Genesis 12:5
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.
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(5) Their substance that they had gathered.—Not cattle only, but wealth of every kind. As we have no data about the migration of Terah, except that it was after the death of Haran, and that Haran left children, we cannot tell how long the family rested at their first halting place, but it was probably a period of several years; and as Abram was “very rich in silver and in gold,” he had apparently engaged there in trade, and thus possibly knew the course which the caravans took.

The souls that they had gotten.—Heb., had made. Onkelos and the Jewish interpreters explain this of proselytes, and persons whom they had converted to the faith in one God. Such might probably be in Abram’s company; but the most part were his dependents and slaves (comp. Genesis 14:14,), though the word “slave” suggests a very different relation to us than that which existed between Abram and his household. Their descendants were most certainly incorporated into the Israelitish nation, and we have direct testimony that Abram gave them careful religious training (Genesis 18:19). Thus the Jewish traditions record a fact, and by acknowledging Abram’s household as proselytes admit their claim to incorporation with the race.

Into the land of Canaan they came.—Slowly and leisurely as the cattle with their young and the women and children could travel, Abram would take his way along the 300 miles which separated him from Canaan. The ford by which he crossed the Euphrates was probably that at Jerabolus, the ancient Carchemish, as the route this way is both more direct and more fertile than either that which leads to the ferry of Bir or that by Thapsacus. The difficulty of passing so great a river with so much substance, and people, and cattle would give fresh importance to his title of “the Hebrew,” the passer over, already his by right of descent from Eber, so named from the passage of the Tigris. More correctly, these names are ‘Eber and ‘Ebrew, and have nothing in common with “Heber the Kenite” (Judges 4:11). From Carchemish Abram’s route would lie to the south-west, by Tadmor and Damascus; and Josephus (Antiq., i. 7) has preserved the legend that “Abram came with an army from the country beyond Babylon, and conquered Damascus, and reigned there for a short time, after which he migrated into the land of Canaan.” In Eliezer of Damascus we have a reminiscence of Abram’s halt there (Genesis 15:2). But it could not have been long, for Mr. Malan (Philosophy or Truth, pp. 98-143) has conclusively shown by the dates in Holy Scripture that only about a year elapsed between Abram’s departure from Kharan and his settlement in Canaan.




Genesis 12:5


The reference of these words is to Abram’s act of faith in leaving Haran and setting out on his pilgrimage. It is a strange narrative of a journey, which omits the journey altogether, with its weary marches, privations, and perils, and notes but its beginning and its end. Are not these the main points in every life, its direction and its attainment? There are-

‘Two points in the adventure of the diver,

One-when, a beggar, he prepares to plunge,

One-when, a prince, he rises with his pearl.’

Abram and his company had a clear aim. But does not the Epistle to the Hebrews magnify him precisely because he ‘went out, not knowing whither he went’? Both statements are true, for Abram had the same combination of knowledge and ignorance as we all have. He knew that he was to go to a land that he should afterwards inherit, and he knew that, in the first place, Canaan was to be his ‘objective point,’ but he did not know, till long after he had crossed the Euphrates and pitched his tent by Bethel, that it was the land. The ultimate goal was clear, and the first step towards it was plain, but how that first step was related to the goal was not plain, and all the steps between were unknown. He went forth with sealed orders, to go to a certain place, where he would have further instructions. He knew that he was to go to Canaan, and beyond that point all was dark, except for the sparkle of the great hope that gleamed on the horizon in front, as a sunlit summit rises above a sea of mist between it and the traveller. Like such a traveller, Abram could not accurately tell how far off the shining peak was, nor where, in the intervening gorges full of mist, the path lay; but he plunged into the darkness with a good heart, because he had caught a glimpse of his journey’s end. So with us. We may have clear before us the ultimate aim and goal of our lives, and also the step which we have to take now, in pressing towards it, while between these two there stretches a valley full of mist, the breadth of which may be measured by years or by hours, for all that we know, and the rough places and green pastures of which are equally hidden from us. We have to be sure that the mountain peak far ahead, with the sunshine bathing it, is not delusive cloud but solid reality, and we have to make sure that God has bid us step out on the yard of path which we can see, and, having secured these two certainties, we are to cast ourselves into the obscurity before us, and to bear in our hearts the vision of the end, to cheer us amid the difficulties of the road.

Life is strenuous, fruitful, and noble, in the measure in which its ultimate aim is kept clearly visible throughout it all. Nearer aims, prescribed by physical necessities, tastes, circumstances, and the like, are clear enough, but a melancholy multitude of us have never reflected on the further question: ‘What then?’ Suppose I have made my fortune, or won my wife, or established my position, or achieved a reputation, behind all these successes lies the larger question. These are not ends but means, and it is fatal to treat them as being the goal of our efforts or the chief end of our being. There would be fewer wrecked lives, and fewer bitter and disappointed old men, if there were more young ones who, at starting, put clearly before themselves the question: ‘What am I living for? and what am I going to do when I have secured the nearer aims necessarily prescribed to me?’

What that aim should be is not doubtful. The only worthy end befitting creatures with hearts, minds, consciences, and wills like ours is God Himself. Abram’s ‘Canaan’ is usually regarded as an emblem of heaven, and that is correct, but the land of our inheritance is not wholly beyond the river, for God is the portion of our hearts. He is heaven. To dwell with Him, to have all the current of our being running towards Him, to set Him before us in the strenuous hours of effort and in the quiet moments of repose, in the bright and in the dark days, are the conditions of blessedness, strength, and peace.

That aim clearly apprehended and persistently pursued gives continuity to life, such as nothing else can do. How many of the things that drew us to themselves, and were for a while the objects of desire and effort, have sunk below the horizon! The lives that are not directed to God as their chief end are like the voyages of old-time sailors, who had to creep from one headland to another, and steer for points which, one after another, were reached, left behind, and forgotten. There is only one aim so great, so far in advance that we can never reach, and therefore can never pass and drop it. Life then becomes a chain, not a heap of unrelated fragments. That aim made ours, stimulates effort to its highest point, and therefore secures blessedness. It emancipates from many bonds, and takes the poison out of the mosquito bites of small annoyances, and the stings of great sorrows. It gleams ever before a man, sufficiently attained to make him at rest, sufficiently unattained to give the joy of progress. The pilgrims who had but one single aim, ‘to go to the land of Canaan,’ were delivered from the miseries of conflicting desires, and with simplicity of aim came concentration of force and calm of spirit.



If life has a clear, definite aim, and especially if its aim is the highest, there will be detachment from, and abandonment of, many lower ones. Nothing worth doing is done, and nothing worth being is realised in ourselves, except on condition of resolutely ignoring much that attracts. ‘They went forth’; Haran must be given up if Canaan is to be reached. Artists are content to pay the price for mastery in their art, students think it no hardship to remain ignorant of much in order to know their own subject thoroughly; men of business feel it no sacrifice to give up culture, leisure, and sometimes still higher things, such as love and purity, to win wealth. And we shall not be Christians after Christ’s heart unless we practise similar restrictions. The stream that is to flow with impetus sufficient to scour its bed clear of obstructions must not be allowed to meander in side branches, but be banked up in one channel. Sometimes there must be actual surrender and outward withdrawal from lower aims which, by our weakness, have become rival aims; always there must be subordination and detachment in heart and mind. The compass in an iron ship is disturbed by the iron, unless it has been adjusted; the golden apples arrest the runner, and there are clogs and weights in every life, which have to be laid aside if the race is to be won. The old pilgrim fashion is still the only way. We must do as Abram did: leave Haran and its idols behind us, and go forth, ready to dwell, if need be, in deserts, and as sojourners even when among cities, or we shall not reach the ‘land that is very far off.’ It is near us if we forsake self and the ‘things seen and temporal,’ but it recedes when we turn our hearts to these.

‘Into the land of Canaan they came.’ No man honestly and rightly seeks God and fails to find Him. No man has less goodness and Christ-likeness than he truly desires and earnestly pursues. Nearer aims are often missed, and it is well that they should be. We should thank God for disappointments, for hopes unfulfilled, or proving still greater disappointments when fulfilled. It is mercy that often makes the harvest from our sowing a scanty one, for so we are being taught to turn from the quest in which searching has no assurance of finding, to that in which to seek is to find. ‘I have never said to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain.’ We may not reach other lands which seem to us to be lands of promise, or when we do, may find that the land is ‘evil and naughty,’ but this land we shall reach, if we desire it, and if, desiring it, we go forth from this vain world. The Christian life is the only one which has no failures, no balked efforts, no frustrated aims, no brave settings out and defeated returnings. The literal meaning of one of the Old Testament words for sin is missing the mark, and that embodies the truth that no man wins what he seeks who seeks satisfaction elsewhere than in God. Like the rivers in Asiatic deserts, which are lost in the sand and never reach the sea, all lives which flow towards anything but God are dissipated and vain.

But the supreme realisation of an experience like Abram’s is reserved for another life. No pilgrim Zion-ward perishes in the wilderness, or loses his way or fails to come to ‘the city of habitation.’ ‘They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.’ And when they appear there, they will think no more, just as this narrative says nothing, of the sandy, salt, waterless wildernesses, or the wearinesses, dangers, and toils of the road. The experience of the happy travellers, who have found all which they sought and are at home for ever in the fatherland towards which they journeyed, will all be summed up in this, that ‘they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came.’

Genesis 12:5. They took with them the souls that they had gotten — That is, the proselytes they had made, and persuaded to worship the true God, and to go with them to Canaan; the souls which (as one of the rabbis expresseth it) they had “gathered under the wings of the Divine Majesty.”

12:4,5 Abram believed that the blessing of the Almighty would make up for all he could lose or leave behind, supply all his wants, and answer and exceed all his desires; and he knew that nothing but misery would follow disobedience. Such believers, being justified by faith in Christ, have peace with God. They hold on their way to Canaan. They are not discouraged by the difficulties in their way, nor drawn aside by the delights they meet with. Those who set out for heaven must persevere to the end. What we undertake, in obedience to God's command, and in humble attendance on his providence, will certainly succeed, and end with comfort at last. Canaan was not, as other lands, a mere outward possession, but a type of heaven, and in this respect the patriarchs so earnestly prized it.This is the record of what is presumed in the close of Genesis 12:4; namely, the second setting out for Kenaan. "Abram took." He is now the leader of the little colony, as Terah was before his death. Sarai, as well as Lot, is now named. "The gaining they had gained" during the five years of their residence in Haran. If Jacob became comparatively rich in six years Genesis 30:43, so might Abram, with the divine blessing, in five. "The souls they had gotten" - the bondservants they had acquired. Where there is a large stock of cattle, there must be a corresponding number of servants to attend to them. Abram and Lot enter the land as men of substance. They are in a position of independence. The Lord is realizing to Abram the blessing promised. They start for the land of Kenaan, and at length arrive there. This event is made as important as it ought to be in our minds by the mode in which it is stated.5. into the land of Canaan … they came—with his wife and an orphan nephew. Abram reached his destination in safety, and thus the first promise was made good. 1921

The souls, i.e. the persons, as the word souls is oft used, as Genesis 14:21 17:14 Exodus 12:15 Leviticus 5:1 Numbers 23:10 Deu 24:7 Mark 3:4, &c.

That they had gotten; Heb. made, i.e. either.

1. Begotten; for though Abram had yet no children, Lot had, and both their servants had children by their fellow servants born in their house, which might well be numbered among Abram’s and Lot’s persons, because they had an absolute dominion over them. Or,

2. Instructed, i.e. turned from idolatry, and taught in the true religion, as the Chaldee expounds it; for such were most proper for Abram to take along with him out of his father’s house in this expedition. Or,

3. Gotten, i.e. procured either by conquest or purchase, or any other lawful and usual way.

And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son,.... The son of Haran his brother, not against their wills, but with their full consent: Sarai went readily with him, not only as being his wife, and so obliged by the law of marriage and tie of relation, but on the score of religion; and Lot as being a good man, and so willing to go with him, as his near relation too, for the sake of religion.

And all their substance that they had gathered; either in Ur of the Chaldees, or in Haran, and indeed in both; which, as it was their own property, they had a right to take with them, and it was their wisdom so to do, both for the support of their families, and for the service of religion; and it appears from hence that they were not slothful, but industrious persons, and by the blessing of God were succeeded in their employments:

and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; the more excellent part of man being put for the whole; and the meaning is, either that were procreated (a), as some render it, or begotten by them; for, though Abram had no children, Lot had, and possibly some that might be begotten while there; and their servants might have children by their fellow servants, and to which Abram and Lot had a right, and therefore took them with them; or rather it means servants which they had bought with their money there, and so had gotten or obtained them as their own property: some understand it of the proselytes made during their stay there; and no doubt they were as industrious in spreading and propagating the true religion, as in acquiring substance and servants; and to this sense are the several Chaldee paraphrases; that of Onkelos is,"and the souls which they made subject to the law in Haran;''the Targums of Jerusalem and Jonathan are,"and the souls of the proselytes, or which they proselyted in Haran;''and with this agrees the note of Jarchi,"which they brought under the wings of the Shechinah; Abram proselyted the men, and Sarai the women;''though in the literal sense he takes it to be the acquiring of servants and handmaids; there might be of both sorts, both proselytes and servants bought with money, which made up the number of three hundred and eighteen trained servants, Genesis 14:14 how long Abram stayed in Haran is not certain, it must be some time, to gather more substance, increase servants, and make proselytes; the Jews (b) generally say he was there five years.

And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came: which last clause is very fitly added, since, when they came out of Ur, they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, Genesis 11:31 but they did not then come into it, but stopped by the way at Haran; but now, when they went out from thence, they proceeded on in their journey, and made no stay any where of any length, until they came into the land of Canaan; which is reckoned to be three hundred miles from the one to the other, and by some four hundred to Sichem, and a troublesome way through the deserts of Palmyrene, and over the mountains of Lebanon and Hermon (c): of Ura, Pliny says (d), which seems to be the same with Ur, it is a place where, turning to the east, we leave the Palmyrene deserts of Syria, which belong to the city Petra, and the country called Arabia Felix; and, as it was at the northern part of Canaan they entered, they must come over Lebanon, which was the northern border of it.

(a) "procreaverant", Piscator. (b) Seder Olam Rabba, Ganz. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 5. 2.((c) See Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World, par. 1. b. 2. sect. 3. p. 130. and Bunting's Travels, p. 56. (d) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 24.

And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the {d} 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.

(d) Meaning servants as well as cattle.

5. substance] or goods. A characteristic word in P (cf. Genesis 13:6, Genesis 31:18, Genesis 36:7, Genesis 46:6).

souls] i.e. the slaves and retainers. The movement of Abram out of Haran was evidently on the scale of a large migration, such as was not infrequent among the nomad peoples of Western Asia.

into the land of Canaan] The journey from Haran to Canaan would entail (1) the crossing of the river Euphrates, (2) the traversing of Hamath and Syria, (3) the entrance into N. Palestine. On an ancient tradition that, on the way, Abram conquered Damascus, see Josephus who quotes Nicolaus of Damascus: “Abraham reigned in Damascus, having come with an army from the country beyond Babylon, called the land of the Chaldaeans.”

Verse 5. - And Abram took (an important addition to the foregoing statement, intimating that Abram did not go forth as a lonely wanderer, but accompanied by) Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all the substance - recush, acquired wealth, from racash, to gain (cf. Genesis 14:11, 16, 21; Genesis 15:14), which consisted chiefly in cattle, Lot and Abram being nomads - that they had gathered (not necessarily implying a protracted stay, as some allege), and the souls - here slaves and their children (cf. Ezekiel 27:13) - that they had gotten - "not only as secular property for themselves, but as brethren to themselves, and as children of the one heavenly Father" (Wordsworth); that they had converted to the law (Onkelos); that they had proselyted (Raschi, Targam Jonathan, and Jerusalem Targum) - in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; - a prolepsis (cf. Genesis 11:31, q.v.) - and into the land of Canaan they came - a distance of 300 miles from Haran, from which their course must have been across the Euphrates in one of its higher affluent, over the Syrian desert, southwards to Lebanon and Damascus (cf. Genesis 15:2), where, according to Josephus, the patriarch reigned for some considerable time, "being come with an army from the land of the Chaldaeans" ('Ant.,' 1:07), and a village survived to his day called "Abraham's habitation." According to the partitionists (Tuch, Bleek, Colenso, Davidson) this verse belongs to the Elohist or fundamental document; but if so, then the Jehovist represents Abram (ver. 6) as journeying through the land without having previously mentioned what land (cf. Quarry, p. 420).

Genesis 12:5Removal to Canaan. - Abram cheerfully followed the call of the Lord, and "departed as the Lord had spoken to him." He was then 75 years old. His age is given, because a new period in the history of mankind commenced with his exodus. After this brief notice there follows a more circumstantial account, in Genesis 12:5, of the fact that he left Haran with his wife, with Lot, and with all that they possessed of servants and cattle, whereas Terah remained in Haran (cf. Genesis 11:31). עשׂוּ אשׁר הנּפשׁ are not the souls which they had begotten, but the male and female slaves that Abram and Lot had acquired.
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