The Toledot of Terah (The Covenant & the Cross #46)


We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 11:27 which reads: “Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.”

Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:

Terah, the father of the principal figure, Abraham, gives his name to the family history, since the family involved in this story descends from him. After this introduction he is not mentioned again, probably because he did not share Abraham’s faith. The family may have been involved in moon worship, since Ur and Haran were important centers for worship of the Mesopotamian moon gods Nanna and Sin.

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Martin Luther. He said: “I am much afraid that schools will prove to be the great gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the scriptures do not reign paramount.”

Our topic for today is titled “The Toledot of Terah” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

In Genesis 111, the writer has quickly whisked through centuries, if not millennia, of history. Unexpectedly, at the end of chapter 11, he slows down and begins to focus on one person: Abram (later called Abraham). In addition, he devotes more space to that person than he has given to the entire history of the cosmos to this point. From a literary perspective, these are signals that Abraham is very important. When we recall that he was to be the founding ancestor of the special nation formed at Mount Sinai, his importance becomes clear. We will soon learn, however, that he is important for other reasons as well—reasons that carry over into the New Testament.

Given the importance of Abraham and the structure of Genesis, it is very surprising that we do not find a toledot section dedicated to him. Instead, we read about the toledot of Terah, his father. Terah lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. He had three sons—Abram, Nahor, and Haran—the last of whom died in Ur. Terah left Ur with Abram and his wife, Sarai, and Haran’s son, Lot, and headed for the land of Canaan. He died on the way.

Why is this extensive section the toledot of Terah rather than of Abram? I suspect the answer is given somewhat subtly. The writer tells us that Terah left Ur to go to the land of Canaan but did not get there; rather, he stopped and settled in Haran, where he died. God then told Abram to leave Haran and go on to Canaan. The text states that when he and Sarai arrived there, Canaanites were living in the land (note the words “At that time” in Gen. 12:6). At this point, God told Abram that Canaan would be given to his descendants, which seems inconsistent, since the original call was for Abram and company to go to the land. The answer to this puzzle does not show up until Genesis 15:1316, when Abram is told that his descendants would not occupy Canaan for a long period because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

These somewhat cryptic comments are supplemented by an interesting sequence through these chapters. In Genesis 12, as we saw, the Canaanites are said to be in the land. In Genesis 13:7, it is the Canaanites and the Perizzites. By the time we get to chapter 15, the list has expanded to “Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” All these different tribes were probably somewhat related. Late in the third millennium BCE (around the year 2000), the land of Canaan was apparently uninhabited for a period, perhaps because of a drought. Near the end of that time, there is evidence of unrest and of people movements, sometimes called the Amorite invasions.

Our suggestion, then, is that Terah and Abram were called to a specific place at a specific time—a time when they would be able to move into an empty land. Terah’s delay in Haran put them outside the window of opportunity as others settled the territory. So when Abram moved in, the land was partially occupied by others, and God honored that occupancy—for a while.

One reason God allowed these intruders to stay is that some of them were worshipers of Him (such as Melchizedek, who was a Jebusite). More than this, because Terah demonstrated disbelief and disobedience by settling in Haran, he forfeited his part of the upcoming covenant. Thus, although the section is described as the toledot of Terah, the subsequent covenant is with Abraham.


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