Genesis 12: Abram is introduced
The genealogy at the end of Chapter 11 mentioned the birth of Abram; Chapter 12 begins his story. The Bible doesn’t go into a lot of detail about Abram’s life, before the LORD calls him. He is already 75 years old when his story begins in this chapter.
In fact, the story starts rather abruptly; in the very first verses, the LORD simply tells Abram to get up and go, and move to another country:
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
What’s even more surprising is that, as far as the Biblical account goes, Abram simply did it; verse 4 says “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him…” As far as is recorded, there was no argument, he simply did what he was told.
Abram was living in a land called Haran, when the LORD called him. He set off with his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot. They travel to Canaan—which the LORD promises Abram will one day belong to his offspring—then to Bethel, and then to the Negev. (These names mean as little to me as they do to you, except that you may remember the name Canaan, who was Noah’s grandson.)
Eventually, there was a famine in the land, and the only place that had food was Egypt, so Abram decided to go there. However, he is afraid that the Egyptians will find Sarai so beautiful that they will kill Abram, so that they can have her. So they decide to say that she is his sister, not his wife. They do, and, as predicted, the Egyptians find Sarai to be very beautiful, and take her to the Pharaoh’s palace. Not only that, but verse 16 says that the Pharaoh “treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.” Wow. He milked it for all it was worth!
But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, so they realized what was going on, and asked Abram to leave, and bring Sarai and all of his possessions with him.
If you’re not familiar with the name Abram, you might be more familiar with the name Abraham, which is what Abram’s name is changed to in a later chapter. Similarly, his wife’s name in this chapter is Sarai, but is later changed to Sarah. (These names all mean something, so when we get to the appropriate parts later on, we’ll find out what they mean.)
This weird idea of calling Sarai his sister, instead of his wife, is not only used here; in a later chapter, Abram will try the same trick again. I guess he’s more afraid of death than of losing his wife. The amazing part, to me is that he was allowed to bring all of the stuff they had given him, when he left! The Egyptians had basically given Abram everything they gave him as some kind of dowry, or payment for his sister. You’d think when they found out that they couldn’t “keep” her, that the deal would be off, but I guess they just wanted to be rid of him.
But my most important thought about this chapter is why the LORD called Abram: there is no reason. Abram’s first 75 years are not discussed in the Bible for a reason: because God doesn’t want us to think that he had done things which warranted his calling. The LORD simply chose him, and that was it—it’s a picture of Grace in action.
In Hebrews 11:8–10—a New Testament passage—Abra[ha]m is given as an example of faith; the LORD called him to a land he didn’t know of, and he had enough faith in the LORD to do what he was asked to do. (Hebrews 11:11–12 gives another example of Abraham’s faith, from a chapter of Genesis that we haven’t got to yet.)