Abram’s Call and Migration. 1The LORD said to Abram: Go forth* from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.a 2* I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.b 3c I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will find blessing in you.*
4d Abram went as the LORD directed him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5* Abram took his wife Sarai, his brother’s son Lot, all the possessions that they had accumulated, and the persons they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6* Abram passed through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, by the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites were then in the land.
7The LORD appeared to Abram and said: To your descendants I will give this land. So Abram built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.e 8From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel, pitching his tent with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. He built an altar there to the LORD and invoked the LORD by name. 9Then Abram journeyed on by stages to the Negeb.*
Abram and Sarai in Egypt.* 10There was famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, since the famine in the land was severe.f 11When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai: “I know that you are a beautiful woman. 12When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘She is his wife’; then they will kill me, but let you live. 13Please say, therefore, that you are my sister,* so that I may fare well on your account and my life may be spared for your sake.”g 14When Abram arrived in Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15When Pharaoh’s officials saw her they praised her to Pharaoh, and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16Abram fared well on her account, and he acquired sheep, oxen, male and female servants, male and female donkeys, and camels.*
17But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.h 18Then Pharaoh summoned Abram and said to him: “How could you do this to me! Why did you not tell me she was your wife? 19Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now, here is your wife. Take her and leave!”
* [12:2] The call of Abraham begins a new history of blessing (18:18; 22:15–18), which is passed on in each instance to the chosen successor (26:2–4; 28:14). This call evokes the last story in the primeval history (11:1–9) by reversing its themes: Abraham goes forth rather than settle down; it is God rather than Abraham who will make a name for him; the families of the earth will find blessing in him.
* [12:3] Will find blessing in you: the Hebrew conjugation of the verb here and in 18:18 and 28:14 can be either reflexive (“shall bless themselves by you” = people will invoke Abraham as an example of someone blessed by God) or passive (“by you all the families of earth will be blessed” = the religious privileges of Abraham and his descendants ultimately will be extended to the nations). In 22:18 and 26:4, another conjugation of the same verb is used in a similar context that is undoubtedly reflexive (“bless themselves”). Many scholars suggest that the two passages in which the sense is clear should determine the interpretation of the three ambiguous passages: the privileged blessing enjoyed by Abraham and his descendants will awaken in all peoples the desire to enjoy those same blessings. Since the term is understood in a passive sense in the New Testament (Acts 3:25; Gal 3:8), it is rendered here by a neutral expression that admits of both meanings.
* [12:5] The ancestors appear in Genesis as pastoral nomads living at the edge of settled society, and having occasional dealings with the inhabitants, sometimes even moving into towns for brief periods. Unlike modern nomads such as the Bedouin, however, ancient pastoralists fluctuated between following the herds and sedentary life, depending on circumstances. Pastoralists could settle down and farm and later resume a pastoral way of life. Indeed, there was a symbiotic relationship between pastoralists and villagers, each providing goods to the other. Persons: servants and others who formed the larger household under the leadership of Abraham; cf. 14:14.
* [12:6] Abraham’s journey to the center of the land, Shechem, then to Bethel, and then to the Negeb, is duplicated in Jacob’s journeys (33:18; 35:1, 6, 27; 46:1) and in the general route of the conquest under Joshua (Jos 7:2; 8:9, 30). Abraham’s journey is a symbolic “conquest” of the land he has been promised. In building altars here (vv. 7, 8) and elsewhere, Abraham acknowledges his God as Lord of the land.
* [12:9] The Negeb: the semidesert land south of Judah.
* [12:10–13:1] Abraham and Sarah’s sojourn in Egypt and encounter with Pharaoh foreshadow their descendants’ experience, suggesting a divine design in which they must learn to trust. The story of Sarah, the ancestor in danger, is told again in chap. 20, and also in 26:1–11 with Rebekah instead of Sarah. Repetition of similar events is not unusual in literature that has been orally shaped.
* [12:16] Camels: domesticated camels did not come into common use in the ancient Near East until the end of the second millennium B.C. Thus the mention of camels here (24:11–64; 30:43; 31:17, 34; 32:8, 16; 37:25) is seemingly an anachronism.