Commentary on Genesis 11:27-32

Last updated: May 30, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

27Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

Notes

27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot.

This title introduces the entire Abraham cycle (11:27-25:11). Lot, though not a son of Terah, is mentioned because he will play a major role in chapters 13-14 and 18-19.

28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans.

Ur can be identified with modern Tell el-Mauqayyar on the banks of the Euphrates in southern Mesopotamia1.

29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah.

Sarai’s genealogy may be omitted so as not to ruin the suspense in chapter 20 where it is revealed that Sarai is Abram’s half-sister (20:12). Nahor marries his niece, the daughter of the deceased Haran. Rebekah is a granddaughter of this marriage and marries Isaac, Abram’s son, in chapter 24. Marrying a half-sister is forbidden in the Law of Moses2 while marrying a niece is permitted.

30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

The Hebrew word for “barren” (akarah) means “childless” but not necessarily infertile3.

The whole Abraham cycle is an eloquent witness to the desperate desire for children in primitive society (cf. Pss 127, 128). Without children the man had no one to perpetuate his name and the wife enjoyed little prestige and much frustration, for she had no alternative career to motherhood. Further, in old age, childless couples had no children to care for them, and after death, none to carry out the funerary rites . . . . This traditional motif is give a peculiar piquancy in the Abraham stories in that this barren couple are repeatedly promised a child by God, but there is great delay in the fulfillment of that promise.4

31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

We are not told what prompted Terah to migrate. That they “settled there” parallels verse 2, where people settled at Babel. While the first migration ended in dispersal, this migration is the beginning of the divine election of Abram. Nahor is not included in the company but Haran is later called “the city of Nahor” (24:10) so he must have migrated at some time. In Hebrew, the place name Haran begins with a different consonant than the personal name Haran5. Haran was located in northern Mesopotamia6.

32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

Using 11:26 and 12:4, we can calculate that Abram left Haran for Canaan when Terah was 145 years old. This means Terah lived in Haran for 60 years after Abram departed and died only two years before Sarah (23:1). His death is mentioned here because the narrative now focuses on Abram.

Bibliography

HCSB: Wayne A. Meeks, HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, 1993

JPSTCGen: Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 1989

NJBC: Raymond E. Brown, New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1990

WBCGen1: Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15, 1987

1[NJBC] 19

2Leviticus 18:9; 20:17; Deuteronomy 27:22

3[JPSTCGen] 87

4[WBCGen1] 273

5[NJBC] 19

6[HCSB] 20

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