Genesis 12:8
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) He removed.—Broke up his encampment. No special reason for this need be sought; it was the usual condition of the nomad life, and Abram’s wealth in cattle would make frequent changes necessary. His first long halt was in the hill country between Beth-el and Hai, or rather Ai, as in Joshua 8:1-3. The numerous almond-trees, whence the former town took its early name of Luz, the remains of aqueducts and other works for irrigation, and the strength of the town of Ai in Joshua’s days bear witness to the ancient fertility of the district, though said now to be uninviting. Here, too, Abram made open profession of his faith, and worshipped with his household at an altar dedicated to Jehovah.

Genesis

ABRAM AND THE LIFE OF FAITH

Genesis 12:1 - Genesis 12:9
.

II

Part I
- A great act of renunciation at the divine call lies at the foundation of Israel’s history, as it does at the foundation of every life that blesses the world or is worth living. The divine Word to Abram first gives the command in all its authoritativeness and plain setting forth of how much had to be surrendered, and then in its exuberant setting forth of how much was to be won by obedience. God does not hide the sacrifices that have to be made if we will be true to His command. He will enlist no recruits on false pretences. All ties of country, kindred, and father’s house have to be loosened, and, if need be, to be cut, for His command is to be supreme, and clinging hands that would hold back the pilgrim have to be disengaged. If a man realises God’s hold on him, he feels all others relaxed. The magnetism of the divine command overcomes gravitation, and lifts him high above earth. The life of faith ever begins as that of ‘the Father of the Faithful’ began, with the solemn recognition of a divine will which separates. Further, Abram saw plainly what he had to leave, but not what he was to win. He had to make a venture of faith, for ‘the land that I will shew thee’ was undefined. Certainly it was somewhere, but where was it? He had to fling away substance for what seemed shadow to all but the eye of faith, as we all have to do. The familiar, undeniable good of the present has to be waived in favour of what ‘common sense’ calls a misty possibility in the future. To part with solid acres and get nothing but hopes of an inheritance in the skies looks like insanity, and is the only true wisdom. ‘Get thee out’ is plain; ‘the land that I will shew thee’ looks like the doubtful outlines seen from afar at sea, which may be but clouds.

But Abram had a great hope blazing in front, none the less bright or guiding because it all rested on the bare promise of God. It is the prerogative of faith to give solidity and reality to what the world thinks has neither. The wanderer who had left his country was to receive a land for his own; the solitary who had left his kindred was to become the founder of a nation; the unknown stranger was to win a great name,-and how wonderfully that has come true! Not only was he to be blessed, but also to be a blessing, for from him was to flow that which should bless all the earth,-and how transcendently that has come true! The attitude of men to him {and to the universal blessing that should descend from him} was to determine their position in reference to God and ‘blessings’ or ‘cursings’ from him. So the migration of Abram was a turning-point in universal history.

Obedience followed the command, immediate as the thunder on the flash, and complete. ‘So Abram went, as the Lord had spoken unto him,’-blessed they of whose lives that may be the summing-up! Happy the life which has God’s command at the back of every deed, and no command of His unobeyed! If our acts are closely parallel with God’s speech to us, they will prosper, and we shall be peaceful wherever we may have to wander. Success followed obedience in Abram’s case, as in deepest truth it always does. That is a pregnant expression: ‘They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.’ A strange itinerary of a journey, which omits all but the start and the finish! And yet are these not the most important points in any journey or life,-whither it was directed and where it arrived? How little will the weary tramps in the desert be remembered when the goal has been reached! Dangers and privations soon pass from memory, and we shall think little of sorrows, cares, and pains, when we arrive at home. The life of faith is the only one which is always sure of getting to the place to which it seeks to journey. Others miss their aim, or drop dead on the road, like the early emigrants out West; Christian lives get to the city.

Once in the land, Abram was still a stranger and pilgrim. He first planted himself in its heart by Sichem, but outside the city, under the terebinth tree of Moreh. The reason for his position is given in the significant statement that ‘the Canaanite was then in the land.’ So he had to live in the midst of an alien civilisation, and yet keep apart from it. As Hebrews says, he was ‘dwelling in tabernacles,’ because he ‘looked for a city.’ The hope of the permanent future made him keep clear of the passing present; and we are to feel ourselves pilgrims and sojourners, not so much because earth is fleeting and we are mortal, as because our true affinities are with the unseen and eternal. But the presence of ‘the Canaanite’ is connected also with the following words, which tell that ‘the Lord appeared unto Abram,’ and now after his obedience told him that this was the land that was to be his. He unfolds His purposes to those who keep His commandments; obedience is the mother of insight. The revelation put a further strain on faith, for the present occupiers of the land were many and strong; but it matters not how formidably and firmly rooted the Canaanite is, God’s children can be sure that the promise will be fulfilled. We can calmly look on his power and reckon on its decay, if the Lord appears to us, as to Abram-and He surely will if we have followed His separating voice, and dwell as strangers here, because our hearts are with Him.

After the appearance of God and the promise, we have an outline of the pilgrim’s life, as seen in Abram. He signalised God’s further opening of His purposes, by building an altar on the place where He had been seen by him. Thankful recognition and commemoration of the times in our lives when He has most plainly drawn near and shown us glimpses of His will, are no less blessed than due, and they who thus rear altars to Him will wonder, when they come to count up how many they have had to build. But the life of faith is ever a pilgrim life, and Bethel has soon to be the home instead of Shechem. There, too, Abram keeps outside the city, and pitches his tent. There, too, the altar rises by the side of the tent. The transitory provision for housing the pilgrim contrasts with the solid structure for offering sacrifices. The tent is ‘pitched,’ and may be struck and carried away to-morrow, but the altar is ‘builded.’ That part of our lives which is concerned with the material and corporeal is, after all, short in duration and small in importance; that which has to do with God, His revelations, and His worship and service, lasts. What is left in ancient historic lands, like Egypt or Greece, is the temples of the gods, while the huts of the people have perished long centuries ago. What we build for God lasts; what we pitch for ourselves is transient as we are.

Genesis 12:8. And there he built an altar, and called on the name of the Lord — Such, it appears, was his constant practice, whithersoever he removed. As soon as he came into Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent, God had an altar, and that sanctified by prayer.

12:6-9 Abram found the country peopled by Canaanites, who were bad neighbours. He journeyed, going on still. Sometimes it is the lot of good men to be unsettled, and often to remove into various states. Believers must look on themselves as strangers and sojourners in this world, Heb 11:8,13,14. But observe how much comfort Abram had in God. When he could have little satisfaction in converse with the Canaanites whom he found there, he had abundance of pleasure in communion with that God, who brought him thither, and did not leave him. Communion with God is kept up by the word and by prayer. God reveals himself and his favours to his people by degrees; before, he had promised to show Abram this land, now, to give it to him: as grace is growing, so is comfort. It should seem, Abram understood it also as a grant of a better land, of which this was a type; for he looked for a heavenly country, Heb 11:16. 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. He preached concerning the name of the Lord; he taught his family and neighbours the knowledge of the true God, and his holy religion. The way of family worship is a good old way, no new thing, but the ancient usage of the saints. 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.From the oak of Moreh Abram now moves to the hill east of Bethel, and pitches his tent, with "Bethel on the west and Ai on the east." These localities are still recognized - the former as Beiten, and the latter as Tell er-Rijmeh (the mount of the heap). Bethel was "a place," adjacent to which was the town called "Luz at the first" Genesis 28:19. Jacob gave this name to the place twice Genesis 28:19; Genesis 35:15. The name, then, was not first given at the second nomination by him. It follows that it may not have been first given at his first nomination. Accordingly we meet with it as an existing name in Abram's time, without being constrained to account for it by supposing the present narrative to have been composed in its present form after the time of Jacob's visit. On the other hand, we may regard it as an interesting trace of early piety having been present in the land even before the arrival of Abram. We shall meet with other corroborating proofs. Bethel continued afterward to be a place hallowed by the presence of God, to which the people resorted for counsel in the war with Benjamin Judges 20:18, Judges 20:26, Judges 20:31; Judges 21:2, and in which Jeroboam set up one of the golden calves 1 Kings 12:29.

On the hill east of this sacred ground Abram built another altar; and called upon the name of the Lord. Here we bare the reappearance of an ancient custom, instituted in the family of Adam after the birth of Enok Genesis 4:26. Abram addresses God by his proper name, Yahweh, with an audible voice, in his assembled household. This, then, is a continuation of the worship of Adam, with additional light according to the progressive development of the moral nature of man. But Abram has not yet any settled abode in the land. He is only surveying its several regions, and feeding his flocks as he finds an opening. Hence, he continues his journey southward.

7. Unto thy seed will I give this land—God was dealing with Abram not in his private and personal capacity merely, but with a view to high and important interests in future ages. That land his posterity was for centuries to inhabit as a peculiar people; the seeds of divine knowledge were to be sown there for the benefit of all mankind; and considered in its geographical situation, it was chosen in divine wisdom as the fittest of all lands to serve as the cradle of a divine revelation designed for the whole world.

and there builded he an altar unto the Lord—By this solemn act of devotion Abram made an open profession of his religion, established the worship of the true God, and declared his faith in the promise.

Beth-el, a known place, which afterwards was called Beth-el, but now Luz, Genesis 28:19; a usual prolepsis, or anticipation, as before, Genesis 12:6.

On the west; or, on the sea; which is all one, because the sea was on the west part of the land: see Genesis 13:14 28:14 Numbers 3:23 Deu 3:27.

Hai, or Ai, as it is called, Joshua 7:2 Jeremiah 49:3 Isaiah 10:28.

And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel,.... As it was afterwards called by Jacob, which before and at this time had the name of Luz, Genesis 28:19 now to the east of this place was a mountain, whither Abram removed his tent from Sichem, which was about twenty miles from it, as Sir Walter Raleigh (f) observes, some say twenty eight (g):

and pitched his tent; that is, upon the mountain, as before upon the plain, fitly representing the state of the people of God, as sojourners in this world, living like Abram in tents and tabernacles, having no abiding place:

having Bethel on the west, or "on the sea" (h), the Mediterranean sea, which Aben Ezra calls the Spanish sea, and lay to the west of the land of Canaan:

and Hai on the east; the same which is called "Ai", and said to be on the east side of Bethel, Joshua 7:2 hard by this place, Rauwolff (i) says, you shall still find some old ruins of old stones, where first Abraham the patriarch did build a tent, as you read in Genesis 12:8 and he says that Bethel is still called to this day Bethisella, and is situated half a league further towards the west, at the foot of the hill, in a very fruitful country:

and there he builded an altar unto the Lord: as he had done at Sichem; for wherever he went he worshipped God, and offered sacrifice unto him:

and called upon the name of the Lord: prayed unto him for fresh mercies, as well as gave thanks for past ones; or, "he called in the name of the Lord" (k), he called upon Jehovah the Father, in the name of his Son, the glorious Mediator, who had appeared unto him, and whose day he saw and was glad.

(f) History of the World, par. 1. b. 2. sect. 3. p. 132. (g) Bunting's Travels, p. 56. (h) "a mari", Montanus, Piscater, Schmidt. (i) Travels, part 3. ch. 21. p. 317. Ed. Ray. (k) "et invocavit in nomine Domini", Montanus, Tigurine version.

And he removed from {h} 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 {i} altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.

(h) Because of the troubles that he had among that wicked people.

(i) And so served the true God, and renounced all idolatry.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. Beth-el on the west, and Ai on the east] For Bethel, see note on Genesis 28:12. For Ai, see Joshua 7:2-5. The situation of Abram’s tent between Bethel and Ai must have commanded a view of the valley of the Jordan and of the Dead Sea, with the mountains of Moab. “Beth-el,” or “House of God,” was probably also an ancient shrine, the modern Bêtîn, 9½ miles N. of Jerusalem.

on the west] The Heb. word for “the west” means literally “the sea,” i.e. the Mediterranean Sea. Such an expression for a point of the compass could only have been used by a people who had long been resident in the country.

called upon the name] See note on Genesis 4:26, i.e. he worshipped, using in his invocation the name “Jehovah.” The Name is the symbol of the Divine attributes.

Verse 8. - And he removed - literally, caused (i.e. his tent) to be broken up (cf. Genesis 26:22 - from thence - no cause for which being assigned, the hostility of his neighbors (Luther, Calvin) and the commencement of the famine (Alford, Keil) have been conjectured as the probable reasons - unto a (literally, the) mountain east of Bethel. Here proleptically named "house of God," being called in the time of Abram Luz (Genesis 28:19). Its present name is Beitin. And pitched his tent (cf. Genesis 9:21), having Bethel on the west - literally, sea-ward, the Mediterranean being the western boundary of Palestine (cf. Genesis 28:14; Exodus 10:19; Exodus 26:22; Ezekiel 48:1, 2) - and Hai - Ai (עַי; עַיָּא, Nehemiah 11:31; עַיָּת, Isaiah 10:28); with the article, because signifying "the heap of ruins," near which it was no doubt built; the scene of the first Israelitish defeat under Joshua (Genesis 7:2): its ruins still exist under the name of Medinet Gai - on the east (about five miles from Bethel): and there he builded an altar unto the Lord (vide supra), and called upon the name of the Lord (vide Genesis 4:26). Genesis 12:8He did this also in the mountains, to which he probably removed to secure the necessary pasture for his flocks, after he had pitched his tent there. "Bethel westwards and Ai eastwards," i.e., in a spot with Ai to the east and Bethel to the west. The name Bethel occurs here proleptically: at the time referred to, it was still called Luz (Genesis 28:19); its present name if Beitin (Robinson's Palestine). At a distance of about five miles to the east was Ai, ruins of which are still to be seen, bearing the name of Medinet Gai (Ritter's Erdkunde). On the words "called upon the name of the Lord," see Genesis 4:26. From this point Abram proceeded slowly to the Negeb, i.e., to the southern district of Canaan towards the Arabian desert (vid., Genesis 20:1).
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