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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 12



Verses 1-4



Genesis 12:1-4. 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: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 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. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him.

OUR God has been pleased to teach us, no less by example than by precept: and the instruction to be gathered from the life and conduct of his saints, commends itself to us with peculiar force, as being less open to the evasions of criticism, or the objections of prejudice. Doubtless we must exercise a sober judgment in determining how far we are to follow the Patriarchs, Prophets, or Apostles; for there were many things in their conduct which were peculiar to their situation and circumstances. But we can never materially err, if we attend to the spirit of their actions: here they were patterns to us: and as far as relates to this, we are to be “followers of them who through faith and patience now inherit the promises.” We are bidden particularly to “walk in the steps of our father Abraham:” one of the most remarkable of which is that which is mentioned in our text.

We shall endeavour to observe that sobriety of interpretation, while we consider,

I. The Call of Abram—

The command given to him was most extraordinary—

[The world had speedily relapsed into idolatry. Abram was brought up, it should seem, in the common superstition. But it pleased God to separate him from the idolatrous world, in order that he might be a living witness for Jehovah, and preserve in his family the knowledge of the true God. For this end God appeared to him, and commanded him to leave his country and friends, and to go into a land which should afterwards be shewn him.]

But however strange this may appear, a similar command is given to every one of us—

[We are not indeed called to leave our country and connexions: but to withdraw our affections from earthly things, and to fix them upon things above, we are called [Note: Colossians 3:1-2.]. The whole world around us lies in wickedness [Note: 1 John 5:19.]: and we are expressly forbidden to be of the world, any more than Christ himself was of the world [Note: John 17:14; John 17:16.]. We are not to love it, or any thing that is in it [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.]. We are not to be conformed to it [Note: Romans 12:2.], or to seek its friendship [Note: James 4:4.]: we are rather to come out from it [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.], and be altogether crucified to it [Note: Galatians 6:14.]. We are to regard it as a wilderness through which we are passing to our Father’s house; and in our passage through it to consider ourselves only as strangers and pilgrims [Note: Hebrews 11:13.]. If we meet with good accommodation and kind treatment, we are to be thankful: if we meet with briers and thorns in our way, we must console ourselves with the thought, that it is our appointed way, and that every step will bring us nearer home [Note: Acts 14:22.]. Nothing good is to detain us; nothing evil to divert us from our path. We are to be looking forward to our journey’s end, and to be proceeding towards it, whatever be the weather, or whatever the road [Note: Hebrews 11:14-16.]. The direction given to the church, is the same in every age; “Hearken, O daughter, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people and thy father’s house; so shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty [Note: Psalms 45:10-11.].” There is no exemption, no dispensation granted to any, no difference allowed. Some from their occupations in society must be more conversant with the world than others: but in heart and affection all must be withdrawn from it; “not partaking of its sins, lest they should receive also of its plagues [Note: Revelation 18:4.].”]

There will not appear to be any thing harsh in the command given to Abram, if we consider,

II. The inducements offered him—

These were far more than equivalent to any sacrifice he could make—

[He was to be blessed in himself, and a blessing to others. In respect of temporal things, he was blessed in a very signal manner to the latest hour of his life [Note: Genesis 24:1; Genesis 24:35.]. He was loaded also with spiritual and eternal benefits, being justified and accounted righteous before God, and being exalted after death to the highest seat in his Father’s house. He was also a blessing to many: for his children and household were governed by him in a way most conducive to their best interests. The people amongst whom he sojourned could not but be edified by his instructions and conduct: and to this day the whole of his life affords a stimulus to the church to serve God after his example. But most of all was he a blessing in being the Progenitor of the Messiah, “in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed [Note: Acts 3:25, and Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:16.]:” and every person will be blessed or cursed according as he accepts or rejects that promised Seed.]

Similar inducements are offered to us also—

[Everyone who, for Christ’s sake, will renounce the world, shall be blessed. He may not possess opulence and honour; but “the little that he hath, shall be better to him than all the riches of the ungodly.” In his soul he shall be truly blessed. View him in the state least enviable according to human apprehension; see him weeping and mourning for his sins; yet then is he truly blessed [Note: Matthew 5:3-4.]: he shall have pardon and acceptance with his God: he shall experience the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit: he shall have “joys and consolations which the stranger intermeddleth not with:” and in due time “he shall be blessed with faithful Abraham,” in the eternal fruition of his God.

He shall be a blessing too to all around him. View him in his family connexions; view him as a husband, a parent, a master, a friend; who so kind, so benevolent, so anxious to promote the happiness of those connected with him? View him in the church, or in the state; what blessings does he communicate by the light of his example! what evils does he avert by his prevailing intercessions! Suppose the Christian to be instrumental to the salvation of one single soul; the whole world is not equivalent to the good that he has done. Nor is it that individual soul only that shall acknowledge him as its benefactor; for, all the good that shall arise through the medium of that soul to the remotest posterity, shall be traced up to him as its author; and shall occasion thanksgivings to God on his behalf to all eternity.

Let these inducements be duly weighed, and how light will the vanities of this world appear in comparison of them!]

From a believing prospect of these benefits arose,

III. His ready obedience—

Notwithstanding all the obstacles in his way, he without hesitation obeyed the call—

[His friends and relatives would consider his conduct as an indication of consummate weakness and folly: especially, when he could not so much as tell them whither he was going, they would be ready to pity him as insane. But as, on the one hand, he valued not the comforts of their society, so neither, on the other hand, did he regard their contempt and ridicule: every consideration gave way to a sense of duty, and a desire of the promised blessings. He believed, firmly believed, all that God had spoken. He believed especially that the Saviour of the world should spring from his loins; and that, through the merits of that Saviour, he himself, together with all his believing posterity, should possess that good land, even heaven itself, of which Canaan was a type and shadow. Under the influence of this faith he was contented to forego all the comforts that he could lose, and to endure all the sufferings that could come upon him [Note: Hebrews 11:8-10.].]

In this he was a pattern and example to all believers—

[If we renounce the world for Christ’s sake, and set ourselves in earnest to seek the land of promise, we shall be despised and hated, even as Christ himself was [Note: John 15:18-20.]. But this we are not to regard. We are “not to confer with flesh and blood;” but instantly and perseveringly to pursue our destined course. What though we have never seen heaven, nor can even tell where it lies? it is sufficient for us to know that it is a land flowing with milk and honey, and that it is “kept for us until the time appointed of the “Father.” Nor need we doubt but that it will far more than counterbalance all the sufferings that we can endure in our way to it [Note: Romans 8:18.]. Let us only exercise the faith of Abram, and we shall instantly set out to follow his steps.]


1. Those who are at ease in their native land—

[It may appear harsh to say, that, “if you hate not father and mother, and houses and lands, yea and your own life also, you cannot be Christ’s disciple [Note: Luke 14:26.]:” but this is the word of Christ himself. It is true, we are not to understand it in a literal sense; for we are not to “hate” even our enemies: but when our friends, or even life itself, stand in competition with Christ, we must act as if we hated them; we must sacrifice them all without one moment’s hesitation. On lower terms than these Christ never will accept us: “We must forsake all, and follow him.”]

2. Those who have set out towards the land of promise—

[Terah the father, and Nahor the brother, of Abram, accompanied him as far as Charran; and there (from what motive we know not) they all abode five years. God then renewed his call to Abram; but alas! his father was dead; and Nahor was weary of a wandering life; so that, on the recommencement of his journey, Abram had no associate but his Wife and Nephew. We pretend not to determine any thing of the spiritual state of Terah or Nahor; but their never entering into the land of Canaan may well be a caution to us to “beware, lest, having received a promise of entering into God’s rest, any of us should seem to come short of it [Note: Hebrews 4:1.].” It were better never to have begun our journey heaven-ward, than to turn back, even in our hearts [Note: 2 Peter 2:20-21; Hebrews 10:38-39.].]

Verse 5-6



Genesis 12:5-6. They went forth, to go into the land of Canaan: and into the land of Canaan they came.

THE call of Abram is one of the most instructive subjects that can occupy the human mind; both because the perfections of Almighty God were most gloriously displayed in it; and because, in it, he shewed himself one of the brightest patterns of obedience that ever the world beheld.

He had had a revelation from God whilst yet he was at Ur, in the land of the Chaldees: by that he was directed to leave his native country; which was immersed, as he also and his father were, in idolatry [Note: Joshua 24:2.]. At Haran (or, as it is also called, Charran) he abode till his father’s death; when he received from God a further direction to go into Canaan, with an express assurance that the whole land of Canaan should be given to him and his posterity for an inheritance, and that in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed [Note: –4 with Acts 7:2-4.]. With this direction he complied: he took his wife and family, and all that he possessed, and set out upon the journey; as it is said in the words before us—“They went forth, to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.”

Now this call of Abram is very instructive; no less as displaying the glorious perfections of God who called him, than as exhibiting the distinguished virtues of him who obeyed the call. I propose then, in illustrating this subject, to set before you,

I. The perfections of God for your admiration—

To this we are particularly led by that expression of St. Stephen, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham.” Observe, then,

1. His sovereignty—

[Why was Abram distinguished above all other of the sons of men, to be so blessed in himself, and such a blessing to the world? He and all his family were idolaters, as also were all around him: yet was he selected by Almighty God from among them, and made the friend and favourite of heaven. Can any account for this? Can it be traced to any thing but the sovereign will and pleasure of Jehovah? However adverse any man may be to the idea of God’s sovereignty in the dispensation of his blessings, he cannot deny, he cannot question it, in this case. Yet this is really what is done in the conversion of every soul to God. The Almighty Sovereign of the universe “has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.].” “It is God, and God alone, that has made any of us to differ” from our fellows [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]: and every saint, whether in heaven or on earth, must say, “By the grace of God I am what I am [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.].”]

2. His power—

[Nothing less than omnipotence could have effected such a sudden and total change in the heart of Abram as was wrought at this time: nor, in truth, could any thing less than omnipotence have sufficed to accomplish for him all that was now promised. And is less power required for the “turning of any man from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God?” It is a new creation, and is expressly called so by God himself [Note: Ephesians 2:10.]. It is compared by St. Paul to the power which the Father exercised in raising his Son Jesus Christ from the dead, and exalting him to glory far above all the principalities and powers, whether of heaven or hell [Note: Ephesians 1:19-21. See the wonderful force of the original.]. From the first awakening of a sinner to his final exaltation to glory, he must say, in reference to the whole work, “He that hath wrought me to this self-same thing is God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:5.].”]

3. His faithfulness—

[Not one foot of ground had Abram: nor for twentyfive years after the promise was made to him, had he the child to whom the promises were made. The time was past in which, according to the course of nature, it was possible for him and Sarah to have a child. Yet the child was given him; and to his posterity all the land of Canaan; and in due time, the seed also, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. Thus, in like manner, are all the promises fulfilled to every one who believes in Christ: not one jot or tittle of God’s word is ever suffered to fail [Note: Joshua 23:14.]. “The promises of God in Christ are, not yea and nay, but yea and amen, to the glory of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.],” and to the everlasting salvation of all who rely upon them. However numerous their dangers be, or great their difficulties, “they shall never be plucked out of God’s hands [Note: John 10:29.],” but shall be “kept by his power unto full and complete salvation [Note: 1 Peter 1:5.].”]

Let us now set before you that which is no less conspicuous in our text; namely,

II. The virtues of Abram, for your imitation—

We are told, on divine authority, that if we be Abram’s seed, we shall do the works of Abram. Behold, then,

1. His simple faith—

[He received implicitly all that God spake unto him. To whatsoever it referred, and however improbable, humanly speaking, the accomplishment of it was, he never for one moment doubted the truth of God’s word, “nor ever staggered at any promise through unbelief.” Now in this most particularly he is set forth as an example to us; who are required to “walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had whilst he was yet uncircumcised [Note: Romans 4:12.].” And more especially are we to imitate him in relation to the faith which he exercised on the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he beheld at the distance of two thousand years as the Saviour of the world. If any person ever could be justified by his works, Abram might have claimed that honour: but, eminent as his obedience to the divine mandates was, “he had nothing whereof to glory before God;” and, sensible of his own utter unworthiness, he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for righteousness, and was justified solely by faith in him [Note: ib. –3.]. And why is this so minutely recorded concerning him? Was it for his sake, that he might be honoured? No: it was altogether for our sakes, that we might know how we also are to be justified, and may look simply to Christ as our all in all [Note: ib. 2–25.].]

2. His prompt decision—

[It is said concerning him, that “when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, he obeyed.” There was in him no hesitation, no delay. And in this way must we also obey the divine call, when bidden to “forsake all and follow Christ.” We must “not confer with flesh and blood [Note: Galatians 1:16.] ;” but must, like the Disciples with their nets, and Matthew at the receipt of custom, leave all for Christ. We must be on our guard against specious excuses, “Lord, let me go home and bury my father,” or “take leave of my friends:” we must not be looking for “a more convenient season;” our obedience must be prompt, our decision firm and unchangeable: whilst it is called to-day, we must avail ourselves of the opportunity that is afforded us to do the will of God: to hesitate, is treason: to delay, is death. “What our hand findeth to do, we must do it instantly, and with all our might.”]

3. His self-denying zeal—

[Doubtless Abram felt that attachment which men usually do to their native country; and found it painful to turn his back upon all his friends, and to forsake all the comforts which he enjoyed in opulence and ease. No doubt, too, he had much to combat with amongst his friends and acquaintance. He was leaving his native country, and yet “he knew not whither he was going.” How strange must this appear! yea, what a folly and infatuation! But “he knew in whom he had believed,” and had no fear but that the Lord Jehovah, who had called him, would guide his feet, and keep him in all his ways. And shall not we also have much to contend with, if we obey the call of God in his Gospel? To renounce the world, to “mortify our members upon earth, to cut off a right hand, to pluck out a right eye, to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts,” is surely no easy work. The very terms in which these duties are expressed sufficiently declare what self-denial is necessary for the discharge of them. From without, also, our difficulties will be increased. We shall have foes without number to obstruct our way; and most of all, “those of our own household.” Hence our blessed Lord warned his followers, saying, “If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” In truth, “if we hate not father and mother, and houses and land, yea, and our own lives also in comparison of him, we cannot be his disciples.” Let not this appear a hard saying: obey it, like Abram; and, like him, you shall find it “a light burden and an easy yoke.”]

4. His prudent care—

[Abram collected together all the substance which he could conveniently carry with him, and took it along with him for his support. To have acted otherwise, without necessity, would have been to tempt God, rather than to trust in him. He had many dependent on him; and it became him, as far as with propriety he could, to provide for their support. And the same prudent care becomes us also. It is one thing to improve the means we possess, and another to trust in them. We must never say to gold, “Thou art my hope; or to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence:” but at the same time we are to employ the talents which God has committed to us, that we may support ourselves, and not be chargeable to others. That is a remarkable expression of Solomon, “I wisdom dwell with prudence [Note: Proverbs 8:12.].” And a prudent attention to our worldly circumstances tends rather to honour, than disgrace, religion. Abram, as the head of a family, provided for his own: and he did right in this: yea, if he had not done it, he would have “denied the faith, and been worse than an infidel.” Whatever, then, be your situation in life, endeavour to discharge the duties of it in a becoming manner; and let your determination through grace be like that of David, “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way [Note: Psalms 101:2.].”]

5. His persevering diligence—

[In stopping at Haran till his father’s death, I suppose, he judged that to be, or rather, that it was for the time, his proper destination. But being afterwards directed to go to Canaan, he went forth, and turned not aside till he came thither: and there he abode for many years. Indeed, to the very end of his life he held on in the good way which God had directed him to pursue. And thus it is that we also must approve ourselves to God. We must “not turn back: for, if we do, God’s soul will have no pleasure in us.” If we “turn back” at any time, it is to certain “perdition.” Let us “remember Lot’s wife.” In fact, it were better for us never to have “known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to depart from it.” Go on then, like Abram, “as pilgrims and sojourners here,” “shewing plainly, that you are seeking a better country [Note: Hebrews 11:9-10; Hebrews 11:13-16.].” And be assured, that “if, by patient continuance in well-doing, you seek for glory and honour and immortality, you shall in the end attain eternal life [Note: Romans 2:9.].”]


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 12:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

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