Genesis 12-50: The Patriarchs

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Objectives: Identify the 3 main characters of Genesis 12-50; Describe the covenant God made with Abram; Explain how Abraham illustrates the Christian doctrine of conversion; Compare the relationship of Jacob and Joseph to the patriarchal narrative. Maps & charts are found in the book, Encountering the Old Testament, by Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, published by Baker Academic. It is recommended that you get this book to get a fuller understanding of the Old Testament. The book comes wit…

What is a "patriarch"?

The term "patriarch" refers to the individuals who stand at the fountainhead of our faith: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They, theyir wives, and their families were pioneers of faith who paved the way for ancient Israel. They also have an honored position in the New Testament. The patriarchs are the ancesters of our faith.

What turn occurs in Genesis 12 (as compared to Genesis 3-11)?

Genesis 1-11 presents an overwhelmingly pessimistic picture of humanity's moral failure. Once sin entered the world, it spread so rapidly it was impossible to contain. Genesis 12-50 begins to address the sin problem. Beginning with Abram's call in Genesis 12:1-3, the Bible now introduces the solution to the world's sinful dilemma. The faithful obedience of a single individual becomes a powerful instrument in God's hands. Finally, the most important difference between Gen. 3-11 and Gen. 12-50 is that Gen. 3-11 addressed broad universal themes, and Gen. 12-50 is narrower in scope. The main concern in Gen. 12-50 is a single family and their journey of faith.

What is the Bible's principle concern in presenting the story of Abram?

The call of Abram contained two great promises that were most important to ancient man: land and descendants. Abram's family had come originally from Ur of Chaldees. But his father, Terah, had settled in Haran in modern Syria, perhaps early in Abram's life. After the death of his father, Abram was left with his wife, nephew and other members of his family. But he had no children. This was a worst-case scenaro for an individual of that day and age. In the call of Abram in Genesis 12, God asked Abram to leave all possible sources of security. He called on Abram to step out in faith and leave Haran to travel to an unknown land and begin life anew. The rest of Genesis shows how the great promises of Abram's call are worked out in his life.

What is the key verse on the topic of Abraham?

Genesis 15:6 (ESV) "And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness."

What does God do for Abram in Genesis 15?

God comforts Abram and assures him of the promises given him at the time of his call. Abram objected that he had no evidence those promises would ever become reality (15:2). Because he remained childless during all this time, he had made other arrangements. He adopted Eliezer of Damascus, probably a slave, to inherit his wealth. But God assured Abram he would one day have a biological son who would be the child of promise. He took him outside and told him to look up and try to count the stars of heaven. So would Abram's descendants be numbered. In one of the most important verses in the Bible, we are told that Abram simply believed God, even though he was old and his wife remained barren. Somehow God would fulfill his word, even if Abram couldn't at that moment see how. God counted such trusting acceptance of his word as righteousness. Through such faith, Abram bcame the forefather of "all those who believe" (Romands 4:11).

How did God assure Abram of his promises with the smoking fire pot?

God wanted to assure Abram of his promises and bind himself to Abram in an intimate and permanent relationship. In the eerie ceremony described as a smoking fire pot, God's own presence passed between pieces of various animal corpses while Abram slept. The ancient custom called for covenant partners to walk between bleeding halves of sacrificed animals. They were, in essence, pledging not to break the new covenant, lest they become like the dead animal. God was committing Himself to Abram in a remarkable relationship. This covenant or intimate lasting relationship between God and Abram is one of several in the Bible.

What is a "covenant"?

The Hebrew word berith, covenant,* occurs over 280 times in the Old Testament. Covenants in the Bible can be agreements between two individuals, between a king or leader and his people; or between God and individuals, or God and groups of individuals. Covenants can be conditional or unconditional. Conditional covenants are forfeited if one party violates or defaults on his part of the agreement. Unconditional covenants are arrangements in which the default of one party does not negate the ultimate fulfillment and blessing of the covenant. The New Covenant rests upon the death of the one who made it, namely Jesus. Greek has another word, syntheke, which means a mutual agreement, however this word is not used in the NT presumably because covenants with God do not involve joint obligations between two equals. Covenants often exist between two unequal parties, for example between God and man, or between a conqueror and his defeated enemy.

What other arrangements did Abram make when Sarai remained childless?

In Genesis 16, Abram makes other arrangements. Sarai gave her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, to Abram to bear children for her as a sort of surrogate mother. Sarai and Abram were attempting to carry out God's promises in their own strength.

What is the turning point in Abram & Sarai's life?

In Genesis 17, God appears to Abram when he is 95 yrs. old and changes his and Sarai's names. Henceforth, they are Abraham and Sarah--"Father of a Multitude" and "Princess." Furthermore, God introduces circumcision as a physical sign of the covenant. In addition, God informs Abraham and Sarah (89 yrs old) that she would concieve and have a son within a year. This is obviously a turning point in Abraham's life.

What physical sign is introduced by God into this new relationship with Abraham?

Circumcision. Circumcision is first mentioned in the Bible in connection with God's promise to make Abraham's descendants a great nation and to give them a land they could call their own. In return, Abraham and his descendants were to obey God. To show that they were keeping their promise to God, every male descendant of Abraham was to be circumcised (Gen 17.1-14). Even non-Israelite men who wanted to be part of the Israelite people were to be circumcised (Gen 34.21-24). Circumcision became a requirement of the Law of Moses (Lev 12.3). The New Testament reports that both John the Baptist and Jesus were circumcised eight days after being born (Luke 1.59; 2.21).

How does Abraham illustrate the Christian doctrine of conversion?

God established his covenant with Abraham. He changed Abraham's name and gave him the physical sign of circumcision. It was a binding relationship between Abraham and God. Abraham, the father of our faith, illustrates the Christian doctrine of conversion. We enter in the New Convenant through the blood of Jesus Christ, and our spiritual circumcision, the cutting away of our sins and our old man, is our death, burial and resurrection through water baptism (Romans 6:3-8).

What does God ask Abraham to do in Genesis 22?

God tests Abraham's faith. He tells Abraham in Genesis 22:2 (ESV) "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." Would Abraham pass the test? Would he obey God in carrying our this terrible requirement? Gen. 22:3 gives us the answer. With great resolve and little hesitation, Abraham began fulfilling the command. If God had miraculously given Isaac life, perhaps he would bring him back from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham quickly and quietly obeyed God. There is no argument or debate here.

How did God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, differ from the command to travel to an unknown land?

In Genesis 12, God called on Abram to give up his past and trust in Him. Now in Genesis 22, God challenges Abraham to trust him with his future. As before, Abraham was up to the challenge. This event is the climax of Abraham's spiritual journey. He has proven faithful to God from Ur to Haran to Moreh and the Negeb, and now at Mt. Moriah.

What do we learn about God's covenant promises from the birth of Jacob and Esau?

Isaac has twin sons and Esau, the firstborn, is the presumed heir of the covenant promises. But birthrights have little to do with inheriting God's favor. Jacob displaced the firstborn, as is a common occurrence in the Old Testament (Ephraim and Manasseh, Moses and Aaron, David and his brothers, etc.) Privilege of position by birth has little to do with our standing before God.

What question is raised by the Jacob stories?

The question of the Jacob stories is, "What will become of God's covenant promises?" Jacob had to run for his life after the dispute with Esau (Gen. 27:41-43). So now the child of the promise is running away from the promised land. Furthermore, his qualities are hardly like those of Abraham. He seems more intent on seizing the moment for his own selfish purposes than on obeying the God of Abraham. Chapter 28 provides the answer in dramatic fashion. While fleeing to the patriarchal homeland (Haran) to make a new life for himself, Jacob had a dream (Ge. 28:10-22). In the dream, God confirmed that Jacob was the continuation of the patriarchal covenant (Gen. 28:13-15). God reasserted his commitment to Abraham by promising to give the land to Jacob and to make him the father of a great multitude. Jacob's response was noble, if perfunctory (Gen. 28:18-22). The rest of the Jacob narrative describes his marriages to Leah and Rachel in Haran, his relationship with Laban and the births of his twelve sons. The covenant promises finally began to be fulfilled in Jacob's growing family.

What is Jacob's moment of transformation?

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God (probably meaning an angel). God changes his name to Israel. As with his grandfather Abraham, the change of Jacob's name signified a change of character due to his relationship with God. Jacob was no longer the "cheater". Now he had become the one who "strives with God." So now with Jacob, the patriarchal promises are partially fulfilled. The land promise will wait future fulfillment. But the descendants of Abraham are increasing in number.

How does the Joseph story differ from those of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

The account of Joseph is unique among the patriarchal narratives. Unlike Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph is not in the direct line of the covenant promises. The Messiah came through the tribe of Judah. In that sense, Joseph is a peripheral character in the drama of redemptive history. But the Joseph narrative is included for two basic reasons: First, Joseph's life is worthy of emulation. Under the worst of circumstances and the most extreme temptation, Joseph was faithful to God. His story demonstrates how God can use an obedient servant to accomplish his divine purposes, even inthe face of severe human persecution and opposition (Gen. 50:20). Second, the Joseph narrative explains how God's people came to be in Egypt instead of Palestine. Joseph's rise to power in Egypt and the subsequent move of Jacob and his family there meant the people of God's covenant promises were now living far from the promised land. But the book of Genesis ends looking to the future ("when God comes to you," Gen. 50:25), anticipating that day when God will fulfill his promises to his people.

What are the major theological concepts of Genesis 12-50?

Election, Promise and Covenant. 1) ELECTION refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He best sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence. In the Old Testament, He chose a nation for Himself. Out of all the nations in the world, He selected Israel (Deut 7:6; 14:2; Psalm 105:43; 135:4). He chose them, not because they were better or more desirable than any other people, but simply because He decided to choose them. The unusual circumstances surrounding the births of Isaac and Jacob illustrate the principle of election. God chose Isaac over Ishamael, and Jacob over Easu, not because of their character or actions. He elected them to continue the covenant promises before they were ever born. 2. PROMISE: A second major concept in the patriarchal narratives is that of promise. The promises of God to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 serve as focal points for the rest of the patriarchal account. 3) COVENANT: A third important theological concept of the patriarchal narratives is related to promise, that is, the idea of covnenat. The promises and the covenant that god established with Abraham (Gen. 15 and 17) he also confirmed to Isaac (Gen. 26:2-5), Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15), and Joseph (Gen. 48:3-4; 50:24). God's covenant with the patriarchs is foundational to other covenants in the Bible. The covenantal relationship between God and Abraham establishes a theological framework for redemptive relationships throughout the Bible and in Christian theology. The covenant was necessary to maintain the right kind of relationship with God. The promises were central and eternal. But the covenant taught the patriarchal believers what was expected from them in their relationship with God: "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless" (Genesis 17:1)/ We cling to the promises of God. But we must also understand that knowing and loving Him means following his ways (John 14:15).

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