12:1–3 According to Ac 7:2, the LORD spoke to Abram while he was still in Mesopotamia (Gn 11:31). God gave Abram a one-verb command with four aspects to it. Abram was to go out from (1) his land, (2) his relatives, and (3) his father’s house, (4) to a land chosen by God. Obedience to God often means leaving one thing in order to receive something else even better. Saying I will five times, God unilaterally promised Abram progeny, prominence, and protection.
The distance from Ur to Haran was approximately 700 miles. Abraham’s journey from Haran to Bethel was another 700 miles.
12:4 Having migrated with his father’s household from Ur (11:31), Abram stayed an uncertain amount of time in Haran. Since Terah lived 145 years after the birth of Abram (11:26, 32) and Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran, Abram literally fulfilled the command to leave his father’s house (v. 1). It later becomes clear that, at this point, Abram did not fully understand God’s commands and promises. In matters of faith, understanding often follows obedience.
12:5 Abram was apparently his nephew Lot’s protector since Lot’s father had died in Ur (11:28). The group’s journey to Canaan was about 450 miles.
12:6 Shechem is in north central Israel on the slope of Mount Ebal. Abram’s grandson Jacob would live for a time in this region as well (33:18–19). Later, Abram’s great grandson Joseph would be buried there (Jos 24:32). The Canaanites were a distinct cultural group (Gn 15:21), but the term Canaanite is also an umbrella term for many different people groups who were living in the region, including the Hethites, Amorites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
12:7 This is the first of three times Scripture indicates that the Lord physically appeared to Abram (cp. 17:1; 18:1). The Lord’s promise to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s offspring is the single most repeated affirmation in the Torah. At least thirty-seven references are made to it in the books of Moses. The altar Abram built at Shechem is the first of four he is said to have built; others were set up between Bethel and Ai (v. 8), at Hebron (13:18), and at Mt. Moriah (22:9).
12:8 As a shepherd, Abram frequently moved to new locations to provide food for his animals. Bethel, modern Beitin, was about twenty miles south of Shechem. This altar is the second of the four that Abram built in the land of Canaan (v. 7). When Abram called on the name of the LORD here, he identified himself as a true member of the godly line of Seth (4:26). This is the first of three occasions on which Abram is said to do this (13:4; 21:3).
12:9 The Negev is the semidesert region west and south of the Dead Sea. About fifty miles south of Bethel, this area has been inhabited by nomads since ancient times.
Hebrew pronunciation [ZEH ra]
CSB translation seed, offspring
Uses in Genesis 59
Uses in the OT 229
Focus passage Genesis 12:7
Zera‘ appears 15 times with related zara‘ (sow; Ex 23:10). Zera‘ means seed (Nm 24:7), seedtime (Gn 8:22), crop (Dt 22:9), or grain (Is 23:3). Zera‘ indicates human or animal seed (Jr 31:27), semen (Lv 22:4), or offspring (Gn 3:15; 46:6). It signifies child (Gn 4:25) or son (1Sm 1:11), descendants (Ps 18:50), heirs (2Kg 11:1), family (1Kg 11:14), a nation’s kindred (Est 10:3), and people (Is 61:9). It connotes brood (Is 1:4), line or bloodline (Gn 19:32), lineage (Nm 16:40), race (Is 57:4), or ancestral families (Ezr 2:59). Zera’ implies fertile (Ezk 17:5). Zara‘ (56×) also denotes sowed seed (Gn 26:12), plant, become pregnant (Lv 12:2), conceive (Nm 5:28), and have offspring (Nah 1:14). It functions figuratively (Hs 8:7). Participles with zera‘ indicate seed-bearing (Gn 1:12, 29). Zerua‘ (3×) is sowing, what is sown, or vegetables (Dn 1:12).
12:10 The only river that flowed year-round in Israel was the Jordan, and it was completely below sea level (minus 686 ft. at its highest point, and minus 1, 300 at its lowest). Canaan relied heavily on rainfall for its drinking water and crops. When there was no rain there was a famine. To avoid the famine, Abram went down to Egypt, the location with the best water supply. This meant abandoning the land God had promised to his descendants.
12:11 Even though Sarai was at least sixty-five years old at this time (Sarai was ten years younger than Abram [17:17], and he was at least seventy-five [v. 4]), she was still considered beautiful. Her desirability was due in part to the fact that she was the most powerful woman in a wealthy clan.
12:12–13 By telling his wife to say that she was his sister, Abram was technically asking her to be truthful since Sarai was his half sister (20:12).
12:14–15 Since Abram’s group had many people and animals, they had to be given special permission to live and trade in Egypt. Important economic and political contracts in the ancient world were sometimes finalized by the weaker party giving a woman to the leader of the stronger party. The woman would then become part of the leader’s harem (this probably explains why Solomon had seven hundred wives, 1Kg 11:3). Sarai was the most desirable woman in Abram’s group, so when Pharaoh’s officials … praised her to Pharaoh, she was taken to Pharaoh’s harem.
12:16 Perhaps because of gifts from Pharaoh, perhaps because of favorable business deals, Abram acquired much wealth. Abram would later use one of the female slaves in his group to produce a son (16:1–4, 15).
12:17 If Abram’s wife Sarai remained in Egypt as part of Pharaoh’s harem, then God’s plan to provide Abram with an heir through her would never be fulfilled. To restore Sarai to Abram and bring the founders of the Israelite nation out of Egypt and back to the promised land, the LORD struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues. This act foreshadowed what God would do in Moses’s day to bring the Israelites out of Egypt again (Ex 12:29), to take them to the promised land.
12:18 Pharaoh connected the plagues with Sarai’s entrance into his harem. An investigation revealed that he had been tricked into marrying a woman who was the wife of another man.
12:19–20 Even as Pharaoh gave … orders and sent Abram, the first Israelite, away and all he had, so a later Pharaoh would order the Israelites in Moses’s day to leave Egypt (Ex 12:31–32) with all their belongings.