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 12-13 Inductive Bible Study
An Unlikely Man of Faith (II)
XII 10-20. “Please say that you are my sister.”
XIII 1-18. “Please separate from me.”
Abram sojourned to Egypt because of a famine on the land, and for the sake of self-preservation he told half-truth about the identity of his wife. Afterwards, he returned back from Egypt by the decree of pharaoh, and for the sake of resolving family conflicts he separated from Lot.
What’s wrong with half-truths?
Half-truth, according to the New American Oxford Dictionary, is a statement that conveys only part of the truth, esp. one used deliberately in order to deceive someone. And such is a well fitting definition of the phrase. The Decalogue says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). People may argue that, “Oh, this is not false witness per se; this is just not telling the whole story”. However, the morality of telling half-truths hinges not so much on the failure of or restraint from giving “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, as on the deliberate intention to deceive. “Do not lie to one another”, the apostle Paul wrote in Col. 3:9. And in another place he wrote, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). The Biblical mandate has always been to tell the truth in a loving way, as God in Christ being Himself the ultimate embodiment of Truth and Love. Undoubtedly, there will be cases when the line would not be so clearly and easily drawn, but at the end of the day, the issue has always been the matter of the heart. And the Scripture admonishes us, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Prov. 21:2).
Were camels here (Gen. 12:16) anachronisms?
The ESV Study Bible has an interesting note on this verse: “Some biblical scholars have maintained that the mention of camels in Genesis is anachronistic, on the assumption that they were not domesticated until about 1100 B.C. Archaeological finds of camel bones, however, suggest that some camels were in use by humans as early as the third millennium B.C. While the evidence is limited, it is hardly surprising, given the use to which camels were put. In Genesis they usually appear in passages that involve long-distance journeys through or close to deserts (cf. Gen. 24:10-64; 31:17, 24; 37:25). The scarcity of camels in the periods of the patriarchs made them a luxury of great worth, and thus their listing here (and elsewhere) may serve to emphasize Abram’s wealth.” The NKJV Study Bible further added, “to have a camel in this period was like having an expensive limousine”.
Abram returned “very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold” (Gen. 13:2). What’s the right view of worldly riches for Christians?
Are worldly riches inherently evil? Most certainly not. As one famous argument goes, if the greater the possession, the more evil the possessor, then God must be the most evil of all, for He owns everything in the universe. Riches per se are neither good nor bad, morally speaking. In fact, God in His providence, may very well pour out physical wealth to someone for His good purposes, just as Abram here. Riches, if well managed, would be of good service to God and to men. And for God’s people to have received material blessings from the Lord, they must not take it for granted. As it is written, “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it” (Prov. 10:22).
With that said, nonetheless, riches most often come as a double-edged sword. As Matthew Henry puts it, “There is a burden of care in getting riches, fear in keeping them, temptation in using them, guilt in abusing them, sorrow in losing them, and a burden of account at last to be given up about them.” In the passage of 1 Tim. 6:6-9, the apostle Paul specifically addresses this issue, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil”. The issue of riches for the believer, then, becomes the issue of how you view what you already have: are you content or are you greedy?
No one could serve both God and money, Jesus said. For the latter, Mammonism is the word to describe it: worshipping the almighty dollar, relying on it and serving it alone. The rich young ruler, according to Matt. 19:16-22, came to Jesus in search of eternal life yet walked away grieved when was challenged of his deity. The rich fool, in Lk. 12:16-21, when he was about to take ease, eat, drink and be merry, had no idea that his soul was required of him that very night. The reproach to the self-satisfied well-off by James could not be more straightforward, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth- eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.” (Jas. 5:1-6)
Perhaps for this reason, even Jesus Himself exclaimed, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! … It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 10:23, 25) Indeed, even from a statistical standpoint, the Church is primarily made up of the ordinary and the underprivileged, rarely those at the top of the socioeconomical food chain. It seems that rich guys usually would rather go to Vegas than to heaven. Riches, in the majority of cases, and especially to the unregenerate, do come as the devil’s bargain chip to trade for our heavenly inheritance and eternal rewards. And many would have lost their souls long before they have gained the whole world.
In summary, riches per se are neither good nor bad. God may bless a believer with material riches for His good purposes. Nevertheless, riches that are accumulated and managed not of God, by God, and for God, do not worth a cent in the Heavenly Kingdom. Believer should view what they have with contentment and not be drawn by the love of money.
Why was Abram suddenly acting in such selfless ways?
There are several possibilities: he was probably trying to save his reputation after what happened in Egypt; he did care about his nephew, and treated him almost like his own son; God had corrected his heart; or every one of these combined. The truth is, we may know when we see him face to face some day.
Lessons and Reflections
The Bible records the blemishes of men, even man like Abraham.
There is no need to belabor this point. In the character study of Noah several chapters before, Noah was seen drunk and naked. And in the encounters of many more Bible characters ahead, there are stories full of errors, mistakes and sins. Abraham sinned. And several chapters later, he committed the same exact sin all over again (Gen. 20:1-18). We should be grateful that the Bible records actual men in actual history, men, who, in the words of James, “with a nature like ours” (Jas. 5:17), and not whitewashes them and then elevates them on the pedestals of stain-glass saints. This very fact speaks volumes to the veracity of Scripture. The Bible is trustworthy. Let the fairy tales, urban legends, human traditions and secular philosophies fade into oblivion; let the Word of God stand forever.
Spiritual lows often follow spiritual highs.
Matthew Henry put it this way, “The grace Abram was most noted for, was faith; yet he thus fell through unbelief and distrust of the Divine providence, even after God had appeared to him twice. Alas, what will become of weak faith, when strong faith is thus shaken!” It is a general observation in the Bible that moments of spiritual low often (sometimes immediately) follow, moments of spiritual high. Jesus was tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1-11) immediately after He was baptized in Jordan and received divine approval of His Messiahship (Matt. 3:13-17). Peter was severely rebuked by the Lord, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matt. 16:23), when he had just been commended by Him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona” (Matt. 16:17). The same happened here in the life of Abram, when God had just appeared to him and given him the great promise and he had obediently followed God’s command out of faith, the next moment you see him second-guessing God’s Providence. The nadir of faith mostly follows the zenith of it. May we therefore be extra vigilant, in moments when we have just experienced the grace of God in a profound way, when we have asked great things from God and just seen them answered, or when we have been just used by God mightily for His Kingdom, for it is in those moments that we might become extra fragile to the things of the world, the schemes of the devil and the lusts of the flesh. May we always bear in mind the exhortation by the apostle Paul, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
“Many a time we fear where no fear is.”
When Abram conceived the plan, he meant for self-preservation. He reasoned, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live” (Gen. 12:11-12). He was so afraid that the Egyptians would seize him and kill him that he manipulated his wife as a political leverage in exchange for pharaoh’s favor. He was deliberately trying to save his own life at the expense of his wife. Still physically attractive, Sarai was about 65 years of age by then. Perhaps Abram was calculating that even though Sarai would be taken into pharaoh’s harem, she would not be at the top of the monarch’s wishlist. In any case, Abram proceeded in fear, rather than in faith. Did his fear come true, then? Far from it. When pharaoh found out what really had happened, he sent him away with the reproof, “What is this you have done to me?” (Gen. 12:18). Matthew Henry commented, “The sending away was kind. Pharaoh was so far from any design to kill Abram, as he feared, that he took particular care of him. We often perplex ourselves with fears which are altogether groundless. Many a time we fear where no fear is.” It is reported that over 90% of the bad things we fear would happen never happen. And what fools are we to let our minds dwell continually in groundless fears! And who can, as the Lord teaches, add one hour to his life by worrying? As it is written, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
God moves kings’ heart like channels of waters.
Scripture is filled with examples of God moving king’s heart towards achieving His own plan. Another pharaoh’s heart was hardened so that the Ten Plagues would be a graphic demonstration of God’s Power. Artaxerxes’ heart was moved through Esther to thwart the evil plan to completely annihilate Israel by Hamen. Darius’ heart was stirred so that Nehemiah would be granted the privilege of leading the Jewish exile back to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Prov. 21:1) The King of the Universe has always been sovereignly orchestrating history exactly as He plans, to His ends, by His ways, in His timing, per His will, for His purposes. History is His Story. And that should be the greatest comfort of all to His people.
It matters where you pitch your tent.
The passage that described how Lot moved to Sodom was most interesting. “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—like the garden of the Lord… So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. … Lot settledin the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.” (Gen. 13:10-12; boldface mine.) The verbs give us a hint as to the sequence of gradually slipping into the snare of temptation, very much like Adam and Eve first saw the fruit was good and then took it.
Lot was looking for a fertile land. From a worldly standpoint, the Jordan valley was an excellent choice. So he journeyed east. And before he knew it, he was living in Sodom, which further showed that he must have had some knowledge about the city. Unfortunately, this decision turned out to be a spiritually catastrophic one. In fact, Moses immediately commented in the narrative, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.” (Gen. 13:13) And it shouldn’t be a surprise that several chapters later, Sodom and Gomorrah were totally obliterated for good by God as a judgment against their wickedness. Lot may have been the only righteous person in town (2 Pet. 2:7), but he shouldn’t have been there in the first place. We are exhorted to flee temptation (2 Tim. 2:22), not flirt with it. It matters where you pit your tent. And it matters a whole lot.
Put God first wherever you go.
Abram built two more altars in Genesis XIII. One after he returned from Egypt (Gen. 13:4); and the other after God had renewed the Promise with him (Gen. 13:18). Abram was a religious man. He was a God-honoring man. He was serious about his faith. Wherever he goes, whenever he had interacted with God, the first thing he did was worship the Lord. Matthew Henry commented, “As soon as Abram was got to Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up, the worship of God in his family. He not only minded the ceremonial part of religion, the offering of sacrifice; but he made conscience of seeking his God, and calling on his name; that spiritual sacrifice with which God is well pleased. … 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.”
Be honest. Speak the truth in love.
Be vigilant. Especially after moments of spiritual high.
Be sober. Stay far away from temptation and put God first in every situation.