I am supposed to lead a bible study for the adult bible study at my church tonight. Here is what I have for them!
Abraham Settles in Canaan
When would this story have taken place? According to the biblical dating, this event would have happened around 2000 BCE, although the use of round numbers in the text makes this a VERY loose number. Based on the major upheaval in the region surrounding the collapse of Ur III, it seems possible that Abraham lived somewhere between 2000 and 1800 BCE. The collapse of the empire would have been a good reason to get up and move your family!
The first thing that I want to call your attention about the text to in this story is that 12:1 is Abraham’s first encounter with Yahweh. There is no introduction, but simply a covenant command and promise.
What is a covenant?
In the Ancient Near East, the time and space setting of the Old Testament, covenant forms were very common. In the Ancient Near East, there were two major types of covenant: the parity treaty and the suzerain/vassal treaty.
The parity treaty was simply a treaty between two equal parties; these treaties usually were military alliances made between neighboring countries when a greater threat was approaching.
The other type of treaty, the one that pertains to our study in Genesis, is the suzerain/vassal treaty. In this type of treaty, one party was bigger and more powerful than the other. We see examples of this in letters found between the Egyptian pharaoh and his colonies in Canaan during the 14th century BCE. In these letters, we see the vassal lords living in Canaan appealing to the suzerain pharaoh for help. Usually in a suzerain/vassal treaty, we see stipulations that the vassal must keep up, and blessings that the suzerain would bestow upon the vassal if the stipulations were kept up. Usually the vassal would have to pay taxes or tribute and join with the suzerain in battle if the suzerain went to war. In return, the main blessing bestowed on the vassal would have been protection, and that is why the vassals in these letters would ask for help.
If you look at the suzerain / vassal treaty handouts, you will see a list and examples of the major components of a suzerain / vassal treaty. They are as follows: (a) Preamble/Title, (b) Historical Prologue, (c) Stipulations/Obligations, (d) Deposition and/or Reading of Document, (e) List of Witnesses, (f) Curses and Blessings.
Looking at Genesis 12:1-3, how many of these components do you see (hint: it is not many!). I see one stipulation: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” I also see a list of blessings: (a) “I will make of you a great nation,” (b) “I will bless you,” (c) [I will] “make your name great so that you will be a blessing,” (d) “I will bless those who bless you,” (e) “I will curse those who curse you,” and finally (f) “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
What is interesting is that there is no Preamble and no Historical Prologue. The purpose of these two components of a treaty was to point out all of the good things that the suzerain has done for the vassal in the past. For example, in Deuteronomy 1-3, we read a historical prologue that explains that Yahweh has done all of these great things for the people, such as bringing them up and out of Egypt. The reason why one follows the stipulations is not just because of the blessings that will happen to them if they do follow, or the curses if they do not, but instead the reason is because the suzerain has ALREADY blessed them!
Why do you think that is not included here?
I would say that it is because this is the beginning! Abraham, through all that he does, through his failings and his successes could be described by one word: FAITH. Although there are times where he seems to lack faith (such as in the later story of Hagar and Ishmael), but overall throughout the story he seems to (usually) do things without question.
That is what is so amazing about the first three verses of chapter 12; Abraham displays such faith that he is simply told to go, without a historical reason to trust Yahweh at all, and he gets up and goes.
The next feature of this text that I want to talk about is the stipulation within the covenant. “Go…to the land that I will show you.” Pretty vague, huh? This idea is what the rest of the book of Genesis, all of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua point towards. The “land that I will show you” is what the Israelite people spend the first era of their history, from Abraham to the Conquest, trying to obtain. It is what they spend the second era of their history, from the Judges to the Exile, trying to keep. It finally ends up being what they spend the third era of their history, from the Exile up through the New Testament, trying to get back. The “land” is central to the Israelites theology, because it is based on the promise of God.
Abraham’s response to the call of God is extraordinary; we read in verses 4-5 that Abraham, although already 75 years old, took his family and all of their possessions and travelled to Canaan, where he set up an altar to the Lord. He then continued travelling south, and set up another altar east of Bethel, and then finally continues south and west to Egypt because of a famine. This is interesting, because Abraham has now come to the Promised Land, crossed it, and gone out the other side! After the Pharaoh gives him and his family the boot, they travel back north to just outside of Canaan, where he asks his nephew, Lot, which land he would prefer. Lot chooses the plain of the Jordan, to the east, and Abraham moves into Canaan.
At this point, Yahweh finally stops in and lets Abraham know that THIS LAND, Canaan where he is now living, is the land that will be given to his offspring and where he will build Abraham’s nation. Abraham’s home was at Hebron, about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem.
Moving on to chapter 15, Abraham asked God why he is still without an heir, and God did something interesting: God told Abraham to bring a three-year-old heifer, female goat, ram, and a turtle dove and a pigeon. Abraham then splits the 4-legged animals in two. Yahweh then told Abraham about the coming oppression in Egypt, but promised that at the end of 400 years he would bring them out safely and with great possessions. Abraham then saw a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the pieces of the animals that have ben cut in two. This was a sign of the cutting of the covenant. Finally, Yahweh defines the exact borders of the land.