(1) Now the Lord had said unto Abram.—Heb., And Jehovah said unto Abram. There is no new beginning; but having briefly sketched the family from which Abram sprang, and indicated that he had inherited from them the right of primogeniture, the narrative next proceeds to the primary purpose of the Tôldóth Terah, which is to show how in Abram Jehovah prepared for the fulfilment, through Israel, of the prote-vangelium contained in the promise made to Eve at the fall (Genesis 3:15). The rendering “had said” was doubtless adopted because of St. Stephen’s words (Acts 7:2); but it is the manner of the Biblical narrative to revert to the original starting point.
Thy country.—A proof that Abram and his father were no new settlers at Ur, but that the race of Shem had at this time long held sway there, as is now known to have been the case.
Thy kindred.—This rendering is supported by Genesis 43:7; but it more probably means thy birthplace. It is the word translated “nativity” in Genesis 11:28. where its meaning is settled by the prefixed “land;” and the sense is probably the same here. If so, the command certainly came to Abram at Ur, though most of the versions suppose that it happened at Haran.
A land that I will shew thee.—In Genesis 11:31 it is expressly said that the land was Canaan, but possibly this knowledge was concealed from the patriarch himself for a time, and neither he nor Terah knew on leaving Ur what their final destination would be.
I will bless . . . —These words indicate relations mysteriously close between Jehovah and Abram, whereby the friends and enemies of the one become so equally to the other. But in the second clause our version has not noticed an essential difference between the verbs used. They occur together again in Exodus 22:28, and are there more correctly rendered by “revile” and “curse.” The one word signifies to treat lightly and contemptuously, the other to pronounce a curse, usually in a judicial manner. We might, therefore, translate, “I will curse—pass a sentence of rejection upon—him that speaketh lightly of, or revileth thee.”
In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.—Some authorities translate, “shall bless themselves;” but there is a different conjugation to express this meaning, and no reason exists for forcing it upon the text. Henceforward Abram and the nation sprung from him were to be the intermediaries between God and mankind, and accordingly revelation was virtually confined to them. But though the knowledge of God’s will was to be given through them, it was for the benefit of all the families of every race and kindred distributed throughout the habitable world, the adâmâh (Romans 3:29; Romans 10:12, &c).
The souls that they had gotten.—Heb., had made. Onkelos and the Jewish interpreters explain this of proselytes, and persons whom they had converted to the faith in one God. Such might probably be in Abram’s company; but the most part were his dependents and slaves (comp. Genesis 14:14,), though the word “slave” suggests a very different relation to us than that which existed between Abram and his household. Their descendants were most certainly incorporated into the Israelitish nation, and we have direct testimony that Abram gave them careful religious training (Genesis 18:19). Thus the Jewish traditions record a fact, and by acknowledging Abram’s household as proselytes admit their claim to incorporation with the race.
Into the land of Canaan they came.—Slowly and leisurely as the cattle with their young and the women and children could travel, Abram would take his way along the 300 miles which separated him from Canaan. The ford by which he crossed the Euphrates was probably that at Jerabolus, the ancient Carchemish, as the route this way is both more direct and more fertile than either that which leads to the ferry of Bir or that by Thapsacus. The difficulty of passing so great a river with so much substance, and people, and cattle would give fresh importance to his title of “the Hebrew,” the passer over, already his by right of descent from Eber, so named from the passage of the Tigris. More correctly, these names are ‘Eber and ‘Ebrew, and have nothing in common with “Heber the Kenite” (Judges 4:11). From Carchemish Abram’s route would lie to the south-west, by Tadmor and Damascus; and Josephus (Antiq., i. 7) has preserved the legend that “Abram came with an army from the country beyond Babylon, and conquered Damascus, and reigned there for a short time, after which he migrated into the land of Canaan.” In Eliezer of Damascus we have a reminiscence of Abram’s halt there (Genesis 15:2). But it could not have been long, for Mr. Malan (Philosophy or Truth, pp. 98-143) has conclusively shown by the dates in Holy Scripture that only about a year elapsed between Abram’s departure from Kharan and his settlement in Canaan.
The plain of Moreh.—Heb., the oak of Moreh, It was here that Jacob buried the strange gods brought by his household from Haran (Genesis 35:4), and here, too, Joshua set up the stone of testimony (Joshua 24:26; Judges 9:6); but as in Deuteronomy 11:30 the oaks (wrongly translated in most places in our version “plains”) are described in the plural, it is probable that the word is to be taken as a collective for an oak grove. Such shady spots were favourite places for the tents of the wandering patriarchs. A famous terebinth, called after Abram’s name, long existed at Mamre, and under it, in the time of Vespasian, the captive Jews were sold for slaves. It disappeared about A.D. 330, and no tree now marks the site of Abram’s grove. The Hebrew word, however, for terebinth is elâh, while that used here is êlôn. It was probably the quercus pseudococcifera (see Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 369). This tree often grows to a vast size.
Moreh.—Literally, teacher (Isaiah 9:15). Probably in this cool grove some religious personage had given instruction to the people. In Judges 7:1 we find a place called the “teacher’s hill,” and it is thus possible that among a people so religious as the race of Shem, men from time to time arose revered by the people as teachers of holiness. Such an one was Melchisedech.
The Canaanite was then in the land.—This is no sign of post-Mosaic authorship, nor a later interpolation, as if the meaning were that the Canaanite was there at that time, but is so no longer. What really is meant is that Abram on his arrival found the country no longer in the hands of the old Semitic stock, but occupied by the Canaanites, who seem to have gained the ascendancy, not so much by conquest as by gradual and peaceful means. We gather from the Egyptian records that this had taken place not very long before Abram’s time. In the early inscriptions we read only of the Sati and Aamu, both apparently Semitic races, the latter name being derived from the Heb. am, “people.” Subsequently we find frequent mention of the Amaor and the Kheta—that is, the Amorites and Hittites, evidently in Abram’s time the two most powerful races of Canaan. (See Tomkins’ Studies, 82 ff.) For their previous wanderings, see on Genesis 10:15-19.
There builded he an altar unto the Lord.—By so doing he took possession of the land for Jehovah, and consecrated it to Him. The altar would, further, be a place of public worship and of sacrifice. In a similar spirit Noah had taken possession of the renovated earth (Genesis 8:20).
Genesis 12:10And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.ABRAM’S VISIT TO EGYPT.
(10) There was a famine in the land.—This famine must have happened within a few years after Abram reached Canaan; for he was seventy-five years of age on leaving Haran, and as Ishmael, his son by an Egyptian slave-woman, was thirteen years old when Abram was ninety-nine, only about eight years are left for the events recorded in Genesis 12-16. As rain falls in Palestine only at two periods of the year, the failure of either of these seasons would be immediately felt, especially in a dry region like the Negeb, and at a time when, with no means of bringing food from a distance, men had to depend upon the annual products of the land. As Egypt is watered by the flooding of the Nile, caused by the heavy rains which fall in Abyssinia, it probably had not suffered from what was a mere local failure in South Palestine; and Abram, already far on his way to Egypt, was forced by the necessity of providing fodder for his cattle to run the risk of proceeding thither. In Canaan he had found a thinly scattered Canaanite population, for whom probably he would have been a match in war; in Egypt he would find a powerful empire, and would be at the mercy of its rulers. It is a proof of Abram’s faith that in this necessity he neither retraced his steps (Hebrews 11:15), nor sought a new home. For he went to Egypt with no intention of settling, but only “to sojourn there,” to remain there for a brief period, after which with returning rains he would go back to Canaan.
The most probable derivation of the word Pharaoh is that which identifies it with a symbol constantly used in inscriptions to indicate the king, and which may be read per-ao or phar-ao. It signifies, literally, the double house, or palace. This would be a title of respect. veiling the person of the monarch under the name of his dwelling, in much the same manner as we include the sovereign and his attendants under the name of the Court. For the arguments in favour of this derivation, see Canon Cook’s Excursus on the Egyptian words in the Pentateuch, at the end of Vol. I. of the Speaker’s Commentary. He also gives there the reasons for his opinion, in opposition to that of M. Chabas, that the Pharaoh in whose days Abram visited Egypt was an early king of the twelfth dynasty, some time anterior to the usurpation of the Hyksôs.
Camels are not represented on the monuments, and are said not to thrive well in Egypt; but the Semitic hordes who were peopling the Delta would certainly bring camels with them. Many, too, of the Egyptian monarchs—as, for instance, those of the twelfth dynasty—held rule over a great part of the Sinaitic peninsula, and must have known the value of the camel for transporting heavy burdens in the desert, and its usefulness to a nomad sheik like Abram. (See Genesis 24:10.)
Genesis 12:20And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.