Abram Journeys and Sees the Land (Chaps. 12–13)
The Trial of Seeing beyond Beauty (12:1–13:1)
The Trial of Seeing beyond Wealth (13:2–10)
This account (Gen. 12–13) begins one of the great stories of human history. Despite a background of death, barrenness, and failed objectives (11:27–32), a man picks up his life and sets off into the unknown. Here is no facile undertaking. He is given no clear destination, and he lives out of a tent, moving frequently. Within his household, his closest companions are a wife who is barren and a nephew whose father died prematurely. The man is old. The place he goes is already occupied. And, out of the blue, there is a famine, bringing threats both of starvation and murder. His existence is fragile.
Yet he moves with purpose. He is sustained not by whim or empty wish but by attentiveness to the God who first made the earth and blessed it, and who now sends him forth so that he, amid his fragility, will be for all people a source of blessing.
His conduct is not perfect. When the famine causes a crisis, he succumbs to fear and in effect betrays his wife. Yet he rallies and resumes his hopeful journey. When there is a second crisis—a dispute over land—he does better, and at the end his sense of God's purpose is stronger than ever.
The literary form (of chaps. 12–13) is probably best described as a kind of travel narrative—a condensed variation on some of the travel narratives found in diverse forms of ancient writing, from epic and prophecy to the origins of Greek historiography (Lesky, 1966, 219).
Mixed with the travel narrative, however, is another form, that of the test or trial, one of the Bible's well-established conventional scenes. Such trials may be initiatory (like Jesus' temptations, for instance; cf. Alter, 1981, 51), but not necessarily so. Rabbinic tradition highlighted the idea of trial and spoke of Abram's trials as numbering ten (Cassuto, II, 294–295; Clifford, 2:18). The emphasis on ten says less about precise quantity than about quality: Abram was tested thoroughly. In particular, he was tested first and last—here and when asked to offer Isaac (chaps. 12–13; chap. 22).
During Abram's journey (chaps. 12–13) the primary trials concern beauty and wealth—Sarai's beauty and the wealth of the land.