Genesis 12:1-20

From the beginning of Genesis to this point, we have covered God’s creation of the world, the creation and fall of Adam and Eve into sin, the flood, and life after the flood, all of which covered approximately 2,000 years of man’s history. In Genesis 12 and throughout the rest of Genesis, we will look primarily at the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. These remaining chapters in Genesis will cover roughly 500 years. In chapter 12 we begin with the first of these men of faith, Abram, and all of the personal struggles he had along his journey of obedience to God. How did Abram begin his relationship with God? How did he progress and mature in his faith, to the point that he will be called in Scripture, “The father of all those who believe” (Rom. 4:11)?

The call of Abram.  Vs. 1-3

The Scripture records, “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3).

These verses record God’s Word directly spoken to Abram calling him to follow the Lord. God first spoke these words when He appeared to Abram in his homeland in Mesopotamia. Stephen gives us this insight in the New Testament when he recounts the history of Israel. He declared, The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, he moved him to this land in which you now dwell” (Acts 7:2-4).

Now in the city of Haran, Abram made his final move toward the land that God promised to show him. We are not told what motivated Abram to now complete his obedience to God’s call. Did God speak and call him again? Did the death of his father motivate him to complete the journey? Did his conscience convicting him motivate him to move on? It could have been any or all of these issues. The important fact is that Abram now obeyed the Lord and His call upon his life.

The first few words of Genesis 12:1, make it so clear that Abram is now willing to finally obey God’s call. In verse 1, it declares, “Now the LORD had said to Abram.” Note the past tense of the word “had” in this statement. God “had” already spoken to Abram to leave everyone in his family, and to go into this new land that God would show him. But Abram was slow to obey God, and only partially did what was commanded to him. It is also recorded in Genesis 12:4, “So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” Notice again the Scripture used the past tense when it declared that God “had” already spoken to him about this departure. But, is Genesis 12:4 referring to the original call of God in Mesopotamia, or is God speaking again to Abram in Haran after the death of his father? Whichever the case is, Abram still does not fully obey God’s command because he takes Lot with him, and did not leave all his family behind.

What can we learn from Abram’s half-hearted obedience to God?

First, I think you should find hope when you read this story of Abram’s incomplete obedience. Why should you be filled with hope? Yes, Abram was slow to respond to God’s call on his life, but God does not cast him off, or tell him that He would find someone else to fulfill His will. It is encouraging to see God’s longsuffering with Abram at this point, as well as later in his life when he failed to honor God. Why would God be so longsuffering with him? God obviously knew the future, and knew that Abram would ultimately mature in his faith, and pass several great tests of his faith. This story personally gives me hope for my life, and my walk of faith, because I am a man just like Abram. When I first came to faith in Christ, I was also slow to trust and obey Him. I too failed miserably several times to fully honor God. I think all who read these words would also agree that you too were slow to trust and obey. We are all alike. The disciples were just the same way, and God didn’t give up on them either. Jesus said in Luke 24:25 to them after they had already seen Him after the resurrection, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” Note that even though they knew that Jesus had risen from the dead and had personally met with Him, that they were still slow of heart to believe. This is not an excuse for unbelief, it is just the reality for sinful men and women. But there is another reality you must never forget. Anyone can grow out of unbelief and mature in their faith to become, “ready in season and out of season,” and to be used by God (2 Tim. 4:2). You can be, “quick to understand,” as Daniel was, and become a faithful servant of God (Dan. 1:4). Paul praised the Thessalonian church because they grew “exceedingly” in their faith (2 Thess. 1:3). This is the point! Anyone can grow exceedingly in their faith. Never give up! Yield to the Father and pursue Him for the changes that are needed to grow and mature in your faith. Do what James declared in James 1:19 when he said, “My beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” God’s command is to be swift, or quick to hear what God has spoken in His Word. If you will be quick to hear Him, and then be quick to respond to what He has said, you will find God’s direction for your life. Don’t be half-hearted in your obedience to God, because that will cause frustration to your walk of faith, and keep you from the many blessings the Lord has in store for you. As we continue to study Genesis, we will see the problems that Abram’s half-hearted obedience brought into his life. Never forget that there are always consequences for unbelief and disobedience, as well as reluctant obedience to His commands.

Another lesson that can be learned from Abram’s half-hearted obedience should be a warning to you. Why? Because his half-hearted obedience brought several very difficult consequences into his life. God told Abram to, Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house.” Why did God tell him to do this? Because the Lord wanted to spare Abram from many stumbling blocks that He knew would hinder him if he did not obey. What were these stumbling blocks? Abram was commanded to leave his homeland, because he had to leave the idolatry of his country behind. He had been an idolater just like many of those who lived around him until the day that the Lord appeared personally to him. Joshua revealed this fact of Abram’s idolatry when he recounts the history of God’s people. Joshua said, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac’” (Joshua 24:2-3). However, everything changed in Abram’s life when he encountered the only true and living God. Without leaving these gods behind and following the Lord, Abram would never have become the man of faith that God had planned for him to become.

The same thing is true for each and every one of us. Before coming to serve the true and living God, we also were idolaters. We served the gods of pleasure, or power, or materialism, or all of the above. We served these gods until the day the Lord revealed Himself to us individually. Now we serve the only true God, because He called us out of our own idolatry. Never forget that each of us is also on our own journey of faith. Therefore, be aware of any stumbling block that might hinder you! Listen to God’s voice, because He wants to spare you from any thing or any one that might seek to hinder you.

God also wanted to spare Abram from another stumbling block, which was the influence of family who might not be as committed to the Lord. We don’t know much about Abram’s father Terah, and what might have been his stumbling block to Abram, but we can see exactly how Lot brought Abram a tremendous amount of trouble. First there was the conflict between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot’s herdsmen (Gen. 13). This conflict would never have happened if Lot had stayed behind. After this conflict Lot traveled down to the city of Sodom, and is caught up in a war between the king of Sodom and Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam and the four kings who were with him (Gen. 14). Lot was taken captive in this war, and Abram had to gather an army to go and save him. None of these things would have happened if Abram had just completely obeyed God’s command to leave all of his family members behind.

Many times, I have counseled people who have been stumbled by family members. Some of these family members were not Christians, and others were simply nominal Christians. People have told me that there was constant pressure by their spouse, parents, or siblings who did not want them to follow Christ, or who created constant conflict with them. This is why Jesus taught in Matthew 10:37-38, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” Why does Jesus warn us in this way? I believe it is because He knows that family can sometimes be a tremendous stumbling block to us. But also, your friends can create tremendous stumbling blocks for you. Sometimes it can be a subtle peer pressure that comes your way, or someone who actively attempts to subvert your faith. They tell you, “Don’t get so radical about all this Jesus stuff. Come on, live a little.” This is why Solomon warned us in Proverbs 12:26, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Therefore, choose your friends carefully, because they can have a tremendous influence in your life. Your friends will either help you, or hinder you in your walk of faith. In addition, the person you choose to marry will either be the best decision of your life, or they can become a great hindrance to your spiritual life. There is also one more potential hindrance you must carefully consider, and that is the church you attend. You may be thinking, How could my church hinder me? It is very simple, if your church is not teaching you systematically through the Word of God, it will hinder you from growing spiritually. Even worse, if your church is following false teaching, this will greatly stumble your faith. 

How long was this journey that Abram took?

Below is a map showing the black line where Abram begins his journey in the city of Ur, which today is in southern Iraq, just north of the Persian Gulf.


 Courtesy of 

Abram traveled north following the Euphrates River and its tributaries. He would not have traveled west to the land of Canaan, because this would have taken him across the Arabian desert, which would not have been wise. Abram followed the water along the Euphrates River. From Haran he comes south down to Damascus, Hazor, Shechem, and finally to Bethel where he built an altar to the Lord. Each of these cities were also places he could replenish his provisions. From his homeland to the land of Canaan would have been approximately a thousand-mile trip. How many cattle, sheep, and goats he had with him would have determined how many miles he would have traveled per day. If he traveled 10 to 15 miles a day, this trip would have taken him anywhere from 70 to over 100 days to get to his final destination. This would have been a long trip. We sail down the freeway in our cars today at 65 to 70 miles per hour, and think nothing of traveling what would have taken Abram a week to cover. I say this because you should never forget that Abram’s obedience to the Lord was not an easy thing to accomplish; it was a real sacrifice for him to actually do what God had commanded him to do.   

The promises attached to the obedience of Abram.

When Abram first was called by God to go into the land that He would show him, the Lord gave him some awesome promises. Once in the land, God again gave Abram another promise that was even more astounding. Let’s consider these promises.

First, it is important to note that when God originally called Abram to believe and follow Him, his obedience to God was the condition the Lord placed within these promises. This is an important principle to understand because the Bible has two types of promises. There are conditional promises and unconditional promises. Consider Isaiah 1:19-20 as an obvious example of a conditional promise. See Genesis 9:11 as a great unconditional promise that God has made to all mankind. Conditional promises usually have the word “if” attached to them, or a command of God, whereby obedience to the command becomes the conditional provision. With unconditional promises you will find neither of these two criteria. Unconditional promises are based upon God’s sovereign spoken Word that He alone will be faithful to accomplish. In our text here in Genesis 12:1-3, God gave a clear command to Abram which became the condition for the fulfillment of His promises. The command was that Abram must get out of his country, leave his relatives, and go to the land that God would show him. Then God made these five promises you see below. Note the sovereign unequivocal commitment of God’s words, “I will.” When God wills to do anything, it will be done! There are several thousand places in the Old and New Testaments where God declares, “I will.” If you would like to study some of these passages, here are just a few: Genesis 2:18; Genesis 3:15; Genesis 6:7; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:24; Matthew 10:32; Matthew 11:28; John 6:37; 44; John 14:3; John 14:14; John 16:7; Acts 2:17.

God’s specific promises to Abram.

1. “I will make you a great nation.”

Now remember that when this promise was made to Abram he was married to Sarai, but had no children. But God was promising children and grandchildren to come forth through this man and woman in such abundance that they would form a great nation.

2. “I will bless you and make your name great.”

The promise of blessing was first to Abram to make his name great. This name of Abram and later Abraham, is one of the most revered names chosen by Jews, Muslims, and Christians around the world still to this day.  

3. “You shall be a blessing.”

This promise is truly awesome, because it is a promise to use Abram in the lives of others. His example has blessed so many over the course of time.

4. “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you.”

Then God promised to bless or curse others according to how they treat Abram and his descendants. The proof that God fulfilled this promise to Abram is substantiated several times in the life of Abram. God sent great plagues upon the house of Pharoah later in this chapter, when he was about to take Abram’s wife Sarai into his harem (Gen. 12:17). Another example of this curse is when Abimelech was also about to take Sarai as his wife, and God caused all in his house not to bear children (Gen. 20:1-18). But this curse was also seen throughout history when nations have harshly treated the Jews. For example, when the Greeks desecrated the altar in the Jewish temple, they were soon conquered by the Romans. When Rome destroyed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, from that time forward Rome had constant battles with other barbarian nations, and slowly lost their territory piece by piece until they were finally conquered. When Spain destroyed the Jews in their inquisition, they went from being a powerful nation to a third-rate power in the world. When Hitler tried to annihilate the Jews in the Holocaust, Germany was reduced to rubble at the end of the Second World War. When the anti-Christ seeks to destroy the Jews during the Tribulation, he and his forces will be consumed by the coming of Christ. I personally believe God has blessed America because we have supported Israel and the Jewish people.

There are many more historical proofs of this principle that could be listed, but the fact remains that God means what He says!

5. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This promise is especially important because it speaks of all the families of the earth being blessed by God through Abraham. Not just Abraham’s descendants were to be blessed, but all the families of the earth, referring even to the Gentiles. Paul stated this truth when he wrote to the Galatian church saying, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed’” (Gal. 3:8). Has this promise been fulfilled? Yes, it has! If you are a saved Gentile then you are the fulfillment of this promise given to Abram.

When Abram comes to Shechem, God makes another awesome promise.  Vs. 6-8

Scripture records that, “Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD” (Gen. 12:6-8).

This promise to Abram is an absolute declaration of God to him that the land before him was to be given to his descendants. Notice that God doesn’t say that the land was to be given to Abram, but was to be given to his children who would come after him, then to be ultimately given to the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. In fact, the only land that Abraham ever possessed as his own, was the burial plot he purchased in Hebron to bury his wife Sarah (Gen. 23:14-20). This promise given to Abram is a key statement that reveals the land of Israel today is the possession of the Jewish people, and will be forever.

After God made this promise to Abram, the Patriarch moved to the top of a mountain between the cities of Bethel and Ai where he built an altar, and called on the name of the LORD. Notice the first thing Abram did was to worship, and call on God’s personal name - Yahweh. This demonstrated several things about the heart of Abram. First, Abram revered a personal God whom he knew, because God had personally appeared to him. Abram was long past worshipping idols or some figurehead god. Second, Abram was acknowledging that his personal God had fulfilled His personal Word just as He had promised. Third, he demonstrated that he believed in the LORD, and this is why he was worshipping Him now.

Where did Abram get his faith to obey the Lord?

This is an important question, and it has a simple answer. Abram got his faith by choosing to listen to and heed God’s Word and the commands given to him. Paul taught that, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Therefore, if you want to be a man or a woman of faith, you must immerse yourself in the study of God’s Word. Paul also tells us that all men are given a measure of faith, which removes any excuse that men may have to not put their trust in Jesus (Rom. 12:3). But the Bible also teaches us that all men do not choose to put their faith in God (2 Thess. 3:2). But Abram chose to put his faith in the God who appeared to him and spoke these words of promise to him.

But Abram did not have a perfect faith or a perfect obedience, yet his faith grew as he was tested by God several times in his life. James tells us in the New Testament to, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). Understanding that faith must grow and mature gives me hope, because my faith or obedience has not been perfect in the past either. One of my favorite authors is Warren Wiersbe. He said, “when you trust the Lord, no test is impossible, and no failure is permanent.” This is exactly what you find as you study the life of Abram. Abram went through some incredible tests, but he made it through them all. He failed in some, but his failure was not permanent. Your failures are not permanent either! Why? Because if you will repent and ask forgiveness, and recommit yourself to the Lord, He will respond to you. His response will be to take you right back to where you took your left turn and got off the path of faith. He will take you right back to where you began. This is exactly what you will see in the life of Abram.

Famine in the land of promise.  Vs. 10-20                                                     

Scripture records in Genesis 12:10-20, “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, “This is his wife”; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.’ So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. But the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. And Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, “She is my sister”? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.’ So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.”

There are two very important things to learn in the last portion of this chapter. The first is that there will always be trials in the perfect will of God for the man or woman of faith. Abram was surely in the perfect will of God at this point in his life. He had trusted and obeyed God to leave his homeland, and went into the land of promise. But somehow believers think that if they are doing the will of God, it should be smooth sailing throughout their lives. But this famine in the land of promise after Abram had done what God told him to do is obvious proof that this was not the case. Neither should you expect to have no trials simply because you are in the will of God. You must realize that this was a life-threatening test for Abram, and these kinds of tests will come your way too.

Put yourself in Abram’s shoes for a moment. He could have thought to himself, What are you doing God? I trusted and obeyed You and came into this land, and now there is a famine. Why are You allowing this to happen to me? Have you ever thought things like this? I have more times than I would like to admit. These are hard lessons to learn in your walk of faith, but if you will trust Him, He will get you through these trials every time. We all must learn that times of testing are really good for us, because they transform and change us into men and women of faith. How does God do this?

First you can’t question this fact that there will be difficulties and trials when you are in the perfect will of God and trusting Him. Think of the severe trials of Job, or the persecutions that came upon the life of Paul the Apostle. These were men with upright hearts, doing the will of God. This is why Paul explained to the Roman church that these kinds of trials produce a tremendous benefit in the life of a believer. In Romans 5:3-4 Paul declared, “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” This growth in the life of a believer is the conclusion that Paul came to when he wondered why God allowed these trials into his life. Abram was about to learn the same lesson.

On a personal note, I have come to realize that these lessons of faith, through all of my trials which I have experienced in life, have produced exactly what Paul taught. I have learned perseverance, seen my character mature, and have been filled with hope though each one of these trials. How did I receive hope from my trials? This is how it works. When you cry out to God in the midst of your trials, you learn perseverance, because God doesn’t answer you quickly every time. But God sustains, guides, and provides for you as you trust Him. You learn what real faith is all about, which transforms your character. How do trials transform your character? Because instead of whining, crying, and getting angry with God for allowing the trial, you choose to trust Him, and wait for His solution. You get to the other side of that trial, and you look back and think, Wow! God took care of me. He actually handled it. He took care of my needs. He provided for me. This is what gives you hope for the next trial down the road. This hope is based in the God of all hope! When I look back at my life and how God has provided for me and my family, I am amazed. I started with almost nothing when I first got married. I had a car, a bed, a dresser, and a few clothes. Those were all the possessions I had to my name. But the Lord has taken very good care of me for the last 50 + years of my life. He has provided a roof over my head, and enough to take care of all my needs. This is why I have hope and why I am assured that He will provide for me for as long as I live. I hope that you are assured of the same! 

Second, we see in this passage that Abram completely failed this test concerning the famine. Why? Because he allowed fear to control his thinking, and thus he did not fully trust God. He ended up lying and dishonoring the Lord. Fear will always cause you to do foolish things. Faith and fear cannot co-exist within your heart. Jesus said to His disciple when they were fearful during a great storm on the Sea of Galilee, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26). Note how Jesus contrasted fear and faith. The more you allow fear to control you, the less you will walk in faith, and experience the blessings God wants to bestow upon you. The more you walk in faith, the less fear will have control in your life, and rob you of your inheritance in Christ. Abram’s fear is what caused him to compromise in his decision-making with Pharoah. He dishonored his wife and his God who had protected him in his thousand-mile trek from his homeland. If you struggle with fear, I want to encourage you to pick my book “Winning Your Personal Battles” at and study this topic in-depth.

I want to say again that the incredible aspect of this story of Abram’s failure, is that God does not give up on Abram, even though he lied and deceived Pharaoh concerning Sarai being his sister. This is the grace of God demonstrated in the life of this man of faith. Abram stumbled in his faith, but God could see how this man would finish his life. God was faithful to Abram even when he was not faithful. May each of you reading these words trust that God also sees where you will end up in your walk of faith. Don’t be discouraged by your stumbles in faith, simply trust Him to complete the work He has started in you (Phil. 1:6).

As a side note to this story, I have to say that Sarai must have been an exceedingly beautiful woman for Abram to worry about his 75-year-old wife being taken from him. It is interesting that exactly what Abram feared came to pass. However, in ancient times it was very common for the kings of the east and the Pharoah’s to take any woman they wished to be a part of their harem. But if Abram would have trusted God, he would have seen the Lord protecting him from Pharoah’s thinking.

Scripture does not tell us how Pharaoh came to know that Sarai was Abram’s wife. All the Scripture tells us is that God sent great plagues into the household of Pharoah on Sarai’s account. But, when Pharoah came to the conclusion that Sarai was the wife of Abram, he confronted him personally, and then sent him out of Egypt. This must have been very difficult for Abram as a man of faith to be rebuked by an idolater. But that isn’t even the worst of it. The sad thing was that Abram did the same thing again, and lied to Abimelech about Sarai being his sister in Genesis 20. Even worse, Abram’s son Isaac pulled the same stunt that his father did with the king of the Philistines in Genesis 26. Notice that the example of Abram was followed by his son Isaac. This is why every father’s example is so important for his children. If you are a father reading these words, always remember that little eyes are always watching you. More than doing what you say, they will do what they see you doing. Therefore, be a godly example to your children and to all those who are watching your life (1 Tim. 4:12)!