Genesis 12–17: Instant gratification is never instant or gratifying

It’s not easy to leave one’s family, even at 75 years old, but God called Abram out of his father’s house for his own good. This was Abram’s first test. 

In the Torah passage לֶךְ-לְךָ Lech Lecha/Lekh Lekha (“go forth,” Genesis 12:1-17:27), we learn that Abram’s faith came from both hearing God’s instruction and doing it. Doing matters, not just hearing. Hearing is easy, doing is much more involved and more difficult. When our life is smooth and we get instant gratification, it’s easy to continue walking in a way that brings a quick blessing. But when we are doing something that is right but we do not receive instant gratification, it’s harder to continue doing what is right.

When God tells us to do the right thing but we don’t want to do it, it’s hard to do it anyway.

What’s up with all the altars?

Abram’s first settlement in the land of Canaan is near the town of Shechem, where he builds his first altar.

You don’t burn something on an altar that is not valuable. The animal you put on the altar to praise God is something of value to you, especially when it’s all burned up completely.

Pagans used altars to worship false gods, even sacrificing their own children, too but that doesn’t make altars intrinsically pagan.

God has told us in Scripture that animals are of value for worship. Pigs are not one of them, regardless of what the pagans did. 

Lesson of the chiasm in Genesis 12–13

Chiastic literary structure[^1] is throughout the Bible. It’s carefully designed to draw our attention to a particular point. When you are looking for chiasms, you don’t always look for repetition of the exact pattern. Sometimes you will find a polar opposite.

Abram did not lie about Sarai but he didn’t tell the entire truth about her either.

A… Gen. 12:8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

B… Gen. 12:9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

C… Gen. 12:10 Now there was a famine in the land

D… Gen. 12:10 and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

E… Gen. 12:11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai,“I know what a beautiful woman you are.

F… Gen. 12:12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live.

G… Gen. 12:13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

H… Gen. 12:14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.

Gen. 12:16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

H’… Gen. 12:17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. Gen. 13:18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?

G’… Gen. 12:19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife?

F’… Gen. 12:19 Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!

E’… Gen. 12:20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

D’… Gen. 13:1 So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him.

C’… Gen. 13:2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

B’… Gen. 13:3 From the Negev

A’… he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier Gen. 13:4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

When Pharaoh took Sarai away from and then gave her back to Abram, Pharaoh didn’t just throw them out of his house, he threw them out of the country. We would call it deportation.

The opposite of famine is plenty. Abram went from famine to plenty during his sojourn to Egypt. Why is God drawing our attention to the fact that Pharaoh gave Abram lots of material wealth and servants?

The events that happened in Egypt directly contributed to the separation of Abram and Lot shortly after they all returned to Canaan. That’s why this story is here.

The story of Abram entering into Egypt with favor and leaving it by force is paralleled in the Exodus, including calling on God’s name, plagues and eviction and never returning to Egypt again.

Lot and Abram separate

In Abram’s time, there was no salt sea at the end of the Jordan River. The valley renown for its fertility and for the river that flowed through it. But Sodom and Gomorrah’s terrible reputation was also well known. When the Bible says that Lot “faced his tent towards Sodom,” Lot knew he was facing someplace terrible. But Lot saw the green valley, which was the “clear choice” and an easier way even thought he was moving closer to a very wicked place.

After Lot left, Abram received another promise from God.

“The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.” (Genesis 13:14–18 NASB)

Abram also starts walking around and surveying the land. He leaves Bethel and settles in Hebron, which later gives him a view of the destruction of the “cities of the plain.”

Abram chose the hard path; Lot the easy path but Lot’s easy path will cause his family much suffering. 

The war of nine kings

What is the message of the war of the kings? There are so many names, so many cities that no longer even exist. The entire bible gives either God’s way or man’s way, they are written so we can compare them and choose the right way.

The area did not have salt seas at the time but there were bitumen pits. It’s a place with a strategic advantage for the kings of Sodom and the others who were natives of the valley, but their plan backfired.

Invading kings

  • Amraphel king of Shinar
  • Arioch king of Ellasar
  • Chedorlaomer king of Elam
  • Tidal king of Goiim

Defending kings

  • Bera king of Sodom
  • Birsha king of Gomorrah
  • Shinab king of Admah
  • Shemeber king of Zeboiim
  • King of Bela (that is, Zoar)

Two kings came to greet Abram after his victory: The king of Sodom and Melchizedek, king of Salem. The King of Sodom asks only for the return of his people and to trade. A king’s real strength is in the number of subjects he controls, not in his possessions.

Sodom offers Abram an abundance of livestock, money and other material goods. Melchizedek offers Abram bread, wine and a blessing and on top of it, Melchizedek receives a 10th of the spoil from Abram.

Our human instinct would be to go with the king of Sodom, but Abram valued Melchizedek’s blessing far more than all the material wealth Sodom could give him.

Why does Abram decline Sodom’s offer? Satan offered Yeshua the entire world. It was Satan’s to give and Yeshua said no. Both Abram and Yeshua understood what is truly important and valuable.

Abram didn’t just politely decline Sodom’s offer, he utterly rejected it, refusing to accept even a shoestring from Sodom.

Hagar and Sarai

Sarai made a choice but God used it. If God says something will not happen, it won’t happen. God was not shocked by any of this. The split between Ishmael and (later) Isaac was purposeful. Ishmael lives in the flesh, Isaac lives in the spirit.

A portion of a page from the Venice Haggadah of 1609. Displays the three wives of Abraham and his sons. From the Yale University Library, “The image … shows Abraham with the three women in his life. In the center are Sarah and Isaac; on the left are Hagar and Ishmael and on the right are Keturah and her children.” Photo of the Venice Haggadah of 1609 via Wikipedia Commons.

How did God intend this? They hate, hate, and hate each other. They don’t tolerate each other’s existence because the spirit can not live at peace with the flesh. Good and evil are mutually exclusive.

Just as Abram had to choose between Sodom and Melchizedek, we have to choose between Ishmael and Isaac.


Abram is 99 years old when God asks Abram (and all the males in his house) to get circumcised. Ouch!

“God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. “A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”” (Genesis 17:9–14 NASB)

Abram inherited land from the Nile to the Euphrates but the most important inheritance is the future Messiah and eternal life.

Someone who chooses circumcision as an adult is choosing to live by the Torah as it is written. They no longer want to live in the Israelite community as a non-Israelite. They are “all in.” Paul tells us in the New Testament that if one chooses not to be circumcised, that is ok. Every person has the right to choose. Salvation is not earned. Torah is not a way to earn salvation. It’s simply a path of life.

Banner Photo: Rural route between Deuri & San Antonio. Zack Clark, the photographer said, “Fork in the road and I took the one heading down (wrong choice).” Photo by Zack Clark via Wikipedia, public domain photo. 

Summary: Tammy

[^1]: “In rhetoric, chiasmus, or less commonly chiasm, (Latin term from Greek χίασμα, ‘crossing,’ from the Greek χιάζω, chiázō, ‘to shape like the letter Χ’) is the figure of speech in which two or more clauses are presented to the reader or hearer, then presented again in reverse order, in order to make a larger point.” from “Chiasmus,” Wikipedia,



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