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The Life of Abraham (12:1-25:11)
Up to this point the universal history of mankind has been under consideration. Now the account narrows down to the history of the Kingdom of God. For if the mighty of this earth establish kingdoms. (cf. Gen. 10:10), in a far more real sense does God Himself set up a kingdom, a kingdom which differs point for point from the kingdoms of this world but which is none the less real, in fact, is the only reality. History, as Moses now writes it, traces the development of this kingdom. In fact, the Ruler of the destinies of history so shapes history that it may serve to aid in the development of His kingdom.
As far as the life of Abram, which now follows, is concerned, it is usually divided into about four different periods, each supposedly set off by the appearance of God to Abram, Now if the individual instances of the appearing of God to Abram be listed as well as the instances where the word of the Lord came unto Abram, it will be found that these experiences make a total of eight, or, counting the original word in Ur of Chaldees according to Acts 7:2, nine. But the distinction between the mere coming of the Word to Abram (Gen. 12:1; 13:14; 21:12; 22:1) and the vision (Gen. 15:1) or the appearance of the Lord (Gen. 12:7; 17:1; 18:1), is largely artificial. Even when the word of the Lord came to Abram, the Lord may have appeared to Abram even where there is no specific mention made of His appearing. These separate instances of God’s appearing to Abram are not said by the Scriptures to have been marks indicating new stages of development in Abram’s life. The truth rather appears to have 1.404been this: when God’s Word or His appearance to Abram became a necessity, then God manifested Himself. Such an appearance, then, does not necessarily mean that Abram had grown or developed to a certain point or was about to grow or to develop in a certain direction. We are, therefore, inclined to divide Abram’s life into three parts: (a) his early life prior to the time of the first call in Ur of Chaldees—concerning, which period we know absolutely nothing except that Abram took Sarai to wife; (b) the period lying between God’s first promise of posterity and the actual birth of this seed, Isaac (Gen. 12:1-21:7); (c) the events after the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21:8-25:11).
In connection with the question where the first call of God came to Abram there are a few things to be added to what has thus far been said in reference to Terah. Even though the account of Moses does not indicate the possibility of a call earlier than the one of Gen. 12:1, yet the correct scriptural tradition knows of the coming of this first call in Ur of Chaldees. Gen. 15:7 and Neh. 9:7 might perhaps be so construed as to mean that Abram’s leaving of Ur stood under God’s special providence; but Acts 7:2 definitely asserts that God’s first call to Abram came in Ur, "before he came to Haran." As our previous explanation indicated, we believe that this call included Terah but did not succeed in weaning him from idolatry. Again, on the question whether Terah’s household only or also Abram were involved in the "serving of other gods," of which Josh. 24:2 speaks, we cannot assert definitely just what Abram’s position was. To us it seems most natural to assume that on Abram’s part there had been only the incipient stages of idolatry, which were abandoned when God called him forth. Consequently, it would appear that this initial summons was merely by the mercy of Him that called and not upon the strength of the merits of the one who was called, as Luther also rightly contends.
1.405This faith, however, which God’s grace engendered, proved to be a faith of such exemplary character that all that are of faith are classified as "sons of Abram" (Gal. 3:7), and so Abram truly becomes the father of all believers. Only when we regard this record of Abram’s life as a record of a life of faith, do we justice to it.
Unfortunately, much confusion has been introduced into the subject of the lives of the patriarchs by certain untenable theories on the basis of which far-reaching reconstructions have been attempted. We shall list the major of these theories and indicate briefly how they do violence to the available evidence. For a more thoroughgoing presentation of the case we must refer to the works of Eduard Koenig, especially his Geschichte der alttestamentlichen Religion, and his Geschichte des Reiches Gottes, as well as to his Genesis Commentary. For this able scholar has blasted these futile theories into the smallest of atoms by his devastating attack upon them.
One more general mode of approach is that which roughly classifies all the historical material of Genesis as purely legendary. Dillmann gives a somewhat naive statement of the case when he says: "Nowadays, of course, everybody quite takes it for granted that all these tales about the fathers do not belong into the realm of strict history but into that of legend." Aside from the presumption which regards all the opponents of this view as nobodies, the assumption prevails that Israel must in all respects be like other nations. If other nations had tales from their early history which were purely legendary, so must Israel’s record be. Aside from being a begging of the principle, critics of this stripe are ready to concede Israel’s distinct superiority in the matter of religion. Why cannot the rest of the life of this people furnish material superior to that found in other nations?
1.406One of the most popular methods, of dealing with patriarchal history is to approach it on the basis of the so-called tribal theory (Stammtheorie). This theory assumes that the patriarchs were not actual historical characters but fictitious characters which are to serve to explain the origin of certain tribes. When Abram goes to Egypt, the tribe in reality went in its earlier days, etc. The patriarchs are eponymous characters to whom is ascribed what befell the tribe. The grain of truth involved in this theory is that, in reality, certain of the names mentioned in the Table of Nations, chapter ten, are tribal names and not names of persons. However, in such cases (Gen. 10:13, 14, 16, 17, 18) tribal names are used ("Amorite, Girgashite," etc.), and no attempt is made to make them appear as individuals. The claim by which the tribal theory is chiefly supported is that ethnology has no instances on record where nations descended from an individual, as, for example, Israel from Abram. However, on this score the Biblical records happen to have preserved facts which ethnology no longer has available. But how a nation may descend from an individual is traced step for step in the Biblical record.
Besides, the Genesis records in their detailed accounts bear too much of the stamp of records concerning characters of flesh and blood as we have it. Dillmann may make light of this fact and say: "We need nowadays no longer prove that the wealth of picturesque details of the narrative is not in itself a proof of the historicity of the things narrated but is, on the contrary, a characteristic mark of the legend." But though legends do usually abound in picturesque details, the things narrated in Genesis very evidently bear the stamp of sober truth. Christ and the apostles recognized the patriarchs as historical characters; cf. such remarks as John 8:56 and the almost two dozen references of Christ to Abraham alone.
1.407More farfetched than either of the two theories described thus far is the astral-myth theory. Briefly stated, it amounts to this: even as Greek mythology had certain tales by way of explanation of the origin of the signs of the zodiac, so did the Babylonians, and so, of necessity, must Israel. An illustration: Sarah’s going down to Egypt as a sterile woman is the Israelitish way of stating the Babylonian myth of the descent of the goddess Ishtar into the underworld to receive the boon of fertility. Even though the story primarily tells of Abram’s going to Egypt, and though Egypt has to be taken to signify the underworld—a thing utterly without parallel in the Scriptures—and even though Sarai must be interpreted to be an adaptation of the name of the Babylonian goddess Sharratu, the wife of the moon god, in spite of all these forms of unwarranted treatment of the text, the adherents of this theory fail to see its folly. We cannot but label such a theory as an attempt to discredit Scripture.
A fourth mode of misinterpreting the sacred narrative is the attempt to account for it on the basis of what we might term the Beduin-ideal theory. Briefly, this involves the notion that the writer or the writers of the patriarchal history were in reality setting forth the type of Beduin life as found in patriarchal times as an ideal for a later more civilized and more degenerate age. The writer is supposed to be enthusiastic for the Beduin type of life and to see in it the cure for the social ills of his time. So the Beduin religion is also set forth as an ideal of monotheistic religion. Incidentally, that utter simplicity supposed to be set forth by this type of life is hardly characteristic of the patriarchs, for already men like Abram are in possession of much goods and great wealth and are in a position to give rich gifts such as jewels to close friends or prospective wives.
1.408In reading, how Gunkel, an ardent advocate of the purely legendary or mythical theory, manipulates his theory, one is almost tempted to speak of still another theory, namely the theory which glorifies the clever pranks of the patriarchs. For in writing particularly of the devices employed by Jacob in taking advantage of Esau or of Laban, he writes as if the readers of these tales gloated over them as a humorous glorification of a crafty ancestor. On other occasions he writes with a pitying disdain of the very crude and elementary conceptions of the deity held by these early writers. Again the effort to deflate the conception of the Scriptures is manifest, and a Biblical book is reduced to the level of a collection of amusing anecdotes.
Parallel with all these faulty theories runs the erroneous conception of the Patriarchal religion. Here again we may refer to prevalent theories. We shall do no more, however, than to list briefly the erroneous conceptions we are referring to. Prominent among these is the attitude which describes the early religion of Israel as totemism. This endeavours to prove that certain types of creatures were deemed sacred and were worshipped by certain tribes. Proof for this view is deduced, for example, in the case of Terah from the fact that his name may signify a type of mountain goat. The proof grows very top-heavy, when so elaborate a conclusion is built upon an accidental possibility.
A second, equally grievous misconception is that which describes the religion of the patriarchs as ancestor worship. In proof of this mention is made, for example, of the fact that certain graves are mentioned, like that of Deborah, (Gen. 35:8) in connection with which an "oak of weeping" is referred to, or where, it is asserted, sacrifices to the dead were made. Nowhere are the statements found, however, that would actually prove that the spirits of the dead were thought 1.409of as gods. The whole conception is as shallow and as unscientific as it can be.
Then even fetishism has been attributed to the patriarchs. Israel’s religion is supposed to give indications that holy hills were reverenced as a fetish; so, too, fountains, trees, and stones. Yet even the unlearned will be able to detect quite readily that these strange reconstructions of the text must be read into the text in a manner which does violence to all sober and honest interpretation of the text. The thought lying behind all such attempts is, of course, this: since such lower levels of religion are seen on the part of many other nations, therefore they must be characteristic of Israel’s religion in its earlier stages—a faulty style of argument.
1. The Call of Abram and the Exodus from Haran (v. 1-9)
1. And Yahweh said unto Abram: Depart from thy country, from thy relatives and from thy father’s house unto a land which I will show thee.
"Get thee out" (A. V.), though entirely correct, sounds too sharply imperative in the English of our day; for lekh-lekha is a mild "go for thyself," lekha being either a dative of interest or merely an ethical dative (K. S. 35), its force being like the English: "do go" or the German:" geh doch." This command is attributed to Yahweh, whose mercy controls all that he does in this connection in singling out an individual who is to become the ancestor of the Saviour’s line. The extent of the sacrifice asked of Abram covers three items which draw an ever narrowing circle until the last makes the extent of the sacrifice most keenly felt. The "country" (’érets) which is to be left is, of course, the country which according to Gen. 11:31 had become the new home of Terah’s group. For this verse (v. 1) attaches itself to the preceding situation by a waw1.410"and." So 12:1 intends by this device to build up on 11:31, 32. Consequently, the A.V. translation is not justified in rendering, "Now the Lord had said" —a rendering made, no doubt, to harmonize with Acts 7:2. As the new country (Haran) still offered too many dangers to this man whom God’s grace singled out, so also did his "relatives" (môlédheth), those who were tied to him by blood and were exerting a more subtle and powerful influence than the individual usually realizes. But strongest of all was the influence of his "father’s house," and hardest, the sacrifice of breaking these dearest ties. Apparently, in both these latter terms a larger complex of persons is involved than those mentioned in 11:31. Under "relatives" we must, no doubt, include Nahor’s household, which must have emigrated from Ur shortly after Terah’s departure.
Usually either too much or too little is put into the clause: "unto a land which I will show thee." Too little, if it be assumed that Abram did not even have an idea in what direction or toward what land he should go. For v. 5 says "they went forth to go into the land of Canaan:" Besides, according to 11:31 the destination of Terah was Canaan at the first. On the other hand, too much is presupposed if it be assumed that Abram actually knew that Canaan was to be his ultimate destination. The happy mean in this case, then, would be that Abram well knew that he should first bend his steps toward Canaan. But the land that God intended to show him was yet to be revealed. In other words, only after Abram had actually arrived in Canaan did God also reveal to him that Canaan was the land where he was to take up his dwelling permanently.
So the whole issue still is very definitely one of faith. With a general knowledge of the direction in which he is to turn, this man still must venture out in faith in the providence of God, trusting that in God’s own good time his ultimate goal would be made apparent to him. It is this exemplary faith which the 1.411author of Hebrews extols when he says (11:8): "By faith Abram, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." The last part of this statement may well be understood as being in harmony with our interpretation above: Abram knew the direction, but he did not know the specific inheritance.
In the final ’ar’ekka the suffix is attached more closely by the use of a nun energicum (G. K. 58 i)
2. I will make of thee a great nation, And I will bless thee, And I will make thy name great, And be thou a blessing; And I will bless them that bless thee, And I will curse him that curseth thee.
3. And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
We have arranged the various items of these two verses thus in order to make the constituent parts as readily apparent as possible. Much energy is expended in trying to determine how many parts constitute this blessing laid upon Abram. Some arrive at three parts, some at four, some at five. We feel that each is distinct by itself, and, therefore, the covenant number seven prevails here, even though there is no explicit covenant involved. In a sense, one element of v. 1 might be drawn upon, viz., "the land I will show thee," as being still another promise of God, but these words are only indirectly a blessing. So, then, for the one act of sacrifice on Abram’s part there is to be a sevenfold reward on Yahweh’s.
The first promise runs thus: "I will make of thee a great nation." The word for "nation" is gôy, usually used of the heathen nations, but here, as in Gen. 35:11 and 1.412Exod. 19:6, in reference to Israel, to signify that, as nations go, Israel shall be great. "Great nation," of course, implies more than great numbers. Since the greatness is of God’s making, it involves, true greatness in every sense. If ever there was a great nation, it was Israel. The force of this word must naturally be reckoned over against the fact that at the time when it was spoken Abram had no son.
The second promise runs thus: "I will bless thee." This statement, then, does not refer to the nation but to Abram alone. A man is blessed when due to the gracious working of God all goes well with him (cf. Gen. 39:5); the things that he undertakes thrive; and true success crowns all his endeavours. This certainly is a promise that was realized in Abram’s life.
The third item: "I will make thy name great." Abram personally is to become famous. The various names that are given to Abram display a part of this fame. So he is called "the father of a multitude" (17:5), a prince of God (23:6); the man in God’s confidence (18:17-19); a prophet (20:7); the servant of God (Ps. 105:6); and the friend of God (20:7). Even without such names he could still be famous. But this fame is not a personal achievement of his but a divinely wrought favour.
The fourth: "And be thou a blessing." The form in which this item of the promise appears differs materially from that of all the rest. Instead of being an imperfect hortative, it" is the imperative, "and be thou" (wehyeh). Now it is true enough that an imperative may be joined to a hortative (K. S. 364n), but it cannot be denied that this is "strange" (K. S. 203) in this case. Merely to make this imperative just one more promise strips it too utterly of its peculiar character, as does A. V.: "and thou shalt be a blessing." The fact of the matter is that it, indeed, expresses something that God does: God is the One, who in the last analysis makes Abram to be a true blessing unto 1.413others. But at the same time, a moral responsibility of Abram’s is involved: he should do his part that he may become a blessing to others. Consequently the imperative, "be thou a blessing. He personally should aim to live such a life that others are blessed by it.
The fifth item: "I will bless them that bless thee." So intimately is God concerned in having men take the proper attitude toward this prophet and servant of His that whoever wishes Abram well, to him will God do good. For this difference between God’s blessing (item 2 above) and man’s blessing in the second half of this fifth item is that man’s blessings are the wishing of good, God’s blessings the impartation of good. Besides, it should be noted that divine grace presupposes that there will be many that wish Abram well; therefore mebharekhê’kha, plural, "thy blessers."
The sixth item: "And I will curse him that curseth thee." The Hebrew uses two different verbs—’arar for God’s judicial cursing and galal for man’s injudicious or blasphemous cursing. Again divine grace presupposes that there will not be many that wish this friend of God ill: therefore meqallelkha, singular, "thy curser." The deeper reason behind all this is that Abram will be so closely identified with the good work of God, that to curse him comes to be almost the equivalent of cursing God.
The seventh item: "And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." This word reaches back to the divided "families" (10:5, 20, 31) of the earth, divided by their sins, as well as to the curse of 3:17 which is now to be replaced by a blessing. A blessing so great that its effect shall extend to "all the families of the earth" can be thought of only, in connection with the, promised Saviour. This word, therefore, is definitely Messianic and determines that the Messiah is to emerge from the line of Abram. Negative criticism, consciously or unconsciously bent on removing 1.414the Messianic element from the Old Testament, attempts to cancel the specifically Messianic thought of the passage by modifying the meaning of the verb "be blessed," nibhrekhû. This stem is Nifal and so passive. Now the claim is raised that the inherent idea of the Nifal is reflexive; therefore the Nifal should be rendered as a reflexive, as the parallel Hithpaels of 22:18 and 26:4 suggest. Besides, it is claimed, the verb barakh has a passive in the Pual form which is extensively used. Yet the truth of the matter is that the passive of the Nifal stem should be adhered to as the normal thing, unless the passive sense actually is impossible. The Nifal is passive rather than reflexive. In the second place, a careful study of the Pual will reveal that it is used of blessings on the lower levels—blessings on the house, the name, the inheritance, the person, the land, or the generation of the upright. Or when the verb is used in reference to "the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21), it refers to blessings that man bestows upon it—human blessings, not divine. In our passage the case is different. Here the reference is to blessings divinely bestowed. Therefore a distinctive verb is sought. The Hithpaels of 22:18 and 26:4 merely add another aspect of the case, namely that men shall wish for themselves (reflexive) the blessing of the seed of Abram. These two passages, therefore, are not an interpretation of ours but merely a thought supplementary to this original promise. Besides, the usual interpretation given by critics to the fourth item ("be thou a blessing") would cover the last or seventh, and so instead of having a word that mounts to a climax, they have a weak repetition that is to no purpose. Even Procksch feels constrained to admit that "only in the idea of the Messiah does the depth of the thought (of this word) adequately display itself." The old conservative interpretation is well established in every way. It alone meets the needs of the case.
1.415The object meqallelkha is not placed first so much for emphasis as to make possible a chiastic arrangement of clauses.
4. So Abram went forth as Yahweh told him, and Lot went forth with him; and Abram was seventy-five years old when he went forth from Haran.
Abram’s obedience rendered in faith is stressed primarily in this word: as he has been bidden to do, so he does; Yahweh’s word must be fulfilled. Whether there was any struggle with the reluctant flesh or not, we are not told. The important thing is: Abram’s faith yielded obedience. The pain of separation is eased in part by the coming along of Abram’s nephew Lot. God’s mercy is displayed in this fact, for He it was, no doubt, who disposed Lot’s heart to desire to accompany Abram. There must have been something of a spiritual kinship between these two men, even if Lot afterwards proves far inferior to Abram. Important for our understanding the situation correctly is our knowledge of the age of Abram. For if he is seventy-five years old, he is even according to the standards of that time a middle-aged man. So decisive a step as his would hardly come so easily at his age as at an earlier period in his life. So the mention of Abram’s age helps us to put a more correct estimate upon the heroic quality of this act of faith. Criticism claims that v. 4 b as well as v. 5 are traceable to a different source, namely to P, whereas the rest of the chapter dates from J. Luther, especially apt on discerning the character of faith, remarks on this act of Abram’s: "Faith is a lively and powerful thing; it is not merely a drowsy and idle thought; nor does it float somewhere upon the heart as a duck upon the water, but it is like water warmed through and through by a good warm fire."
1.416Age is expressed in Hebrew by the idiom, "a child of so-and-so-many years" (G. K. 128 o).
5. And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew and all their acquisition which they had acquired and the persons that they had gotten in Haran, and they went forth to go to the land of Canaan, and (in due course of time) they arrived in the land of Canaan.
Quite in conformity with the patriarchal mode of life, where the patriarch himself enjoys a rare measure of authority over the whole clan, the departure is attributed entirely to Abram: he took the persons and the goods. We have translated above, "acquisition which they had acquired," to indicate the cognate object which the Hebrew expresses rakhash rekhush. Rakhash really covers all movable possessions, Fahrhabe (K. W.). It is not a distinctive word of P; it is not an indication that a particular author is writing, but a word used when possessions have to be referred to. Here, in particular, it is becoming apparent that we are dealing with a very rich man. He has not only chattels but also a great retinue. These persons the Hebrew refers to by the very general word "souls" (collective singular, néphesh), which is about the equivalent of "persons." The verb used with this word is ’asah, meaning originally "to make"; here "to get," as in Gen. 31:1. These "persons" include not only the children born of this large retinue of servants but the many servants that had been acquired by purchase.
Mark that the immediate and definite objective is "the land of Canaan," as indicated above. We have inserted parenthetically "in due course of time" because such, largely obvious, phrases are for the most part taken for granted in Hebrew. English would have actually expressed this idea. In characteristic fashion Moses passes by all the details that might have been connected with this long journey. Nothing essential to the author’s purpose occurred on the way.
1.417Though ’artsah ("to the land") has the old locative ending, this does not, prevent the attaching of the noun "Canaan" to produce the construct relationship (K. S.273).
6, 7, And Abram passed through the land as far as the place Shechem to the terebinth of Moreh, and the Canaanites were in the land at that time. And Yahweh appeared unto Abram and said: To thy seed will I give this land. And he built an altar there unto Yahweh who had appeared unto him.
This verse agrees well with our interpretation of v. 1. Abram "passes through" the land without being definitely aware what part or how much of it is destined for him. The first place where a stop worthy of record is made is "the place Shechem." The thing that makes this place important is the fact that God there appears to Abram. The word "place" (maqôm) simply means "town" or "locality," a meaning of the word also with us. This meaning is both natural and in harmony with the established uses of the word. The technical meaning, adopted by some, "the holy place" or "the sanctuary" is not well established. Nor do passages like Gen. 28:11; 35:7; Deut. 12:13 establish this technical meaning. That such a use attaches to the Arabic maqâm is not sufficient ground for demanding a like Hebrew usage. Besides, in the nature of the case it seems, very unlikely that any of the Canaanite high places could have been centres of worship of Yahweh, the only true God. Besides, Abram, just called forth from idolatrous connections, may well be regarded as a man who for conscience’ sake would have avoided the sites sacred to Canaanitish idols, lest he himself appear as an idolater. The same objection applies to Jacob in 28:11. "Shechem," as Skinner too points out, was important already in the Tell-Amarna period (1480-1460 B. C.) and may well have been a prominent 1.418city when Abram arrived there. Usually the cities which became prominent later were of importance already long before, as excavations revealing pre-Canaanite levels clearly prove. "Shechem," then, is not here used proleptically for "the site of the later Shechem." Its prominent position could well have made it one of the outstanding towns of this early date. The author does not only weave these references to certain towns into his narrative in order to lend to these places a measure of sanctity for later time (such a purpose, of course, is perfectly permissible); but he primarily records the event as an event, because it actually transpired and was of moment in the life of Abram.
The historical importance of the event can in part be displayed by likening this appearance of Yahweh’s to Abram to a gracious welcome and reception tendered by the Lord to Abram as he definitely arrives in the centre of the land destined for his descendants. At the same time the appearance of God to Abram is a reward for his fidelity in obeying the Lord’s behest. Not everyone may be honoured by such divine favours.
Besides, when God says: "I will give this land to thy seed," it is sufficiently apparent that Abram himself is not destined to receive it. So this is another one of the divine words calculated to exercise faith.
But the generous character of the promise should be noted very particularly. Abram had merely been bidden to go to a land that God would show him. There was in that word no intimation that Abram’s seed would inherit that land. So God is seen actually to give more then He promised. After such a fashion does God keep His word.
One more aspect of the case should be considered. For the development of God’s purposes in the seed of Abram it is essential that a definite land be available within which this seed comes to its normal development. 1.419So the promise of the land as held in safekeeping by God for Abram’s seed is not a capricious promise but one that ties up definitely with the needs of the case. From this point on it will be seen that every new promise fits into the development of God’s purposes as into an organic whole which is going through a normal process of growth.
However, two things more had been recorded before the appearance of God is mentioned. First, that at Shechem (which lay between Ebal and Gerizim, not quite at the site of the present Nablus) Abram encamped by an ancient landmark, "the terebinth of Moreh." ’Elôn without a doubt means a big tree and very likely the turpentine tree, or terebinth, rather than the oak. "Moreh" may be a proper name (e. g. A.V.). It may be that, since the word also means "teacher, instructor," some renowned person, apt at giving counsel to the people, had held forth under this tree. But all suppositions, such as that the words ought to be rendered "oracle-terebinth," or that we here have indications of an animistic religion on the part of the patriarchs, are guesses. It is just as possible that in days of old some worshipper of Yahweh had under this oak admonished and instructed the people. In the absence of anything definite our translation above has much to commend it.
Then Moses records: "the Canaanites were in the land at that time." This is stated in preparation for the promise about to be given to Abram. For no one can fully realize the greatness of the thing promised to Abram until he remembers that the land promised to the posterity of Abram was already occupied by the Canaanites. But Abram’s faith is not daunted by this seeming difficulty. Almost unanimously criticism makes this clause manifestly post-Mosaic. However, it does not require great ingenuity to understand that Moses could have written thus. Even Koenig fails to see clearly on this point. Note: the singular, 1.420"the Canaanite," used for a term usually found in the plural (K. S. 256 e).
7. God’s brief word spoken on the occasion of this appearance is: "To thy seed will I give this land." Abram himself was to possess only a burial ground. Faith had to accept "things not seen." A word from God requires a response on the part of man. Abram felt himself impelled to give personal public testimony to God’s mercy displayed in this appearance. So he built an altar. This statement is misconstrued by criticism in its attempt to find as many distinctions as possible between so-called sources. This passage, being ascribed to J, is said to mean that J never records instances of actual sacrifices by the patriarchs. That is the argument from silence, and it is inconclusive because the word for altar is mizbéach, meaning "a place for slaughter." The manifest intention of the author must be that "a place for slaughter" was made in order to slaughter a victim. Altars become altars when the victim is slain. A mere altar of stones, would have been a formalistic gesture on Abram’s part—a gesture like falling on one’s knees to pray but omitting the prayer. The soul of the patriarchal religion was sacrifice. The critics find matters, which no one before their time dreamed of. The altar is said to be built "unto Yahweh" to emphasize the undeserved mercy of His promise.
8. And he journeyed onward toward the hills to the east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east; and there he built an altar unto Yahweh and called upon the name of Yahweh.
Still largely nomadic in his habits, upon his first arrival in the land Abram next pitched his tent near "Bethel," here so called proleptically, see 28:19. Moses diligently records such well-authenticated events of Abram’s life in order to awaken an anticipation for the 1.421land in the hearts of the Israelites who are journeying toward this land, as well as to let historic spots be vested with sacred memories after Israel has come into possession of the land. "Ai" has the article, being derived from a common noun meaning "heap of stones." As the noun in usage becomes a proper noun, the article still clings to it. Again an altar is built and, of course, sacrifice made together with public invocation of Yahweh’s name, an act which could hardly be performed without proclaiming the works and the character of Yahweh—a fact which leads Luther to translate: "he preached concerning the name of the Lord." For a full discussion of this expression, which specifically means "to use the name of the Lord in worship" (B D B) see above on 4:26. The beth used in the expression is the Beth of interest (K. S. 212 c). On wayyett see G. K. 76 c.
9. And Abram pulled up stakes and kept on moving toward the Negeb.
Nasa’ actually means "to pull up stakes," a natural expression in nomadic days. To convey the idea that this kept on for quite a while the absolute infinitive (nasôa’) is joined to the finite verb, as well as the absolute infinitive of the verb "to go" (halôkh) which almost equals our adverb "continually." (K. S. 329 v; G. K. 113 u). The "Negeb" is the region of Palestine that lies south of Hebron. It is an arid region in parts of which isolated flocks may be tended, at least down as far south as Beersheba. It may have been less desiccated in patriarchal days. Often the word merely indicated the direction, south.
2. The Trip to Egypt During a Famine (v. 10-21)
Now follows an episode that is less attractive. Abram does not appear to good advantage in it. With impartial truth Moses records what Abram did. If the account remains entirely objective without the 1.422addition of a subjective opinion or estimate of the ethical value of Abram’s conduct, this can readily be seen to be offset by the fact that the narrative as such in its unvarnished truth so plainly sets forth the unworthy sentiments that animated the patriarch, that the sympathetic reader is almost made to blush for the thing done by the man of God. The charge of the critics is decidedly unfair when they say: "There is no suggestion that either the untruthfulness or the selfish cowardice of the request (of Abram) was severely reprobated by the ethical code to which the narrative appealed." Prochsch sees the situation more nearly as it actually is when he asserts: "It is quite impossible here not to notice the narrator’s sarcasm," and adds that this step that Abram took "is most sharply condemned" by the writer.
Comparing chapters twenty and twenty-six, we find two situations that constitute a close parallel to the one under consideration. Strange as such recurrences may strike us, it should be remembered that life often brings, us into situations that are practically duplicates of what transpired at an earlier date; and he that marvels that a patriarch sinned a second time after a definite rebuke, let him remember how often he himself may repeat a sin for which a stern admonition had been addressed to him.
To say this must have been "a very popular story in ancient Israel" hardly does justice to the facts of the case. Why should Israel have deemed the failings of its patriarchs material for "popular" stories? The recording of three such instances is explicable only on the score of the strict impartiality of the author.
10. Now there was a famine in the land and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was heavy in the !and.
In Canaan famines have been periodic since times immemorial. They still recur. In addition to being 1.423practically a homeless stranger, Abram incurs the difficulty of subsisting with all his household and his flocks during days when men can make but a precarious livelihood. The account does not dwell upon the difficulties of the position. They who faithfully obey God’s behests are not promptly rewarded by God in all things. Particular difficulties may arise as an outgrowth of their obedience.
To go down to Egypt at such a time, to the granary of antiquity, is quite in conformity with what monumental inscriptions portray. There are found scenes depicting "the admission of Semites to the rich pastures of Egypt." The expression "to sojourn there" indicates that nothing more is intended than a temporary stay. To this day the Beduins are not grievously disturbed by the necessity of departing for a time from their accustomed dwelling places when famine prevails. "Go down" (yaradh) is the proper verb for going from the mountains of Palestine to the lower levels of Egypt.
11-13. And it came to pass when he was at the point of entering Egypt, he said unto Sarai, his wife: See, now, I know that thou art a woman of beautiful appearance, and it shall come to pass if any of the Egyptian men see thee, they will say, That is his wife; so they will slay me but spare thy life. Please say that thou art my sister, in order that it may go well with me for thy sake, and my life be spared because of thee.
According to 20:13 Abram and Sarai agreed to employ the deception here described whenever they got into a difficulty such as this. So v. 11-13 must be regarded in the light of a reminder on Abram’s part to live up to the standing agreement. This was done when they "were at the point of entering Egypt." The Hebrew idiom, however, states the case thus: "he drew near (hiqrîbh) to enter toward Egypt." The le before bô’ makes the equivalent of a direct object of hiqrîbh, 1.424(K. S. 399 n). Yadhá’ti is not to be rendered as a past, being a perfectum resultativum—as a result of the full knowledge of the case that he has he now "knows" (present) (K. S. 127). The next Hebrew idiom runs thus "a woman, beautiful in respect to appearance," mar’eh being an accusative of specification, known also as Temjiz accusative (K. S. 336 h).
12. Abram knows how little the rights of foreigners were respected in olden times. He also knows how beautiful women would be sought out when they came to a foreign land. He also understands that marriage was respected sufficiently that men felt they must dispose of the husband before they could take his wife. Egyptian parallels prove that men had no hesitation about committing murder in an effort to secure their object. There was nothing beside the point in the estimate that he makes of the situation except the morals of the patriarch. Though 20:12 indicates that the literal truth was being told, there is yet the possibility of telling it with the intent to deceive; and so it becomes a lie. In addition, there is something cowardly and mean about expecting Sarai to encounter the hazards in order that Abram might avoid danger. The heroic is noticeably absent in this request.
If the question arise: "How can Sarai be deemed beautiful enough at the age of sixty-five to allow for the complimentary terms here used (on her age cf. 17:17 and 12:4; she died at the age of 127, see 23:1)?" it must be remembered that according to the limits of longevity of those times she was only middle-aged. Middle-aged women may have retained their beauty, especially if they have not borne many children. On Pharaoh’s part the taking of a woman into his harem may be largely a political expedient to enhance his own influence. Hammitsrîm are not "all," but "any of the Egyptian men" (Procksch).
1.42513. The particle na’ with the imperative gives a milder tone to the imperative, like our "please." Abram knows that if anyone takes Sarai on the supposition that she is Abram’s sister, Abram as the honoured brother will be an object of respectful treatment. Fully aware of the fact that such a course may involve the sacrifice of Sarai’s honour in order that he himself might fare well, he nevertheless asks Sarai to make the sacrifice. Abram never sank lower, as far as we know, than when he made this request. Sarai’s acquiescence, however, seems to grow out of the idea that there actually is no other safe course to follow. She was as sadly deficient in faith as he himself on this occasion. Luther’s laboured efforts to justify Abram’s course do not meet with our approval.
14, 15. And it came to pass as Abram came to Egypt, Egyptian men saw the woman that she was exceedingly beautiful, Also the princes of Pharaoh saw her and praised her to Pharaoh, and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
That Abram had not been dealing with a hypothetical case appears from the sequel. It is immediately apparent that at least the Hebrew women of this time—as, of course, in later times also—did not go about veiled. See v. 12 for our rendering "Egyptian men." In their efforts to set so-called sources at variance with one another as much as possible, the critics here freely accept that Sarai must have been beautiful but claim that this view of the case clashes with the divergent view of 17:17. On the weaving together of chief and subordinate clauses ("the woman" really belongs into the subordinate clause) see K. S. 414 b.
15. "The princes of Pharaoh" are practically his "courtiers" (Meek). They seek to ingratiate themselves with Pharaoh by recommending this woman of exceptional beauty. On the form halallû see G. K. 10g. Beth ("house") is used without a preposition 1.426or locative ending—a common use (K. S. 330 c). The more nearly absolute authority of the king of those times is indicated by the fact that whatsoever woman he desires is promptly brought to him.
16. And he bestowed favours upon Abram for her sake, and he (Abram) possessed sheep and cattle and asses and menservants and maidservants and she-asses and camels.
That the move of taking the supposed sister of Abram had also political implications appears from the fact that Pharaoh now grants favours to his new brother-in-law, as he begins to deem Abram. The somewhat colourless verb hêtibh, "to do well," is used to express the idea of "bestowing favours." When, then, the things are listed that Abram possessed, the sense of the passage cannot be that Pharaoh’s gift included all these elements but rather that, partly as a result of Pharaoh’s gift, Abram’s wealth was made up of the constituent parts here listed. The order of these parts is somewhat puzzling: "menservants and maidservants" inserted before "she-asses and camels." However, this must have been the original order of the items in the text, for not only the Masoretic text but the Greek and the Syrian versions give this order. One possible explanation would be that the items are listed in the order of their acquisition. First Abram specialized in the acquisition of "sheep and cattle and asses." Then he recognized the need of more "servants" and proceeded to acquire more such. Lastly he branched out in the direction of "she-asses and camels." In this instance, too, textual alterations can offer nothing more than conjectures. Though it is commonly admitted that "camels" do not appear among the items specialized in by the Egyptians up to this time—for they are not indicated on early monumental inscriptions—yet nothing could prevent a man like Abram 1.427from bringing his own camels along, if he already possessed them. The verse does not say that Pharaoh gave all these gifts to Abram; it merely lists the totals of his possessions. Meek mistranslates when he renders: Abram "was the recipient of sheep," etc.
17. And Yahweh laid heavy afflictions upon Pharaoh and upon his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.
It is very clear that all this is reported as an instance of God’s undeserved favour bestowed upon Abram. Comparatively speaking, Pharaoh was in the right over against Abram, for Pharaoh had acted in good faith, and Abram had practised deception. Potentially, Pharaoh may have been as much in the wrong as Abram—a thing usually overlooked—for had Abram admitted that he was Sarai’s husband, Pharaoh might have had him killed. In any case, Abram’s lie does not make him a worthy recipient of divine mercy. But God’s mercy outruns man’s-merit, as the Pentateuch emphasizes with particular instances. Since Abram is the father of the seed of promise, Sarai, the mother, must be safeguarded. Man’s sin almost defeats God’s purpose, but God’s mercy prevails. The Hebrew expression for "laying heavy afflictions" upon Pharaoh is "to strike with strokes" (nigga’ negha’îm) G. K. 117 q. What these afflictions were we shall never be able to determine; an analogy can be seen in 20:18. Apparently they were intended to be of a kind that would prevent Pharaoh from approaching Sarai, for the Piel of nagha’ is used "only of smiting with disease." Procksch, therefore, is far more specific than the evidence allows when he says: "sexual ailments of Pharaoh."
18, 19. And Pharaoh called Abram and said: What is this that thou hast done to me? Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why didst 1.428thou say: She is my sister? And so I took her to myself to wife. And now, there is thy wife; take her and go.
Again, in this condensed account we have no means of determining exactly how Pharaoh became aware of the fact that Yahweh brought on his affliction for Sarai’s sake. It may have been that he had something of the fear of God in his heart and felt that he must have done something to incur the affliction. He may then have consulted with Sarai and found out what the actual situation was. We shall give him the benefit of the doubt when he represents himself as entirely in the right and implies that Abram would have suffered no harm had he actually stepped up at once as Sarai’s husband, It appears that Pharaoh gives the statement of the case that represents him in as favourable a light as possible. Yet he seems justified in his vexation, at least in part. The first clause has been well translated: "What a way for you to treat me!" (Meek). Yet a part of the protest seems overdone. When he inquires why Abram did this, he asks concerning a matter that he understood well enough as parallels from Egyptian sources indicate only too clearly. The rebuke that Abram deserves he receives at the hands of one who is not even a worshipper of Yahweh. It consists in a rather curt dismissal. The fact that Abram receives it in silence indicates that Abram was aware of his deserving to be rebuked; and so, by representing the case thus, the author indicates where the right and the wrong of the matter lay.
20. And Pharaoh appointed men over him and they escorted him away and his wife and all that he had.
’Anashîm means "a number of men" (K. S. 74). The business of this group was to serve as bodyguard and to escort Abram to the border (yeshallechû means 1.729"dismiss" in a milder sense, or "escort"). Pharaoh has been duly impressed. He would not venture to do Abram harm. The appointing of men of his own to guard the sojourner is a tacit admission to the effect that serious, danger really threatened. Besides, since God has made it plain that His favour rests upon Abram, Pharaoh feels that God might take vengeance upon him if he let evil befall Abram. Pharaoh recognized that he had been "reproved" by God (Ps. 105:14, 15). Since God never could administer undeserved reproof, this psalm passage proves that the construction we put upon Pharaoh’s deed as involving a measure of guilt was not wrong.
The first section offering itself for treatment in this chapter is v. 1-9. Here the general theme of the Pentateuch may be treated, "the Greatness of God’s Mercy,". for this thought certainly overtops every other in this pericope. Yet other approaches to this text are permissible. If the New Testament (Heb. 11:8-10) here makes an issue of the "Faith of Abraham," why could we not hold fast the same point of view? For that matter, one might centre attention on the Messianic thought, and in that event v. 1-3 might constitute enough of a text, with a remarkable climax in the Messianic thought of v. 3b. In no case should this Messianic feature be submerged or treated but briefly. Then there remains the second unit section of the text v. 10-20. To this different approaches are admissible. Again the theme of God’s undeserved mercy may be put into the forefront. That would still have to be the case to an extent even if the theme were used: "The Frailty of God’s Saints." Even a more general subject is permissible, such as, "The Unimpeachable Honesty of the Bible." If the last subject be used, it would be necessary to have the text furnish the one notable example. Other examples would be entitled to no more than very brief, passing notice.
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