Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 12

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Genesis 12:1. We have here the call whereby Abram was removed from, the land of his nativity into the land of promise. This call was designed both to try his faith and obedience, and also to set him and his family apart for God, in order that the universal prevalence of idolatry might be prevented, and a remnant reserved for God, among whom his true worship might be maintained, his oracles preserved, and his ordinances established till the coming of the Messiah. God seems also, by sending him into Canaan, a country given up to the most gross, cruel, and barbarous idolatry, even the sacrificing of their own children to their idols, to have intended that he, and the other patriarchs descended from him, should be witnesses for God to these nations before their destruction; which is the plan God has generally, if not always, pursued; seldom, if ever, destroying a people for their wickedness, till he has sent his truth, in one form or another, and his witnesses among them.

Concerning the circumstances of this call, we may receive further information from Stephen’s speech, Acts 7:2, where we are told, 1st, That the God of glory appeared to him, to give him this call, and that in such displays of his glory as left Abram no room to doubt. 2d, That this call was given him in Mesopotamia; and that, in obedience to this call, he came out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran or Haran about five years: and from thence, when his father was dead, by a fresh command, he removed him into the land of Canaan. Get thee out of thy country — Now, by this precept, he was tried whether he loved God better than he loved his native soil, and dearest friends: and whether he could willingly leave all to go along with God. His country was become idolatrous, his kindred and his father’s house were a constant temptation to him, and he could not continue with them without danger of being infected by them; therefore God said, Get thee out. Hereby also he was tried whether he could trust God farther than he saw him; for he must leave his own country to go to a land that God would show him; he doth not say, it is a land that I will give thee: nor doth he tell him what land it was, or what kind of land; but he must follow God with an implicit faith, and take God’s word for it in general, that he should be no loser by leaving his country to follow God.

Verse 2
Genesis 12:2. I will make of thee a great nation — When God took him from his own people, he promised to make him the head of another people. This promise was both a great relief to Abram’s burden, for he had now no child, and a great trial to Abram’s faith, for his wife had been long barren; so that if he believe, it must be against hope, and his faith must build purely upon that power which “can out of stones raise up children unto Abraham.” I will bless thee — Either particularly with the blessing of fruitfulness, as he had blessed Adam and Noah; or in general, I will bless thee with all manner of blessings, both of the upper and nether springs: leave thy father’s house, and I will give thee a father’s blessing, better than that of thy progenitors. I will make thy name great — By deserting his country he lost his name there. Care not for that, says God, but trust me, and I will make thee a greater name than ever thou couldst have had there. Thou shalt be a blessing — Thy testimony for God, thy example, thy prayers, and power with God, thy wisdom and prudence, thy peaceable and benevolent disposition and conduct, shall make thee a blessing in all places where thou shalt sojourn. I will bless them that bless thee, &c. — I will be a friend to thy friends, and an enemy to thy enemies; thus making, as it were, a kind of league, offensive and defensive, with Abram. Abram heartily espoused God’s cause, and here God promises to interest himself m his behalf.

Verse 3
Genesis 12:3. In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed — This promise crowned all the rest; for it pointed at the Messiah, “in whom all the promises are yea and amen.” Now, with what astonishing exactness has God fulfilled these promises, and yet how unlikely it was, at the time they were made, that they should be fulfilled! Surely we need no other proof that the historian wrote by inspiration of God!

Verse 4
Genesis 12:4. So Abram departed — He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. His obedience was speedy and without delay, submissive and without dispute. So should ours be to him who says, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow me.”

Verse 5
Genesis 12:5. They took with them the souls that they had gotten — That is, the proselytes they had made, and persuaded to worship the true God, and to go with them to Canaan; the souls which (as one of the rabbis expresseth it) they had “gathered under the wings of the Divine Majesty.”

Verse 6
Genesis 12:6. The Canaanite was then in the land — He found the country possessed by Canaanites, who were likely to be but bad neighbours; and for aught appears, he could not have ground to pitch his tent on but by their permission.

Verse 7
Genesis 12:7. And the Lord appeared to Abram — Probably in a vision, and spoke to him comfortable words: Unto thy seed will I give this land — No place or condition can shut us out from God’s gracious visits. Abram is a sojourner, unsettled, among Canaanites, and yet here also he meets with him that lives, and sees him. Enemies may part us and our tents, us and our altars, but not us and our God.

Verse 8
Genesis 12:8. And there he built an altar, and called on the name of the Lord — Such, it appears, was his constant practice, whithersoever he removed. As soon as he came into Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent, God had an altar, and that sanctified by prayer.

Verse 10
Genesis 12:10. And there was a famine in the land — Not only to punish the iniquity of the Canaanites, but to exercise the faith of Abram. Now he was tried whether he could trust the God that brought him to Canaan, to maintain him there, and rejoice in him as the God of his salvation, when the fig-tree did not blossom. And Abram went down into Egypt — See how wisely God provides, that there should be plenty in one place, when there is scarcity in another; that, as members of the great body, we may not say to one another, “I have no need of you.” No doubt he was sent into Egypt to be a witness for God there also; but, alas! through yielding to unbelief, eminent as he generally was for faith, he became rather a stumbling-block in the way of such as feared the true God, than an example for their imitation!

Verse 13
Genesis 12:13. Say thou art my sister — The grace Abram was most eminent for was faith, and yet he thus fell through unbelief and distrust of the divine providence, even after God had appeared to him twice! “Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.”

Verse 17
Genesis 12:17. And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house — We are not told particularly, in what way they were plagued; but, doubtless, there was something in the plagues themselves, or some explication added to them, sufficient to convince Pharaoh and his house that it was for Sarai’s sake they were thus plagued.

Verse 18
Genesis 12:18. What is this that thou hast done — What an ill thing: how unbecoming a wise and good man! Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? — Intimating, that if he had known that he would not have taken her. It is a fault, too common among good people, to entertain suspicions of others beyond what there is cause for. We have often found more of virtue, honour, and conscience in some people, than we thought there was; and it ought to be a pleasure to us to be thus disappointed, as Abram was here, who found Pharaoh to be a better man than he expected.