Chapter 12


The father was traditionally the head of the family. Whatever the father felt he had to do, the family followed. So it appears to have been with Abraham (Gen. 11:31). He went with his father on his father's move to the land of Canaan. There are some that believe Abraham may actually have been born in Haran. This can be justified somewhat by later scripture that describes the searching for Isaac's wife. The family could have traveled down to southern Ur (traditional "Ur of Chaldeans) to live. It appears, at this point in scripture, it was Terah's idea to leave southern Ur. There is no indication Abraham influenced his father in the move by telling his father he had been spoken to by God.

In reading literally the scripture in Gen. 12, it appears the family moving to the land of Canaan and stopping for a long time in Haran, was the decision of the father. Was Abraham spoken to by God prior to chapter 12 and gave some kind of information that they needed to go to the land of Canaan? God speaks for sure to Abraham after the move (Gen. 12:1). However, in Acts 7:2, Stephen states God spoke to Abraham while in Mesopotamia, before going to Haran, in modern southern Turkey.

This sounds like a conflict. Since there are no conflicts in the Bible, there must be another explanation. Did God speak to Abraham earlier and it is not recorded? Did God speak to Abraham earlier but Abraham settled in Haran, since he really did not know where he was going anyway (God was directing)? Did Abraham convince Terah to believe in one god and persuade Terah to move the family? Did Abraham influence his father to go in any other way? Did God direct Terah even without Terah knowing?

Let's look at the general map of Abraham from the traditional Ur to the area of Canaan (map from Ur to Canaan). To further understand the move, it should be established from where they actually moved. This could give an idea why they were moving. They were leaving their home in Ur of the Chaldeans to settle in the land of Canaan. This Ur of the Chaldeans is scripturally written in a manner to give the impression there was another Ur which was not of the Chaldeans. There are archeologists and other scholars who say there was most likely a small town called Urfa (Ur) in the north area approximately 50 miles east of Haran (now southern Turkey, then Syria). The Aramaic culture and ways of life would influence them more in the "northern Ur". Besides, history seems to indicate the northern area was where the Chaldeans started and where most of the Chaldeans lived. The word Chaldees (Gen. 11:28) could be translated to refer to a place in the general area of Aram (Aram-naharaim). The Chaldeans migrated to the Ur in the southern part of the Mesopotamian area that was Sumerian in culture. The Sumerian culture was very old. It had a different language, had different protective gods in each city/town, and its own cuneiform writing. It was different from the north, which was influenced by a more Aramaic culture. So, these words ("of the Chaldeans") could be trying to distinguish the small northern Ur from the presently more known (and archeologically found) southern Ur in the southern portion of Mesopotamia. If that is so, the long traditional trip from the southern Ur might not have been made in relation to Abraham's directive from God. The actual trip may have been a very short trip from the northern Ur to Haran.

One would suspect the family would have moved along a well-traveled road such as a trade route. The normal trade route from southern Ur to Canaan would not have been through Haran. There was normal travel between these two areas but not if one were going to Canaan. But, it is likely that a stop in Haran from the northern Ur to the land of Canaan could have occurred. This difference could make a difference in the culture in which Abraham lived. There are other scriptural references that enhance the notion of a home in a northern Ur (Gen. 24:4, 10; Josh. 24:2-3; Deut. 26:5; Isaiah. 23:13).

They traveled to Haran, where Terah's family settled for some reason. It is not known why the family stopped the traveling and settled in Haran. Since Terah apparently worshipped other gods, Terah could have settled in Haran because Haran was a moon-god center just like the southern Ur was. It could be the land of Canaan was God's ultimate destination for Abraham. However, at this time Abraham did not know his ultimate destination; so he stayed in Haran.

It appears from scripture that Terah was 70 years old when Abraham was born. Abraham was 75 when he left Haran. Either Abraham left his father long before Terah died or Abraham did not leave until after Terah died. Terah was 205 years old when he died. If Abraham were born when Terah was 70 years old, as it sounds in scripture, he would have left his father when Terah was 145 years old. Therefore, Terah would have lived without family (Abraham took with him the known family) for 60 years. In biblical history, it is not considered unusual for someone to leave all and go somewhere at the call of God. But it is also not normal to let an elderly father live by himself for 60 years, especially if one did not know God's ultimate goal, decision, or destination. Since Abraham did not know where he was going, why would he leave his father of upper years and take Sarah, Lot, his servants, and possessions away? It is more likely Abraham was not first born. It is more likely Abraham was born when Terah was 130 years old and then Abraham left 75 years later when Terah died.

Gen. 12:1-9:

From this point, Chapter 12, it appears God is beginning His personal direction of Abraham. Abraham, 75 years old, takes Sarah, Lot, servants, and possessions and leaves Haran and goes to the land of Canaan.

By examining the scripture, was the directive God gave to Abraham disobeyed? It appears God told Abraham to go alone. He was told to leave his father's house (which could infer his father had died, as previously discussed) and relatives. Instead, he goes on his way and takes from Haran the only relatives about whom we know. Terah's son Haran had died before leaving Ur. It is not mentioned that Terah took Nahor and his wife Milcah on the move from Ur.

Unusual conditions existed in Canaan during the age of the patriarchs. During the Early Bronze Age (3150-2200 b.c.), Canaan was comprised of flourishing and powerful city-states. In the later Middle Bronze Age II (2000-1500 b.c.), urban civilizations again developed. But for 200-300 years between these two eras, for reasons still unknown to archaeologists, some of the cities of Canaan were abandoned or less populated and people took up a pastoral way of life. Excavations at Ur, tablets found at Mari, and texts from Nuzi have illuminated many events reported in Genesis. In these and many other instances, the findings of archaeologists have provided fresh insights into the biblical text.

Abraham traveled to Shechem (
see Shechem a little north of Bethel Canaan). Abraham went a little further south to a place called the plain of Moreh (or oak of Moreh) in the land of the Canaanites. In the time of Abraham there were many oaks. Since then, they have all but disappeared. So, it is thought this area is a place "in the oak area" of Moreh. There is a hill of Moreh in the region just south of Shechem that has become a place referenced for special things, such as the altar of Abraham.

The Canannites were not people in good standing with God. Eventually, God allows the destruction of the Canaanites as well as other peoples throughout the Bible. when God feels that those particular "peoples" are so evil that they are too much to bear on earth. He declares this land will belong to the seed of Abraham. Abraham builds an altar. Abraham set up tents in an place between Bethel on the west and Ai on the east (see Bethel and Ai). He kept traveling south, deeper into the land of Canaan. It appears he is following some kind of direction from God to Canaan.

God speaks to Abraham in some way. God tells him to do three things and then God will do four things. Abraham must:
  • leave his country (all he knows and his total heritage),
  • he must leave his relatives (all the people in the family he loves and trusts), and
  • he must leave his father's house (point of central leadership and comfort).
Abraham will take leave but he does not know to where he is going at this point. With that, God says to Abraham, "I will":
  • make of you a great nation (many peoples for ages will trace their beginnings to Abraham),
  • bless you and make your name great (even now, three of the largest world religions trace their background to Abraham. What a blessing to give!),
  • bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you (God has dealt, and will continue to deal, with those lovers and haters of Abraham and his followers), and
  • bless all families in and through you (universal; although Abraham and Israel were chosen, blessings will come through universally to all).

Gen. 12:10-20

A deep famine comes to Canaan. The first big decision (or is this a test?) must be made by Abraham. At this point in Abraham's life, he does not appear to have the trust and faith in God we normally attribute to Abraham. Abraham does not show the trust in God that perhaps God wants. Abraham takes Sarah and Lot to Egypt (
from Canaan to Egypt). It may not necessarily have been a sin to go to Egypt. It was Abraham's decision and apparently God did not tell him no. Because of the need of food, Abraham takes it upon himself to leave Canaan not under the direction of God. Abraham is now forced into a decision that he would not have had to make had he not left Canaan. He feels he is forced to lie to save his own life. In those days, the Pharaoh had freedoms to pick his wives, concubines, slaves, and other women to satisfy his perceived needs. It is said Sarah, ten years younger than Abraham, was still beautiful. Because of that beauty, Abraham was afraid that, if the Pharaoh knew they were married, the Pharaoh would kill Abraham. the husband, and take Sarah as his own. However, if they were not married, Sarah would still be taken but Abraham would not be killed. As a matter of fact, the "brother" or relative of the woman would become very well off (kind of paying the family for the woman). Pharaoh did desire Sarah. So Abraham lied and said they were brother and sister. Sarah was taken; Abraham was spared. As her brother, he was rewarded by Pharaoh and apparently became quite rich.

As explained in the Introduction to this study, technically, Abraham and Sarah were stepbrother and stepsister. Maybe he did not technically lie; but his motivation for not admitting marriage leaves much to be desired. It is interesting that Abraham had this planned from the very beginning of his journey (Gen. 20:13). It was decided by Abraham and Sarah that they would admit to being brother and sister. He ended up giving up his wife to adultery to save his own life. Because of Sarah being taken, God hurt Pharaoh's house by sending plagues. Since this happened about the time of the taking of Sarah, Pharaoh questioned Abraham. Abraham admitted the whole lie and the reason for the lie. Pharaoh sent Abraham and Sarah and all their possessions away.

Reflections on Chapter 12 as Related to Us Today

  • Travel From Ur of the Chaldeans
    Whether Abraham traveled from southern or northern Ur, somehow he was being driven. He apparently had some feelings of trust and faith. Certainly it would have to have been a strong influence to change his life quickly and powerfully. It is not known why Abraham was chosen. Actually, we do not know why God chooses any of his elect (Noah, Jonah, Moses, etc.). His strength of faith had to be infantile. He was being driven to take the plunge. However, the way scripture was written, he probably did not know what he was to do.

    As new followers of Christ, we are sometimes not sure what that really means. We know we are supposed to "be good" and obey. But what does that really mean? Somehow, God spoke to Abraham; somehow God speaks to us. It really requires an extreme amount of trust and an unknown amount of faith to follow a path that we have not made ourselves. The primary way we can know more about how God directs us is to know as much as we can about the character of God. This comes from study of God's word, prayer, and the understanding of how He has worked with others. This gives insight into how God works. That, in turn, tells us more about how to understand God's Will for us. Abraham knew he had to do what he was driven to do even though he did not know to where it was going to lead him. We are asked to do the same. As faith and trust in God matures, we have far more knowledge of that decision to follow.

  • Abraham's Travel to Egypt
    Abraham made his way to the land of Canaan with a faith and strength that we ourselves would want. After all, we know (because we have 20:20 hindsight) he was being lead by God. However, there arose a problem that he did not expect. There was a famine in the land of Canaan. He knew there was no famine in Egypt. Abraham had a wife and other persons who counted on his leadership. What should he have done? Did he think about what God wanted? I tend to believe that he probably did not specifically call for God's help. He was still young in belief. He really had not had to make any major "decisions" related to belief.There did not seem to be anything to tell him not to go. So, Abraham decided he should go to Egypt. Where was the faith in God that he should have had that would have taken care of him. By going, he put himself into a position to test his honesty, integrity, and morals. It later extended to his reputation. He lies about his relationship to Sarah. Although technically she is Abraham's stepsister, he said Sarah and he were brother and sister to save his his own skin. But in doing so, he almost put Sarah into a life of adultery. He lied; his integrity was destroyed; he lowered his morals. Actually, as we will look at later in the study, Abraham already had this "lie" planned for his journey (Gen. 20:13).

    Without making any judgments, what would we have done? Two of our primary instincts is to provide food and shelter. When we see one of them going away, we will do almost anything to correct that situation. Praying to God and listening for an answer, which will come in God's time, is very difficult. Sometimes, we will put our morals and honesty on the line when a job, food, or lodging is in jeopardy. So we are no different than Abraham for his protective instinct. Going to Egypt is probably something we would do. It was easier for Abraham to pick up and walk with everything he owned to wherever he wished to go. Today, it is much more difficult to make such a move. Our possessions, the distances, cost, and the travel routes and roads would make it almost impossible.

    Putting up a wife to adultery to save our own life is so difficult to understand; but, perhaps no judgment should be made. We KNOW what is right (tell the truth). But could we, if our life were on the line? Perhaps, it was more accepted in ancient cultures to do this. Perhaps, jealousy was not as strong then as it is now. This opinion comes from the fact it was very natural, though not God's law, to allow someone else to mother a baby for a barren woman and also for men to have concubines. There are cultures in the world that allow such lives; however, this as a general thing is not accepted today.

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