The Patriarchs (part 1)
During the early part of the second millennium B.C., the patriarchs lived in the midst of Near Eastern cultures. Abraham emigrated from the Tigris-Euphrates Valley to Palestine, and Jacob and his sons settled in Egypt at the close of the patriarchal era. The area between the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates is known as the Fertile Crescent.
At that time the great pyramids had already been constructed in Egypt. In Mesopotamia various codes of law regulating commerce and social relationships had already been written. Merchants traveling with camel and donkey caravans frequently passed through Palestine to carry on trade between the two great cultural centers of the ancient world.
The patriarchal period is covered in Genesis 12–50. It may be outlined as follows:
Isaac and Jacob
Abraham is one of the greatest and best-known characters in history. In both Judaism and Islam Abraham is a patriarch. In Christianity he is remembered as a man of great faith and as the father of the faithful. The chapters dealing with Abraham will be outlined in this way:
Background and Time
Background and Time
Abraham was born into an idolatrous family and environment Josh 24:2-3 “2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.” . His father may have participated in the worship of the moon at Ur and later at Haran. In response to God’s call, Abraham left Haran and traveled into Palestine, about 400 miles away.
Abraham’s moves may be traced in the Genesis narrative. Most of the places he visited can be identified today. Shechem, some thirty miles north of Jerusalem, was his first stopping place. Later he lived at nearby Bethel. Near Hebron tourists can still see the oaks of Mamre where Abraham built an altar and had fellowship with God. Other cities where he lived were Gerar in the Philistine country and Beersheba to the south. A trip to Egypt is also noted in the Scriptures.
Most of these chapters deal with the twenty-five years of Abraham’s life prior to the birth of Isaac (12–20). Chapters 21–25 give us relatively little detail from the seventy-five remaining years of his life.
Genesis tells of the great wealth of Abraham. The statement in 12:5, “all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran,” merely suggests the extent of his riches. But the fact that he could muster a force of 318 trained servants to deliver Lot indicates that he had vast resources (14:14). The ten-camel caravan used by Abraham’s servant on his trip to Mesopotamia points to extensive wealth, since one camel represented a larger investment than the average person could afford (24:10). Servants were added to Abraham’s household by purchase, gift, and birth (16:1; 17:23, 27; 20:14). Local chieftains recognized Abraham as a prince, and they made alliances and concluded treaties with him (14:13; 21:32; 23:6).
Customs and culture
Customs and culture
Abraham was a man of his times. His decision to sojourn in Egypt when pressured by famine may indicate a lack of faith, and his behavior before pharaoh definitely represents a period of spiritual declension. As Sarah’s husband, he might have been killed. But as her brother, he expected to be honored. Decency and strict truthfulness were both bypassed, and Abraham was later ushered out of Egypt in disgrace (12:11–20).
Laws prevalent in the Mesopotamian culture from which Abraham came also explain why he considered making his eldest servant Eliezer his heir (15:1–3). Nuzu laws provided that if a man and his wife were childless, they could adopt a servant as a son with full legal rights and the assurance of receiving the inheritance in return for constant care and proper burial at death. As Abraham weighed this possibility, God renewed His promise (15:4, 5).
At Sarah’s suggestion, Abraham accepted the idea of having a son by Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid. This, too, was in agreement with the custom of the age. A childless couple could also adopt the son of a handmaid as a legal heir. After ten years in Canaan, without any prospect of the promised son, Abraham and Sarah may have expected that this method would bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. Thirteen years later, when Abraham was ninety-nine, God rejected these plans and this time assured him that Sarah would bear him the promised son. At this time the covenant was renewed, and circumcision was instituted as its visible sign (17:1–27; cf. 12:1–3; 13:14–18; 15:18–21; Col. 2:11).
There was another spiritual lapse in Abraham’s life, when he lied about his wife to Abimelech at Gerar (20:1–18). However, God intervened on Abraham’s behalf so that he was enabled to pray for the king and his household.
From the expulsion of Hagar (21:9–21) and Abraham’s concern for her welfare, it appears that he had contemporary laws in mind. It was illegal to sell a handmaid into slavery after she had given birth to a child for her master. While the case is not strictly parallel, Abraham expelled Hagar only after he had God’s assurance that this was His will. Even then he made provision for her and her son when they departed.
Again when Sarah died, Abraham is seen as a man of his times. When he bargained with the Hittites for a burial place (23:1–20), he wanted to purchase only the cave of Machpelah. However, Ephron insisted on selling the field with the cave. In this way Abraham also became subject to taxation under Hittite law. Had he acquired only the cave, he might have been free from that liability.
A Man of Faith
A Man of Faith
Through faith in God’s promises, Abraham rose above the religious level of his times. From the beginning he responded with obedience. Wherever Abraham sojourned in Canaan, he erected an altar and gave public testimony of the fact that he worshiped “the God of heaven and earth” (24:3) in the midst of a pagan environment (cf. 12:7, 8ff.).
Consider the sixfold promise God made to Abraham:
1. “I will make of thee a great nation.”
2. “I will bless thee.”
3. “I will make thy name great.”
4. “Thou shalt be a blessing.”
5. “I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee.”
6. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
This multiple promise has had far-reaching implications in history down to the present time—more extensive than Abraham could comprehend during his lifetime. It is true that Abraham was richly blessed while he lived, and before his death he could understand that many nations could yet be born through Ishmael, Isaac, and his other sons. Today, by way of contrast, the name of Abraham is held in great honor among Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The promise that Abraham would be a blessing to all the families of the earth unfolds in Christ. Matthew begins his gospel with the assertion that Jesus—the Savior of the world—is the “son of Abraham” (1:1; cf. Gal. 3:6–9).
The Abrahamic Covenant
The Abrahamic Covenant
As we study the life of Abraham in subsequent chapters, it is apparent that Abraham’s grasp of the promises was progressively enlarged. In times of crisis Abraham gained fuller understanding of them. He showed great generosity when he offered Lot the choice of the land (Gen. 13). While Lot’s decision was based on the prospects of immediate material gain in a godless environment, Abraham received confirmation from God that the land was to be his and for his posterity.
When Abraham rescued Lot, he refused to accept a reward from the king of Sodom and was concerned about the legal arrangements for the future. But God revealed to Abraham more about the time to come. He promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven, but that they would dwell in Egypt for 400 years. We read that Abraham believed God, and that it was accounted to him for righteousness (cf. Rom. 4:3, 22).
God’s covenant with Abraham was enlarged and confirmed when Abraham was ninety-nine years old. The terms of the covenant were distinctly given (17:1–27). While the birth of the promised son was still a year away, circumcision was given as the distinctive sign of the covenant for Abraham and his descendants (cf. Rom. 4:9–12).
A Friend of God
A Friend of God
It may be seen from Genesis 18 and 19 that there was friendship between Abraham and God (cf. Isa. 41:8; James 2:22, 23). When God shared with Abraham the secret of His plans concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham was moved to prayer. He rested his case with the rhetorical question, “Shall not the God of all the earth do right?” God showed that His justice was tempered by mercy when He assured Abraham that the cities would be saved if ten righteous people were found in them. Only because there were not that many the cities were destroyed, though Lot and his family were rescued.
More Testings and Trials
More Testings and Trials
Abraham faced the greatest test of his faith after Isaac’s birth. God asked him to sacrifice his only son on Mount Moriah. Abraham obeyed, exhibiting faith that God was able to raise someone from the dead (cf. Heb. 11:19). He was obliged to give an answer to the most disturbing question ever posed by a son when Isaac asked about the sacrifice. By faith Abraham reached beyond the visible evidence to give a prophetic reply, assuring Isaac that God Himself would provide the sacrifice (22:1–19; cf. 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:26; Rev. 13:8). First God provided a ram, and centuries later, His own beloved Son.
Abraham established in Canaan Genesis 12–14
Abraham established in Canaan Genesis 12–14
His moves from Haran to Shechem,
Bethel, and the South Country
Highlight: Genesis 12:8 (NKJV)
8 And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.
Explain: The LORD called Abram out of his homeland and told to follow His direction. In accordance to God’s will, Abram settle near a mountain east of Bethel. At this new settlement, Abram built an altar, a place to sacrifice to God, and called on the name of the LORD. Abram called on the LORD after God promise to him. His calling also was in connection with the faith that Abram responded to God with faith or simply that he was now fixing his focus on the LORD.
Apply: I see that no matter where I am or am going, I need to call on His name. This coincides with praying without ceasing and shows that God’s name is worthy to be called.
Sojourn in Egypt
Separation of Abraham and Lot
The land promised
Highlight: Genesis 14:18-20 (NKJV) 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he [was] the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all.
Explain: After Abram and his and his servants defeated the Chedorlaomer and the other kings, Melchizedek who was king of Salem and the priest of God Most High, brought out bread and wine to Abram. It seems that during this meal he blessed Abram by saying, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” The man of God testified that God did it for Abram. God defeated his enemies. In response, Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe of all the spoils.
Apply (In what way(s) are you challenged to act): God is teaching me that I must testify that God fixed it. He delivered. He made a way! He saved! He causes me to triumph!
Abraham blessed by Melchizedek
Abraham awaits the promised son
Abraham awaits the promised son
The promise of a son
Hagar bears Ishmael
The promise renewed—the sign of the covenant
Highlight: Genesis 17:7–10 (NKJV)
7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.
8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.
10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;
Explain: The Lord God meets with Abram and declares who He is (v. 1) and His intentions to make a covenant with him (v. 2-3). God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, which signifies God’s promise and is a constant reminder of God’s intentions (v. 5). God stated that His covenant will be with Abraham and His descendants for an everlasting covenant. The New Testament helps to clarify that the descendants are not entirely those by birth but the connection is man and women of faith (Rom. 9:6-9). The LORD God also promised to Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan. God fulfilled this promise and then took them from the land because they broke this covenant. Abraham’s part to play in this covenant was to circumcise every male child and those brought in his house and teach his descendants to do so.
Apply (In what way(s) are you challenged to act): I recognized that I am under a new covenant purchased by the blood of Jesus. In this covenant God has put His laws in my mind and wrote them in my heart. He is now my God and I am a part of His people. I now have a name change. I am called a child of God, a saint, a believer, a disciple. I am now in the family of God. I am called to play my part which is to follow Christ’s mission, to love my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, the church, and to allow the Spirit to transform my life.
Abraham intercedes—Lot rescued
Highlight: Genesis 18:1–5 (NKJV)
1 Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.
2 So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground,
3 and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.
4 Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.
5 And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.”
Explain: The LORD promised Abraham that He would revisit them and Sarah, his wife, would become pregnant and birth them a baby boy about a year later. As he sat in the door of his tent in the heat of the day, he looked up and saw 3 men standing there. It is not clear whether this is the triune God or 2 angels with the Angel of the LORD, who is the pre-incarnate Christ. Yet it seems by the context that it is possible for this to be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because Abraham referred to One God but “They” responded back to him and said, “Do as you have said.”
It is also of note to see that Abraham was not surprised at their coming. He took God at His word and was at the least looking for God to be a Promise Keeper. Abraham said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.” This seems to be significant also because Jesus was walking on the water and would have passed the disciples by who were in the boat (Mark 6:48). They cried out just like the blind men who asked Christ to have mercy on them because He was passing by (Matt. 20:30).
Apply: I want to be attentive to the LORD’s actions in my life. I want to be aware that God is in my presence. I want to sense Him. I also want to be ready to serve God and commune with Him. I don’t the Him to pass me by. I want to continuously cry out to the LORD for He will heard my voice and my supplications.
Highlight: Genesis 19:9 (NKJV)
9 And they said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one came in to stay here, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.” So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door.
Explain: The wicked men of Sodom wanted to “carnally know,” have sexual intercourse, with the two angels that came to rescue Lot and his family. Yet, Lot urged the citizens to choose another path. He offered his daughter, who were virgins, but the men of the city did not want them. They desired the two angels. Lot even told them that for this behavior the angels had come under his roof. Again, the men of the city responded with disappointment, disdain, and wicked desire. They expressed that Lot came to stay in the city and he continued to act like a judge over them. This is significant because Lot sought to shine as a light in a dark place. This passage does not say how he acted as a judge. In 2 Peter 2:7-8, Peter does reveal that Lot was “oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked and his righteous should was tormented from day to day seeing and hearing their lawless deeds.” With this insight, he could have just refused to participate in the sinful practices in the city and when asked why, he could have said because of his faith in God. He could have been openly pointing out their transgressions or wickedness. Whatever the case, the men of the city turned their focus on him and started to press on him and to break down the door.
Apply: How am I perceived by those that don’t know Christ? Is my soul vexed over the wickedness that is around me? I want to shine as a spiritual light in a wicked dark world. My life, the words I say, the actions I do, the beliefs I stand on, and the desires that I have should make other want to know Him or drive them away.
Abraham delivered from Abimelech
Isaac born—Ishmael and Hagar sent away
Highlight: Genesis 21:12–14 (NKJV)
12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.
13 Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.”
14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.
Explain: Sarah told Abraham, her husband to cast out Hagar and Ishmael from them. Her words were troubling and displeased Abraham because Ishmael was his son. Yet, the LORD to him not to let this situation be displeasing to him. He also told him to listen to Sarah because in Isaac Abraham’s seed shall be called. Concerning Ishmael, the LORD promised to also make a nation of him because he is Abraham’s seed. Out of obedience, Abraham rose early in the morning, and gave Hagar and Ishmael food and water and sent them away.
Apply (In what way(s) are you challenged to act): God is teaching me that doing His will can be tough. It may mean separating from family members by birth. In order for God’s plan to go forth I need to trust that He knows what needs to be done even when the instructions are difficult.
Abraham dwells at Beersheba
The covenant confirmed in obedience
Abraham provides for posterity
Abraham acquires a burial plot
The bride for the promised son
Genesis 24:1–67 k
Highlight: Genesis 24:3-8 (NKJV) 3 “and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; 4 “but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” 5 And the servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?” 6 But Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there. 7 “The LORD God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 8 “And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.”
Explain: Abraham called his servant and charged him to find a wife for Issac his son. His instructions were the following: he was not take a wife for my son from the Canaanites; he was to go to Mesopotamia, Abraham’s country of origin, and to my family, and find a wife; He also was not to take Isaac there. Abraham insisted on these stipulations because the LORD God took me from his father’s house and told him that his descendants will inherit the land of Canaan. Abraham had faith that He would send His angel before the servant to bring these things to pass. If the woman is not willing to come then the servant is released from the oath, but Isaac is not to go to Abraham’s home land.
Apply: I must be adamant in following the instructions of God. I must be adamant in following the instructions or promises of God in living life.
Isaac designated as heir—death of Abraham
Highlight: Genesis 25:20-23 20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. 21 And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she [was] barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If [it be] so, why [am] I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said unto her, Two nations [are] in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and [the one] people shall be stronger than [the other] people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
Explain: When Isaac was forty years old, he took Rebekah to be his wife. She was the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, and she was the sister to Laban the Syrian. After realizing that his wife was barren, Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife. Isaac ask the LORD to open his wife’s womb and the LORD did because she conceived. During the pregnancy, she felt a struggled within her and she asked the LORD if it be so or is His will to tell her, why is she having this trouble? So, she went and enquired of the LORD and He answered her. the Bible states, that in all of our ways we must acknowledge the LORD and He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). Isaac and Rebekah enquired or intreated the LORD and He answered them.
Apply: I am reminded that I must continue to ask, seek, and knock because the LORD has promised to make the way clear or the path straight for me. I don’t have to guess what God is doing or what is happening. I must cast all my cares on Him because He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7)