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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on Genesis

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12.1–3 : The Lord's call and promise to Abraham

initiates a major new movement in the story of Genesis. This is the first of three divine speeches in which a patriarch is given travel directions and promises of blessing ( 12.1–3; 26.2–5; 46.1–4; see also 31.3,13 ). The combination of command (v. 1 ) and promise (vv. 2–3 ) implies that the LORD's fulfillment of the promise will follow upon Abraham's fulfillment of the command.

1 :

This command to Abraham is similar to, and may have been modeled on, the later divine command for Jacob to return to the “land of your ancestors and to your kindred” ( 31.3 ) and to “the land of your birth” ( 31.13 ).

2 :

The promise that a great nation will come from Abraham stands in tension with Sarah's barrenness in 11.30 . Much of the following narrative revolves around this tension. Nation implies not just a numerous people (cf. 13.16; 15.5 ; etc.), but a politically independent social group. I will bless you, involves giving Abraham the power to flourish in flocks, other riches, and offspring ( 12.16; 13.2,5,16 ; etc.; cf. Job 42.12–13 ). And make your name great, to have one's name made great is to become famous. The LORD promises Abraham a fame similar to that promised to Israelite kings (2 Sam 7.9; 1 Kings 1.47 ). Thus Abraham, as heir of Shem (see 11.20–26n. )—which means “name” in Hebrew—gains the great “name” that the peoples at Babel had futilely sought for themselves (cf. 11.4 ). So that you will be a blessing, implies that those associated with Abraham and his heirs will flourish as well. Later Laban ( 30.27–30 ) and Potiphar ( 39.5 ) will both gain blessing through their association with Abraham's heirs.

3 :

Though obscured in the translation, the promise to curse the one who curses Abraham is a slight modification of a similar formula. Whereas the parallel texts (e.g., 27.29; Num 24.9 ) speak of God cursing the one who curses, the LORD in this text promises to curse anyone who even “treats [Abraham] lightly.” In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed has been a particularly important passage in the Christian tradition. Building on the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, Paul interpreted this as a blessing of the Gentiles through Abraham (Gal 3.8 ). Yet the closest analogies to this promise suggest that the alternate translation, by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves, i.e., they will say “may we be like Abraham,” is probably closer to the meaning of the Hebrew. Like 48.20 , it envisions other nations of the world looking to Abraham's great blessing and wishing a similar one on themselves (see Ps 72.17 ). Later in the narrative we see this kind of recognition of Abraham and his heirs’ special blessing by foreigners like Abimelech ( 26.28 ), Laban ( 30.27 ), Potiphar ( 39.3–5 ), Joseph's jailer ( 39.21–23 ), Pharaoh (Ex 1.9 ), Jethro (Ex 18.10–12 ), and Balaam ( 24.1 ).

12.4–9 : Abraham's first journey to the land.

4b–5 :

Part of the Priestly Abraham narrative.

6–8 :

This brief report of Abraham's journey anticipates the much longer story of Jacob's travels through similar places: Shechem with its oak (cf. 33.18–35.4 ) and Bethel (cf. 35.1,9–16; see Map on p. 28 HB). Sacred trees like the oak of Moreh (“oracle giver”; cf. 13.18; 18.1; 35.4; Deut 11.30; Josh 24.26; Judg 9.37 ) occur elsewhere in Genesis (e.g., 21.33; 35.8 ) and seem to have played an important role in the religion of the ancient Israelites and surrounding peoples (see 2.8–9n. ).

12.10–13.1 : First story of endangerment of the matriarch

(cf. ch 20; 26.6–11 ). Through putting Sarah in jeopardy to protect himself, Abraham appears not to trust the promise of protection just offered him. On Abraham's later claim to be Sarah's half‐brother, see 20.12n. Overall, this story of descent into Egypt because of famine and rescue through plagues anticipates many aspects of the later narrative about Israel's descent into Egypt and Exodus from it (Gen 45–Ex 14 ).

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