Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
13 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.
2 Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3 And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.
Where exactly is the Negeb?
neg’-eb (ha-neghebh, “the negeb” or simply, neghebh, from a root meaning “to be dry,” and therefore in the first instance implying the “dry” or “parched regions,” hence, in the Septuagint it is usually translated eremos, “desert,” also nageb):
As the Negeb lay to the South of Judah, the word came to be used in the sense of “the South,” and is so used in a few passages (e.g. Genesis 13:14) and in such is translated lips (see GEOGRAPHY). The English translation is unsuitable in several passages, and likely to lead to confusion. For example, in Genesis 13:1 Abram is represented as going “into the South” when journeying northward from Egypt toward Bethel; in Numbers 13:22 the spies coming from the “wilderness of Zin” toward Hebron are described as coming “by the South,” although they were going north. The difficulty in these and many other passages is at once obviated if it is recognized that the Negeb was a geographical term for a definite geographical region, just as Shephelah, literally, “lowland,” was the name of another district of Palestine. In the Revised Version (British and American) “Negeb” is given in margin, but it would make for clearness if it were restored to the text.
ABRAM’S RETURN FROM EGYPT AND HIS SEPARATION FROM LOT.
(1-4) He went on his journeys.—Or, according to his stations, which the Vulgate very reasonably translates, “by the same route by which he had come.” This route was first into the south, the Negeb, which is virtually a proper name, and thence to the spot between Beth-el and Ai mentioned in Genesis 12:8.
At the first does not mean that this was the first altar erected by Abram, but that he built it on his first arrival there. His first altar was at Shechem. As regards his wealth, while his cattle had been greatly increased in Egypt, he had probably brought the silver and gold with him from Mesopotamia. Gold, however, was plentiful at that time in Egypt, but silver rare.
In verse 2, we are told that Abram is very rich. How did he become so rich?
- We are told that Abram acquired some of his wealth in Haran. (12:4)
- We are told that for Sarai’s sake, Pharaoh dealt well with Abram. (12:16)
Is there more to this story?
From Flavius Josephus:
2. For whereas the Egyptians were formerly addicted to different customs, and despised one another’s sacred and accustomed rites, and were very angry one with another on that account, Abram conferred with each of them, and, confuting the reasonings they made use of, every one for their own practices, demonstrated that such reasonings were vain and void of truth: whereupon he was admired by them in those conferences as a very wise man, and one of great sagacity, when he discoursed on any subject he undertook; and this not only in understanding it, but in persuading other men also to assent to him. He communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy; for before Abram came into Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning; for that science came from the Chaldeans into Egypt, and from thence to the Greeks also.
According to Flavius Josephus, Abram taught the Egyptians both arithmetic and astronomy. Perhaps he was paid for that service? I caution any reader here that Josephus wrote his histories more than one thousand years after Abram’s life. His histories might not be entirely reliable. On the other hand, Josephus had access to the Second Jewish Temple prior to its destruction at the hands of the Romans. It is a certainty that ancient scrolls and ancient knowledge were lost, for all time, when the Second Temple was destroyed. We can also speculate that ancient Jewish scholars may have had some access to ancient libraries such as the one at Alexandria – also destroyed by the Romans.
Tangent: Could an early part of dynastic Egypt have been influenced by the Chaldeans? It’s certainly possible. HERE is a video arguing that the original Great Sphinx was a Mesopotamian lion. Would Abram have been part of that influence tradition? Or was he comfortable going to Egypt because of a Chaldean presence already there? If he brought math and astronomy, then it is certainly arguable that he played a role in the early stages of outside influence. Of course, that leads us toward a potential rabbit hole wherein we need to spend extensive time sorting out timelines, debating when someone may have existed, etc. That is a venture for another day.
Also notable in this account from Josephus is that it does list Abram as a Chaldean. That seems to cut against the notion that Abram’s Ur is different than the Sumerian Ur.
What other theories exist to explain Abram’s wealth in Egypt? Well, there are many. One of my favorites, for entertainment value – if not for provable historicity, is that Abram became wealthy due to his involvement in the Anunnaki Wars. That said… I am open-minded about deeply ancient history. The Bible tells us so little about the Nephilim. Widely read non-canonical religious texts (The Book of Enoch, The Book of the Watchers, The Book of Giants, etc.) give us an account that looks, well, alien. There’s even a section of verses from Genesis coming soon, involving the destruction of two cities from above, that certainly could get the Ancient Aliens treatment.
But let’s get back on track. Here is David Guzik’s Commentary regarding these verses:
a. To the place where his tent had been at the beginning: Even though Abram came back from Egypt with great riches, he returned to the same place as before. He was right back where he started. Essentially, Abram’s time in Egypt was wasted time. God could have and would have provided for his needs in Canaan.
i. Abram should not have used the blessing God brought to him in Egypt as a justification for going there. Even though God is great enough to bring good even when we disobey, there is still a cost to pay.
ii. Abram’s unbelief took him from his place of worship; it led him into sin, and caused him to lead others into sin. It made him more confident in his ability to lie than in the protecting power of God. It even broke apart his family for a while. Finally, even an ungodly king rightly rebuked him.
b. To the place of the altar which he had made there at first: Yet, Abram also did what he should. Instead of torturing himself about his past sin, he got busy doing what he needed to do: living with the tent as a pilgrim and the altar as a worshipper, and calling on the name of the LORD.
i. The church has always had the challenge of what to do with believers who slip into sin and want to come back into the church. For example, in the third century, the heroes of the faith were the martyrs and the confessors, but there were also many “lapsed” believers who buckled under the threat of persecution. Some churches were too lax, admitting them back as if nothing happened. Some were too harsh, saying they could never come back to the church and be used of God. Most churches did the right thing: they allowed the lapsed back, but basically as beginners again, not pretending as if nothing happened.
ii. Here, Abram came back into the Promised Land basically as a beginner. He came back to Bethel, back with the tent and the altar, back doing what he should.
iii. God wants us to walk in our first love and our first works (Revelation 2:4-5).
He points out here that Abram essentially starts back over from the spot where he left his original worship and describes the time as wasted time.
That may be true. However, we are not told in the text that Abram left for Egypt in disobedience. We are also not told how long he remained in Egypt. The text states that Abram left the Promised Land during a famine. No famine is mentioned after his return. He was at least in Egypt long enough to outlast the famine. Was he in Egypt a year? Longer? The only point that guides us on that question is Sarai’s relationship with Pharaoh. She was there long enough to be taken into Pharaoh’s house. They were not there so long that Sarai had a chance to become impregnated by the Egyptian ruler. The “preparation” time for Sarai, in Pharaoh’s household, may have taken months or even years.
This section of verses ends with Abram calling upon the name of the Lord.
We are given no additional information about God’s response. The emphasis is on Abram’s action.