Verses 1-9: The Promises
Seemingly unprompted, but surely with a planned divine purpose, God promises Abram blessings and a lineage through which will eventually come the nation of Israel and Jesus Christ. In this passage, it is important to remember that God calls upon Abram to leave everything. When his father Terah died, Abram would have assumed leadership of the family. This would have been Abram’s rightful place in the world and God asks him to leave and go to an as yet undisclosed location, “to a land that I will show you.” Let us read the first three verses, comprising the promises:
“Now the Lord said to Abram: Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The last part of verse three (which is also the seventh and final promise) is the mention of the eventual salvation through Jesus who offers it to all. Jesus would be a Jew, borne through the bloodline of Abram.
Here is a list the seven promises:
- A great nation will come from Abram’s lineage
- Abram will be blessed
- Abram’s name will live on long after he is gone
- Abram will be a blessing to others
- Those that bless Abram will be blessed
- Those that curse Abram will be cursed
- All families of the earth will be blessed through Abram
Abram’s response to God is consistent obedience regardless of the command and it is done without question or complaint. Abram is indeed a blessing to us by setting this example.
Abram comes to Canaan and passes through to Shechem. Shechem was an ancient site in the center of the land of Canaan. There, he sacrificed to God on a mountain between Bethel and Ai, an effort that was most likely in view of many of the inhabitants of Canaan. This too, is a worthy example to us from Abram: shameless devotion to God in the presence of others.
Verses 10-20: In Egypt
A famine in the land causes Abram and his familial entourage to travel to Egypt, where there would have been better access to food. Abram says to Sarai that she should call herself his sister in order to protect himself. Abram correctly perceived that the Egyptians would notice Sarai’s beauty and seek to kill Abram in order to take Sarai. For Abram’s part, was this smart? Was it shrewd? Or was it a sin? Sarai was in fact Abram’s half-sister, the daughter of his father, but not of his mother (Genesis 20:12). Remember that is was Abram’s whole family that was heading to Egypt due to this unexplained famine. Abram’s perception was accurate because in verses 14-15, the Egyptians did notice Sarai’s beauty.
Sarai was commended to Pharaoh by his princes and she was taken to Pharaoh’s house. Because Abram was her “brother,” he was given sheep, oxen, male and female donkeys, male and female servants and camels. This brief episode of Abram and Pharaoh comes to an end when God plagues Pharaoh because he has taken Abram’s wife. Somehow Pharaoh comes to know that she was in fact Abram’s wife all along and he gives her back to Abram, allowing them safe passage away from Egypt.
In the end, Abram leaves Egypt in a much richer state than he arrived. Escaping the famine, he was able to maintain the overall health of his clan while evading the threat of a powerful leader in Pharaoh. Undoubtedly, this sequence of events was directed by God. It is all a part of His plan to maintain the promises that were made to Abram earlier in the chapter.
What can we learn? Following God’s commands without hesitation or question is a great example for us, as mentioned above. But perhaps the greater lesson is the one found in the magnitude of God’s promises to Abram. From the prophecy of Genesis 3:14-15, to this prophecy of the promises, it all revolves around how God will save His people, how He will reconcile us to Him. Despite the sin that darkens our hearts, God has made a way for everyone to come to Him.
The amazing part of how God saves us is how far back and how interconnected all of the prophecies and promises are. This was God’s plan from the beginning. He always knew that we would need help. He knew that the old law would be imperfect and that it was necessary to bring forward the gospel of Jesus Christ. Abram’s (soon to be Abraham’s) part in it is absolutely critical to the formation of the Jewish nation and what would eventually become the Christian heritage that we find ourselves in today.