God calls Abraham. — V.1. 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 show thee. Here the real story of Abram, or Abraham, begins, to which the author has led up in a very skilful manner. God gave him a command which imposed upon him a threefold renunciation, Abram was to leave his fatherland, both Haran and Ur of the Chaldees being included in Mesopotamia. He was to forsake the members of his tribe, the other Chaldaic descendants of Shem, all of them now addicted to heathenism. He was to go forth even from his father’s house, that of Terah and his family. The expressions are purposely heaped to indicate that it meant for Abram a complete severing of family ties: leaving everything behind that he had ever held near and dear but his wife, he was to journey, as a stranger, into a land which he would see by and by. V.2. 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; v.3. 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. Here are promises of both temporal and spiritual blessings. To the first belongs the fact that Abram’s descendants were to be so great in number as to be a great nation. But of far greater importance are the promises that refer to spiritual gifts. For that Abram’s name should be great, that the blessing of the Lord should rest upon him, that he should be distinguished so highly among men as to receive the thankful praises and the blessings of men and be shielded against any curse, that in him should be blessed all the families and tribes of the earth, all mankind: all this does not refer to any mere outward wealth which the Lord intended to shower upon Abram. The blessing rather, as the repetitions and extensions show, chap. 18, 18; 22, 18; 26, 4, indicated that Abram (or Abraham) was to be a source of everlasting spiritual gifts and blessings through his seed, through one descendant in the great and blessed nation which would call him father, namely, through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Acts 3, 25. 26; Gal. 3, 16. The prophecy of the Seed of the woman, which had been narrowed down in a general way in the blessing upon Shem, was here given expressly to Abram and to the nation which was to descend from him.
Abraham’s journey to Canaan. — V.4. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. Abram put his faith in the promise of the Lord and was obedient to His command, forsaking his fatherland, his acquaintances, and even his nearest relatives, to journey with his wife and his nephew to the new country of which the Lord had spoken. V.5. And Abram took Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. Accustomed as they were to a nomadic life, they traveled by easy stages, until they came to Canaan, the entire journey being under God’s direction, and therefore successful, Heb. 11, 8. All their wealth in cattle and servants, which they had acquired in Mesopotamia, they brought along with them. V.6. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. So the caravan of which Abram was the head evidently entered the land of Canaan from the north, through what was afterward Galilee, passing down through the country in which his descendants were later to live, until he reached Sichem, or Shechem, approximately in the center of the land. Here he pitched his tent in a grove, under a terebinth, a tree similar to an oak, which belonged to one Moreh. Cp. Deut. 11, 30. And the Canaanite was then in the land. So Abram could not take possession of the land at once, but was only suffered to sojourn there as a stranger, Heb. 11, 9. V.7. And the Lord appeared unto Abram and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land. And there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him. Although a member of a race that had forsaken the true God, the call of the Lord had turned the heart of Abram to Him in simple faith. When, therefore, the Lord appeared to him in a vision in Sichem and assured him that the entire land would some time belong to his descendants, Abram believed the Lord and worshiped Him by the erection of an altar. V.8. And he removed from thence, broke up his encampment, and went unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west and Hai on the east; and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord. The geographical notation in many cases is that of the later age, in which the author lived, for the sake of a quicker understanding. Abram’s new encampment was in the hill country of what was afterwards Ephraim, between Ai on the west and Lus, or Bethel, on the east. Here again he inaugurated the worship of the true God by preaching and prayer, for he felt responsible for his whole household and therefore taught also his slaves and house-servants the way of salvation. V.9. And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south. Once more he struck his tent and removed with all his possessions to the southernmost district of Canaan, where it borders upon the Arabian desert.
Abraham dissembles in Eqypt. — V.10. And there was a famine in the land; and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. The frequent moves of Abram which the text indicate point to a growing scarcity of food; and the famine finally became so heavy that he removed to the land of Egypt with his herds. V.11. And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai, his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon; v.12. therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife; and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. V.13. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister; that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. The Bible, for our comfort and warning, relates the weaknesses of the saints as well as their acts of faith. Although Sarai was now some sixty-five years old, she still had her youthful bloom and beauty, and, since women in Egypt at that time went unveiled, Abram feared that his wife’s beauty would tempt some powerful Egyptian to covet her for himself and, Abram as the husband being in the way, he would be disposed of by an execution. As his caravan was about to enter Egyptian territory, therefore, Abram arranged with his wife that they be known in Egypt as brother and sister. He felt that the Egyptians might take Sarai from him, but that his own life would be spared through his stratagem and that he would even be treated well for the sake of her whom the people believed to be his sister. This counsel of Abraham was the outgrowth of human weakness and doubt in the divine protection it was an indication of temporary wavering on the part of Abram, for though the declaration was not altogether false, chap. 20, 12, neither was it the whole truth.
Abraham’s stratagem exposed. — V.14. And it came to pass that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. V.15. The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. What Abram had feared came to pass, and at the same time the weakness of his scheme was exposed, for he had apparently not taken into consideration how he could keep his wife for himself and save her honor. The report of Sarai’s beauty soon spread; the Egyptian princes praised her in the presence of Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, and without much ceremony she was taken to Pharaoh’s harem. V.16. And he entreated Abram well for her sake; and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels. These were the rich gifts of Pharaoh to the supposed brother of the woman whom he coveted for his wife, or one of his wives. These presents placed Abram into a peculiar predicament, for he must have felt that he was obtaining them under false pretenses, and yet he could not refuse them without exposing his scheme. V.17. And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. It was, literally, great blows which the Lord inflicted, and apparently of a kind as to shield the honor of Sarai. Cp. chap. 20, 4. 6. In some manner also it was revealed to Pharaoh what the real situation was. V.18. And Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? V.19. Why saidst thou, She is my sister? So I might have taken her to me to wife. Now, therefore, behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. When Pharaoh summoned Abram, the reproaches which he heaped upon him were well taken, and Abram was unable to say anything in his defense. The last words of the king were spoken in great anger: Take and go! V.20. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had. The orders of Pharaoh were carried out in the sense in which they were given. His men saw to it that Abram and Sarai and all their possessions were safely, but surely, taken to the borders of the country. It was probably only a kind of reverential fear of the God of Abram which restrained Pharaoh from taking revenge upon Abram in a very summary way. But we see here that the Lord turns even the mistakes and weaknesses of His believers to their advantage, guarding and protecting them against the various dangers into which their own foolishness tends to plunge them. The lesson teaches us that we, as the Lord’s strangers and pilgrims here on earth, should make use of all circumspection, and constantly keep before our eyes the goal which He wants us to reach.