This verse by verse Bible study on Genesis is an inductive verse by verse study with extensive reflections, teaching points, cross-references, and applications. They are the personal study of notes of a very good doctor friend of mine. His native tongue is Mandarin, but his English is amazing as you will see below. It is refreshing to take a look at this important book of Genesis through the eyes of a believer from another culture. Without further adieu: The Scribblings According to David.
Genesis 11-12 Inductive Bible Study
An Unlikely Man of Faith (I)
XI 10-26. The Pedigree of Abram.
XI 27-32. The Parentage of Abram.
XII 1-9. The Promise to Abram.
Abram, from the line of Shem, was raised up in a pagan family in a pagan environment, and was later called to leave Ur and go to Canaan, with the promise from God to be a great nation and become an even greater blessing.
Why is the genealogy of Shem mentioned immediately after the Towel of Babel?
Because the line of Shem is the Messianic line. Against the terrible backdrop of men’s defiance and depravity, God had kept a remnant of His. His promises will always come true, regardless of men’s effort to sabotage. The genealogical record of Shem in chapter XI ends with Abram, or Abraham, the patriarch famous in both Testaments for his faith and faithfulness. And from this point on, the book of Genesis centers on the chosen people of God, Israel, who were also the immediate recipients of this book. The genealogy of Shem is the 5th of the 11 toledoth sections in the book of Genesis (Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:27; 25:12, 19; 37:2).
A footnote from ESV Study Bible: Gen. 11:27-50:26. Patriarchal History
The narrative now moves from the general survey of humanity to the specific family from which Israel comes. The narrative style becomes severely matter-of-fact. The narrator devotes much more time to describing the lives of the characters: whereas chs. 1-11 covers many generations in only 11 chapters, the patriarchal history deals with only four generations in 39 chapters. It begins with Abraham and goes on to his son Isaac, and Isaac’s two sons Jacob and Esau; the final section focuses on Jacob’s sons, especially Joseph. Here the specifics of being Israel are made clear: the land, the people, the blessing and the calling. The Sinai (or Mosaic) Covenant, which the first audience for these chapters receives, will provide the setting in which Israel is to put these patriarchal promises into practice. Throughout these chapters the readers will see how God has preserved the members of His chosen family, whose calling it is to walk with Him, to be the headwaters of a special people and to be the channel by which blessing comes to the entire world.
How come that there is a man by the name of Cainan (Lk. 3:34) in Luke III but not in Genesis XI?
The name Cainan in Lk. 3:34 was found neither in Gen. XI nor in 1 Chron. I. However, it was mentioned in the Septuagint. The HCSB Study Bible note says, “Because the inspired NT author confirms the Septuagint’s reading, Cainan should be accepted as Arpachshad’s son. Thus it is best to accept Arpachshad as Shelah’s father in an indirect sense, and to view the Hebrew version here as a stylized genealogy shaped for thematic purposes.” A detailed examination of the Arpachshad-Cainan problem is beyond the scope of this study. But perhaps the real issue is this: when some seemingly “contradictory” evidence was raised to argue against the inerrancy of the Bible, where should the Christian stand? It is always an issue of faith. Here is a sophisticated article from Creation Ministries that addresses this issue:
What are the differences between the genealogy of Shem (Gen. 11:10-26) and the genealogy of Adam recorded in Genesis V?
The most notable difference between the two genealogical passages, in terms of the texts per se, is the absence of the phrase repeatedly used in Genesis V “and he died” (Gen. 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31) here in vv. 10-26 of Genesis XI. The spiritual significance is not hard to understand. The genealogy of Adam is the genealogy after the Fall. As the apostle Paul wrote in Rom. 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”. The consequence of sin is death. Hence, death becomes the theme of Genesis V. Some commentators consider the chapter to be like a series of obituaries (with the exception of one righteous man being raptured), and when the Scripture time and again says “and he died”, the reader is reminded of the devastating effect that sin has brought the whole world. However, fast-forward to Gen. 11:10-26, there is a subtle change of scene. The genealogy of Shem is the genealogy after the Flood. Thus the theme in Gen. XI is no longer death, but life. The Noahic Covenant is a covenant of life, including clauses on the replenishment of the earth by the reproduction of man’s life (“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”, Gen. 9:1), the provisions of food for the subsistence of man’s life (“Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant”, Gen. 9:3) and the legal protection of the sanctity of man’s life (“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God, He made man”, Gen. 9:6). Therefore, since life is the theme after the Flood, it is fitting that the genealogy of Shem be recorded in such a way that relates to Abraham, the Father of faith, from whom all the nations shall be blessed with true life through the promised Messiah. Despite the terrible twist at Babel happened in the midst of the historic flow, the major theme was now towards life, which culminates in the coming of the One who is “the Resurrection and the Life” (Jn. 11:25). By the way, death is again mentioned in Gen. 11:28, 32, with a different narrative purpose, respectively. It must be pointed out that Gen. 11:27-32 is the genealogy of Terah with another totally different theme. The death of Haran in Gen. 11:28 offers the background of the kinship of Lot to Abram, and the death of Terah in Haran in Gen. 11:32perhaps points to the spiritual status of Abram’s father (discussed below).
Another notable difference we can observe from the two genealogies is the substantial shortening of life span after the Flood. The possible cause of a dramatic change in the ecosystem brought by the Flood was discussed in my study notes in previous chapters. An interesting footnote here is that a clay tablet unearthed from the city of Uruk in Mesopotamia, which was called the Sumerian King List (see below), was believed by historians to be inscribed during the reign of King Utukhegal around 2100 B.C., which tells of kings who reigned for exceedingly long periods of time, punctuated by a great flood, followed by subsequent kings who ruled significantly shorter periods of time.
Was Terah, Abram’s father, a believer?
No, he was not. The definitive verdict is found in Josh. 24:2, when God said through the mouth of Joshua, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.” Terah was clearly a pagan. A careful study of his life yields similar results. In Gen. 11:31, at first it said, “Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan”. The call to leave Ur and go to Canaan was to Abram, as we shall see in the next chapter. And Acts 7:2-3 (“The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country…’”) show us that it was before they lived in Haran that Abram received the call. Therefore, the first half of the verse cannot mean that Terah was heeding to God’s call for Abram. Perhaps, with many family conflicts and struggles, Abram managed to persuade his father to go to Canaan with him. However, in the second half of the verse, we see that “they went as far as Haran, and settled there”. Archeological studies tell us that Haran (different from the personal name Haran in Hebrew spelling) was the second largest center (next to Ur) for the worship of the moon gods Nanna and Sin (also known as “queen of heaven” in Jer. 7:18, 44:17; see below) in ancient Mesopotamia. It is very likely that Terah took a detour for his own pagan agenda and sabotaged Abram’s efforts to follow God’s guidance. The phrase “settled there” might tell of his incorrigible determination of idolatry. Terah must have heard the dreadful accounts of the Flood from his great old grandpa and witnessed the life-changing effects of faith in his own son Abram. Yet he willingly chose to exchange the glory of the Creator with an idol built by human hands, and went down the path of paganism. The sad story of Terah ended when he died there as an unbeliever, forever alienated from an afterlife of bliss in God’s loving presence.
What’s the big whoop about this travel, anyway?
This call to leave Ur and go to Canaan was a great test of Abram’s faith. This was clearly no small thing. Back in Ur, he had a life. Everything was familiar and comfortable. But once he left there for Canaan, everything became unknown and uncertain. He had no idea what lied ahead and had to totally trust God for His guidance and providence. Listen to the words of God, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from yourrelatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you, …’” (Gen. 12:1, emphasis mine). The triplets of your carry both the urgency and the severity of this faith-dare. It was going to take Abraham a monumental leap of faith to respond.
Of course, the patriarch did respond in faith. Later in Gen. 12:4, “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him.” The simplicity of this statement reflected the simplicity of his faith. He believed God with a simple faith. And off he went the next moment. He left the city of man, as it were, in search for the city of God, “whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). As the ESV Study Bible comments, “God’s invitation to Abram challenges him to abandon the normal sources of personal identity and security: his family and country. To obey, Abram must trust God implicitly; all human support is largely removed. The promised outcomes are conditional on Abram’s obedience.”
How old was Abram when he left Ur?
The Reformation Study Bible note says, “If Abram was born when Terah was 70 years old (v.26) and when Abram departed Haran when he was 75 years old (Gen. 12:4) after the death of his father Terah (Acts 7:4), Terah would have been only 145 years old at his death. Several possible solutions to this apparent difficulty have been advanced. Some suggest that Stephen in Acts 7:4 relies on a different Hebrew textual tradition (the Samaritan Pentateuch text of this passage reads ‘145 years’). Others propose that the Hebrew word rendered ‘fathered’ in v.26 means ‘began to father’ and that Abram was not the firstborn.” It seems best to understand Abram not as the firstborn, despite listed as the first son in the genealogical record, much in the same way as “Shem, Ham and Japheth” being listed in this order while Shem was not the firstborn.
What’s so special about God’s promise to Abram?
The Reformation Study Bible, commenting on Gen. 12:1-3, says, “The Covenant structure is apparent. God sovereignly obligate Himself to Abraham (vv. 2, 3) while assigning him a task (v.1). God’s commands were fulfilled through Abraham’s obedient faith in God’s promise. These verses mark a pivotal point in Genesis and in the history of redemption as God begins to establish a Covenant people for Himself. The progress of God’s redemptive plan is evident in His setting Abraham apart (v.1) and making Israel into a great nation (v.2; Gen. 46:3). It climaxes in Jesus Christ, the true Seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), who brings salvation to the world (v.3). The Call to Abraham is passed on to the next two patriarchs, Isaac (Gen. 26:2-4) and Jacob (Gen. 28:4). The nation will be formed from Jacob’s twelve sons (Ch. 49).”
What does “the one who curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3) mean?
An interesting footnote from NIV Study Bible says this, “The ancient Near Eastern peoples thought that by pronouncing curses on someone they would bring down the power of the gods (or other mysterious powers) on that person. They had a large conventional stock of such curses, preserved in many sources, such as Egyptian Execration Texts, the Hittite suzerainty-vassal treaties, kudurrus, the Code of Hammurapi (Epilogue), ect.” However, one must understand that it is Yahweh who pronounces a curse on those who curse Abraham, not an ancient Near Eastern villager. And most certainly, no pagan deities were in view here whose power must be brought down by such a curse. Perhaps the best way to interpret this verse is to take it at face value. As theReformation Study Bible comments, “God will be an effective adversary of those who curse Abraham and his seed.”
Another interesting observation is that the subject of the blessing is plural (“those who bless you”) while the subject of the curse is singular (“the one who curses you”). The ESV Study Bible note that remarks “… many more will be blessed than curse” is largely debatable, because for obvious reasons at any given point in history the faithful are always the small minority of mankind, as Jesus Himself said, “… the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). And there is no objective way for a direct comparison of the exact number of the two groups. As for now, to my understanding, the spiritual significance of such a change in wording remains unclear.
Why did Abram build altars (Gen. 12:7, 8)?
Altars were places of true worship for the true God (e.g. Noah built an altar after coming out of the Ark, cf. Gen. 8:20). The act itself signifies Abram’s willingness to set himself apart from the blatant paganism of his day, for he was carefully following God’s instructions on worship. This altar here was the first of the four that he built (Gen. 12:8, 13:18, 22:9) and the very first altar erected in the Promised Land. In the next verse, he moved to Bethel and built another altar, and identified himself as a worshipper of God (“called upon the name of the Lord”). Worshipping God is important to Abram, and it should be to us as well. As Matthew Henry had commented, “Abram was rich, and had a numerous family, was now unsettled, and in the midst of enemies; yet, wherever he pitched his tent, he built an altar: wherever we go, let us not fail to take our religion along with us.”
Lessons and Reflections
God has always kept a remnant of His.
When Elijah’s head was wanted with a bounty, he ran for 40 days and 40 nights and fled to Horeb. The prophet simply could not understand why the definitive landslide over the 200 false prohpets of Baal at Mount Carmel failed to call the apostate children of Israel to repentance. There in the cave, God spoke to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Ki. 19:9) The prophet answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Ki. 19:10). Melancholy had eaten Elijah up and he was now desperate, thinking he is now contra mundum, being the only faithful man left in the whole world. Yet the Lord spoke to him, encouraging him to carry on his ministry, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived … I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Ki. 19:15, 18). It is such a comfort for God’s children to know that they are not alone. In the darkest ages of time, God had kept and will always keep a remnant of His own. As Paul said, alluding to the life of Elijah, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (Rom. 11:5). The world had quickly turned bad after the Flood. Yet history was in the hand of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe.
He had carefully preserved the royal line from which the Messiah would come. It is also a great encouragement for God’s children when they witness to the fallen world, knowing that God’s elect will heed His voice. When Paul took the Gospel to Corinth, he received such cheering-up from the Lord himself. “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9, emphasis mine) In light of this, our evangelism should never be dependent upon human ingenuities, sophisticated methodologies, or marketing strategies, but on this crucial theological fact of unconditional election, irresistible grace and eternal security: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (Jn. 10:27-28)
No situation is too bad for God to work all things together in and for His elect, making His effectual call to salvation.
If you look at the circumstances in and through which Abram grew up, it was anything but godly. He was raised by a pagan father in a pagan family in a pagan city where it was the regional center for pagan worship. What kind of influences a man is exposed to may have a great deal of impact on his general thinking and doing, but they are not the determining factor of salvation. A child growing up in a well-known pastor’s home does not guarantee an inevitable conversion to Christ. Likewise, a child growing up in a militantly atheistic culture does not put him in a situation where rejection of the Gospel is ordinary and definitive either.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Rom. 8:29-30, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” The full spectrum of salvation is a work of the Divine. Nothing is able to hinder, thwart, disrupt, subvert or overturn it. Against all odds, Abram came to faith in God. All the pagan influences he had from his family suddenly vanished, as it were, in the dazzling presence of God’s Revelation. The same thing happens every time when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes. For that very moment when Jesus is invited into a sinner’s heart, all the worldly influences were swept away, because the world has been overcome. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4). Several chapters later, we read about the wonderful moment of Abram’s conversion: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6)
Abram responded to God in faith and faithfulness.
In Heb. 11:8 the Scripture says, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Abraham, or here still referred to as Abram, called the father of faith, and rightly so. He received the call from God, and believed it. Not only did he believe it, but also he obeyed it. Such is the prototype of a man of faith. As the old hymn goes, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way”. It seems, then, faith and faithfulness are the cardinal virtues in the realm of God’s Kingdom. Quoting from the bookTwelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur, “They are regarded as heroes [of the faith] for two primary reasons: they believed in the Lord, not just for salvation but for every aspect of life; and they acted on that faith, choosing to honor Him even when it was difficult to do so. When their circumstances seemed impossible, they depended on God’s wisdom and strength rather than their own. And they kept their eyes on Him, choosing to trust in His promises rather than pursue the passing pleasures of sin. Thus, they were known both for their faith and their faithfulness — and God was honored through them.”Personal
Be confident preaching the Word, knowing that God’s remnant will respond in faith.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way.
Put God first by establishing the right pattern of worship in my personal life.
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