New English Translation
The Obedience of Abram
“Go out[c] from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household
to the land that I will show you.[d]
2 Then I will make you[e] into a great nation, and I will bless you,[f]
and I will make your name great,[g]
so that you will exemplify divine blessing.[h]
3 I will bless those who bless you,[i]
but the one who treats you lightly[j] I must curse,
so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing[k] through you.”
4 So Abram left,[l] just as the Lord had told him to do,[m] and Lot went with him. (Now[n] Abram was 75 years old[o] when he departed from Haran.) 5 And Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew[p] Lot, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired[q] in Haran, and they left for[r] the land of Canaan. They entered the land of Canaan.
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the oak tree[s] of Moreh[t] at Shechem.[u] (At that time the Canaanites were in the land.)[v] 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants[w] I will give this land.” So Abram[x] built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
8 Then he moved from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped the Lord.[y] 9 Abram continually journeyed by stages[z] down to the Negev.[aa]
The Promised Blessing Jeopardized
10 There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt[ab] to stay for a while[ac] because the famine was severe.[ad] 11 As he approached[ae] Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “Look,[af] I know that you are a beautiful woman.[ag] 12 When the Egyptians see you they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will keep you alive.[ah] 13 So tell them[ai] you are my sister[aj] so that it may go well[ak] for me because of you and my life will be spared[al] on account of you.”
14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 When Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. So Abram’s wife[am] was taken[an] into the household of Pharaoh,[ao] 16 and he did treat Abram well[ap] on account of her. Abram received[aq] sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
17 But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with severe diseases[ar] because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram and said, “What is this[as] you have done to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her[at] to be my wife?[au] Now, here is your wife. Take her and go!”[av] 20 Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram,[aw] and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions.
- Genesis 12:1 sn The Lord called Abram while he was in Ur (see Gen 15:7; Acts 7:2), but the sequence here makes it look like it was after the family left to migrate to Canaan (11:31-32). Genesis records the call of Abram at this place in the narrative because it is the formal beginning of the account of Abram. The record of Terah was brought to its end before this beginning.
- Genesis 12:1 tn The call of Abram begins with an imperative לֶךְ־לְךָ (lekh lekha, “go out”) followed by three cohortatives (v. 2a) indicating purpose or consequence (“that I may” or “then I will”). If Abram leaves, then God will do these three things. The second imperative (v. 2b, literally “and be a blessing”) is subordinated to the preceding cohortatives and indicates God’s ultimate purpose in calling and blessing Abram. On the syntactical structure of vv. 1-2 see R. B. Chisholm, “Evidence from Genesis,” A Case for Premillennialism, 37. For a similar sequence of volitive forms see Gen 45:18.sn It would be hard to overestimate the value of this call and this divine plan for the theology of the Bible. Here begins God’s plan to bring redemption to the world. The promises to Abram will be turned into a covenant in Gen 15 and 22 (here it is a call with conditional promises) and will then lead through the Bible to the work of the Messiah.
- Genesis 12:1 tn The initial command is the direct imperative (לֶךְ, lekh) from the verb הָלַךְ (halakh). It is followed by the preposition ל (lamed) with a pronominal suffix (לְךָ, lekha) emphasizing the subject of the imperative: “you leave.”
- Genesis 12:1 sn To the land that I will show you. The call of Abram illustrates the leading of the Lord. The command is to leave. The Lord’s word is very specific about what Abram is to leave (the three prepositional phrases narrow to his father’s household), but is not specific at all about where he is to go. God required faith, a point that Heb 11:8 notes.
- Genesis 12:2 tn The three first person verbs in v. 2a should be classified as cohortatives. The first two have pronominal suffixes, so the form itself does not indicate a cohortative. The third verb form is clearly cohortative.
- Genesis 12:2 sn I will bless you. The blessing of creation is now carried forward to the patriarch. In the garden God blessed Adam and Eve; in that blessing he (1) gave them a fruitful place, (2) endowed them with fertility to multiply, and (3) made them rulers over creation. That was all ruined at the fall. Now God begins to build his covenant people; in Gen 12-22 he promises to give Abram (1) a land flowing with milk and honey, (2) a great nation without number, and (3) kingship.
- Genesis 12:2 tn Or “I will make you famous.”
- Genesis 12:2 tn Heb “and be a blessing.” The verb form הְיֵה (heyeh) is the Qal imperative of the verb הָיָה (hayah). The vav (ו) with the imperative after the cohortatives indicates purpose or consequence. What does it mean for Abram to “be a blessing”? Will he be a channel or source of blessing for others, or a prime example of divine blessing? With the opposite notions of being a curse, taunt, horror, reproach, or proverb, a person (or the nation) is an example of such and/or referenced in a statement of such. For example, in Zech 8:13 God assures his people, “You will be a blessing,” in contrast to the past when they “were a curse.” Certainly “curse” here does not refer to Israel being a source of a curse, but rather to the fact that they became a curse-word or byword among the nations, who regarded them as the epitome of an accursed people (see 2 Kgs 22:19; Jer 42:18; 44:8, 12, 22). Therefore the statement “be a blessing” seems to refer to Israel being transformed into a prime example of a blessed people, whose name will be used in blessing formulae, rather than in curses. If the statement “be a blessing” is understood in the same way in Gen 12:2, then it means that God would so bless Abram that other nations would hear of his fame and hold him up as a paradigm of divine blessing in their blessing formulae. And yet the gnomic promise that begins v. 3 can be seen to identify the way in which Abraham could be a blessing to others; as they bless him, they are blessed by God.
- Genesis 12:3 tn The Piel cohortative has as its object a Piel participle, masculine plural. Since the Lord binds himself to Abram by covenant, those who enrich Abram in any way share in the blessings.
- Genesis 12:3 tn In this part of God’s statement there are two significant changes that often go unnoticed. First, the parallel and contrasting participle מְקַלֶּלְךָ (meqallelekha) is now singular and not plural. All the versions and a few Masoretic mss read the plural. But if it had been plural, there would be no reason to change it to the singular and alter the parallelism. On the other hand, if it was indeed singular, it is easy to see why the versions would change it to match the first participle. The MT preserves the original reading: “the one who treats you lightly.” The point would be a contrast with the lavish way that God desires to bless many. The second change is in the vocabulary. The English usually says, “I will curse those who curse you.” But there are two different words for curse here. The first is קָלַל (qalal), which means “to be light” in the Qal, and in the Piel “to treat lightly, to treat with contempt, to curse.” The second verb is אָרַר (ʾarar), which means “to banish, to remove from the blessing.” The point is simple: Whoever treats Abram and the covenant with contempt as worthless God will banish from the blessing. It is important also to note that the verb is not a cohortative, but a simple imperfect. Since God is binding himself to Abram, this would then be an obligatory imperfect: “but the one who treats you with contempt I must curse.”
- Genesis 12:3 tn Or “find blessing.” The Niphal of בָּרַךְ (barakh) occurs only three times, all in formulations of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:2; 18:18; 28:14). The Niphal stem is medio-passive and it has traditionally been rendered as passive here. While this captures an assumption in the passage, it does not fully capture the nuance of the verb. The verb is denominative (based on the noun “blessing”) with its active voice in the Piel and its normal passive expression in the Pual (or the Qal passive participle). Some have argued that the Niphal has the same reciprocal notion as its Hitpael (which appears in two other formulations of the Abrahamic covenant: Gen 22:18; 26:4) and means “bless one another by you[r name].” As an example of being blessed, Abram would be mentioned in their pronouncements of blessing. This could be possible, but it is more likely that the Niphal is used instead of the Hitpael to indicate a different middle voice meaning than the Hitpael, just as it would not be expected to have the same passive meaning as the Pual. In the immediate context, the first lines of this verse explain how others may be blessed by God, specifically by blessing Abram. The middle voice nuance may be expressed as “they may consider themselves blessed through you,” or that “they may find/receive blessing through you.” The logical outcome is that those who bless Abraham receive blessing and thus will “be blessed” (passive), and that anyone on the earth may be part of that category. So a passive translation can be a fair rendering of this implication. This translation attempts to reflect the middle voice of the Niphal as well as a modal sense “may receive blessing,” since the blessing only comes to those who bless Abram. Additional iterations of the Abrahamic covenant extend this principle to his descendants.
- Genesis 12:4 sn So Abram left. This is the report of Abram’s obedience to God’s command (see v. 1).
- Genesis 12:4 tn Heb “just as the Lord said to him.”
- Genesis 12:4 tn The disjunctive clause (note the pattern conjunction + subject + implied “to be” verb) is parenthetical, telling the age of Abram when he left Haran.
- Genesis 12:4 tn Heb “was the son of five years and seventy year[s].”sn Terah was 70 years old when he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran (Gen 11:26). Terah was 205 when he died in Haran (11:32). Abram left Haran at the age of 75 after his father died. Abram was born when Terah was 130. Abram was not the firstborn—he is placed first in the list of three because of his importance. A similar situation is true of the list in Gen 10:1 (Shem, Ham, Japheth), as Ham was the youngest son (9:24).
- Genesis 12:5 tn Heb “the son of his brother.”
- Genesis 12:5 tn For the semantic nuance “acquire [property]” for the verb עָשָׂה (ʿasah), see BDB 795 s.v. עָשָׂה.
- Genesis 12:5 tn Heb “went out to go.”
- Genesis 12:6 tn Or “terebinth.”
- Genesis 12:6 sn The Hebrew word Moreh (מוֹרֶה, moreh) means “teacher.” It may well be that the place of this great oak tree was a Canaanite shrine where instruction took place.
- Genesis 12:6 tn Heb “as far as the place of Shechem, as far as the oak of Moreh.”
- Genesis 12:6 tn The disjunctive clause gives important information parenthetical in nature—the promised land was occupied by Canaanites.
- Genesis 12:7 tn The same Hebrew term זֶרַע (zeraʿ) may mean “seed” (for planting), “offspring” (occasionally of animals, but usually of people), or “descendants” depending on the context.
- Genesis 12:7 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abram) has been supplied in the translation for clarification.
- Genesis 12:8 tn Heb “he called in the name of the Lord.” The expression refers to worshiping the Lord through prayer and sacrifice (see Gen 4:26; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25). See G. J. Wenham, Genesis (WBC), 1:116, 281.
- Genesis 12:9 tn The Hebrew verb נָסַע (nasaʿ) means “to journey”; more specifically it means to pull up the tent and move to another place. The construction here uses the preterite of this verb with its infinitive absolute to stress the activity of traveling. But it also adds the infinitive absolute of הָלַךְ (halakh) to stress that the traveling was continually going on. Thus “Abram journeyed, going and journeying” becomes “Abram continually journeyed by stages.”
- Genesis 12:9 tn Or “the South [country].”sn Negev is the name for the southern desert region in the land of Canaan.
- Genesis 12:10 sn Abram went down to Egypt. The Abrahamic narrative foreshadows some of the events in the life of the nation of Israel. This sojourn in Egypt is typological of Israel’s bondage there. In both stories there is a famine that forces the family to Egypt, death is a danger to the males while the females are preserved alive, great plagues bring about their departure, there is a summons to stand before Pharaoh, and there is a return to the land of Canaan with great wealth.
- Genesis 12:10 tn The Hebrew verb גּוּר (gur), traditionally rendered “to sojourn,” means “to stay for a while.” The “stranger” (traditionally “sojourner”) is one who is a temporary resident, a visitor, one who is passing through. Abram had no intention of settling down in Egypt or owning property. He was only there to wait out the famine.
- Genesis 12:10 tn Heb “heavy in the land.” The words “in the land,” which also occur at the beginning of the verse in the Hebrew text, have not been repeated here in the translation for stylistic reasons.
- Genesis 12:11 tn Heb “drew near to enter.”
- Genesis 12:11 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”) is deictic here; it draws attention to the following fact.
- Genesis 12:11 tn Heb “a woman beautiful of appearance are you.”
- Genesis 12:12 tn The Piel of the verb חָיָה (khayah, “to live”) means “to keep alive, to preserve alive,” and in some places “to make alive.” See D. Marcus, “The Verb ‘to Live’ in Ugaritic,” JSS 17 (1972): 76-82.
- Genesis 12:13 tn Heb “say.”
- Genesis 12:13 sn Tell them you are my sister. Abram’s motives may not be as selfish as they appear. He is aware of the danger to the family. His method of dealing with it is deception with a half truth, for Sarai really was his sister—but the Egyptians would not know that. Abram presumably thought that there would be negotiations for a marriage by anyone interested (as Laban does later for his sister Rebekah), giving him time to react. But the plan backfires because Pharaoh does not take the time to negotiate. There is a good deal of literature on the wife-sister issue. See (among others) E. A. Speiser, “The Wife-Sister Motif in the Patriarchal Narratives,” Oriental and Biblical Studies, 62-81; C. J. Mullo-Weir, “The Alleged Hurrian Wife-Sister Motif in Genesis,” GOT 22 (1967-1970): 14-25.
- Genesis 12:13 tn The Hebrew verb translated “go well” can encompass a whole range of favorable treatment, but the following clause indicates it means here that Abram’s life will be spared.
- Genesis 12:13 tn Heb “and my life will live.”
- Genesis 12:15 tn Heb “and the woman.” The word also means “wife”; the Hebrew article can express the possessive pronoun (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, §86). Here the proper name (Abram) has been used in the translation instead of a possessive pronoun (“his”) for clarity.
- Genesis 12:15 tn The Hebrew term וַתֻּקַּח (vattuqqakh, “was taken”) is a rare verbal form, an old Qal passive preterite from the verb “to take.” It is pointed as a Hophal would be by the Masoretes, but does not have a Hophal meaning.
- Genesis 12:15 tn The Hebrew text simply has “house of Pharaoh.” The word “house” refers to the household in general, more specifically to the royal harem.
- Genesis 12:16 sn He did treat Abram well. The construction of the parenthetical disjunctive clause, beginning with the conjunction on the prepositional phrase, draws attention to the irony of the story. Abram wanted Sarai to lie “so that it would go well” with him. Though he lost Sarai to Pharaoh, it did go well for him—he received a lavish bride price. See also G. W. Coats, “Despoiling the Egyptians,” VT 18 (1968): 450-57.
- Genesis 12:16 tn Heb “and there was to him.”
- Genesis 12:17 tn The cognate accusative adds emphasis to the verbal sentence: “he plagued with great plagues,” meaning the Lord inflicted numerous plagues, probably diseases (see Exod 15:26). The adjective “great” emphasizes that the plagues were severe and overwhelming.
- Genesis 12:18 tn The demonstrative pronoun translated “this” adds emphasis: “What in the world have you done to me?” (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 24, §118).
- Genesis 12:19 tn The preterite with vav (ו) consecutive here expresses consequence.
- Genesis 12:19 tn Heb “to me for a wife.”
- Genesis 12:19 tn Heb “take and go.”
- Genesis 12:20 tn Heb “him”; the referent (Abram) has been specified in the translation for clarity.