The Covenant and the Land


GENESIS 12:1-5  “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee:
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
“So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
“And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.”

‘Now the Lord had said unto Abram. …’ Here we have a reference to instructions which previously had been given to Abram, and to a promise made to him, which are not recorded. It was this communication from God that caused Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldees and to start the journey toward Canaan, as recorded in the closing verses of the preceding chapter. They traveled along the river Euphrates until they reached Haran. Abram remained there until the death of his father, Terah. This was necessary, for the Lord’s instructions were that he was to leave his own people and his father’s house. While he did take some of his relatives to Canaan with him, he dwelt at Haran until his father died.

‘I will bless thee, … and thou shalt be a blessing’. Here are stated in brief the two main features of the covenant God made with Abram: Abram himself was to be blessed—richly blessed. He was to become the father of a great nation. Besides this, he was to become a blessing to others—his seed was to bless ‘all the families of the earth’. Later we shall see that the principal application of this latter promise is to his spiritual seed, even to Christ and to those who become Christ’s body members.—Gal. 3:8,16,27-29

God’s statement, ‘I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee’, has, throughout the ages, often worked out in a very literal way with respect to the natural descendants of Abram. Probably this principle will be still further manifested during the thousand-year reign of Christ, when there will be a general time of reckoning for both Jews and Gentiles. It is only as we take into consideration the entire plan of God that we can understand the manner in which many of his promises will be completely fulfilled.

VERSES 6-9  “And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
“And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.
“And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.
“And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.”

The ‘Sichem’ here referred to is Shechem, the place later referred to so many times in the Old Testament. The present name of the city is Nablus, and it is situated about thirty-four miles north of Jerusalem. The ‘plain of Moreh’, is more properly rendered the ‘oak’ or ‘oaks’ of Moreh. This location was close to the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim.—Deut. 11:29,30

When Abram entered Canaan, the Lord identified it as being the land which he had previously promised, saying to him. ‘Unto thy seed will I give this land’. (vs. 7) There is an accuracy about this promise which is striking. The account states that the Canaanites were already in the land when Abram entered, and in the patriarch’s lifetime he never did become the real owner of the land. He found it necessary to purchase a small parcel of it in order to have a place in which to bury his wife, Sarah. (Genesis, chapter 23; Acts 7:5) Perhaps this was the reason that the Lord did not include Abram in this particular statement of the promise.

It is true that later the land was also promised to Abraham and to his seed as an everlasting possession, but the fulfillment of this promise will come only by the establishment of God’s kingdom. During the time God was dealing with him and making promises to him, he was not the owner of the Promised Land, but merely a sojourner in it.

From his first stopping place, Abram journeyed south, which brought him nearer to the present site of Jerusalem. He built an altar in a mountain situated between Bethel and Hai—or Ai, as it was later called. It would appear that the town of Bethel was in existence when Abram first entered Canaan. Its original name was Luz. (Judg. 1:22,23) Ai was the second city to be captured and destroyed by the Israelites when they entered the land under the leadership of Joshua. Both Bethel and Ai have long since been laid waste; although the ruins of Bethel still exist, being located on the right-hand side of the road between Jerusalem and Nablus, or ancient Shechem.

The name Bethel means ‘the house of God’, and it was appropriate that Abram should build an altar near the town, and there call ‘upon the name of the Lord’. This is a very brief statement of Abram’s worship, but we may safely assume that, having entered the Promised Land, and the promise having been confirmed to him, the patriarch would naturally desire to show his appreciation by presenting a thank-offering to his God.

VERSES 10-20  “And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
“And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:
“Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
“Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
“And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.
“The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
“And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.
“And 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 that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?
“Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.
“And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.

As we learned in a previous lesson about Noah, so again with Abram, the Scriptures do not conceal the weakness of the flesh of its heroes. There seems to have been little excuse for Abram to misrepresent Sarah’s relationship to him. It was simply a misguided effort, born of fear to save his own life. The fact that it might lead to the mistreatment of his wife did not seem to occur to him. It must have been very humiliating for him to realize that the heathen Pharaoh displayed more nobility of character than did he, the servant of God.

There is another viewpoint to be considered in connection with this episode. While the account does not say so, it may be that the Lord caused it to be recorded as one of the illustrations of how, time after time, attempts were made to interfere with God’s program to develop a ‘seed’. Without realizing it, Abram might well have been induced by Satan to conceal the fact that she was his wife—the Adversary’s motive being to thwart God’s purpose concerning the promised seed. He probably knew that the seed was in some way to come through Sarah, and if he could defile or destroy her, it would be a masterstroke of cunning in his determination to oppose the outworking of the plan of God.


VERSES 1-4  “And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.
“And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.
“And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai;
“Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.”

When we read that Abram went up out of Egypt and ‘into the south’, the evident meaning is that he went into the south of the land which was known as Palestine, but which is now occupied by Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

He did not remain there, however, but continued his journey until he got back to Bethel, where he had previously called upon the name of the Lord. Arriving at this sacred landmark, ‘the place of the altar’, again he ‘called on the name of the Lord’. By now he would have still more for which to be thankful, for the Lord had overruled his great mistake, and he was safely back from Egypt and ‘was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold’.

VERSES 5-13  “And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents.
“And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together.
“And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.
“And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.
“Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.
“And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.
“Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.
“Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.
“But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.”

In this narrative is revealed a noble side of Abram’s character. Two points are emphasized—one, his unselfishness; the other, that his chief interest in entering Canaan was not the land, but the promise God had made concerning the seed of blessing. Abram undoubtedly thought a great deal of his nephew, Lot, and it was not an easy decision to separate from him; but when he considered all the circumstances involved, he realized it was the best thing to do. He was willing to make a real sacrifice in the interest of peace—not a sacrifice of principle, but of material wealth.

Having told his nephew that he could have first choice of the land, Abram did not hesitate to carry through with his offer, even though Lot did choose the best of the land from the standpoint of productivity.

Lot ‘pitched his tent toward Sodom’, and ‘the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly’. Lot, as the world would say, got the best of the bargain from the standpoint of rich agricultural land, but he placed himself in an environment which proved to be very detrimental to his moral well-being, and led to a grievous tragedy in his home life.

VERSES 14-18  “And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:
“For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.
“And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
“Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.
“Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord.”

Here the Lord renews his promise to Abram, and goes into greater detail than on previous occasions. The account emphasizes that this affirmation of the covenant was made after Lot and Abram had separated. This seems to indicate that Lot’s association with Abram was to some extent standing in the way of Abram’s receiving God’s full blessing in connection with the promise.

The call to the patriarch was to leave his own people, and his father’s house. Lot and his family were at least part of Abram’s people, and not until he was willing to make a great sacrifice of material advantage in order to be separated from them, did the Lord assure him in such great detail what the fulfillment of the promise would mean.

Abram was told to look in all directions, and was assured that all the land he saw was to be his, and his descendants’ forever. It is true of the Lord’s people today that frequently the willingness to sacrifice earthly advantages leads to the richest of spiritual blessings. If we find ourselves spiritually poverty-stricken, it may be that we are holding on too firmly to the material things of life.

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