous, has him conducted to the frontier, that he may leave the country where his misconduct has worked such harm, and that no evil may happen to him on the way to provoke fresh Divine reprisals. This is not intended as punishment but as precaution, and while the wife is returned the presents are not taken back.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 12:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-12.html. 1919.

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