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Genesis chapter 12

New International Version

1 The LORD had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.
2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.'
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.' So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
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.
9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, 'I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. 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.'
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. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. 'What have you done to me?' he said. 'Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!' 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
English Standard Version

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
17 But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.
King James Version

1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
4 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. 7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. 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. 9 And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.
10 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. 15 The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 16 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels. 17 And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife. 18 And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? 19 Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. 20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.
New American Standard Bible

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you into a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.'
4 So Abram went away as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the people which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; so they came to the land of Canaan. 6 Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanites were in the land at that time. 7 And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your descendants I will give this land.' So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. 8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. 9 Then Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev.
10 Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a time, because the famine was severe in the land. 11 It came about, when he was approaching Egypt, that he said to his wife Sarai, 'See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well for me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.' 14 Now it came about, when Abram entered Egypt, that the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and he gave him sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants and female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
17 But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, 'What is this that you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for myself as a wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go!' 20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.
New Living Translation

1 The LORD had said to Abram, 'Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.'
4 So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5 He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth--his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran--and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.
7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'I will give this land to your descendants.' And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the LORD, and he worshiped the LORD. 9 Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.
10 At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner. 11 As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, 'Look, you are a very beautiful woman. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife. Let's kill him; then we can have her!' 13 So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.'
14 And sure enough, when Abram arrived in Egypt, everyone noticed Sarai's beauty. 15 When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to Pharaoh, their king, and Sarai was taken into his palace. 16 Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her--sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
17 But the LORD sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram's wife. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram and accused him sharply. 'What have you done to me?' he demanded. 'Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' and allow me to take her as my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and get out of here!' 20 Pharaoh ordered some of his men to escort them, and he sent Abram out of the country, along with his wife and all his possessions.
Christian Standard Bible

1 The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the site of Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. (At that time the Canaanites were in the land.) 7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. He built an altar to the LORD there, and he called on the name of the LORD. 9 Then Abram journeyed by stages to the Negev.
10 There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to stay there for a while because the famine in the land was severe. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "Look, I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' They will kill me but let you live. 13 Please say you're my sister so it will go well for me because of you, and my life will be spared on your account." 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh, so the woman was taken to Pharaoh's household. 16 He treated Abram well because of her, and Abram acquired flocks and herds, male and female donkeys, male and female slaves, and camels.
17 But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh sent for Abram and said, "What have you done to me? Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, 'She's my sister,' so that I took her as my wife? Now, here is your wife. Take her and go!" 20 Then Pharaoh gave his men orders about him, and they sent him away with his wife and all he had.

What does Genesis chapter 12 mean?

Genesis chapter 12 declares a simple, powerful, and surprisingly deep truth: God chose Abram. God's plan was to make for Himself a great nation, a people that were His own, and He chose to begin it with Abram. Genesis 12 records this moment, which is vital in the history of the world, of God's people Israel, and of God's plan to offer salvation to the world through faith in Christ. Abram will later be renamed Abraham.

Whether God and Abram had spoken prior to Abram's official calling, the Bible does not say. Possibly without warning, the Lord speaks to Abram. He gives one command and an avalanche of promises. The command was for Abram to go away from his country, his people, and his father's house. The promises must have been well beyond anything Abram ever imagined for his life. At 75, Abram was firmly middle aged for his day, comfortably wealthy, and married to an exceptionally beautiful woman named Sarai, though they were childless.

The Lord, without explanation or condition, promises to make Abram a great nation, to bless and make Abram's name great so that Abram will be a blessing, to bless those who bless Abram and curse those who dishonor him. Finally, God promises that in Abram, all the families of the earth will be blessed. In response to this command, Abram, Sarai, Abram's nephew Lot, and their large company head into the land of Canaan. This territory will one day become the Promised Land (Genesis 12:7).

Abram's entourage first travels to Shechem, then to Bethel. Abram builds an altar to the Lord at each place, hearing another promise from the Lord at Schechem: "I will give this land to your offspring." This promise is more specific than prior statements and would have seemed even likely from a human perspective. At the time, Abram was a 75-year-old man with no children and a barren wife, standing in a land fully occupied by multiple people groups. He had no army or means to conquer anyone, and yet the Lord promised this land to his descendants.

Next, Abram journeys south, toward a sparsely populated desert area known as the Negeb (or Negev). Then he and his contingent journey still farther south, into Egypt. They were forced to do so by a famine in the land; they had to find a way to buy food from the people who lived in the well-watered lands along the Nile. This will be the first test of Abram's faith in the God who made big promises. Abram will fail the test, yet find God to be faithful, anyway.

In short, Abram was afraid he would be killed by the Egyptians when they saw how beautiful his wife was. As an immigrant in Egypt with no protection from any government, what would keep them from simply killing him and taking her for their own? Instead of asking for the Lord's help, Abram makes up a scheme: He and Sarai would say she was his sister. It was a half-truth; they did share the same father (a practice apparently common in the day). It was also a full lie, in that it was really meant to hide the fact they were married. Abram's hope, apparently, was that as Sarai's "brother" he would be able to refuse any marriage proposals. Or, at least, to remove motivation for rivals to kill him in order to have access to Sarai.

Upon entering Egypt, Abram's fear is quickly justified, partly due to his own deception. Pharaoh hears of Sarai's great beauty, and also hears that she is—apparently—unmarried. So, he takes her for his wife. Pharaoh rewards her "brother" Abram handsomely, but Abram apparently has no way to refuse the Pharaoh.

That's when the Lord steps in to ensure that His agenda for Abram's life will succeed. When we try to fulfill God's promises for Him, we typically just get in the way. So, to clean up Abram's mess, God afflicts Pharaoh's household with a plague of some kind. The resulting hubbub allows the truth of Abram's marriage to Sarai to come out. Pharaoh, understandably upset with Abram and fearful of the Lord, sends the whole company, including Sarai, right back to Canaan.