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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Genesis 12

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XII.

God commandeth Abram to depart from his country; promising him that a great nation shall spring from him, and that all the families of the earth shall be blessed in him. He is driven, by a famine, into AEgypt; where Sarai is taken from him, but quickly restored.


Verse 1

Genesis 12:1. Now the Lord had said unto Abram, &c.— It is observable how Moses hastens over other events, to introduce the principal subject of his history; he comprises the history of the world, from the creation to the deluge, in six chapters, though that was a period of one thousand six hundred and fifty years; while he bestows on the history of Abram fourteen chapters, though it contains no longer space of time than one hundred and seventy five years. The reason is evident: he was not writing a history of mankind, but of that wonderful and gracious method, by which God determined to preserve at once the knowledge of himself in the world, and to prepare the way for the full accomplishment of the original promise. For this end God's purpose was to choose and adopt one family, afterwards to be formed into a nation, instructed in religious knowledge by the Lord himself, and favoured with such extraordinary privileges and honours above all other nations of the earth, as were adapted to engage them, by the most rational motives, to adhere to God and his worship. At the same time, to prevent their being infected with the idolatries and vices of the rest of the world, as they certainly would have been, had they mingled with them; they were to be distinguished and separated from all other people, by their diet, and by divers civil and religious rites and ceremonies; but, more especially, by a secret mark in the flesh, by which they might certainly be known from other men. Thus they would be kept together in a body, and hindered from mixing with, and being corrupted by, their idolatrous neighbours. And further, their laws and religious institutions, being originally recorded in books, would more certainly be preferred and known in all future ages and dispensations. Thus God provided a storehouse of religious knowledge, a school of instruction and wisdom, for all the world. ABRAM, a person of the most eminent piety and holiness, was chosen to be the head and father of this nation; that, as he would always be held in great veneration among them, he might always shine before their eyes as an illustrious pattern of godliness. To which end, Moses gives so circumstantial an account of him.

But the ground of this whole scheme, and of God's singular regard to Abram and his posterity, was the COVENANT OF GRACE the PROMISE or Grant of favours and blessings to mankind, in, Jesus Christ our Lord: a covenant first made with Adam, renewed with Noah, and well known to the patriarchs; but more clearly revealed to Abram. See this ch. Genesis 12:3, Genesis 17:7; Genesis 17:19. Genesis 18:18. Genesis 22:18.

The Lord had said "Though we are told in the former chapter," Houbigant observes, "that Abram left Ur with his father Terah, yet this must have been after the revelation made here by God to Abram; St. Stephen assuring us, that the God of Glory appeared to him, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran," Acts 7:2. And they judge inconsiderately, who suppose the words of God here spoken, to be another revelation made to him, when he dwelt at Haran. For when God says, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred;" what can be more manifest, than that he had not yet left his country? for Abram's country was Ur of the Chaldees, not Haran. St. Stephen, after relating the Divine command, Get thee out of thy country, immediately adds, then came he out of the land of the Chaldees, and dwelt in Charran. We are therefore to understand, that the departure of Terah from Ur was in consequence of the command given to Abram: which command is placed here, 1st, Because the narration concerning Abram begins here; 2nd, Because the command was given to Abram, not to Terah, who did not worship the true God, though probably he was converted to him by means of Abram; and, 3rdly, we may add, Because the sacred historian chose to conclude his account of Terah, before he entered more immediately upon the history of Abram. Though we are not told how God revealed himself to Abram, yet it seems to follow, from St. Stephen's words, that there was such a visible manifestation of himself, as could leave Abram no room to doubt of the reality of a Divine appearance; The God of Glory appeared to our father, &c. God had various ways of ascertaining the reality of his revelations to those whom he favoured with them; and it seems probable, that the second Divine Person was more immediately concerned in such appearances as we read of in the Old Testament, and which were accompanied, no doubt, with evident tokens of the Shechinah or Divine Presence.

Get thee out of thy country, &c.— We are certainly assured from the sacred writers of the New Testament, that Abram's was a voluntary obedience to this command, and an act of faithful reliance on the Divine Commander. St. Paul expressly says, By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place, which he should afterwards receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went, Hebrews 11:8 that is, not knowing, till he had left Ur, when God, most probably, directed him by some revelation which way to steer his course; and not knowing what sort of country it was, or how, or when, or by what means he should possess it: an act certainly of triumphant faith.


Verse 2-3

Genesis 12:2-3. I will make of thee a great nation, &c.— In these two verses the twofold covenant, or promise, is comprised. See note on ch. Genesis 9:9. 1st, The temporal one, in which God promises to make of Abram a great nation, "to multiply his posterity, and to render them famous; and by that means to make his name great, and himself both blessed and a blessing to others:" particulars, which have been eminently fulfilled, as in others of Abram's descendants, so peculiarly in the Israelites; while he was himself peculiarly prosperous. His name has been, and is famous throughout the world, among Jews and Gentiles, among Christians and Mahometans. Nay, God promises to espouse his interest, and enters, as it were, into a league with him, to have the same common friends and enemies, I will bless them that bless thee, &c. Hence, Abram has that high and honourable title, the Friend of God, Isaiah 8:2 nd, But farther still, as to the spiritual covenant, God promises, that in him, not only his immediate descendant, and posterity, but all families of the earth shall be blessed; which the apostle, Galatians 3:16 has referred to Christ, in whom alone indeed it can be fulfilled, and in whom it is eminently fulfilled. "This part of the promise," says Bishop Warburton, "is remarkable, as containing the proper end of God's choice and separation of him and his posterity, and so is very fitly made, by the sacred writer, the foundation of the history of God's dispensations to him, and a mark to direct the reader to what they are all ultimately to be referred."

Thus was Abram required and encouraged to cast himself wholly upon God's providence, by removing, at God's command, from his country and kindred, to an unknown, distant land, which God would shew him, assuring him of his presence and special blessing. Thus the Lord took him under his immediate care and protection. In this strange land he wandered about as long as he lived, but God was with him every where; God appeared to him and conversed with him, frequently and familiarly; by extraordinary interpositions and express declarations, from time to time, encouraging, directing, prospering, and guarding him. He became very rich, great, and honourable; but all was most visibly the gift and operation of God! What could be more engaging than all these circumstances! What more proper to excite in a man duty, affection, and confidence towards the Almighty!

REFLECTIONS.—Observe, God appeared unto Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, and warned him out of that land. In obedience to the heavenly vision, he had come as far as Charran or Haran, where his father died, and now he must proceed on his journey. Though not knowing whither he went, he followed God, and then he knew he was safe. Note; God will not suffer his people to take up their rest any where short of heaven: if they are making a home of the house of their pilgrimage, he will warn them to remove. We have here,

1. God's command to Abram; and a trying one it was: to leave his country, to part with his dearest friends, and to follow God, without so much as asking him whither he would lead him: but it was a matter become highly necessary. He dwelt in an idolatrous house; it was time for him to fly, lest he should be infected with their sins. Now must he prove his faith in, and love of God, by an implicit obedience, and a cheerful forsaking all to follow God. Behold, in the conduct of Abram, the duty of every faithful soul. (1.) To give himself entirely to be guided by the word of God. (2.) To renounce his dearest relations, and to become strange to his own house, when the glory of the Redeemer requires it. (3.) To part with the world always in affection, and to live in it with a disposition to leave it, or lose it cheerfully, whenever God calls. (4.) To forsake the ways of sin, and the companions in sin, and to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. (5.) To make no hesitation about the consequences, but to leave them in God's hands.

2. God's promise to encourage him. He requires nothing from him, but he will amply repay him for it: but for this he must be trusted. Accordingly, here is every imaginable blessing set before Abram. (1.) He should become a great nation. (2.) God would make his name great: though he was a stranger and unknown, his fame should rise above the kings of the earth. (3.) He should be a blessing to all around him; and the latest ages should call him blessed, and be the better for him. (4.) God would bless his friends and curse his enemies; so that the Lord would, as it were, share his weal and woe with him, and be his portion and shield. And, (5.) Above all, from him should the Messiah come, to bless all nations.

Note; 1. The heirs of Abram's faith shall inherit his blessing. (1.) They shall be great, made kings unto God. (2.) Their name shall be written in the Lamb's book of life. (3.) God will be the friend of their friends, and the enemy of their enemies. The enemies of the people of God little think against whom they sport themselves. (4.) He will make them blessed in Jesus to all eternity, and sharers with Abram in the Canaan of everlasting rest. 2. The salvation of the gospel is a common salvation for all families and all nations; God excludes none, who do not exclude themselves: whoever will, let him come. 3. When we reckon up our losses and gains for God, we shall find the one nothing, and less than nothing, and vanity: the other, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.


Verse 4

Genesis 12:4. So Abram departed The Lord HAD commanded Abram, Genesis 12:1 to leave his country; in consequence of which, with Terah his father, he came forward 120 miles from Ur to Haran (ch. Genesis 11:31.) on his journey: but being delayed there by Terah's death and other particulars, he now prosecutes his purpose; and, attended by his nephew Lot, and all the children and servants in dependance upon him, he undertook the long journey of more than three hundred miles, through the dangerous and barren deserts of Palmyrena; and crossing over the high mountains of Lebanus, Hermon, or Gilead, entered into that country where he was an utter stranger, and to which he was led, wholly in obedience to the divine command!

Observe; Abram, without hesitation, obeys, though old to seek a settlement, yet satisfied, if God was with him, he should find a rest in every place. We have, 1. His company to the land of Canaan: his wife and nephew. Both chose to share his lot, as both had chosen his God for theirs. Learn, (1.) Those who have one hope, will have one way. (2.) It is a great mercy when husband and wife go heavenward together. 2. His substance, servants, and goods he removed; for he had no thoughts of returning. Note; They who set out for heaven, must never think of going back. As it was a strange land, he needed a present provision. In our way to glory, God forbids not a prudent care for daily bread. And he took with him all the souls under his care and government, that they might be partakers in the promised blessings. They who serve God themselves, will reckon it their greatest gain, if they can win others to serve him too. 3. His arrival. They who go out under God's promise, will arrive safe under his blessing. Though the way to heaven be long or difficult, God can conduct us through, and bring us thither at last: Go on, and trust in him.


Verse 6

Genesis 12:6. Unto the place of Sichem That is, to the place where Sichem, or Sychem, afterwards was: a frequent mode of expression in the writings of Moses. From this place Abram passed unto the plain of Moreh; which Mr. Mede, says Mr. Locke, following the LXX, will have to be the oak of Moreh, understanding by oak, a grove of oaks. But why the LXX only should be mentioned, I know not, when the Hebrew is also the same, אלון alon, an oak, and so rendered by most versions. See Genesis 35:4. Joshua 24:25-26. in which this oak is referred to. Moreh was situated near the two mounts Gerizim and Ebal.

And the Canaanite was then in the land The sacred historian, with great propriety, here informs us, that the land promised to Abram, or that part of it through which he passed, was then possessed by the Canaanite, i.e.. the people in general so denominated, ch. Genesis 13:7. Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:22. for thus he magnifies more abundantly the patriarch's faith, which depended solely upon God's promise for the possession of a country inhabited by so strong and numerous a people.


Verse 7

Genesis 12:7. And the Lord appeared, &c.— Now that he was arrived in the promised land, the Lord graciously vouchsafed to appear to him again, and renew his covenant. "Abram," says Bishop Warburton, "at his first leaving his father's house, entirely resigned himself to the disposal of heaven, not knowing, for certain, whither he was to go." When he was come into the land of Canaan, his faith was rewarded by God with a farther revelation of his will; and he was now told, that this was the land which God said he would shew him, and which was to he inhabited by his seed. Upon which Abram built an altar there, that is, at the oak or oaks of Moreh, which afterwards became a sacred and venerable spot: the sanctuary was near it in Joshua's time, Joshua 1:18.


Verse 8

Genesis 12:8. Removed from thence unto a mountain, &c.— Either for better security from the inhabitants, or with a design of seeing more of the country. Here Abram built an altar (as it was usual on mountains); for, being fit places for contemplation, and, perhaps, by their height seeming to point the mind towards heaven above low earthly views, they were therefore chosen by pious men in ancient times, as altars of devotion raised by the Author of nature; and were approved of by God, till, like the sacred groves, they had been profaned by the impious rites of a barbarous superstition.


Verse 9

Genesis 12:9. And Abram journeyed, &c.— Without any fixed abode, this favoured patriarch removed his tents from place to place, Hebrews 11:9 as he found it most convenient, in primitive and happy simplicity; still directing his course towards the south: and provisions failing in the land of Canaan, he went down to AEgypt, which lay low in comparison of Canaan, to sojourn there a while, to make a temporary stay there, till the famine should be abated.

REFLECTIONS.—Abram is come into the land, but he finds no present possession in it. Observe,

1. His journeyings. He was a wandering pilgrim, without a settled abode, and in a strange land, glad to pick up a subsistence in the mountain or the plain, wherever he found a spot unoccupied. To be a stranger and pilgrim on earth, is the true character of a traveller to glory.

2. God's appearing to him. Though he was without comfort in the land, he had abundance in the Lord, whose presence amply repaid every toil. The Lord comes with promises of rich encouragement, and that is sterling payment in Abram's eyes: the land is now made over to him and his seed. Note; (1.) Where God visits us, we never can be desolate, though we were alone on a mountain. (2.) Though we leave all for God, we shall receive it again with interest; in this world an hundred fold, and in the world to come life everlasting.

3. Abram's grateful acknowledgment of the mercy. He builded an altar. A special favour demands a special return of thanks: though the promise be distant, faith embraces it as present and sure; such is its realizing nature. Not that this altar, in another sense, was extraordinary. Wherever he was, he had an altar with him; he and his house must serve the Lord, and prayer and praise are their constant duty and delight. Family worship is of ancient date; they who have not an altar in their family for constant devotion, will not have God in their house for their constant friend.


Verse 10

Genesis 12:10. And there was a famine, &c.— It was a discouraging providence, to be in the land of promise, and so soon to be driven out of it by famine. It required strong faith to weather these trials. Severe temptations are usually the portion of the believer; and they are permitted, that the trial of his faith may be found much more precious than gold, 1 Peter 1:7. And now where should he go? Back again, would Nature say. No, says Grace; forward. AEgypt was near him, and thither he directs his course. Note; 1. It is our duty to use means for relief in every distress, 2. Never to use forbidden ones. Still he is but a sojourner. Since God had given him the promise of Canaan, he will not take up his abode elsewhere. Though for a time we may be separated from our home, our hearts will be upon it wherever we are.


Verse 11

Genesis 12:11. He said unto Sarai his wife, &c.— "Sarai," says Mr. Locke, "was then sixty-five, as Abram was seventy-five, she being ten years younger than he."—"And though at this age," Mr. Le Clerc observes, "the beauty of women is seldom very tempting; yet as in these ages they were longer-lived, so was their beauty more durable." Her fair complexion too, it has been observed, might render her more amiable than the swarthy AEgyptians.


Verse 12

Genesis 12:12. They will kill me, &c.— Abram, it is plain, had a very bad opinion of the AEgyptians, for which most probably he had good grounds: he knew them to be libidinous to an extreme degree, and consequently ready to commit the most atrocious crimes, in order to gratify their lust. And, from Genesis 12:15 it appears, that he was not much mistaken: a handsome woman could no sooner make her appearance, than the princes of the king report it to him, and he immediately seizes her. "In these early days," says Bishop Warburton, "we see the splendour of a luxurious court in the princes, who resided in the monarch's household; among whom we find some to have been procurers for his pleasures."


Verse 13

Genesis 12:13. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister, &c.— See the notes on ch. 20: where this conduct of Abram is distinctly considered.


Verse 15

Genesis 12:15. Pharaoh Was a common name of the AEgyptian kings; and was a title of dignity, like that of Caesar assumed by the Roman emperors, and Ptolemy afterwards among the AEgyptians. Authors disagree about the meaning of it: Josephus says, it signifies the same as king; and Ludolphus says, it imports as much as "father of his country" an appellation well suiting a monarch.


Verse 16

Genesis 12:16. He entreated Abram well, &c.— Supposing Abram to be Sarai's brother, great respect was for her sake paid to him, and great presents were made him.


Verse 17

Genesis 12:17. The Lord plagued Pharaoh, &c.— In ch. 20: Genesis 12:18 it is said, that the Lord had fast closed up all the wombs in Abimelech's house, because of Sarah: whence it is very probable, that the plague and punishment here inflicted upon Pharaoh's house was of the same kind, as the occasion was the same.


Verse 20

Genesis 12:20. Pharaoh commanded his men, &c.— Pharaoh, struck with the divine punishment and admonition, (for men had not yet shaken off all degree of regard to a Supreme Being,) restored his wife to Abram, and dismissed the patriarch with an honourable and safe conduct. The AEgyptian kingdom, it is computed, had now been established about three hundred years, (in the days of Reu, ch. Genesis 11:18. according to the Arabian writers,) and was grown very powerful by the means of this king, named Pharaoh; which appellation was not only very ancient, but continued to be the common name of all the kings of AEgypt till the captivity of Babylon, and we know not how much longer.

REFLECTIONS.—We see how near Abram was to lose his wife by his dissimulation, and how God graciously interposed.

1. Sarai's beauty proved her snare, as it has done to a thousand women beside. She is seen, and commended, and taken by Pharaoh. Unsuspicious of the deceit, he loads Abram with benefits, and Sarai with caresses.

2. God interposes to preserve Pharaoh from sin, and Sarai from ruin. God plagued him and his. Observe, (1.) They are blessed corrections, which are made the means of keeping us from sin. (2.) It is God's astonishing mercy which delivers us often from that perilous situation, into which our own folly and sin brought us, and where we must have been inevitably undone, but for his wonderful and unexpected interposition.

3. Pharaoh's commendable behaviour on the occasion. (1.) His mild and just rebuke. At whose door had the sin lain, if Sarai had been taken to his bed, as to his house? What hast thou done? Observe, If they who profess religion are disingenuous, they deserve, and must expect to be reproved for it. (2.) His restoration of Sarai. Behold thy wife! take her. Note; We must remove temptation, if we would keep from sin. And he adds the most generous treatment. The gifts are confirmed; Abram's person and substance are safe, and not a hair of his head is hurt. How often are we in fear, where no fear is? And lest new snares might bring him into new troubles, he is dismissed in peace. Thus the father came up as the figure of his posterity; he went down for famine, and returned full.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 12:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/genesis-12.html. 1801-1803.

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