GENESIS - CHAPTER 12
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
12:1. “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 shew thee.”
As we leave Genesis chapter 11 we turn from the consideration of a life (Terah’s) that stands as a warning for all time against trifling with God, to the examination of one that stands as an example for others to follow. From Ac 7:2 we learn that God’s call came to Abram while he was in Ur, before he moved to Haran: “... the God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran.” Abraham’s removal from Haran into Canaan fulfilled two of God’s commands, “Get thee out of thy country ... and from thy father’s house....” but it left the third unfulfilled, “... and from thy kindred....” for he took Lot with him, and it wasn’t until Lot separated from him that God said to Abram, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered” (Ge 13:14-16).
When God asks us to give up something it is not to impoverish, but to enrich. He would have us relinquish the worthless for the precious, the earthly for the heavenly, the temporal for the eternal. “Thy country” represents this world. As those who are citizens of another country, heaven, we are to pass through this world as Abram passed through Canaan. He was a pilgrim and a stranger who, “looked for a (the) city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10).
“Kindred” represents humanity. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ severs the relationship by which, in common with all humanity, the believer was formerly an heir of wrath and judgment. “Thy father’s house” points to Adam. As sons of Adam by natural birth we were heirs of death.
If Abram is asked to leave Chaldea, where he possessed only a part, it is that he might receive the whole land of Canaan, and not what we usually think of as Canaan, but the vast territory from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, Ge 15:18. (It is to be noted incidentally that the river of Egypt is not the Nile, but the small stream that flows into the Mediterranean about forty miles southwest of Gaza). If he is asked to leave his country it is that he himself might be made a great nation. If he is asked to leave his father’s house it is that he might be the father of a great multitude (the meaning of Abraham, his new name), and of many nations, Ge 17:4, and the channel through which all nations are to be blessed.
The practical lesson for the believer is that if our hands are to be filled with eternal riches, those hands must first be emptied of the things of earth. Would we have heaven as our eternal dwelling place? We must give up the world. Before we can become men of heaven we must sever the tie with our father Adam, for, “In Adam all die” (1 Co 15:22). Only those who separate themselves from their earthly father’s house (Adam’s) can become the spiritual “fathers” of others, and a blessing to all men.
The greatest folly of which man can be guilty is to refuse to relinquish his grasp on the worthless things of earth and so prevent God from bestowing upon him eternal riches beyond anything the mind of man can grasp. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Co 2:9). “Everyone that hath forsaken houses or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Mt 19:29).
At this point God had promised only to show Abram the land, reserving till the time when Lot separated from him, the promise to give it; yet such was Abram’s faith that he obeyed God’s call without question. “By faith Abram, when he was called to go out unto a place which he should after receive for an inheritance obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promises: for he looked for a (more correctly the) city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:8-10).
12:2. “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.”
It wasn’t until the days of David and Solomon that Israel became great among the nations, that glory beginning to appear in the reign of David, and reaching its zenith under Solomon. David and Solomon are both types of Christ: David portraying Him in His suffering and rejection; Solomon, in His millennial glory. The complete fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, however, is still future. Israel’s brief day of glory under Solomon was but a glimpse of her coming millennial glory. In making the promise God was looking to that day when Abraham’s Seed, “which is Christ” (Gal 3:16), would take up the scepter of earth, and as David’s greater Son, rule not only Israel, but the world. But repentance must precede promotion. That nation of which Abraham is the father, can’t be great until it has repented of its sin, and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and King. Then, and only then, will be fulfilled God’s promise to Israel, “And I will make thee the head and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath....” (Dt 28:13).
Israel is God’s mirror, not only to the nations, but to the individual. Apart from submission to the lordship of Christ there can be no blessing.
“... and make thy name great.” Abram’s name was to be made great. It has been. Wherever Christianity is known Abraham is also known. Men have sought in countless ways, and often at great cost, to perpetuate the memory of their names. The simplest and surest way to preserve your name in eternal honor is to have it inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life, by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.
”... and thou shalt be a blessing.” Just as the glory of the nation that was to spring from Abraham, is linked with Abraham’s “Seed” (Christ), so also is the blessing which is to flow through Abraham to others. The blessing comes not from Abraham personally, but from his “Seed.” It is the same with men: we can be a blessing to others only as Christ lives in, and works through us. Everything promised to Abraham centered in his “Seed,” and what is not sufficiently recognized is that it was this very thing that constituted the greatness of Abraham’s faith. He looked to a future day, when in resurrection, and through his “Seed” every divine promise would be made good.
12:3. “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
This promise has been partially fulfilled (complete fulfillment awaits the Millennium) in God’s blessing every nation that has been well disposed toward the Jew, and His withholding of blessing from those that have not been. The literal blessing of the whole earth through Abraham’s “Seed” has not yet been experienced, but will be in the Millennium, though it should not be overlooked, that through the One Who is the true “Seed” of Abraham, people out of every nation on earth during this present Church age, have been blessed, “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (things) in Christ.” It is also worth noting that for the three things he was asked to give up - country, kindred, and father’s house - he received in exchange seven blessings, “I will make of thee a great nation, I will bless thee, make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing, I will bless them that bless thee, I will curse him that curseth thee, and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” The giving up (becoming dead to) these three (number of resurrection) things whose spiritual significance we have already examined, brought him spiritually on to resurrection ground, and made him the recipient of what is associated with the number seven, the fullness of blessing. When God asks us to give up, it is only that He might make us truly rich.
12:4. “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.”
We have already noted that in taking Lot with him Abram was disobeying God’s command to leave his kindred. Many of us are guilty of the same disobedience: we take our “kindred” with us. Lot represents the carnal believer, but the lifestyles of the carnal Christian and the unbeliever are so similar as to be almost indistinguishable. We take “Lot” with us when we have as our companions the disobedient - the carnal Christian or the outright unbeliever. We can’t walk with God and the disobedient at the same time, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Every step taken in the company of the disobedient - believer or unbeliever - is a step void of blessing.
We might note again briefly what has already been examined in detail: in moving from Haran to Canaan, Abraham was traveling southwest: south, the way of faith; and west, the way of approach to God.
”... and Abram was seventy and five years old....” We miss something when we ignore any part of Scripture, and this applies to the numbers as well as to what many consider “the meaningless lists of people and places” found in some chapters of the Bible. There is not one unnecessary word in the Bible. The factors of seventy-five are 3 x 5 x 5. Abram’s departure from Ur represents the moment of conversion; and the departure from Haran, the beginning of an obedient walk. As one raised out of spiritual death, every believer stands spiritually on what is associated with the number three, resurrection ground; and he has what is represented by the number five, responsibility, first to walk obediently before God, and then to be a witness to men.
12:5. “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 to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came."
The frequency with which Sarai’s relationship to Abram is mentioned would teach us that God has a reason for emphasizing it. Galatians chapter four makes it clear that she represents grace, so that her being joined to Abram, who represents faith, is to remind us that the bond between faith and grace is like the bond of marriage, unbreakable. The believer can’t lose his salvation.
Man, alone, represents man in his unconverted state; but married, he becomes the symbolic representative of the new man, the wife being representative of the expression of his new nature. Abram’s taking with him “Sarai his wife” declares that though his obedience wasn’t yet complete, he was none-the-less a man of faith, a believer. It is significant that in connection with his father Terah, who represents the moral but unconverted man, there is no mention of a wife. That he had one is obvious, but the lack of reference to her is God’s symbolic way of declaring that Terah didn’t have spiritual life.
Lot means a wrapping. There could have been no more appropriate name, for the “wrapping” of carnality hid the Divine life that was in him. It is significant that his wife’s name isn’t given, and the references to her are brief, the paucity of detail reflecting his evaluation of the spiritual as compared with the secular. His father’s name was Haran, meaning their mountain; and as a place name their burning, and we have noted in our study of chapter 11 that the two meanings combine to give the thought of pride and power. It is significant that the son of Haran, the carnal Lot, did indeed exhibit these evil traits - pride that impelled the pursuit of wealth, which is power. When we read therefore that Abram took with him out of Haran “Lot his brother’s son,” it seems to be telling us that Abram took with him in some measure at least, what Lot represents - pride and worldly ambition.
One of the requirements for blessing was for Abram to separate “from thy kindred.” It was not until that requirement was met, and Abram and Lot separated, that the promise was given, “... for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it” (Ge 13:15).
Pride and worldly ambition are subtle but deadly sins. We take “Lot” with us more often than most of us would care to admit, and in doing so rob ourselves of blessing.
”... and all their substance ... and the souls that they had gotten in Haran.” All their wealth was taken with them into Canaan, and there is no hint of divine disapproval. In this we learn that God requires us to give up, not worldly wealth, but the spirit that would lead us to trust in riches rather than in the One Who gives them. It is not a mark of carnality for a believer to be rich in this world’s goods, nor are temporal and spiritual riches necessarily mutually exclusive. When earthly possessions are taken out of “Haran” (out of the sphere of pride and worldly ambition) into “Canaan” (the sphere where God rules), and are dedicated to His glory, used for Him, in the realization that we are stewards who must one day give an account of our stewardship, then earthly riches can be a blessing instead of what they so often become, a snare and a hindrance. “They that will be rich fall into temptation, and a snare....” (1 Tim 6:9). It is the love of money that is the root of all evil, (1 Tim 6:10). The rich have a place in God’s kingdom no less than the poor. Abram, for example, was rich, as was also Joseph of Arimathaea, to name but two.
The removal of souls and possessions from Haran into Canaan would teach us that Christianity is not just for part of our lives, not just for “Sunday” - it is for every day of the week, it embraces our whole lives, family as well as business, social as well as religious.
“And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.” In chapter 11:31, “Terah ... went forth ... to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran and dwelt there.” Terah’s journey ended in the place that represents pride and worldly ambition, but Abram didn’t stop until he had reached Canaan, the place that represents the realm which God rules, and which He has given to faith.
He is a wise man who profits from the experiences of others. God has recorded the experiences of Terah, Abram, and Lot, for our profit. May we learn the necessity of leaving “Ur of the Chaldees,” and the folly of settling in “Haran.” May it be recorded of us, writer and reader alike, that “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.”
12:6. “And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.”
The first recorded stopping place in Canaan was Sichem, which means shoulder. Surely this recalls the parable of Lk 15:4-5, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Sichem would teach us the truth of the believer’s security in Christ: we have come spiritually to “Sichem.” We are on the shoulder of the Good Shepherd Who came into this world to seek the “lost sheep.” Having found us, He has placed us on His shoulder (Sichem), and nothing can remove the believer from that place of strength and safety. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are One” (Jn 10:27-30). “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 8:38-39).
The second stopping place was Moreh, which means teacher: former rain. In one sense the believer never leaves Sichem, he never loses the security of his place on the shoulder of the Good Shepherd, but in another sense, however, he travels to “Moreh.”
In 2 Pe 1:5 we are exhorted, “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge,” and in the same Epistle, 3:18 it is written, “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” God would have us learn. That is why the teacher is one of the gifts given to the Church. “And He gave some, apostles: and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13).
God wants us to learn. While it is written that every believer is to “desire the sincere milk of the word” (1 Pe 2:2), it is also written, “For everyone that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb 5:13-14). The same writer in verse 12 rebukes the immature state of his audience, for he writes, “When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not strong meat.” In 1 Co 3:1-3 Paul, using similar language, charges the Corinthians with a childish state resulting from carnality.
”And the Canaanite was then in the land.” At first glance it might appear that there was little significance either in the content of this short sentence, or in its occurrence in connection with Abram’s coming to Moreh. When we remember, however, that the Canaanite means trafficker, the spiritual lesson becomes clear. The “trafficker” in such close connection with the teacher sounds a warning that was never more needed than it is today. The Canaanite was not only in the land, he ruled it, the land to which God had given Abram title, though not yet possession. It is the same today. The world to which God has given the saints title, though not yet possession, is ruled by the “Canaanite,” the great apostate system that calls itself the church of Christ, but which is Satan’s counterfeit of the divine reality.
The usurper is described in Revelation 17 as the great harlot, which with her harlot daughters, “trafficks” in the Word of God for her own enrichment, with the resulting eternal loss of the souls of multitudes of deluded men who have followed her false teaching. Christendom’s false religious systems and cults are what the Canaanite represents. They are the “Canaanite” in connection with “Moreh” - false teachers trafficking in the things of God for their own aggrandizement. The “Canaanite” is still in the land, still at “Moreh,” for wherever you find men seeking spiritual knowledge you will find also those willing to “traffick” in that knowledge.
Before leaving Moreh we might note that the word is very similar to Moriah, the place associated with Abram’s offering of Isaac, and which means my teacher is God. Abram learned something at both Moriah and Moreh. At the latter he learned that the land was to be given to his seed, but at Moriah he learned something of what it would cost God the Father to give His only Son to redeem ruined men, and fit them to dwell in the sphere of blessing represented by the land of Canaan.
The believer’s sojourn at “Moreh” should be more than an experience that fills his head with facts concerning God: it should fill his heart with love for the God Who, “So loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” and Who, beginning with that greatest Gift, has gone on to give us richly “all things.” “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Ro 8:32).
The KJ version states that he came unto the plain of Moreh, but the literal translation is oak or tree of Moreh. The tree speaks of Calvary, for Calvary is the true “Moreh.” It is there that we learn what God is.
The Lord’s appearing to Abram directly following the mention of Moreh would teach us that the true purpose of Bible knowledge is to cause God “to appear” to us. All other uses of knowledge are secondary to that purpose. If accumulated knowledge of Scripture hasn’t caused God “to appear” to us, if we don’t know Him better as the result of our study, then it has been in vain, and it is time to examine our motive for study. There is the subtle danger that it may be to make me appear wise to others instead of making God “appear” to me, and then through me, to “appear” to them also.
While I can’t see clearly a specific message in connection with the second meaning of Moreh, “former rain” seems to speak of blessing, for the giving of the “early and latter rains” was one of the evidences of God’s blessing upon Israel. It seems therefore, that God is reminding us of the blessing that attends the study of Scripture.
”... and unto thy seed will I give this land.” There are at least two reasons why the land is promised first to “thy seed” rather than to Abram directly. One of those reasons is that he had not yet met all of God’s conditions. He hadn’t left his kindred: Lot was still with him. But the second, and more important reason is that the “seed” is Christ (Gal 3:16), and “In all things He must have the preeminence” (Col 1:18). It is in Christ that God’s promises are to be made good, not only to Abram, but to every believer, “For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen....” (2 Co 1:20). (The KJ version tends to obscure the meaning of this verse. Better translations are, “For all the promises of God have their Yes in Him”; “For, many as are the promises of God, in Christ is the Yes that fulfills them”; “Every promise of God finds its affirmative in Him”). Every promise of God will have its complete fulfillment in resurrection, and without the resurrection of Christ there could be no fulfillment of any promise, for all of them would be terminated by death. If men are to have eternal blessings they must have also eternal life, and that is to be had only in eternal union with the resurrected Christ. All the kingdoms of earth must become the kingdom of Christ before any believer can hope to inherit them. Because we are God’s children through faith, “We are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ...” (Ro 8:17). He, Abram’s “Seed,” must inherit first.
12:7. “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.”
This is the first time we read of Abram’s building an altar. The altar implies sacrifice and worship, and Abram’s building it gives us an insight into his character. The revelation of the promises of God so touched his heart that he was impelled to worship. To us God has also revealed Himself, and in a far fuller measure than to Abram. It is at Calvary that He has given the revelation of Himself as the God of love. Abram received a promise. We have received better promises, (Heb 8:6). If the lesser things which he received caused him to build an altar and worship, don’t we have infinitely more cause to do the same? Our obligation to present God with the sacrifice of an obedient life is declared in Ro 12:1-2 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (spiritual worship). And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The same truth is beautifully expressed in the words of the hymn, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my, life, my all.”
12:8. “And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai (Ai) on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.”
A mountain in Scripture stands for a king and/or kingdom (good or bad), e.g., Dan 2:35, where the stone that becomes a great mountain, is clearly a picture of Christ ruling the earth in the Millennium. This mountain, then, to which Abram came, represents Christ and the kingdom of heaven, the Person and the place that are above the lesser things of earth. Abram’s removal to the mountain speaks therefore, of separation from mere earthly things, to a higher spiritual plane, where he experienced the fuller enjoyment of God’s presence. His removal to the mountain following his sojourn at Moreh would teach us that increasing knowledge should draw us nearer to God and farther away from the world.
But God doesn’t just call men from other things: He calls them to better things, from death to life, from the certainty of hell to the certainty of heaven, from darkness to light, from sin to righteousness. He calls them to Himself. In the failure to recognize this lies a great danger. That separation which is from the world without being unto God, is Satan’s counterfeit of God’s reality: it is mere asceticism, and many mistake it for genuine conversion.
Abram pitched his tent on the mountain, far above the things of the sinful scene around him, that separation bringing him closer to God. He began by leaving Haran, the world’s high place, and coming to Sichem shoulder, and from there God led him on to a place far better than Haran. God set him on a mountain in Canaan. How different with Terah! From Haran, the world’s high place, to which self-will had taken him, he went down into death, and if we are reading the type correctly, into the depths of hell. Abram, willing to walk in the path of God’s choosing, was lifted by that same God up to the mountain top. But a mountain on earth, even in Canaan, isn’t the limit of his elevation: his eternal dwelling place is far above earth’s highest mountain: it is in that city for which he looked, “a (the) city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (He 11:10).
With his tent (the tent always speaks of a pilgrim walk); and his altar (he was a worshipper); on the mountain (he was separated from the world to God), he could look westward (direction of approach to God) and there lay Bethel house of God, while eastward (direction of departure from God) lay Ai the heap (of ruins). As the believer looks “westward”, towards the end of his earthly life, he sees “Bethel,” for the end of life’s journey is but entrance into his eternal home, God’s house. And with his face turned “westward,” behind him lies “Ai,” this ruined, doomed world. It is the privilege of every believer to do spiritually what Abram did literally - to “remove unto a mountain on the east of Bethel.” We have that experience every time we turn aside from the things of earth and listen while God speaks to us from the pages of the Bible, and when we, through prayer, talk with God. These are the spiritual counterparts of Abram’s removal to the mountain. As we are “on the mountain” we enjoy all that the mountain represents, the might and power of God working for us. Every believer should have a set time each day “on the mountain” - a time without interruption - when he opens his Bible and lets God speak to him, followed by his speaking to God in prayer.
The mountain was east of Bethel, i.e., Bethel God’s house lay to the west; and Ai the heap (of ruins) - a picture of the world as God sees it, and as we should see it - lay to the east. Abram didn’t remain on the mountain for ever, nor do we, but one thing is clear, the result of our having been “on the mountain” should be that when we come down, we should be moving spiritually “westward” towards “Bethel” and not “eastward” towards “Ai.” If those times “on the mountain” don’t lead us nearer to God and farther away from the world, there is something radically wrong with us spiritually. The poet had grasped the true significance of the mountain-top experience when he wrote, “The things of earth will grown strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
This is the first time we read of Abram’s pitching his tent. The tent speaks of pilgrim character, and would remind us that such should be the character of all who are “Abram’s seed” (Gal 3:29), “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abram’s seed, and heirs according to promise.” “These all (men of faith) died in faith, not having received the promises (the fulfillment of the promises) but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb 11:13). “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pe 2:11).
“And there he builded an altar unto the Lord.” This is the second time we read of his building an altar, and we shouldn’t miss the spiritual lesson of its being connected with his being on the mountain. The closer we get to God the more we will be impelled to worship.
12:9. “And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.”
As might be expected, the man of faith journeyed southward (the direction of faith). This southward journey speaks of a growing faith that trusts God more, and self less. Upon descending from the mountain he might have gone north, south, east or west, but he chose to go southward. How often, having the same freedom of choice, we turn “eastward” toward “Ai,” this ruined sinful world.
12:10. “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.”
A faithful God has preserved the record of Faith’s victories, for the encouragement of others, but the same faithfulness has required Him to preserve also the record of Faith’s failures, for the admonition of others. Abram’s lapse is recorded so that we might be preserved from similar folly, and the lesson will be more easily understood if we remember that Egypt represents the world of business and pleasure living in independence of God.
As noted already, Egypt and Babylon have much in common. Both countries are watered by a great river: Babylon, by the Euphrates, symbolic of the great river of lies which waters the land of false religion, of which Babylon is the symbol; but the Nile which waters Egypt is symbolic of the great river of wealth that waters the world of business and pleasure. Both rivers reach the sea through a multitude of smaller streams diffused through a marshy delta. For all practical purposes they lead nowhere, and the spiritual lesson isn’t difficult to read: the river of false religion and the river of earthly wealth have similar endings - they lead only to confusion and death.
There is nothing to indicate that Abram ever considered returning to Babylon during the famine. Having been there once, he was apparently well aware of the danger connected with Babylon’s idolatry. Every believer, like Abram, has been called out of “Babylon,” the world’s false religious systems; and most, like him, would not return. But Abram seems to have failed to recognize that Egypt was just as much to be shunned as was Babylon. The one is as dangerous as the other to the man of faith. We are often guilty of the same wrong judgment however. To become involved in the world’s business more than is needful, can result only in spiritual poverty. It is a poor bargain that requires us to exchange prosperity of soul for worldly wealth. God bids His own, “Be content with such things as he have” (Heb 13:5). The extent to which His command has been ignored, however, is amply demonstrated in the spiritual poverty of all too many Christians.
Before examining the lessons of Abram’s sojourn in Egypt, it might be well to note that there are at least two reasons for famine, the more obvious being that it was usually sent as chastisement for sin; and the second, not infrequently combined with the first, is to test the faith of God’s people. Rarely do we look on the black picture of Canaan stricken with famine, without discerning also the golden thread of individual faith that glorified God by trusting Him to supply bread. One example of this kind of faith is that of the widow mentioned in 1 Ki 17, whose obedience resulted in her having meal (Christ), and oil (the Holy Spirit) through all the time of famine.
On the other hand, the page of Scripture is imprinted with warnings against leaving the land, even in famine. One such example is that of Elimelech, who went to Moab, (Ruth chapter one). Another is the nation of Israel. What began with a journey to Egypt to buy corn, was prolonged to a four hundred year sojourn that saw the Israelites finally become bond slaves to the Egyptians.
Famine has accomplished its purpose when it produces repentance, and leads God’s people back to Him; or when it simply casts them more upon Him. Too often, however, it sends us, as it did Abram, “to sojourn in Egypt,” a place always associated with the bondage of God’s people. Many a believer has allowed a “famine” to drive him “down into Egypt.” Intending to remain for only a little while, till the famine is past, he has found himself in a bondage from which he cannot escape. The road to heaven is strewn with the wrecks of Christian lives that have suffered spiritual bankruptcy as the price paid for a little of the world’s gold - gold which will have to be left here on earth when the soul takes its flight to heaven, where the judgment seat of Christ will reveal the folly of having “gone down into Egypt.”
The “famine” comes in many forms, the temptation often so subtle that the believer has exchanged his Christian liberty for Egypt’s bondage without even being aware of it at first. There is the need of a job, and the offer from the big corporation is alluring. The salary, the opportunities for advancement and travel, the social contacts, the chances to meet the “right people,” etc., glitter so dazzlingly that they blind the unwary to the grim fact that the price he must pay for all this is too high. The company becomes his master, owning him body and soul.
The big corporation, however, has no monopoly on bringing Christians into bondage. The tradesman, the clerk, the butcher, the baker... can all be drawn spiritually into “Egypt.” The aspiring college graduate is not the only one who finds “Egypt’s” attractions luring him out of “Canaan.” That second job “just to pay for the new car, the vacation, the new TV, etc.,” has a strange way of becoming permanent. The result is that there is no time for Bible study and prayer; no time for any Christian activities; no time for God. The time and talents that belong to God are seized by the “Egyptian taskmaster” once we enter “Egypt.”
Abram chose to go into Egypt. He wasn’t compelled to leave Canaan - and neither are we. When we choose to go into “Egypt” we are taking what belongs to God and yielding it to the service of the adversary; and in robbing God we rob ourselves. To put ourselves in such a position is to forget that as Christians we have no right to say where we will go, for, “Ye are not your own....” (1 Co 6:19). “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman; likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Co 7:22-23). All too readily we forget that we “were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold ... but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pe 1:18-19). What God said of Israel is equally true of us, “I have redeemed thee ... thou art mine” (Isa 43:1).
Among the many things we may learn from God’s permitting famine is the very simple and obvious lesson that there is a difference between our wants and our needs. He has promised to supply the latter, not necessarily the former, and we would do well to learn to distinguish between the two.
There is, however, an aspect of famine other than the mere temporal. The soul as well as the body can suffer want. The lean hand of famine sometimes lays its withering grip on the local church, drying up the refreshing streams, reducing quality as well as quantity of spiritual bread. In 2 Ki 6:24-25 we read that, “there was a great famine ... until an ass’s head was sold for four score pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung (a common weed) for five pieces of silver.” Believers are sometimes reduced to equivalent spiritual fare. The ass typifies the natural man, and also the body as the servant of the lusts of the flesh. “Vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt” (Job 11:12).
The head is the seat of the intellect. Natural intelligence is often substituted for what should be the Spirit’s teaching, with the result that God’s people are reduced, not only to eating spiritually the “ass’s head” (worldly wisdom), but also the “dove’s dung.” The dove is a type of the Holy Spirit, and the “dove’s dung” represents that which the Holy Spirit rejects.
While the Lord bestows the gifts necessary for the upbuilding of His Church, a truth sometimes not understood is that a God-given gift is not to be neglected, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” (1 Tim 4:14). It is to be stirred up, “Stir up the gift of God, which is in thee” (2 Tim 1:16). But it requires time and work to stir up and nurture spiritual gift, and the famine-stricken condition of many of the churches today finds its cause in the fact that the evangelists, and pastors (elders), and teachers have “gone down into Egypt,” and are spending time there that belongs to God. The sad effect is that the resulting “famine” drives others also into “Egypt.” When Abram went down into Egypt, Lot went with him.
12:11. “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.”
The significance of Sarai’s great beauty is easily understood when we remember that she represents grace. Grace is an outstandingly beautiful thing, for it is always ready to bestow a blessing where blessing is not deserved. The believer is commanded to “Grow in grace” (2 Pe 3:18).
12:12. “Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they will say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.”
The men of the world also see grace as a beautiful thing, and would desire to have it for themselves, but grace is the exclusive possession of faith. It can’t be possessed by the men of the world because they don’t have faith.
Abram was giving symbolic expression to a spiritual truth when he said, “They will kill me....” The world that admires grace, and would even desire to have it, nevertheless hates the only one who can have grace, that is, the believer. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own ... but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (Jn 15:19). The world desires to have grace, but not on God’s terms, as the “wife” of faith.
12:13. “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 scheme by which Abram hoped to save his life was to present Sarai as his sister rather than his wife, and in this God is giving us an example of a spiritual truth: when the believer turns to the world he always finds it necessary to separate himself from grace. It is significant that over twenty times in the record of Abram’s life, Sarah is referred to, not simply as Sarai or Sarah, but as “Sarai, thy wife,” or “Sarah, Abram’s wife.” God keeps emphasizing the relationship that exists between Abram and Sarah: it is the closest relationship that exists on earth, and is a type or picture of the unbreakable bond that unites faith and grace, as well as Christ and the Church, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:30-32).
When Abram entered Egypt he presented Sarai as merely his sister. Relationship was still claimed, but it was not the close relationship of marriage. The believer’s turning to the world is a denial of grace.
12:14. “And it came to pass that when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians “Beheld the woman that she was very fair.”
We who possess grace tend to be guilty of undervaluing its worth. Abram described Sarah as “a fair woman,” but the Egyptians “Beheld the woman that she was very fair.”
12:15. “The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.”
Today “the princes of Pharaoh” still commend grace, and “Pharaoh” still takes “the woman” into his house. Pharaoh and his princes represent those who rule this world. Grace is universally recognized as something beautiful and desirable; but however much the world may desire grace, faith alone may possess it. To Abram she was his wife, and her name was Sarai (my princesses). There was a royal dignity connected with her as Abram’s wife. She was in Pharaoh’s house, however, neither as wife, nor as Sarai, but merely as “the woman.” The world may have “the woman” in its house - the outward form, charm, manners, kindness, generosity, etc., but to faith alone is grace “Sarai” and “wife.”
12:16. “And he (Pharaoh) entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and men servants, and maid servants, and she asses, and camels.”
As Pharaoh treated Abram well for Sarai’s sake, so will the world treat the believer - but only on the same terms: the believer must give up grace. As long as he is willing to become like the worldling, that is, separated from grace, the believer will be welcomed in the world, and he may even be enriched with the world’s goods. But what did the goods of Egypt mean to Abram? All the wealth of Egypt couldn’t compensate for the loss of Sarai. What pleasure could Abram have found in his multiplied riches, with his wife in Pharaoh’s house? Could anything relieve the distress of knowing that the wife he had denied was in danger of becoming the wife of the Egyptian?
The believer who turns to the world, and thereby separates himself from grace, must pay a very high price for his folly. The unbeliever is warned, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk 8:36-37). In recording Abram’s folly, God would warn the believer against similar foolishness, of being enriched in earthly things at the cost of spiritual. It is folly which has eternal consequences for either saint or sinner to exchange eternal blessing for the paltry things of this world.
Connected with God’s command to leave Chaldea and enter Canaan, were seven great blessings. It is instructive to note that in leaving Canaan and entering Egypt, Abram also received seven things, but they were all of infinitely lesser worth than the blessings promised by God. Earth has noting of worth to give. There is fullness of blessing only when we are in the place where God commands us to be.
There is certainly some spiritual lesson connected with each of the things mentioned, but I am unable to determine what that lesson is. Sheep represent humanity, e.g., “All we like sheep have gone astray.” The ox is the symbol of service; and the ass represents the body as the servant of the old nature, and it represents also man in his natural state. Since the female speaks of passivity of the will; and the male, of activity, the mention of he asses and she asses seems to be designed to teach something relating to the operation of the old nature in the believer’s life. I am also unable to determine the spiritual significance of the men servants and maid servants, though here, too, the male and female obviously relate to the activity and passivity of the will. The camel represents the believer’s body used in the service of the new nature, e.g., Rebekah’s meeting with Isaac is clearly a picture of the Rapture of the Church. It was a camel that had carried her through the desert, just as our earthly bodies carry us through the desert of this world toward our meeting with the heavenly Isaac. At the moment of meeting, she “lighted off the camel.” It was no longer needed; the desert journey was ended. It will be the same with us. At the Rapture the “camel” (the earthly body) will be replaced with the new spiritual body.
There is also undoubtedly some spiritual lesson relating to the order in which the things are named, for God never makes His lists carelessly or capriciously. There must be some reason why the sheep are named first, and the camels last, as there must also be a reason why the men servants and the woman servants are listed between the he asses and the she asses, but I regret being unable to discern what that lesson is.
12:17. “And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife.”
The Lord’s plaguing of Pharaoh is the symbolic declaration of the truth that curse, not blessing, results from the attempt to possess grace on any basis other than faith.
Sarai didn’t become Pharaoh’s wife, nor can grace ever be possessed by anyone apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Only through grace can a man produce the fruit of the Spirit in his life. Without grace the best he can produce is the outward form: morality, etc., which the world mistakes for the fruit of grace, but the end of that way is the “plague” - death.
12:18. “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?”
Abram’s failure to confess Sarai as his wife brought plague into Pharaoh’s house, and the spiritual lesson is one that should not be lost on the believer.
In connection with salvation God links together two things that can no more be separated than can faith and grace, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Ro 10:9-10).
Salvation involves two things: believing in the heart, and confessing with the mouth. The believer’s having faith in his heart, but without the confession of the mouth, will do to the men of the world what Abram’s lack of confession regarding Sarah did to Pharaoh and his house: it will bring the “plague.” If the men of the world see only the moral impeccability of the believer’s life, but never learn from his lips the reason why he lives that way, they will conclude that a moral life is the only thing needed to take them to heaven. Failure to confess with the mouth will result in our hearing, when it is too late for remedy, the accusing question from the lips of those we deceived with our moral living, but sealed lips, “Why didst thou not tell me?” Only eternity will reveal how many have been deceived into thinking that the way to heaven was by “good living,” because they saw the moral lives of Christians, but never heard from their lips the confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the reason for their morality.
12:19. “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.”
The world’s attitude towards Christianity never changes. When it finds that faith is necessary for the possession of grace, its favor ceases, and the believer is dismissed. The only condition upon which the believer can enjoy the world’s favor is to separate himself from grace, and that is too high a price to pay for such a fleeting, worthless thing.
12:20. “And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.”
As Pharaoh commanded his men concerning Abram, so does Satan, the prince of this world, command his men, the unconverted. Abram was to receive no more of Pharaoh’s favor or of Egypt’s goods; nor will the man who walks with God receive much of either the world’s favor or its goods.
For the believer, however, it is small loss. He who is heir to eternal riches can well afford to let the world keep both its favor and its wealth. He can say with Paul, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ” (Php 3:7-8).
Abram’s expulsion from Egypt simply emphasizes the truth of 2 Co 6:14-16, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols ... wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”
The world will have nothing to do with faith, and the man of faith would do well to have nothing to do with the world - except to confess Christ, and preach the Gospel to its perishing multitudes.