Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
Week 2 - Read Genesis 12-20
Key Concepts: The key concepts this week concern God’s choosing of Abraham and Sarah to be the bearers of God’s promise (blessing) to fix the human condition. At the heart of the promise is the Covenant; an agreement between Abraham, his descendants and God.
Stories: This section of scripture contains the following stories: Abram is called by God, Abram travels toward the Land of Promise where he gives Sarai to Pharaoh…then gets her back, defeats a number of kings in battle, meets Melchizedek who is a priest of the Most High God, struggles with his childlessness, continues to receive promises and blessings from God, enters into a covenant with God, has a son by his wife’s servant girl, circumcises himself and the males in his household, encounters and laughs at God, and then bargains with God. In addition we witness the inhospitableness of the men of Sodom leading to its destruction and then Abraham (he gets renamed along the way) once again giving away his wife Sarah, only to get her back with more gifts.
Brief Summary of Stories: We begin week 2 with humanity being in quite a fix. They had tried to replace God and God’s desires for the world with their own sense of what ought to be. The results have been sin as reflected in shame, fear, murder and violence. The questions become: will God fix this mess and if so how?
The answer comes in the opening verses. God will fix this mess and God will do it through Abraham and his descendants. At the opening of chapter 12 we hear God calling Abram to pack up his family and journey to a new land. If Abram will do this God promises that not only will Abram be blessed but that he will be a blessing to all of the families on the earth. In other words God is going to somehow use Abram and his offspring to fix the world which God had created as being very good.
The blessing to Abram becomes a recurring theme in this section. The blessing will come in three parts. They are land, seed and blessing. First, Abram is to receive land that will belong to himself and his descendants. Second, Abram will have many, many children. They will be as numerous as the sands on the shore or stars in the sky. Third, he will be blessed, which in this case means he will become rich and powerful (and will be a blessing to all of the families of the earth). What is interesting about these promises is that Abraham does not receive them all in his life time. While he does become rich and will eventually have children, the land will remain an elusive promise. Neither will all the families of the earth be blessed through Abraham in his lifetime. What this lack of instant fulfillment does for us is that it reminds us that we need to keep looking for God’s continuing actions in the Biblical story which are intended to make these promises a reality.
Finally we have the creation of the Covenant. This covenant with Abram is an irrevocable agreement that God will watch over and care for Abraham’s offspring. The covenant comes with new names for Abram and Sarai; Abraham and Sarah. The covenant is sealed on Abraham’s part by circumcision; an act of faithfulness. Circumcision will be one of those ways in which God’s people are distinctively marked. We leave the story with Abraham and Sarah still without a child to fulfill God’s promises.
1. Consider what being blessed means to you.
2. What do you think about Abram’s bargaining with God?
3. How would you link circumcision and baptism?
4. Think about the issue of hospitality and what it ought to look like today.
Week 3 - Read Genesis 21-31
Key Concepts: We will continue to watch “the blessing” of God be bought, sold, stolen and put at risk. We will also watch God’s faithfulness to those who are part of the blessing.
Stories: The stories in these chapters include Sarah becoming pregnant and giving birth to Isaac, Abraham sending Hagar, the mother of his son Ishmael out into the desert to die, Hagar and Ismael being rescued by God, God’s promises to Hagar and Ishmael, the almost sacrifice of Isaac, the death and burial of Sarah, the sending of a servant to find a wife for Isaac, the finding and return of Rebekah, the birth of Esau and Jacob, the death and burial of Abraham, Esau selling his birthright to Jacob, Jacob receiving by deceit the blessing of this father, Esau’s plans to kill Jacob and Jacob’s escape to Laban, Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachael, , the birth of multiple children, Jacob’s escape from his father-in-law Laban, and his return to the land of promise.
Brief Summary of Stories: We left our story with Abraham and Sarah, the couple of the covenant, without any children through which God will bless all the families of the earth. God had continued to make promises but so far there had been no fulfillment.
In these stories we continue to watch our themes of blessings and God’s providential care continue, even in and through the deceitful actions of deceitful people. In fact the only non-deceitful person in the story is Isaac. Jacob schemes for his brother’s place from birth and eventually steals Esau’s birthright and blessing. Esau schemes to murder his brother. Rebekah schemes with Jacob to get the blessing and then helps him escape. Laban, Jacob’s father in law, schemes to get his daughter with “weak eyes” married off to Jacob and then gets Jacob to work for him for 14 years in order that Jacob get the wife he was promised in the first place. When Jacob has paid his debt, Laban attempts to take everything Jacob had earned. Jacob schemes to beat Laban at his own game, escaping at night with all of his possessions. Finally Jacob’s wife Rachael pretends that she is “in the way of women” in order to hide the fact that she has stolen the household gods. These chapters are worthy of their own soap opera.
In the midst of all of this we encounter several key concepts. First we see the importance of the land. When Abraham wants a son for his wife he refuses to allow him to marry one of the local girls. He needs to marry someone from the old country. In addition Isaac is not allowed to go with the slave because Isaac might decide to remain in the old country and not return to the land of promise. In a sense Abraham does not want to lose his (God’s) claim upon the land and so Isaac must stay. We see the theme of blessing continue. The servant who goes in search of a bride for Isaac finds the perfect match. The servant prays and God provides. Isaac is blessed with two sons…at one time; hard to do better than that. The blessing, even though it was supposed to go to Esau, is not diminished when it ends up in the hands of Jacob. Jacob then is blessed with wives, children, slaves and property; which shows that the seed of Abraham is growing with every generation
The drama of the texts is contained in the continuing risk to the blessing. Will it continue though stolen? Will Jacob be able to return to the land of promise? Will Laban slay Jacob and steal the promise for himself? Will Rachael finally have a baby and live happily ever after? We leave the dysfunctional family escaping from Laban but now heading back to meet Esau who had sworn to take his brother’s life.
1. Does the dysfunction of this family seem appropriate Biblical material? Why or why not?
2. What do we learn about God’s ability to keep the promise alive in the face of adversity?
3. What do you make of polygamy? Is it an appropriate way to live?
4. What do you think about Jacob and Rachael having “household gods”?
Week 4 - Read Genesis 32-41
Key Concepts: The key concepts to watch for are the humanness of God’s people, the renewal of the Covenant through Jacob (who becomes Israel…twice), the relinquishing of foreign gods and God’s continuing providence and protection.
Stories: This section offers us a wide variety of stories including Jacob being renamed Israel and then safely returning to the land, the rape of his daughter Dinah, the murder of the men of Shechem by two of Jacob’s sons, travels to Bethel, the removal of foreign gods, a second renaming of Jacob as Israel, the renewal of the covenant, the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachael, the twelve sons are named, a long list of Esau’s descendants, Joseph, his dreams and the beginning of his captivity, Judah sleeping with his daughter-in-law Tamar, and finally the initial cycle of Joseph stories in which he is sent to prison, interprets dreams, is brought to Pharaoh, given power second only to Pharaoh and then helps to insure that the people have enough to eat.
Brief Summary of Stories: We begin our section with the blessing and promise once again in danger. While Jacob has escaped Laban, he now has to face his older brother, who years earlier had pledged to kill him. As Jacob is waiting to discover his fate he encounters and wrestles with God. God renames him Israel (hence the name of the nation) which means one who strives with God. Jacob is very careful in his encounter with Esau and though warmly welcomed sets up his family at a safe distance. We witness brutality in the rape of Jacob’s daughter and the subsequent murder of the rapist and his male relatives by two of Jacob’s sons. The end result is that Jacob becomes wealthier (this is the blessing continued) because he and his family take the livestock of those they had killed.
Leaving the area under the protection of God, Jacob’s clan moves to Bethel which will later become an important center of worship. Along the way Jacob’s clan rids themselves of all their foreign gods in order to follow YHWY alone. This is followed by a second naming and the renewal of the covenant. These are critical turning points in the story because Jacob now has a single God. Next we meet the twelve sons of Jacob (from which will come the twelve tribes of Israel) and are offered a look at the lineage of Esau, which again speaks to the blessing of God toward those related to Abraham.
We now enter the Joseph story, with one brief excursus. The brief excursus is a strange story about Judah, a son of Jacob, having sex with his daughter-in-law who has dressed up as a prostitute. It is a fascinating look at the customs and obligations expected of families.
The Joseph stories begin with the clear understanding that Joseph is different. He has the ability to interpret dreams given by God. This makes him a character unlike his brothers who are much more earthy and brutal. Ultimately jealousy gets the best of the brothers who want to get rid of him. The story at that point is murky. We are not sure who does what (take note of all of the characters involved in Joseph’s getting to Egypt) but what we do know is that Joseph ends up in Egypt. In Egypt he is the perfect gentleman as well as the interpreter of dreams. These abilities ultimately bring him to the attention of Pharaoh, for whom Joseph will work. This section ends on a note of hope because God through Joseph has insured that there will be enough for all to eat.
1. What lesson about power do you take away from the stories of Dinah and Tamar?
2. How important is Jacob’s decision to get rid of the family gods? Why would this be unusual?
3. What do you make of the Bible including the list of Esau’s descendants?
4. How would you explain the two stories of Israel’s renaming and the confusion about who actually sells Joseph into slavery?