The Patriarchal Period spans from 2166 B. C. to 1876 B. C. The land designated as Canaan, or the Promised Land, is situated along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It contains some of the most sacred, strategic, and bloodiest territory on earth. It was in this place that the divine Son of God was to present himself and sacrifice his own life for the world’s redemption.
The city of Ur is the reputed early home of Abraham. God chose him and set him apart out of an area that was famous for their idolatry. Each of the cities had their own forms of idol worship, and they were all very heavily involved in it. Abraham had moved from Ur to the different cities upward all the way to Haran while his father, Terah was still alive. He stayed in Haran until Terah died, and then God told him basically to go to a place that he would tell him. He didn’t even know where this place would be when he started out.
Abraham was 75 years old when God called him to leave Haran and journey on to Canaan. The Bible tells us nothing about his itinerary, but a knowledge of the cultural and geographical background can lead us to some valid assumptions. As a trader and stockman, Abraham would know the routes available and their conditions in the various seasons. He probably would have left Haran in the spring of the year 2090 B. C. when he knew that the pastures lying ahead would still be green from the winter rains. It is thought that he traveled South from Haran to the Euphrates and then went directly west to Aleppo, then journeyed on southward to Damascus. It was a city that was a rich oasis supplied with water from the Lebanon Mountains. It was also an important commercial center, and was situated at the crossroads of the two main international highways of the ancient Near East: (1) the Via Maris “way of the sea” which swung down westward through present-day Israel to Egypt; and (2) “the King’s Highway” which lead south to Arabia and the northeast part of the Red Sea.
Abraham chose the Via Maris and traveled South with his family and livestock to Canaan. At Schechem, which was about 35 miles north of Jerusalem, he built an altar to the Lord. It was there that God confirmed his promise to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan. Abraham journeyed farther south and stopped between Bethel and Ai to build another altar. Then he continued on to the southern region of the territory called the Negev. It became an important center for the patriarchs.
After finding himself in the midst of a famine, he sought refuge in Egypt. The situation of famine was not uncommon in this land, because it has a marginal climate and at that time agriculture was completely dependent on rainfall. In Egypt, the Nile River which originated in the mountains of Africa and was well-watered continuously, provided a more certain supply of water for crops and cattle. Many of the people from Canaan had sought refuge in Egypt over the years because of the better climate.
Abraham had an embarrassing incident there which involved Sarah, and he was asked to leave Egypt by the pharaoh. Genesis 12:13-20 After leaving, he then went back through the Negev to the hill country.
After separating from Lot, he settled at “the oaks of Mamre” which later became known as Hebron. Evidently, when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, it looked much different than it does today in that area. The Bible says that it looked like the “garden of the Lord … before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah”. It was this lush place that Lot chose, leaving Abraham to choose Hebron. Some major geographical changes must have taken place in that area since the destruction of the cities. They look nothing now like the Bible describes them at that time.
Abraham was not just a desert shepherd, judging from his rescue of Lot and his family from the four Mesopotamian kings. (Genesis 14) Abraham and his 318 trained men overtook the plunderers in Upper Galilee, defeated them, and then pursued them north of Damascus. After this great victory, after having another embarrassing incident where Sarah was concerned with another king (Genesis 20), he established peaceful relations with that king and settled at a well located in the center of the Negev. This place was called Beersheba, and there he planted a tamarisk tree and worshiped God.
Although he had sojourned in the hill country and the Negev for about 60 years, evidently he did not own any land at the time of Sarah’s death. He had to negotiate to buy a burial cave for her. The Cave of Machpelah became the burial place also for Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob.
The following map shows the wanderings of Abraham. The map starts at the city of UR, and can be followed all the way to Beersheba by following the red broken lines. This map covers all the places that he lived.
ABRAHAM’S JOURNEY TO CANAAN