Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
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.
appeared = רָאָה râʼâh, raw-aw’; a primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitive, intransitive and causative):—advise self, appear, approve, behold, × certainly, consider, discern, (make to) enjoy, have experience, gaze, take heed, × indeed, × joyfully, lo, look (on, one another, one on another, one upon another, out, up, upon), mark, meet, × be near, perceive, present, provide, regard, (have) respect, (fore-, cause to, let) see(-r, -m, one another), shew (self), × sight of others, (e-) spy, stare, × surely, × think, view, visions.
give = נָתַן nâthan, naw-than’; a primitive root; to give, used with greatest latitude of application (put, make, etc.):—add, apply, appoint, ascribe, assign, × avenge, × be (healed), bestow, bring (forth, hither), cast, cause, charge, come, commit, consider, count, cry, deliver (up), direct, distribute, do, × doubtless, × without fail, fasten, frame, × get, give (forth, over, up), grant, hang (up), × have, × indeed, lay (unto charge, up), (give) leave, lend, let (out), lie, lift up, make, O that, occupy, offer, ordain, pay, perform, place, pour, print, × pull, put (forth), recompense, render, requite, restore, send (out), set (forth), shew, shoot forth (up), sing, slander, strike, (sub-) mit, suffer, × surely, × take, thrust, trade, turn, utter, weep, willingly, withdraw, would (to) God, yield.
alter = מִזְבֵּחַ mizbêach, miz-bay’-akh; from H2076; an altar:—altar.
Hai = עַי ʻAy, ah’ee; or (feminine) עַיָּא ʻAyâʼ; (Nehemiah 11:31), or עַיָּת ʻAyâth; (Isaiah 10:28), for H5856; Ai, Aja or Ajath, a place in Palestine:—Ai, Aija, Aijath, Hai.; עִי ʻîy, ee; from H5753; a ruin (as if overturned):—heap.
Negeb = נֶגֶב negeb, neh’-gheb; from an unused root meaning to be parched; the south (from its drought); specifically, the Negeb or southern district of Judah, occasionally, Egypt (as south to Palestine):—south (country, side, -ward).
From David Guzik’s Commentary:
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he 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. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.
a. Then the Lord appeared to Abram: Once Abram was in the land, God reminded him of His promise. The land Abram saw belonged to Abram and his descendants.
b. To your descendants I will give this land: Abram never owned any of this land except his burial plot (Genesis 23:14-20). Yet God’s promise was enough evidence to assure Abram that he did indeed own the whole country.
c. And there he built an altar to the Lord: Abram thought this was important to do. The altar was important to Abram because it was a place to meet with God, to offer sacrifice for sin, to show submission to God, and to worship God.
There is some debate as to whether Abram saw God face to face, or whether it was in a vision/dream.
From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, we see why this appearance is in controversy.
(7) The Lord appeared unto Abram.—This is the first time that any appearance of the Deity is men tioned. Always previously the communications between God and man had been direct, without the intervention of any visible medium. Thus, God commanded Adam (Genesis 2:16); Adam and Eve heard His voice (Genesis 3:8), and He called them (Genesis 3:9); He said unto Cain (Genesis 4:6-9); unto Noah (Genesis 6:13; Genesis 7:1), and spake unto him (Genesis 8:15; Genesis 9:8): but henceforward we read repeatedly of a Divine appearance, and this visible manifestation is subsequently connected with the phrase “an angel of Jehovah” (see Genesis 16:7; Genesis 22:11, &c), and less frequently “an angel of God” (Genesis 21:17; Judges 6:20; Judges 13:9). Upon the question whether this was a created angel, or whether it was an anticipation of the incarnation of Christ, see Excursus on “Angel of Jehovah” at end of this book.
This appearance to Abram in Genesis is one in a series of transition points. Prior appearances of The Lord are presented in the text as being direct. Subsequent appearances, after Abram, are through a medium (ether in a dream, an angel, a pillar of fire, etc.) With Abram, the nature of the appearances of God are often unclear. The word from which the English “appeared” is translated, here, is רָאָה râʼâh, raw-aw’. If you look at the translation provided above, it can be either literal or figurative.
Abram will have additional “controversial” visits from God as we move forward (particularly in Genesis 17.)
Either way, Abram felt the encounter was important enough that he built an alter on the spot where it occurred and called upon the name of the Lord there.
The Pulpit Commentary provides the following interpretation for the building of the alter.
There builded he an altar unto the Lord.—By so doing he took possession of the land for Jehovah, and consecrated it to Him. The altar would, further, be a place of public worship and of sacrifice. In a similar spirit Noah had taken possession of the renovated earth (Genesis 8:20).
I cannot say that I know of any reason to disagree with this interpretation.
Looking at verse 8, we see some historical context for the names of Bethel and Hai, in The Pulpit Commentary:
Genesis 12:8And 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.Verse 8. – And he removed – literally, caused (i.e. his tent) to be broken up (cf. Genesis 26:22 – from thence – no cause for which being assigned, the hostility of his neighbors (Luther, Calvin) and the commencement of the famine (Alford, Keil) have been conjectured as the probable reasons – unto a (literally, the) mountain east of Bethel. Here proleptically named “house of God,” being called in the time of Abram Luz (Genesis 28:19). Its present name is Beitin. And pitched his tent (cf. Genesis 9:21), having Bethel on the west – literally, sea-ward, the Mediterranean being the western boundary of Palestine (cf. Genesis 28:14; Exodus 10:19; Exodus 26:22; Ezekiel 48:1, 2) – and Hai – Ai (עַי; עַיָּא, Nehemiah 11:31; עַיָּת, Isaiah 10:28); with the article, because signifying “the heap of ruins,” near which it was no doubt built; the scene of the first Israelitish defeat under Joshua (Genesis 7:2): its ruins still exist under the name of Medinet Gai – on the east (about five miles from Bethel): and there he builded an altar unto the Lord (vide supra), and called upon the name of the Lord (vide Genesis 4:26).
It is worth remembering that when we see a name, in the Hebrew Bible, beginning or ending in “el” that God is usually being invoked or described in some way.
The Pulpit Commentary explains further what is meant by traveling to Negeb.
Genesis 12:9And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.Verse 9. – And Abram journeyed (literally, broke up, e. g., his encampment, going on still – literally, going on and breaking up (cf. Genesis 8:3); “going and returning” – towards the south. Negleb, the dry region, from nagabh, to be dried, the southern district of Palestine (Genesis 13:3; Genesis 20:1; Genesis 24:62). The LXX. render, ἐστρατοπέδευσεν ἐν, τῇ ἐρήμῳ. . Of this section vers. 5, 6, 8a are commonly assigned to the Elohist; and 7, 8b, and 9 to the Jehovist.