Gen 12:1

1The 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.[a] 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.”

This is the first time God speaks to Abram, yet there is no introduction like "Hi, this is Yahweh or El Shaddai speaking" (see Gen 17:1), no foreword that Abram was a righteous man, similar to what we find with Noah "for you have I found righteous before me" (Gen 7:1), just "leave your country and people and I will make you great". The obvious question is: Why does Abram deserve all this?

In Gen 17:1, for example, God tells Abram "walk in my ways and I will make you a great nation". This makes a lot of sense. But leaving one's country doesn't seem to be a good enough reason for a god to bestow all these blessings upon Abram; and besides, Abram was heading to Canaan before god told him to do so as is evident from 11:31, so this was not much of a big deal for Abram. It would seem more appropriate if chapter 12 started with something like verse 17:1, which includes a proper introduction, that is name of the particular god speaking, and the basis of the covenant "you walk in my ways, and I in turn will bless you". However, the first time god reveals himself to Abram, he receives a very cold introduction, and the covenant god makes with him seems to be unconditional, that is without any expectations of Abram to walk in his ways or do anything to deserve his blessing. Why doesn't God (or should I say the biblical author) ask anything from Abram before promising him all that, or at least explain why he chose Abram from all the other people out there?

Introducing one's name seems to be the protocol in the rest of the bible. See for example Gen 28:13 and Exodus 3:6 where god first introduces himself to Jacob and Moses. However, this question is only secondary to the main question (of why this covenant is so different) as there are some exceptions to this rule.

  • Stephen reveals more of what happened at that time : The God of glory appeared unto Abraham, Acts 7:2. As with Saul on the Emmaus road - who could resist such an approach ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 23:06

3 Answers 3


Almost all commentators now structure the literary form of the book of Genesis around the “Toledoths” – a Hebrew word that is variously translated as, “the generations of”, “the history of”, “the account of”, “the record of”, etc.. The debate in Genesis concerns the function of these Toledoths – do they form a heading (for what follows) or a colophon (footnote what has preceded)? Wiseman (Wiseman, P. J. (1936). New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis. London: Marsh, Morgan and Scott.) suggested (after studying Akkadian documents) that these were colophons containing the identity of the author, and created an elaborate Tablet theory about Genesis. What are the facts? The 11 Toledoths in Genesis are:

  1. Gen 2:4 toledoth of Heavens and Earth
  2. Gen 5:1 toledoth of Adam
  3. Gen 6:9 toledoth of Noah
  4. Gen 10:1 toledoth of Shem Ham and Japheth
  5. Gen 11:10 toledoth of Shem
  6. Gen 11:27 toledoth of Terah
  7. Gen 25:12 toledoth of Ishmael
  8. Gen 25:19 toledoth of Isaac
  9. Gen 36:1 toledoth of Esau
  10. Gen 36:9 toledoth of Esau in Hill Country
  11. Gen 37:2 toledoth of Jacob

If the Toledoths are intended as a Colophon (footnote containing the author’s “signature”) to each section, then:

  • The last third of Genesis has no author
  • Some sections were written by people who did not witness the events or were antagonistic to the events and people, eg, most of the last 5 except Gen 36:9.
  • The first section was written by the heavens and the earth

By contrast, if each Toledoth is a section heading:

  • Each section is about what the heading states without exception
  • Gen 1:1 – 2:3 is clearly written separately and is in a very different style, verging on poetic.

This leads to a simple idea about the possible origin of the book of Genesis. It is probable (in agreement with Wiseman) that each Toledoth was written by a different person (NOT the person in the Toledoth), and later, Moses collated them, edited and arranged them, with an added introduction about creation, to create the book of Genesis as we now have it.


The story of Abram/Abraham is clearly part of the toledoth of Terah (Gen 11:27-25:11). The section Gen 11:27-32 then provides the background to Abram's story from which we are told several important things:

  • Terah decided to leave Ur of the Chaldeans, possibly at God's request, to go to Canaan; a rather primitive place compared to Ur. However, they got only as far as Haran, presumably because Terah was too old to continue and died there.
  • If this is true, then Abraham would have been familiar with the God of heaven (Gen 24:3, 7) from his father's teaching

Thus, Genesis does have background material for Abram immediately preceding Gen 12 as expected.

  • I appreciate your effort and all (and the elaboration on the Toledoth) but I do not see how this answers my question!
    – bach
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 0:33
  • 1
    Then I am not sure what question to answer. Abram background is given (for the previous 10 generations) - he was semite, a Hebrew (descended from Eber) and clearly had moved under divine instruction from his father. Is the problem that the Bible is not written the way you would like?
    – user25930
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 1:01

God reveals his motivation concerning Abraham in the record of the visit of the three men to Abraham's tent in Genesis 18.

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
-- Genesis 18:19 (KJV)

This "knowledge" of Abraham was clearly the foundation upon which a lasting covenant could be made.

  • enegue there are lots of verses in the bible from which Abram's righteousness can be seen thus making the covenant more understandable(for example 17:1 which I mention in my post), the problem is that they are out of order! The reader which encounters Gen 12:1 is completely clueless about who Abram is and would be perplexed as to why god would make a covenant with him.
    – bach
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 0:32
  • 1
    They are not out of order. The author, be it man (for those who prefer God to be fictional), or God (for those who prefer God to be real), is under no obligation to relate his narrative in any way other than he chooses. You as a reader of the narrative are not left in the dark in regard to the strength of Abraham's faith, and your expectation of a hi-this-is-Yahweh-speaking introduction is somewhat presumptuous.
    – enegue
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 9:35

God's Redemption plan for man was already in place before the foundation of the world. The promise given unto Eve, the seed of a woman, is the same promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even all the way until David. Jesus being the root and the seed of David, the Bright and Morning Star. Did any of them truly deserve this? Or are they just part of the story in which God chose to use men to be born and made manifest into this world? Even Rahab the Harlot is part of the lineage of Jesus, and Ruth as well who was a Moabite woman and technically not even a true "Israelite". God has no respect of persons.

David, speaking to God said:

With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright; With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.

-Psalm 18:25-26

For more on Abraham and his seed to which the promises were made read Galatians 3.

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