From the event of the tower of Babel, the plot moves on to the account of the genealogy of Shem and later, the genealogy of Terah. The detailed and specific genealogy acts as a precursor to Abram, the son of Terah and the one who would become a blessing to all nations. The narrative teaches us a lot about Abram’s struggle, faith, reliance and trust toward the calling of the LORD in spite of the impossibles and the unknowns in front of his eyes.
Did You Know...?
- Ur (11:28): Now, known as modern Tell el-Muqaiyer, 10 miles west of the Euphrates river halfway between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, [ref] deep in southern Mesopotamia. However, there was also another Ur in the northwest region of Mesopotamia near to the land of the Hittites and Syria. [ref]
- Barren (11:30): Childlessness was a threat to the family in the ancient world because it would disrupt the general inheritance pattern. Thus “legal remedies allowed a man whose wife was barren to impregnate a slave girl (Code of Hammurabi, Nuzi texts) or a prostitute (Lipit-Ishtar Code). The children from this relationship could then be acknowledged by the father as his heirs (Code of Hammurabi).” [ref]
- Haran (11:31) is located on the Balikh river, a northern tributary of the Euphrates, 24 miles south-southeast of Urfa (ancient Edessa). [ref]
- From Haran to Canaan (12:4-5): It took a distance of 300 miles for Abram to travel from Haran to Canaan. [ref]
- Shechem (12:6) was a city in Samaria (Gen 33:18) and stood in the narrow valley between Ebal on the north and Gerizim on the south. [ref]
- Terebinth tree (12:6) is a broad, medium-length, Mediterranean tree. The tree is known for the shade it gives during summer. [ref]
- Bethel (12:8) in Hebrew, the word ‘Bethel” is literally translated as “the house of God.” The city is located in Central Palestine, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. It was originally a Canaanite city of Luz (Gen 28:19). [ref]
- Ai (12:8): The most probable site is the ancient city Haiyan, two miles east from Bethel. [ref]
- The South (12:9): In Hebrew, the word reads “Negeb.” It is a desert area southwest of the Dead Sea. The area is the southernmost district of Judah (Josh 10:40, 11:16). [ref]
In Genesis 5:6-3
2 the lifespan of man was between 912 years (Seth’s age) to 777 years old (Lamech’s age). Noah’s lifespan was 950 years old (Gen 9:29). But starting from Genesis 11:10-32, man’s lifespan was reduced greatly, between 600 years (Shem’s age (Gen 11:10-11)) to 205 years old (Terah’s age). In addition, Sarah’s lifespan was 127 years old (Gen 23:1), Abraham’s was 175 years (Gen 25:7), Isaac’s was 180 year (Gen 35:28), Jacob’s was around 147 years (Gen 47:28) and Joseph’s was 110 years (Gen 50:22).
What caused such a great reduction in men’s lifespan? See Genesis 6:3.
What similarities did you find between the genealogy of Shem and the genealogy of Seth?Hide Answer
Both genealogies mentioned that they only begot sons and daughters and they lived up their years and died.
In Genesis 11:10-32, why did the Scriptures focus only on the genealogy of Shem and not the others?
The LORD communicated with Abram three times. The LORD first appeared to Abram in Mesopotamia (Ur of the Chaldeans) and said to him, “Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you” (Acts 7:3). The second time, the LORD moved Abram from Haran to the land of Canaan and Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him (Acts 7:4; Gen 12:4-5). Lastly, when Abram passed through the land of Canaan, the LORD appeared to Abram again and said, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Gen 12:7).
How old was Abram when he left Haran?
Who and what did Abram take when he departed from Haran to Canaan?
If you were in Abram’s age and with all the people and possessions that you had, what were the challenges and struggles of a long-distance travelling that you would be having? And what compels you to do such a thing?
The comparison and contrast of Sarai’s and Milcah’s lives were as follow: While Sarah was Abram’s wife (Gen 12:5), Milcah was Abram’s sister-in-law (Gen 11:29). On one hand, Milcah was the mother of eight sons (Gen 22:20-23). On the other hand, Genesis 11:30 tells us that Sarai was barren and she had no children. Yet, the LORD promised Abram that He would bless Sarai with a son in their old age (Gen 17:17). Sarai was also promised by God that she would “be a mother of nations [and] kings of peoples [would] be from her” (Gen 17:16).
The LORD told Abram to get out from where and for what purpose?
What were the promised blessings of the LORD to Abram?Hide Answer
The LORD promised Abram that He would make him a great nation, He would bless him and make his name great, and he would be a blessing. The LORD would bless those who blessed Abram, and He would curse him who cursed Abram; and in Abram all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:2-3).
Share your experience of the challenges in “getting out from your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land you do not even know”?
The book of Hebrews 11:8 tells us, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8). Abraham obeyed the command of the LORD by faith. The apostle Paul explains to us that Abraham “did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (Rom 4:20-21). Therefore, Abram’s decision to get out from his country was based on complete trust and obedience that the LORD would personally direct and guide his path.
How did each of Abram’s family members respond to the departure of Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans? Nahor;
Sarah and Lot;
In addition to their response to Abram’s departure to Canaan, what other things can you learn about Terah’s, Nahor’s and Abram’s beliefs? See Josh 24:2-3.Hide Answer
The book of Joshua explicitly tells us that Terah, Nahor and Abram, the fathers of the Israelites were serving other gods on the other side of the Euphrates in old times. Then the LORD called Abram out from his country to a Promised Land (Josh 24:2-3). By faith, Abram obeyed and the LORD led him throughout all the land of Canaan. But Nahor’s decision to remain in Ur of the Chaldeans and Terah’s resolution to dwell in Haran might have reflected their unbelief and doubt towards the LORD’s calling and His promise.
Share your own personal “leap-of-faith” experience.
What was the significance of the LORD’s appearance and promise to Abram in Canaan?Hide Answer
The LORD’s appearance and promise that He would give the land of Canaan to Abram’s descendants were significant for Abram’s journey. First, when Abram came to the land of Canaan, he saw that the Canaanites were in the land (Gen 12:5-6). The LORD’s promise to Abram at that time acted as a confirmation to the impossible. Though the land for his descendants were inhabited by the Canaanites, the LORD promised Abram that He would give him the land. Second, the LORD’s appearance to Abram acted as a guidance for his journey. Once Abram arrived at Canaan, he travelled and passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. The Book of Hebrews tells us that Abram did not know where he was going (Heb 11:8). But by faith, he went out, passed through the land and obeyed the calling of God. The appearance of the LORD in Canaan after Abram travelled from Ur of the Chaldeans strengthened his faith in God and in the calling of the LORD.
How many times did Abram build an altar to the LORD in this passage? And where did he build it?Hide Answer
Abram built an altar to the LORD the first time in Shechem, after the LORD had told him that He would give the land of Canaan to his descendants. Then Abram moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. Here, Abram built an altar to the LORD for the second time and he called on the name of the LORD (Gen 12:7-8).
What can we learn from Abram in building an altar and calling on the name of the LORD?Hide Answer
Before he continued his journey, Abram built an altar and called on the name of the LORD (Gen 12:8). Abram’s altar-building was similar to that of Noah’s (Gen 8:20), expressing his sense of awe and thanksgiving to the LORD who had shown His providence and protection for his journey from Haran to Canaan. Furthermore, Abram’s act in calling on the name of the LORD was similar to that of Jabez’s (
1 Chr 4:10), signifying the request of God’s blessing and guidance in life. The book of Hebrews emphasizes that Abram did not know where he was going (Heb 11:8). Therefore, God’s guidance was truly needed for the unknown journey ahead.
Why would Abram continue his journey, going on still toward the South?Hide Answer
Geographically, the South, or Negev, was a triangular desert area southwest of the Dead Sea. [ref]
Abram’s decision to continue his journey, even going on still toward the South, the desert area, was due to his faith and obedience to the LORD. Abram had faith in the promise of the LORD, though physically the land was already inhabited by the Canaanites. His obedience to the calling of the LORD was shown through his act of dwelling in tents in the land of promise as in a foreign country and continued on his journey. Though in the end Abram did not receive the promises, he saw them afar off and was assured of them and confessed that he was stranger and pilgrim on the earth (Heb 11:9, 13). In other words, though physically Abram did not see the promise fulfilled in his life-time, he obeyed and believed that the LORD would fulfill His promises.
Share “the unknowns” in our life-journeys and how we go through them with God.