Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
gen 12:1We have here the call by which Abram was removed out of the land of his nativity into the land of promise, which was designed both to try his faith and obedience, and also to set him apart for God. The circumstances of this call we may be somewhat helped to the knowledge of, from Stephen's speech, Act 7:2, where we are told, That the God of glory appeared to him to give him this call, appeared in such displays of his glory as left Abram no room to doubt. God spake to him after in divers manners: but this first time, when the correspondence was to be settled, he appeared to him as the God of glory, and spake to him. That this call was given him in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and in obedience to this call, he came out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran or Haran about five years, and from thence, when his father was dead, by a fresh command, he removed him into the land of Canaan. Some think Haran was in Chaldea, and so was still a part of Abram's country; or he having staid there five years, began to call it his country, and to take root there, till God let him know this was not the place he was intended for. Get thee out of thy country - Now, By this precept he was tried whether he loved God better than he loved his native soil, and dearest friends, and whether he could willingly leave all to go along with God. His country was become idolatrous, his kindred and his father's house were a constant temptation to him, and he could not continue with them without danger of being infected by them; therefore get thee out, (Heb.) vade tibi, get thee gone with all speed, escape for thy life, look not behind thee. By this precept he was tried whether he could trust God farther than he saw him, for he must leave his own country to go to a land that God would shew him; he doth not say, 'tis a land that I will give thee nor doth he tell him what land it was, or what kind of land; but he must follow God with an implicit faith, and take God's word for it in the general, though he had no particular securities given him, that he should be no loser by leaving his country to follow God.
gen 12:2Here is added an encouraging promise, nay a complication of promises, I will make of thee a great nation - When God took him from his own people, he promised to make him the head of another people. This promise was. A great relief to Abram's burden, for he had now no child. A great trial to Abram's faith, for his wife had been long barren, so that if he believe, it must be against hope, and his faith must build purely upon that power which can out of stones raise up children unto Abraham. I will bless thee - Either particularly with the blessing of fruitfulness, as he had blessed Adam and Noah; or in general, I will bless thee with all manner of blessings, both of the upper and nether springs: leave thy father's house, and I will give thee a father's blessing, better than that of thy progenitors. I will make thy name great - By deserting his country he lost his name there: care not for that, (saith God) but trust me, and I will make thee a greater name than ever thou couldst have had there. Thou shalt be a blessing - That is, thy life shall be a blessing to the places where thou shalt sojourn. I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee - This made it a kind of league offensive and defensive between God and Abram. Abram heartily espoused God's cause, and here God promiseth to interest himself in his. In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed - This was the promise that crowned all the rest, for it points at the Messiah, in whom all the promises are yea and amen.
gen 12:4So Abram departed - He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. His obedience was speedy and without delay, submissive and without dispute.
gen 12:5They took with them the souls that they had gotten - That is, the proselytes they had made, and persuaded to worship the true God, and to go with them to Canaan; the souls which (as one of the Rabbins expresseth it) they had gathered under the wings of the divine Majesty.
gen 12:6The Canaanite was then in the land - He found the country possessed by Canaanites, who were likely to be but bad neighbours; and for ought appears he could not have ground to pitch his tent on but by their permission.
gen 12:7And the Lord appeared to Abram - Probably in a vision, and spoke to him comfortable words; Unto thy seed will I give this land - No place or condition can shut us out from God's gracious visits. Abram is a sojourner, unsettled, among Canaanites, and yet here also he meets with him that lives, and sees him. Enemies may part us and our tents, us and our altars, but not us and our God.
gen 12:8And there he built an altar unto the Lord who appeared to him, and called on the name of the Lord - Now consider this, As done upon a special occasion when God appeared to him, then and there he built an altar, with an eye to the God that appeared to him: thus he acknowledged with thankfulness God's kindness to him in making him that gracious visit and promise: and thus he testified his confidence in, and dependence upon the word which God had spoken. As his constant practice, whithersoever he removed. As soon as Abram was got to Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up, the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent, God had an altar and that an altar sanctified by prayer.
gen 12:10And there was a famine in the land - Not only to punish the iniquity of the Canaanites, but to exercise the faith of Abram. Now he was tried whether he could trust the God that brought him to Canaan, to maintain him there, and rejoice in him as the God of his salvation, when the fig - tree did not blossom. And Abram went down into Egypt - See how wisely God provides, that there should be plenty in one place, when there was scarcity in another; that, as members of the great body, we may not say to one another, I have no need of you.
gen 12:13Say thou art my sister - The grace Abram was most eminent for was faith, and yet he thus fell through unbelief and distrust of the divine Providence, even after God had appeared to him twice. Alas, What will become of the willows, when the cedars are thus shaken
gen 12:17And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house - Probably, those princes especially that had commended Sarai to Pharaoh. We are not told, particularly, what these plagues were; but, doubtless, there was something in the plagues themselves, or some explication added to them, sufficient to convince them that it was for Sarai's sake they were thus plagued.
gen 12:18What is this that thou hast done? - What an ill thing; how unbecoming a wife and good man! Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? - Intimating, that if he had known that, he would not have taken her. It is a fault, too common among good people, to entertain suspicions of others beyond what there is cause for. We have often found more of virtue, honour, and conscience in some people, than we thought there was; and it ought to be a pleasure to us to be thus disappointed, as Abram was here, who found Pharaoh to be a better man than he expected.
gen 12:20And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him - That is, he charged them not to injure him in any thing. And he appointed them, when Abram was disposed to return home, after the famine, to conduct him safe out of the country, as his convoy.