Genesis — The Book of Beginnings and Foundational Truth
Jump to chapter:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50
Genesis is the first of five books, called the Pentateuch, which are attributed to Moses. It lays the foundation for all of the rest of Scripture by recording the history of the Jews from the creation of mankind until the death of Joseph.
According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the Hebrew word, yom, appears elsewhere in the Old Testament some 2,304 times and is translated as “day,” “time,” “age,” etc. The context determines the translation. Any time you have the use of a number with yom, it is always means a normal day. The writer of Genesis removes any possible doubt by using the phrase, “evening and morning,” with each stage of creation. Perhaps God anticipated all the evolutionary nonsense we hear today with clergymen applying 2 Peter 3:8 to the creation narrative, “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” He wanted to make it absolutely clear that each stage of creation was instantaneous, not over the course of “millions of years,” since no honest, intelligent reader would conceive of a half a million year evening or morning! [For a comprehensive discussion of this important point, go to the Answers in Genesis article, “Could God Really Have Created Everything in Six Days?”.]
Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all involved in the process. We see the Spirit of God “hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). In verse 26, Elohim [the plural form of God] said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” The verb form and the name of God is plural, yet He says image and likeness—singular nouns—rather than images or likenesses. The idea of Jesus participating in creation is present in the New Testament, as well (see John 1:1-3 & Colossians 1:16).
The order of creation is very significant. Unlike the “Big Bang” mythology we were taught in school, earth was formed before the other celestial bodies. My friend Lois Snyder once pointed out that God made day and night, the sea and sky, and then the land in days one through three (Gen. 1:3-10 & 13). All of those had to be in place in order for any living creature to survive. The plants were made on day three, also, with all the ingredients necessary for their survival in place: light, water, soil and air (vv. 11-12). The next three days involved filling the realms created in the first three: sun, moon and stars to rule the night and day; fish and birds to populate the sea and sky; animals and people to fill the land (14-28).
According to Genesis 1:27, humans were created “male and female” in God’s image—not heterosexual male and homosexual male, heterosexual female and lesbian female, bisexual, etc. Furthermore, they were commanded to “Be fruitful and multiply,” or reproduce—something no same-sex union can accomplish. Therefore the notion that God makes people homosexual, lesbian, etc., is completely unbiblical. We are not born that way; sin makes us that way.
Both humans and animals were originally vegetarian (vv. 29-30). And mankind was entrusted with the care of every living thing as rulers of God’s creation (28). When this perfect environment was completed, God evaluated all He had made and declared it was “very good” (31).
Genesis Chapter 2
The idea of Sabbath is introduced in the second chapter of the Bible—long before the Ten Commandments were carved in stone. Having completed His six days of creation, “God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work… Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it…”(Genesis 2:1-3). It’s interesting that God, whom Jesus said had always been working (John 5:17), would pause for a while and rest. Does the Creator of the universe need to recharge His batteries from time to time, or did He take this rest for our benefit?
In the rest of this chapter, the Lord zooms in on one aspect of His creation, which was painted in broad, general strokes in chapter one. He backs up to day three, before the plants were established on the earth, and says at that time there was no rain, but the earth was watered by a mist coming up from the ground (Gen. 2:4-6). God formed a man out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into him (v. 7). Then He planted a garden where the man could live and put him there “to tend and keep it” (8).
God gave the man one simple command: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”(16-17). Death was not present when God first created the earth—yet another reason the idea of millions of years of evolution, natural selection and “the survival of the fittest” is inconsistent with the Bible. One wonders how Adam knew it was a bad thing, having neither seen nor experienced it firsthand. It must’ve been the way God said it—like a parent warning a child of dire consequences with a tone that tells them they don’t want to find out what Mommy and Daddy are talking about. Or maybe the first man was a lot more clever than we are today!
Knowing that “It is not good that man should be alone,” God determined to make a compatible partner for him (18). However, first He wanted Adam to be aware of his need for a helper, so He formed the animals and presented them to the man for him to name (19). As each creature and its mate filed past, the man noticed there were two of each of them, but only one of him, and none of them was suitable as a mate (20). That’s when woman was made—from a rib in Adam’s side while God had him under general anesthesia (21-22).
When God brought the woman to the man, he was so excited, saying she was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” and naming her “Woman, because she was taken out of man” (23). In verses 24-25, we have the foundational principle of marriage stated: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” followed by the observation that the man and his wife were naked but unashamed.
Genesis Chapter 3
This perfect world was shattered, when mankind listened to the enemy twist God’s words and offer God-likeness as a prize to the one who would eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1-6). God intended to reveal all that was to be known in the universe through a relationship with Him; but the devil offered a shortcut—eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and you’ll have it all at once. By listening to the serpent and letting his lies change her perception, the woman brought sin into the world, and the man did nothing to stop her (v. 6). Their awareness of good and evil made them self-conscious and afraid, so God knew there was something wrong (7-11).
Confronted with his sin, Adam blamed both God and his wife, and then she blamed the serpent (vv. 12-13). God cursed all three of them, as well as the earth, and declared a death sentence over mankind because of their sin (14-19). Then He sent them away from the garden’s perfect environment to keep them from sealing themselves in this state forever by eating of the tree of life (22-24).
When they realized they were naked, Adam and Eve tried to cover their shame by sewing garments of fig leaves (7). However, it took God killing an animal and making tunics of its skin to do the job properly (21). Thus the concept of blood sacrifice was introduced—again, long before the Law.
Genesis Chapter 4
From Adam and Eve, the disease of sin spread to their children. Eve got pregnant and called her first son Cain, which sounds something like the Hebrew word for “brought forth” or “acquired” (Gen. 4:1). Their second son was named Abel (v. 2).
The two boys grew up. Cain became a farmer, Abel a shepherd (3). Eventually, they were moved to make offerings to God, each from the fruits of their labors. Abel brought a sacrifice of the first-born of his flocks—again setting a biblical precedent that was later incorporated into the Mosaic Law. Cain brought some of the produce from his farm, though not necessarily the first-fruits or the best of his crops. For whatever reason, the Lord was satisfied with Abel’s offering, but not with Cain’s (3-5). There is nothing wrong with bringing an offering from our crops; that was also part of the later sacrificial system. But, apparently, God was either looking for the animal sacrifice that He had established with Adam and Eve, or He detected an attitude in Cain’s heart that was insincere.
In what may have been the first recorded case of sibling rivalry, Cain became very angry that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but not his. God spoke to him about it, saying he would enjoy the same acceptance, if he did what was right. However, “if you do not do well,” the Lord warned, “sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (6-7). He painted a picture of sin as a robber lying in wait, wanting to overpower Cain, but indicated he could overcome it—assumedly with the Lord’s help. Unfortunately, Cain didn’t listen to the Lord’s counsel, but took the next available opportunity to invite his brother into a remote area and kill him (8).
God asked him where Abel was, giving Cain the opportunity to come clean about the murder. Cain pretended not to know, uttering the infamous line, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (9). God instantly confronted him, “your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (10). As we learn later in Scripture, bloodshed of innocent human beings defiles the earth. Therefore God said Cain was “cursed from the earth.” The soil would no longer yield produce for him, therefore he would no longer be a farmer, but would live as a “fugitive and a vagabond” (11-12).
Cain objected to this punishment for several reasons (13-14):
- He would have to find a new way of making a living.
- He would be separated from God.
- When people found out, they’d try to kill him.
God therefore graciously placed a mark of some sort on Cain and pronounced that whoever did harm him would be in seven times as much trouble (15).
Cain went on to get married, have a family and establish a city, which was named for his first child (16-17). Among his descendants was the first Bedouin-style shepherd, the first musician and the first metal smith (18-22). Sadly, one of Cain’s descendants also became a murderer, killing another man who injured or insulted him, and declared his own curse against anyone who would try to bring him to justice (23-24).
Meanwhile, Adam and Eve were able to conceive another son, whom they named Seth, to replace the sons lost to them because of Cain’s murder of Abel (25). Seth had a son named Enosh, and in his generation,“men began to call on the name of the LORD” (26).
Genesis Chapter 5
This next chapter is one people often skip or skim over quickly, since it lists the genealogy of Adam’s descendants through Seth. After all, who wants to slog through a long list of names and ages of people? Why is it even in the Bible at all, and why does it matter?
There are several reasons why this passage is worth reading:
- First, it reiterates that when mankind was created, they were male and female and they were made in God’s image (Gen. 5:1-2).
- Second, it gives us an idea of the time elapsed from Adam’s creation until the Great Flood. If you add up the ages of people, as each generation overlaps the other, you find that in just 1,556 years the population of the earth grew so dense, and the people so corrupt that God couldn’t stand it any more. [See the chart showing the Ages of Men and Earth before and after the Flood.]
- Next, it tells us Adam had more than just three children (v. 4)—thus answering the question, “Where did Cain get his wife?” Obviously, he married one of his sisters.
- In verses 21-24, we learn of the first man who truly pleased the Lord—so much so that God whisked him to heaven without dying. “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”
- We find the source of the saying, ‘as old as Methuselah’—the oldest man who ever lived. Methuselah, the son of Enoch, lived to the ripe old age of 969 years before the global Flood killed him (25-27).
- Finally, we read that Lamech had high hopes that his son Noah would relieve him of some of “the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed” (25). Not only that, but this son fathered three boys of his own by his 500th birthday (32).
Genesis Chapter 6
In the first few verses of chapter six, we read how the population exploded and people became so wicked that their Creator had to take action. There’s also an interesting explanation of how there came to be over-sized men on the earth.
Genesis 6:2 says, “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.” A couple of verses later, we learn that the offspring of these “sons of God” and human women were giants, “mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (v. 4). Many Bible scholars believe “sons of God” refers to angels who were attracted to human women and bore children by them. This idea is reinforced by cross references in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6, which tell of angels who sinned and left their proper domain. Another thought is that “sons of God” refers simply to men, but that genetic changes caused some humans to grow exceptionally large. In either case, this tells us the origin of the giants which were later encountered by the Israelites in Canaan.
In verse 3, YHWH says, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” I can remember being told this statement meant that the maximum lifespan of men was at that time shortened to 120 years. That can’t be right, because Genesis 9:29 tells us Noah lived to the age of 950, and according to 11:10-26, several of his descendants were over 120 when they died. Rather, I believe this means that the people on earth were given 120 years to repent before they were killed by the worldwide Flood.
How sad it must’ve made God feel to realize mankind had become so terribly wicked and violent that He was forced to wipe them out and start over again! Our Creator was so unhappy with the way things had turned out, He wished He had never made us in the first place, and was determined to destroy not only men, but also all the land-dwelling creatures (Gen. 6:5-7 & 11-12).
Fortunately, one man was worth saving, so God told Noah to build a specially-designed boat to save himself, his sons and their four wives—along with a pair of every kind of animal on the earth (vv. 9-10 & 13-19). The ark was nothing like the top-heavy vessel bulging with giraffes and lions, like you see in the children’s story books. This was a magnificent, three-level ocean-going vessel, perfectly crafted to endure the turbulent waters of a catastrophic world-wide flood. For a detailed explanation of the genius of its design, go to the Answers in Genesis article, “Thinking outside the Box.”
It was also no primitive vessel. Some scholars suggest the Hebrew word for “gopher wood” actually refers to a special kind of laminate that made the hull of the ship super-strong. Since the ancients in those days had forges and metal-smiths, I’m sure they also had complex tools for carving, holding and fastening the wood. Still, a ship of this size isn’t built overnight, so for about 100 years, Noah and his sons labored until God said it was ready!
The Lord thought of everything. He told Noah to lay up plants to feed everyone (v. 21). And Noah didn’t have to go looking for the animals; God brought them to him (20). What a testimony to Noah’s faithfulness we find in the last verse of this chapter: “according to all that God commanded him, so he did”(22).
Genesis Chapter 7
According to Genesis 7:1-9, by Noah’s 600th year, the ark was completed, and God had him load himself, his family and the animals into the great wooden ship to escape the flood of His anger. Of the animals, the Lord ordered a male and female of each kind—probably the family or genus of the creatures that live on the earth, rather than species. Therefore, there was plenty of room for all. Even of dinosaurs, created at the same time as God made humans [c.f.—Genesis 1:24-27 & Job 40:15-24 (God is describing here a sauropod, such as a brachiosaurus, not a hippopotamus!)] were led aboard. Most likely they were young ones, not the older dinos that had grown to monstrous proportions! Anticipating the need for greater numbers of “clean” animals, such as sheep, cattle, deer, chickens, etc. for food, God brought seven pairs each of them for Noah to take with him.
The Lord gave him seven days to get everyone and everything aboard (vv. 4 & 10). After Noah and the others were safely inside, “YHWH shut him in,” and began to pour out his judgment on the earth and its remaining inhabitants (13-16).
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights (11-12).
As subterranean rivers burst open and the barrier restraining the waters above the earth ruptured, the flood-waters rose to a height of over twenty feet above the mountaintops. The ark floated its passengers to safety, while every human and land-dwelling creature was drowned in the turbulent waters. (17-23)
Can you imagine the horror of the men and beasts, experiencing torrential rain for the first time and watching the water rise higher and higher, while the dry land shrank to nothing? Those creatures that were sedentary or sickly drowned and were covered quickly by deposits of mud, sand and silt, while those that were fit climbed as high as they could, but to no avail! We have in the fossil record many examples of animals and even fish overtaken suddenly—some in the midst of a struggle, others in the process of gaining a meal. Did the victims beat at the hull of Noah’s boat and scream for admission? Did men and animals cling for a while to debris, until hunger, exposure and exhaustion were too much for them to hold on? What a heartbreak it must’ve been for Noah and his God to witness such suffering!
The rain lasted forty days, but “the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days” (24). How miserable could that have been? Forty days straight of dark skies and water falling from heaven, followed by another 110 days of nothing but water as far as the eye could see. A ten-day cruise is one thing, but I can’t imagine enduring a voyage like this.
Genesis Chapter 8
Finally, “God remembered Noah” and his passengers and set about to dry everything up again (Gen. 8:1-3). He stopped the rain and the subterranean waters and sent a wind to blow across the earth. By the seventh month, the waters had diminished enough that the ship ran aground on one of the mountains of Ararat (v. 4).
Within three more months, Noah could see the tops of the mountains, so forty days later, he sent out a raven to scope things out (5-7). When the big black bird didn’t come back, Noah released a dove through a window. She flew around for a while, and then came back to her mate, not finding any suitable resting place (8-9). In another week, he tried the same experiment; this time the bird returned with a fresh, live olive leaf (10-11). When released a third time in another week, the little dove did not return (12).
Finally, a few days more than a year from the date the rains began, the earth was dry enough for Noah and his company to safely emerge from the ark, so God gave them the go-ahead to come out (13-19). What joy, what delight, to finally set their feet on terra firma again!
To celebrate, Noah and his family took some of the clean animals and sacrificed them to God (20). It pleased the Lord, so He made a promise never to destroy the entire earth and its inhabitants with floodwaters again, no matter how corrupt man became, and not to disrupt the natural order of seasons (21-22). To seal the deal, the Lord designated the rainbow as a sign of His covenant—whenever rains do come, it’s always there to remind both YHWH and men of His commitment of mercy (Gen. 9:9-17).
Genesis Chapter 9
As He had done with the first humans at the beginning of creation, God again blessed Noah and his sons, commanding them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). The peaceful cohabitation of men and beasts was ended, as God gave men meat to eat along with vegetables, and put the fear of man in the animals (vv. 2-3). His only stipulation was that men had to drain out the blood of their prey before eating it, since [as Leviticus 17:11 later stated] “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Gen. 9:4).
At this time YHWH established capital punishment, as well. Any animal or man that killed a human being was to be executed for his bloodshed (vv. 5-6). Why the death penalty for murder, even before the establishment of the Law? “For in the image of God He made man,” so to destroy another human is to snuff out the special creation of YHWH.
With the destruction of the firmament of heaven came changes in man’s environment. While the animals spread out and began to repopulate the earth, Noah and his sons built a home for themselves, and the old man planted a vineyard (18-20). Ham, too, had fathered a son, named Canaan. When Noah sampled some of the wine from his harvest, he got drunk, stripped himself naked and passed out in his tent (21). Either fermentation was something new, since the Flood, or Noah just wanted to forget his troubles. Whatever the case, his son Ham saw him naked and went out and boasted to his brothers (22). Shem and Japheth were more respectful of their father: They put a cloak over their shoulders and walked backward into the tent to cover their dad, so no one else would happen to see him indisposed (23).
When Noah woke up and realized what happened, he pronounced a curse on the irreverent son and his offspring, saying Canaan would be a servant of Shem (24-27). He blessed Shem and Japheth, putting Shem first among his sons. Noah lived another 350 years after the flood, dying at a ripe age of 950 (28-29).
Genesis Chapter 10
The next chapter tells us the nations that descended from Noah’s sons in the centuries after the global flood (Genesis 10:1). He starts with the descendants of Japheth, the youngest, from whose six sons were populated much of modern Europe and Asia (vv. 2-5).
Next, we read of Ham’s descendants through his four sons. Many white racists have claimed the curse of Canaan was the black skin of Africans, who were meant to be slaves of white men. However, this is not so. Our darker neighbors were descended from Ham’s other sons, Cush and Mizraim, not Canaan who was cursed (see Gen. 10:6-14). Instead, the Canaanites became the Sidonians, the Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and the Hamathites displaced by the descendants of Shem in the days of Abraham’s descendants through Israel (15-19).
One important portion of this chapter is found in verses 8-12. “Cush begot Nimrod,” we read in verse 8. Verse 9 says, “He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Among the many possible interpretations for the Hebrew preposition, panim, are the words, “against,” “facing,” or “in defiance of.” In other words, Nimrod wasn’t just a mighty hunter in God’s sight, he appears to have been operating in defiance of the Lord. One look at the cities he founded and it’s easy to come to that conclusion. He started in Babel, later called Babylon—one of the Bible’s most notoriously wicked cities. Later he founded Nineveh in Assyria, which later became the capital of one of the most evil empires in the ancient world! There is also some speculation that Nimrod was the model for the pagan deity, Baal, which was later the source of so much trouble for God’s people.
From Mizraim came the Philistines (13-14), another thorn in the side of the nation of Israel. He was apparently also an ancestor of the Egyptians, since the name Mizraim is used later in Genesis to refer to Joseph’s entourage from Egypt when he returned to the land of Canaan to bury his father (Gen. 50:11).
Finally, in verses 21-30, we read of Shem’s family—the focus of most of God’s attention from this point on. There is an interesting note in verse 25: “To Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan.” I used to think that phrase, “the earth was divided,” referred to plate tectonics—the idea that the earth’s crust is broken into large plates that float on the molten under-layers of the planet and appear to have migrated over the centuries. However, because Peleg was a few generations removed from the time of the greatest division in the earth which likely occurred during the Flood, I am now more inclined to think it was during Peleg’s time that the events of chapter 11 took place and the land was divided between the different people groups that emerged. This family seems to have gravitated toward the east (30).
Genesis 11:1 tells us everyone living immediately after the Flood spoke the same language. They moved to the land of Shinar, somewhere east of Ararat (v. 2). Quite likely under the leadership of Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10), they all decided to construct a city of bricks cemented with asphalt and “a tower whose top is in the heavens” (Gen. 11:3-4). Building a city or tower is not a bad thing, but their motivation was wrong—they undertook the project in defiance of God. Rather than “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” as YHWH had commanded in Genesis 9:1,they said, “let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).
About a hundred years after the Flood, God inspected the building project and saw where the men were going with this idea. He came up with an ingenious strategy to frustrate the plans of the rebels: confuse the language (vv. 5-7). By making it impossible for them to communicate with one another, God not only stopped their arrogant scheme, but He got the people to spread out and repopulate the earth as He had intended (8). Because of the confusion that resulted, the city was named “Babel,” which comes from a word meaning “to mingle/confuse/mix” (9).
Verses 10-26 record the genealogy of Shem’s descendants. If you study the passage carefully, one thing you’ll notice is the rapid decline in lifespans after the Flood. By the time you reach the ninth generation after Noah, the ages of the men had decreased from 600 years to about 150. Compared to the generations before the Flood, these guys were dying at an age when their forefathers were just starting to have children! [Compare the two charts on the downloadable document entitled, “Ages of Men and Earth before and after the Flood.”] Was this due to the climate change after the Flood, the fact they were now eating meat, a combination of the two, or something else?
The rest of the chapter focuses on the family of Nahor’s son Terah. He had three sons, named Abram, Nahor (Jr.) and Haran (27). Haran had a son named Lot, but died sometime thereafter (27-28). Abram and Nahor married half-sisters; Nahor’s wife had children, but Abram’s wife Sarai was barren (29-30). The entire family moved from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran, intending to end up in Canaan (31). However, Terah died at the age of 205 in the city of Haran (32).
Genesis Chapter 12
After burying his father, Abram was visited by the Lord. God told Abram to leave his country and his family and go to a land He would show him (Gen. 12:1). Upon his obedience, Abram could count on these extraordinary benefits:
- God would make him a great nation and make his name great.
- He would bless those who blessed Abram and cursed those who cursed him.
- He would bless him and make him a blessing—in fact, through Abram all the families of earth would be blessed! (vv. 2-3)
The seventy-five-year-old patriarch was new at this whole faith business, but he did part of what God said—he left Haran and headed toward Canaan. However, he also let his nephew Lot tag along (4-5).
While he was in Shechem, the Lord appeared to Abram again and promised him the land where he was staying (6-7). In response, Abram built an altar, and then moved to a mountain between Bethel and Ai (7-8). This time he took the initiative by building an altar first thing and calling on YHWH, rather than waiting for the Lord to contact him as he made his way south (8-9).
About this time, there was a famine in the land. Rather than stay put and trust God to take care of him, Abram moved his company to Egypt (10). As they approached the kingdom of Pharaoh, Abram asked his wife to claim to be his sister, so no one would kill him to try to take her for themselves because of her beauty (11-13). Surprisingly, she went along with the plan and wound up in the king’s harem (14-15). Abram was richly rewarded for giving Pharaoh his “sister,” but Pharaoh didn’t do so well—God sent a plague against his household while Sarai was there (16-17). Somehow the king managed to figure out what was going on and reprimanded Abram for lying about his wife (18-19). Then he had the man and his companions escorted out of his country (20)!
Genesis Chapter 13
By the time he returned to Bethel, Abram was extremely wealthy in livestock, silver and gold (Gen. 13:1-4). His nephew had done well for himself, too, and between them they had more animals than their territory could sustain (vv. 5-6). It wasn’t long before Lot’s and Abram’s herdsmen herdsmen were bickering over who got to water and feed their flocks where (7). Abram, being a man of peace, offered to let Lot pick wherever he chose to go, and then Abram would move somewhere else (8-9). Lot chose for himself the fertile valley around the Jordan and moved his people and possessions east to a place near Sodom—one of the most wicked places on the planet (10-13).
When Lot was gone, the Lord appeared again to Abram and assured him everything he could see in every direction—including where his nephew was lodging—would one day belong to him and his descendants (14-15). Abram’s descendants would one day be as numerous as the dust of the earth (16). All he had to do was walk the property, and God would give it to him (17). So Abram moved again to a place near Hebron and built yet another altar (18).
Genesis Chapter 14
At some point in time, Lot moved from the outskirts of Sodom into the city itself (c.f.—Gen. 14:12). Meanwhile some kings from the northeast launched a campaign against Canaan, which ended badly for the king of Sodom and his allies (vv. 1-10). The invaders helped themselves to the inhabitants and the spoil of Sodom and Gomorrah—including Lot’s household and possessions (11-12).
When a refugee escaped to inform Lot’s uncle, Abram rounded up his men and some allies of his own (13). He armed the 318 men of his household and ambushed the enemy at night (14-15). After he recovered everything that was taken, Abram was met by two kings—the first was the defeated king of Sodom and the other was the king of Salem [ancient Jerusalem] (16-18).
In addition to being a monarch, Melchizedek, king of Salem was also a “priest of God Most High” (18). He brought the returning victors food and wine, and then pronounced a blessing over Abram (19-20). Abram in turn gave him a tenth of all he’d recovered—thus establishing yet another biblical principle before the Law, that of the tithe.
The king of Sodom tried to get the patriarch to give him back the citizens of his kingdom and keep the spoil for himself (21). Abram would have none of it, other than what he and his men had eaten, because he didn’t want the Sodomites claiming to have made him rich (22-23). The Canaanites who helped him were welcome to what they wanted, but he wasn’t about to take so much as “a thread to a sandal strap”(23-24). What a man of integrity!
Genesis Chapter 15
Following his defeat of the invaders, the Lord appeared to Abram in a vision. He said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15:1). Abram voiced his frustration that it meant little, considering that he still had no children and the only person he expected to transfer his goods to when he died was a trusted steward (vv. 2-3). God assured Abram his heir would be “one who will come from your own body” (4).
Next, God led the old man outside and challenged him to count the stars. “So shall your descendants be,”declared YHWH (5). Abram “believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (6).
When God reiterated His promise to give the land of Canaan as an inheritance to Abram, the patriarch asked how he could know that for sure (7-8). Apparently, it was easier for him to believe God could give him children than that He would be able to transfer the property rights of this great territory to His servant.
God then told Abram to prepare several animals for a sacrifice (9). Abram cut all but the turtle dove and pigeon in half and fought off the scavengers until nightfall (10-11). Then God put him into a deep sleep, yet the man was somehow aware of what was happening and fearful of what he witnessed (12).
God told Abram his descendants would be “be strangers in a land that is not theirs” and that they’d be afflicted as slaves for 400 years (13). When God judged their oppressors, Abram’s offspring would come out ahead; however, all this would take place after Abram died of a ripe old age (14-15). The reason for the delay until the 4th generation in seizing the land was that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (16). Apparently, the present inhabitants weren’t bad enough yet for God to be justified in wiping them out.
That said, the Lord appeared to Abram as “a smoking oven and a burning torch” passing through the pieces of the sacrificial animals (17). It was common practice in those days for men to pass between the slaughtered carcass of an animal and swear an oath to uphold their end of an agreement, wishing on themselves the same fate as the poor beasts who were killed, if they went back on their word. So, as He walked between the pieces, YHWH repeated His vow to give Abram’s descendents everything from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates (18-21).
Genesis Chapter 16
Sometimes when God’s promises seem long in coming true, we humans feel like we need to help the Lord out a little. That was certainly Sarai’s intention, when she suggested to Abram that he sleep with her Egyptian maid, Hagar (Gen. 16:1-2). Abram agreed, so ten years after he had moved to Canaan, he became a father (v. 3).
Little did they realize what trouble they were bringing on themselves and their descendants! When Hagar conceived a child, she went in her own estimation from being a slave to a favored wife, and she became utterly incorrigible (4). Sarai protested, and when Abram reminded her the slave was hers to deal with, she mistreated the younger woman, until she fled (5-6).
While Hagar was in the wilderness en route to Egypt, the Angel of YHWH found her by a well and questioned her (7-8). After Hagar admitted that she was running away from her mistress, the Lord told her to go back and submit to Sarai (9). He then promised to multiply her descendants through the son she was to name Ishmael (“God hears”), to remind her that He had heard her affliction (10-11). He also prophesied that her boy would become “a wild man,” who would live in opposition to his relatives and everyone else (12). Truer words were never spoken over the nations which descended from Hagar’s son!
Hagar gave her own name to YHWH, calling Him El Roi—“the God who sees” (13). Consequently, the name of the place where she encountered Him was called, Beer Lahai Roi—“Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me” (14).
Hagar returned as she’d been told to and bore Abram a son, who was given the name the angel had told her (15). Imagine being a father to your first-born at the age of 86 (16)!
Genesis Chapter 17
A few years later, the Lord appeared again, saying, “I am El Shaddai, walk before Me and be blameless”(Gen. 17:1). He reminded Abram of His covenant to multiply him exceedingly (v. 2). After the patriarch fell on his face before the God of the universe, the Lord continued by renaming him from Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) “for I have made you a father of many nations” (3-5). He promised royalty would descend from Abraham and that He would establish His everlasting covenant with them, as well, and give them the land where he was dwelling “as an everlasting possession” (6-8). All they had to do was keep their end of the bargain between them (9).
Unfortunately, too many nations are unaware of this passage—otherwise they would not object to modern-day descendants of Abraham possessing the land of Israel. An “everlasting possession” means it’s rightfully theirs forever. And the territory God had previously mentioned encompassed even more than Israel occupies today. Why would they risk offending the all-powerful King of the universe by trying to take from the Jews what He intends for them to have?
Next, God established a sign between them: Every male among Abraham’s household was to be circumcised—whether they were his sons over eight days old or his household slaves and their descendants (10-13). Any male who did not have his foreskin cut off would be “cut off from his people” for breaking God’s covenant (14).
In addition to renaming Abraham, God gave his wife a new name, as well. No longer was she Sarai (“my princess”); now she would be known as Sarah (“princess”)—since she wouldn’t just be revered by her husband but by the nations and kings that would descend through her (15-16).
This was too much for Abraham. He couldn’t imagine himself at 100 and his wife at 90 being able to have a child, so laughed out loud and said, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” (17-18). God made it plain that He intended to establish His covenant through the son that Sarah would bear and said the boy should be called Isaac (“he laughs”) as a reminded of this incident (19). Nevertheless, the Lord honored Abraham’s request for his firstborn and said He’d bless and multiply Ishmael, too, making him a great nation with twelve princes (20). However Isaac, whom Sarah was to bear by the same time in the following year, was the favored son (21).
Having completed His instructions, the Lord left (22). In compliance with God’s command, Abraham circumcised all the males in his household that very day, so he and his son Ishmael were cut at the ages of 99 and 13, respectively (23-27). Thus was established yet another covenant tradition before the giving of the Law.
Genesis Chapter 18
YHWH followed up on His covenant-making ceremony with a personal visit to Abraham. While the old man was sitting just outside his tent in the heat of the day, three travelers appeared. In fine oriental fashion, Abraham bowed to them and invited the Lord and His two angels to clean up, relax and have dinner with him (Gen. 18:1-5). Following the impromptu meal of veal, bread, butter and milk, the Lord reiterated His promise that Sarah would have a son within the year (vv. 6-10). Sarah happened to be listening from inside the tent and laughed to herself that anyone would even think such a thing was possible for a woman her age or for Abraham either (11-12). The Lord overheard the laugh and said, “Is anything to hard for YHWH?” (13-14). When Sarah tried to deny it, He didn’t punish her, but He didn’t let her get away with it either—He knew what was in her heart (15).
The Lord then let Abraham in on his plan to judge the wicked city of Sodom, since He considered the man was His partner in bringing about God’s purposes for the earth (16-21). It’s interesting what the Lord says about Abraham in verse 19:
“For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”
Knowing that his nephew Lot was living there, Abraham began to negotiate for the preservation of the city in behalf of any righteous individuals who might be present. He said, “Far be it from You…to slay the righteous with the wicked…Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” and begged the Lord to spare the city, should he find just 50 people worth saving (22-25). The Lord agreed to stay His hand, if 50 good men were found there (26). Abraham then proceeded to negotiate for the sake of fewer righteous individuals, until he had gotten God to go down as low as ten (27-32). He was apparently afraid to ask on behalf of any fewer than that, so Abraham and his Lord parted company on that note (33).
Genesis Chapter 19
Meanwhile, the two angels in YHWH’s company had gone on to Sodom and arrived that evening (Gen. 19:1). Lot was sitting at the city gate and greeted them, much as his uncle had done earlier. When he extended the same invitation to come to his house for a meal, the angels declined, saying they’d stay in the city square (v. 2). However, “he insisted strongly,” and persuaded them to join him (3).
After sharing a fine supper together, the men were not even bedded down for the night, when there came a pounding at Lot’s door (3-4). The men of the city had surrounded the house and were demanding that Lot send out his two guests, so they could “know” the men (5). Now, by this, the Sodomites did not mean they wanted to visit awhile and get acquainted with Lot’s visitors; they wanted to have sexual relations with them!
Of course Lot would have nothing to do with this misuse of his guests. He went out alone and tried to reason with the men—even offering his virgin daughters as a substitute to appease their lust (6-8). They accused him of a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and moved to enter the residence by force (9). But the angels pulled him back into the house and struck the men with blindness to keep them from carrying out their wicked intentions (10-11).
They then asked Lot if he knew of anyone in the city worth saving, since they had been sent by God to destroy it (12-13). Lot tried to persuade his future sons-in-law to escape with his family, but they thought he was playing some sort of joke (14).
In the morning, the angels literally had to drag Lot, his wife and their two daughters out of the city to escape its impending destruction (15-16). Then they instructed him to head for the mountains, lest they be killed, as well (17). Lot asked them to spare a small town not far away, because he was afraid they’d never make it as far as the angels wanted him to go (18-20). It makes me wonder if there were not already some rumblings going on at a nearby volcano or some seismic activity to signify something terrible was going to happen very soon. The angel agreed, urging Lot and his family to hurry (21). The village that was spared for Lot’s sake was later called Zoar, which means “small” (22).
Lot’s party reached the village by sunrise, at which time “the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah” (23-24). God completely destroyed those cities, as well as all the settlements on the plains (25). What was once a fertile valley must’ve been transformed in that one day to something like a war zone!
Not only did Lot and his daughters lose their home and their possessions, they also lost their wife and mother. Ignoring the angels’ command to run and not look back, Mrs. Lot stopped to look longingly at her home and was turned into “a pillar of salt” (vv. 17 & 26). Whether that means she was buried alive under the material raining down on the plain, or she was somehow transmuted into something else, we are not told. All we know is that her family was bereaved because of her disobedience.
When Abraham looked out over the plains that morning, all he could see was the smoke of its destruction rising up as from a hot furnace (27-28). For His friend’s sake, God had spared Abraham’s nephew, but wiped out everything else where his relative had once lived (29).
Perhaps fearing the disaster would reach him even in Zoar, Lot journeyed on into the mountains and made his home in a cave (30). Although they had escaped the destruction of Sodom, the city’s wickedness had come with the family, nevertheless. Reasoning that there was no other way for them to have children of their own, the older daughter persuaded the younger to help her get their father drunk, so they could have sex with him and preserve the family line (31-32). Twice they did so, with Lot none the wiser (33-35).“Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father” and bore children out of incest (36). From their sons, Moab (which means “of father”) and Ben-ammi (“son of my family”) came two of the most evil and troublesome nations to live near the nation of Israel (37-38). So we see yet another example of how the effects of one’s sin can be far-reaching and devastating—not only for the individual responsible, but also for others.
Genesis Chapter 20
The event that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah must also have disrupted the climate in that area for a while, since Abraham soon moved his family to a location farther south (Gen. 20:1). He set up housekeeping near a Philistine town and again told the same story as he had in Egypt concerning Sarah. Once again, the king in that country took her into his harem (2).
This time, the Lord appeared to King Abimelech in a dream, and said, “…you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife” (3). Naturally, the king defended himself, repeating what Abraham said and insisting he was innocent of any wrong-doing (4-5). God answered that He was aware of that fact and was keeping him from sinning (6). The Lord ordered the king to return Abraham’s wife to him and have him pray for the king and his household, so he would live; if he failed to do so, God would kill them all (7).
When Abimelech restored Sarah to her husband, he asked Abraham why he would jeopardize his kingdom in this way (8-10). Abraham replied:
Then Abimelech gave the patriarch livestock and slaves as compensation for any grief he had caused (14). Unlike Pharaoh, the Philistine king did not expel the family from his territory, but invited them to stay wherever they liked (15). To Sarah he said (tongue in cheek, I’m sure), “I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody”(16). This was a gentle reprimand for her part in the deception, but also an off-handed apology for besmirching her reputation.
When Abraham prayed for the man and his household, the Lord healed the women and allowed them to bear children again, since He had prevented them from conceiving so long as Sarah was there (17-18).
Genesis Chapter 21
The long-awaited child of Abraham and Sarah arrived sometime after Abraham’s 100th birthday. They named him Isaac, as the Lord had instructed, and circumcised the baby when he was eight days old in accordance with God’s covenant (Gen. 21:1-5). Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me,” since she never would’ve imagined the Lord could give her and Abraham a child in their old age (6-7).
When they threw a party to celebrate Isaac’s weaning, Sarah caught Ishmael making fun of the younger boy, so she went and demanded that Abraham throw Hagar and her son out (8-10). This really upset Abraham, since he was the father of both sons, but God told him to do as she said, promising that He would take care of the lad (11-13).
To his credit, Abraham did not send the two of them away without some provision; however, Hagar apparently wandered for quite some time in the wilderness, not sure of where she was going (14). When they ran out of water, she sat the young man down apart from her and had a good cry, afraid to see him die (15-16). An angel reassured her that she and the boy weren’t alone, and then called her attention to a well nearby (17-19). Eventually, the young man grew to become an archer, hunting in the wilderness of Paran; his mom got him a wife from Egypt, and all was well (20-21).
Meanwhile, recognizing that God was with Abraham, Abimelech and the commander of his army went to make a covenant with the patriarch (22-23). Abraham agreed, but brought up the matter of a well his servants had dug and Abimelech’s servants had taken (24-25). When the king denied any prior knowledge of the incident, Abraham gave him some sheep and oxen as proof that the well was his (26-30). He named the well Beersheba, which means “Well of the Oath,” or “Well of the Seven” in honor of the occasion (31). When the Philistines departed, he planted a shade tree there and stayed in that area for quite a while (32-34).
Genesis Chapter 22
Abraham’s biggest test of faith came some years later, when God asked him to sacrifice what he loved the most—his son Isaac. Here’s how the Lord framed the challenge: “Take now 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” (Gen. 22:2). Isaac wasn’t Abraham’s only child—there was also Ishmael—but Isaac was the only son Abraham had had with Sarah, the only child currently living with him, and he was the child in who God had wrapped up all His promises to Abraham. Why would he ask him to kill the boy?
This was a much harder test than all the others. Leaving his home and family was one thing—at least they were still living. He could always go back and see them if he wanted. Banishing Ishmael and his mother was tough, too. But to kill the child of his old age? What was YHWH thinking?
If Abraham thought those things, he kept them to himself. Without an argument, he got up early the next morning, loaded some supplies on a donkey, called a couple of servants and took off with his son in the direction God had indicated (v. 3). The journey from Beersheba to the region of Moriah near Jerusalem was about 50 or 60 miles, but with Abraham’s age (and perhaps Isaac’s youth), it took three days for the men to travel.
Upon seeing the spot from a distance, Abraham left the servants with the donkey, leaving these instructions: “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you” (5). Notice the faith of the patriarch. Knowing full well that God had commanded him to kill his son, still he believed the two of them would return! As the writer of Hebrews suggests, Abraham believed that the same God who had revitalized Sarah’s dead womb was also able to raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:11 & 17-19).
We are not told Isaac’s age at this time. The Hebrew word translated “lad” in the New King James is not much help, either. Na’ar can mean anything from a mere toddler to a young man of marriageable age. However, he had to have been at least ten or twelve to have carried the wood for his father, yet probably not so old as to have overpowered Abraham when he tried to bind him.
Imagine the mounting tension for Abraham. They were walking along—the boy was carrying the wood; his father had the knife and a torch, some flint or a lamp of some sort (Gen. 22:6). Suddenly it occurs to Isaac that they had everything needed for a sacrifice—except the animal! When he asked his father about it, Abraham stated simply, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (vv. 7-8). Did the old man suspect God would offer a substitute, or did he just not wish to worry the boy in what little time they had left together?
When they reached the spot, Abraham and his son probably worked together to built a stone altar and arrange the wood as always. But then, without warning, Abraham seized the boy, tied him up and lifted the knife to slay him (9-10)! Can you see the tears in the patriarch’s eyes? Do you hear the bewildered cries of his son and the father’s pleading for forgiveness? Surely, it must’ve been the most painful moment either of them had ever experienced!
But then God stepped in and told Abraham through an angel, “Do not lay your hand on the lad…for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (11-12). What a relief it must’ve been for both man and boy to have spotted the ram caught in a nearby thicket, which God indeed had provided as a substitute for the boy (13)! No wonder they commemorated the moment by calling that place YHWH Yireh—“the Lord Will Provide” (14).
As the smoke of the burnt offering rose to heaven, God again spoke through His angel to Abraham. He swore by Himself that, because Abraham had not withheld even his own son from God, that He would surely bless him, so that Abraham’s descendants would rival the stars in the skies and the sand at the seashore in number. They would be undefeated and would be a blessing to the nations of the earth (15-18)
Did the servants see the relief on their master’s face when he returned (19)? Were he and his son different somehow from that day forward?
Meanwhile, Abraham got word from his relatives back east that his brother Nahor had fathered eight children through his wife Milcah and four others through his concubine (20-22 & 24). Milcah’s youngest, Bethuel, had a daughter named Rebekah (23).
Genesis Chapter 23
At the ripe old age of 127, Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (the ancient name for Hebron) (Gen. 23:1-2). Dear old Abraham, now 137, interrupted his mourning long enough to ask a favor of the men who lived in that area—that he might purchase a plot of land to bury his wife (vv. 3-4). They said any one of them would be happy to allow such a noble man to bury his dead in any one of their tombs free of cost, but Abraham asked instead that they would help him negotiate the purchase of a cave at the end of a particular resident’s field (5-9).
The owner of the property was present and offered to give Abraham the land (10-11). Abraham insisted on paying whatever the land was worth (12-13). When the owner voiced the current market value, Abraham measured out the silver and purchased his first piece of real estate in the promised land (14-18). Then he buried his wife there in the middle of Canaan (19-20).
Genesis Chapter 24
Abraham had lived a full and blessed life, but he was getting on in years (Gen. 24:1). Dissatisfied with the prospects among the eligible young women of Canaan, Abraham determined to acquire a wife for his son from his own people. So he called his trusted steward and made him promise to go to Haran and bring back a bride from his relatives (vv. 2-4). The steward wanted clarification and asked what he should do if the young woman wouldn’t leave her homeland. “Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?” (5).
Under no circumstances was Isaac to go back, Abraham said. Instead, he assured the man that God would send His angel before him to arrange everything. If the woman wouldn’t come, then the servant would be released from his oath. (6-8)
The servant loaded ten camels with the best of what his master had to offer and headed to Mesopotamia (10). When he reached his destination, he made the beasts of burden kneel down near a well outside the city at the time when young women come out to draw water (11).
Finding the right girl in a city of that size would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. He knew he needed help and prayed for the Lord to guide him. His request was that God would “show kindness to my master Abraham” by giving the servant a sign to indicate the woman he should approach in his behalf (12). Hoping to find a young lady who was hospitable and considerate, he prayed that the girl who would not only give the traveler a drink but would also offer to water his animals would be the one for Isaac (13-14).
No sooner had he made his request then Rebekah came from to the well with her pitcher (15). She was a beautiful young virgin—never intimate with a man (16). The servant ran up to her after Rebekah had drawn water from the well and asked for a drink (17). As he had just prayed, she not only gladly gave him water, but set about drawing enough to refresh his camels, as well (18-20). This was no small feat, considering a thirsty camel can drink as much as 50 gallons!
When she finished, the man gave her a gift of a nose ring and two gold bracelets worth quite a lot of money, and then asked about her family and whether they might have room for him at their house (21-23). When she identified herself as “the daughter of Bethuel, Milcah’s son, whom she bore to Nahor,” and assured the stranger that there was plenty of room for him and his animals, the servant bowed his head and thanked God for leading him to the very family he had come to see (24-27).
Meanwhile, Rebekah ran ahead and told her mother’s household about the incident (28). Rebekah had a brother named Laban, who took it upon himself to welcome the unexpected guest, once he saw the rich presents the stranger had given his sister (29-31).
After he and his animals were settled in and everyone was ready to share a meal, the man refused to eat until he had stated his business (32-33). He told them who he was and why he had come—making sure to mention how God had blessed his master Abraham not only with a son, but also livestock, riches and servants (34-41). Then he related how the Lord had answered his prayer and led him to Rebekah (42-48). Having said this, he asked whether they would “deal kindly and truly” with Abraham or not, so he could know what his next move should be (49).
The men of the house, Laban and Bethuel, said they were not about to argue with the Lord, and offered Rebekah to be Isaac’s husband (50-51). Again, the servant worshiped God (52). Then he brought out his treasures and distributed gifts to the girl, her brother and her mother (53). Once that was done, then everyone ate and they spent the night (54).
The next day, the servant was ready to return home at once; however, the family tried to detain him for ten days or so (54-55). The servant insisted on leaving right away, so they called the girl and she agreed (56-58). Rebekah left with her nurse and some maids to accompany the servant and his traveling companions back to Canaan (59 & 61). The parting blessing the family imparted was for her to become the mother of a multitude of descendants who would “possess the gates of those who hate them” (60).
Isaac was encamped near the well where the angel had appeared to Hagar at the time the caravan arrived in Canaan (c.f.—Genesis 16:7-14 & 24:62). When she saw the man approaching from where he had gone to meditate in the field, Rebekah dismounted and inquired of his identity (Gen. 24:63-65). When told by the servant that it was his master, she veiled herself until he had a chance to explain and present the young lady to Isaac (vv. 65-66). Then at “the Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me,” Isaac brought the young lady into his mother’s tent and made her his wife. The love of his bride therefore comforted the man over the loss of his mom (67).
Genesis Chapter 25
At about age 140, Abraham still had some years left in him, so he took another wife named Keturah (Gen. 25:1). Through her, he fathered six more children, who had plenty of kids of their own (vv. 2-4). However, Abraham gave most of what he had to his son Isaac and sent the rest of his descendants away to the lands east of Canaan, making sure they had gifts to start them well on their way to success, so they would not dispute Isaac’s inheritance (5-6).
At the age of 175, the old man finally “breathed his last and died” (7-8). His two oldest sons buried him in the cave which Abraham had purchased to bury Sarah (9-10). God in turn blessed Isaac, who stayed in the land near Beer Lahoi Roi (11).
Verses 12-16 tell us the names of Ishmael’s twelve sons and the twelve nations they founded. They lived in the lands southwest of Canaan between the Promised Land and Egypt (18). Ishmael died at the age of 137 (17).
Beginning at verse 19, we focus on the story of Isaac and his sons. Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah (20). For almost twenty years, she was barren, so her husband prayed for her, and she conceived—not one, but two children (21). When the babies struggled in her womb, Rebekah “went to inquire of the LORD about it” (22). Interestingly enough, this is the first recorded instance of a woman consulting God.
His explanation was:
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger” (23).
When she gave birth, sure enough, there were twins: The first came out hairy and red, so they called him Esau (“hairy”); the second followed immediately after, grasping his brother’s heel, so he was called Jacob (“heel-grabber” or “supplanter”) (24-26). Their father was sixty years old when the boys were born!
As they grew, Esau turned out to be “a skillful hunter, a man of the field”—a real ‘man’s man,’ as we’d say—while “Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents” (27). Their father preferred Esau, because he enjoyed eating the game he brought home, while their mother favored the more domesticated son (28).
One day Esau came home half-starved from exertion to find Jacob hovering over a pot of lentil stew (29). When his brother requested a bowl-full, Jacob told Esau to sell him his birthright [the right of the first-born to receive the larger share of the inheritance] (30-31). Esau, living only for the moment, said, “I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” (32). Then he swore an oath, as Jacob insisted, and received his bread and stew for their father’s fortune (33-34). From that day forward, he was known as Edom, which means “red”—a play on both Esau’s coloration and his demand for some of that “red stuff” his brother was cooking (30).
Genesis Chapter 26
In many ways, Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps. There was famine in the land again, so Isaac “went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar” (Gen. 26:1). God appeared to him there and instructed him not to go to Egypt, but said, “Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father” (2-3). The Lord promised to multiply Isaac’s descendants, give them the land, and make them a blessing to the nations because of his father Abraham’s obedience (4-5).
While he was in Gerar, the men of the area took an interest in Isaac’s wife Rebekah (6-7). Like his father, Isaac told them she was his sister, thinking someone might kill him to have her for themselves. However, the king happened to spot the two of them making out and called Isaac on his lie (8-9). He rebuked the man for setting the Philistines up for sin, and then ordered everyone to leave Isaac and his wife alone (10-11).
Isaac planted crops in the land, which God blessed so they yielded a hundred-fold (12). Before long, his neighbors began to envy the livestock, servants and wealth he accumulated, so Abimelech sent him away (13-16).
Water rights have always been a big deal in agrarian cultures. The Philistines had stopped up Abraham’s wells after he died (15). When Isaac relocated to the Valley of Gerar, he re-dug one of the wells, re-opening the dispute over the water which the Philistines had started with his dad (17-20). That well Isaac named Esek, or “quarrel,” and then dug another. Philistine shepherds also disputed that one, which he named Sitnah, or “enmity” (21). Finally, after relocating a third time, he dug a well that wasn’t disputed, so he named it Rehoboth, or “spacious.” His reason: “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (22).
When Isaac moved again, God appeared to him that very night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake” (23-24). Isaac then erected his first altar to call on the Lord, pitched his tent and had his servants dig a well (25).
While the excavation was underway, Abimelech, a friend named Ahuzzath, and his general Phichol paid Isaac a visit (26). Isaac couldn’t understand what they were doing there, since they had pushed him out of their country, but they said they had realized YHWH was with him and desired to make a covenant (27-28). They wanted him to promise to do them no harm, since they had not hurt him and “have done nothing to you but good and have sent you away in peace” (29). Isaac could easily have disputed that last part, but made a feast for his guests instead, and had them spend the night. The next day they all made an oath and then parted company in peace (30-31). About that time, his servants reported that they had found water, so he named the well Shebah, which means “oath,” thus giving the name Beersheba (“well of the oath”) to the town that later grew up there (32-33).
When Esau was forty years old, he took two Hittite women as wives (34). This was a great disappointment to his parents, Isaac and Rebekah (35).
Genesis Chapter 27
As if there wasn’t already enough division in this family, it was about to get worse. Isaac was old and almost blind when he called his elder son and expressed his intention to bless him before he died. He told Esau to go hunting and prepare a savory meal from the game he brought back, then he would eat it and bless his son (Gen. 27:1-4).
Rebekah happened to be listening outside (tent walls make it almost impossible to carry on a private conversation), and went and found Jacob as soon as Esau left to go hunting (v. 5). She told her favorite about the conversation between his father and brother and then ordered him to go fetch a couple of young goats, so she could prepare the dish her husband was asking for and Jacob could get the blessing (6-10). When Jacob objected to this deception on fear of discovery, Rebekah urged him to do what she said and let her bear any consequences (11-13).
We now see where Jacob got his wily disposition! Rebekah thought of everything: She not only prepared the meat, but she fastened the skins of the goats to Jacob’s arms and neck, so he would feel hairy like his brother. Then she dressed him in his brother’s best clothes, which would carry Esau’s scent. Thrusting the platter of food into Jacob’s hands, she propelled him to his father’s tent to carry out her plan (14-17).
When Jacob came to his dad, Isaac suspected something, because his voice was not Esau’s; also he was surprised his son had apprehended the game so quickly. Jacob lied and said he was Esau and that God had brought the game to him (18-20). Not satisfied, Isaac had him come near so he could feel his son, and the hairy skins reassured him somewhat (21-23). Jacob continued the deception and fed his father the food and wine (24-25). When he had eaten, Isaac called him close so he could kiss him, and that’s when he smelled Esau’s clothes and was convinced enough to declare his blessing:
Is like the smell of a field
Which the LORD has blessed.
Therefore may God give you
Of the dew of heaven,
Of the fatness of the earth,
And plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you,
And nations bow down to you.
Be master over your brethren,
And let your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
And blessed be those who bless you!” (26-29).
No sooner had Jacob left his father’s tent (breathing a sigh of relief, I’m sure), when Esau returned from hunting the game that Isaac had requested (30). He dutifully prepared a savory meal, and then took it into his father (31). Isaac was confused, having already partaken of a meal and conferred a blessing to one he thought was his older son (32). When Esau told him who he was, Isaac began to tremble and told him what had happened (32-33).
Esau cried in anguish for a blessing as well (34). Isaac replied, “Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing” (35). Thinking of the meaning of his brother’s name and his character, Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright, and now look, he has taken away my blessing!” Then he asked his father whether there was not still something with which he could bless his elder son (36).
Isaac confessed he’d already made Jacob his master and had blessed him with grain and wine. What could be left? At this, Esau wept and begged for some consolation from his father (37-38).
So Isaac’s pronouncement was this:
And of the dew of heaven from above.
By your sword you shall live,
And you shall serve your brother;
And it shall come to pass, when you become restless,
That you shall break his yoke from your neck.” (39-40)
Isaac did wish his older son productivity, but said he would have to defend it with his sword. Having made Jacob master over his brethren, all he could do was declare a future revolution for Esau.
Naturally, Esau resented Jacob even more than he had before, and vowed to kill him once their father died (41). When their mother heard about it, she told Jacob to go to Haran and stay with her brother Laban, until Esau had a chance to cool off (42-45). In explanation to her husband, Rebekah said, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth;” if Jacob were to take a wife from the local residents, she claimed it would do her in (46).
Genesis Chapter 28
Perhaps to humor his wife, as well as remembering his own father’s preferences, Isaac told Jacob he was not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, but go to the house of his mother’s brother and marry one of his daughters (Gen. 28:1-2). Then he gave his younger son a more personal blessing before sending him on his way—that God would multiply Jacob, give him and his descendants the blessings of Abraham, and bequeath the land He’d promised to his ancestors to Jacob (vv. 3-5).
When Esau learned that his Canaanite wives were displeasing to his father, he went and got another from the descendants of Ishmael (6-9). This was still not the best choice he could’ve made, since the Ishmaelites were no great friends of Abraham’s other descendants.
On his way to Haran, Jacob camped out with nothing but a rock to serve as a pillow for his head (10-11). That night, the Lord appeared to him in a dream to initiate a covenant relationship with the third generation in Abraham’s family. God showed him a ladder with angels going up and coming down from heaven (12). Then, from above the ladder, the Lord identified Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac and gave Jacob the same promise of the land, a multitude of descendants and His blessing to and through them (13-14). He also promised His presence and protection for Jacob, until all He intended was fulfilled (15).
When he awoke, Jacob was awestruck by the encounter and erected a monument to mark the spot where he had seen the ladder leading to heaven (16-18). Like his predecessor Abraham, he called the place Bethel—“house of God”—although the nearby city had previously been called Luz [“almond tree”] (19). Ever the shrewd business man, Jacob made a conditional agreement with the Lord: If YHWH would keep His word—protecting, providing for, and guiding him “back to my father’s house in peace”—then this would be God’s house and Jacob would give Him a tenth of all he had (20-22).
Genesis Chapter 29
Arriving at his destination, Jacob stopped at a well where there were some shepherds gathered with their flocks (Gen. 29:1-2). He inquired of the men whether they were from Haran and if they might be acquainted with Laban, the son of Nahor (vv. 4-5). They said they were, and in fact his daughter was approaching with her father’s sheep as they spoke (6).
Jacob was curious as to why they were all gathering at the well, but no one was watering their sheep, since it was only mid-day (7). They pointed out the large stone over the mouth of the well and said it was their custom to wait until all the shepherds had arrived and then remove the stone so all could drink at once (3 & 8).
When Rachel arrived, Jacob single-handedly removed the heavy stone to water Laban’s sheep (9-10). Then he kissed his cousin and wept, following with an explanation of his relationship to her (11-12). All of this made quite an impression on the girl, so she ran home and told her father.
Most likely remembering the wealth displayed by the servant of Abraham when he came to fetch his sister Rebekah for Isaac, Laban went quickly to greet his nephew and bring the young man into his home (13). After Jacob related the reason for his coming, his uncle said, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh,” and let him stay for a month (14).
At some point in time, Jacob must’ve offered to help with the sheep in order to earn his keep. But Laban eventually asked him to name his wages, rather than taking advantage of him because he was a relative (15). Jacob had all he needed, but his heart was smitten for Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, so he offered to work seven years for her hand in marriage (16-18). Laban agreed, saying it was better for him to give her to his nephew than anyone else, so Jacob stayed and worked the seven years (19-20).
In what seemed like no time, the agreed period passed, and Jacob asked for Laban to fulfill his promise (20-21). After a lavish feast with all the men in the place, Jacob was given his wife, and they consummated their union (22-23). However, when Jacob awoke the next morning, he was horrified to find he had not slept with Rachel as planned, but with her older sister Leah (25)!
How could that happen? Well, my guess is there was alcohol involved, which would make anyone slow to catch on. Furthermore, the bride was probably heavily veiled throughout the ceremony. It wasn’t until night had fallen that Jacob was allowed to disrobe his new wife, and she probably kept her mouth shut, so he wouldn’t recognize her until it was too late.
Jacob immediately confronted his uncle, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?” (25). In his uncle Jacob the supplanter had met his match! Laban no doubt shrugged, and said it was not their custom to give away the younger daughter before the older (26). He told Jacob to give Leah the royal treatment for this week of festivities, and then he could have Rachel, too—on the condition that he would work for her another seven years (27). Jacob reluctantly agreed. What else could he do? And then Laban gave him Rachel, the girl he’d wanted all along (28 & 30).
Poor Leah! Not many people ever pay much attention to Jacob’s first wife, other than to consider her a rival of Jacob’s beloved Rachel. However, I want to call some important things to your attention from the following history of this family.
Leah, whose name means “sore eyes,” had some sort of weakness in her vision (16-17). She was also apparently far less attractive than her lovely younger sister, which is why her father resorted to such desperate measures to get her a husband. Rachel’s name, on the other hand was more endearing. It meant “ewe lamb”—which is a great compliment from a man whose livelihood is from his sheep. Unloved by Jacob (30), Leah was the even more the unfortunate victim of her father’s conniving scheme to get twice the work out of his nephew. But God saw Jacob’s contempt toward her and took pity on Leah, granting her children, while sealing her sister’s womb (31).
If you study the names Leah gave her children, you will see evidence of her faith: Reuben means “see, a son!” and Leah acknowledged God’s favor and her hope that He would turn her husband’s heart toward her (32). Simeon means “heard”—which expressed Leah’s confidence that “YHWH has heard that I am hated, He has therefore given me this son also” (33). Levi means “attached” and tells of Leah’s hope that Jacob would become fond of the wife who had borne him three sons so far (34). By the time Judah (“praise”) was born, Leah had turned to God alone for love and satisfaction, saying, “Now I will praise YHWH” (35).
Genesis Chapter 30
Rachel, on the other hand, was worldly and self-centered. She was envious of Leah, and at first laid the responsibility for her own barrenness at Jacob’s feet, crying, “Give me children, or else I die!” (Gen. 30:1). Jacob angrily retorted, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (v. 2). So Rachel resorted to offering Jacob her maid as a concubine (an ancient surrogate mother) to bring forth children in her place (3-4). The first son Bilhah bore for Rachel her mistress named Dan (which means “judge”), saying “God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son” (5-6). [Notice that she did not use the name YHWH, but a general term which could apply to any deity.] Bilhah’s second son she named Naphtali, “my wrestling,” indicating her struggle was a personal vendetta against her sister and that she had prevailed (7-8).
For a time, Leah, too, became barren and resorted to offering a concubine of her own. The children her maid Zilpah bore were given more secular names—these indicating her mistress’ happiness was connected with the number of offspring attributed to her (9-13).
When God finally did open Rachel’s womb, it was after she turned to mandrakes—what we might call Old Testament fertility drugs—which she bought from Leah with a night of nuptial privileges with Jacob (14-16). Leah became pregnant that night, because “God gave heed to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son,” whom she christened with acknowledgement of God’s hand in the matter (17-18). Soon after, Leah had yet another son—also named with an expression of gratitude to God—and a daughter (19-21).
The aphrodisiac failed Rachel and she still did not get pregnant, until at last she tried God. Finally, He “listened to her and opened her womb,” allowing Rachel to conceive and bear her first son (vv. 22-23). Rachel named the boy Joseph, which means “increaser,” “he increases” or “he will add,” saying, “YHWH shall add to me another son” (24). This indicates some measure of faith on Rachel’s part—or does it?
Having eleven sons by the end of the second seven year time-span, Jacob was ready to go home to his father’s house (25-26). However, Laban, recognizing how YHWH had blessed him during Jacob’s soujourn, persuaded the younger man to stay, offering to let him name his wages (27-28). Jacob said all he wanted was for Laban to let him keep for himself any sheep and goats that were discolored, speckled or spotted from among Laban’s flocks (29-33). Laban agreed, but removed all the irregular animals from his livestock before Jacob could inspect them (34-36).
No matter. God showed Jacob a way to get the sheep and goats to produce healthy irregular animals to build his flocks, while Laban’s pretty sheep and goats grew feeble (37-42). Within six years, Jacob“became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (43).
Genesis Chapter 31
It wasn’t long before both Laban and his sons grew envious of how God had blessed Jacob at their expense (Gen. 31:1-2). The Lord instructed his servant to return home, so Jacob secretly met with his wives and explained the situation (3-5). In spite of the fact that Jacob had served their father with all his might and had put up with his conniving—trying to cheat him of his wages ten times—God had not allowed Laban to hurt him, but had always let Jacob come out ahead (6-12). Now it was time to leave (13).
Leah and Rachel agreed, saying there was nothing keeping them in Haran. Their father had sold them to Jacob and now treated them like strangers. He had lost whatever they might’ve received as an inheritance to Jacob. They concluded, “whatever God has said to you, do it” (14-16). So Jacob packed up his household and his family and loaded it all onto camels to leave (17-18).
While Laban was away sheering his sheep, Jacob and his family made their getaway (19-21). Unbeknownst to anyone, Rachel stole her father’s household idols—quite likely including the fertility gods. I have heard some pastors suggest Rachel coveted the idols for their gold, explaining she had not received a proper dowry for her wedding. Others have suggested it was an act of revenge—a way of ‘hitting Daddy where it hurts’—for his shameful disdain of his daughters. I am more inclined, however—based upon her actions and the fact that Jacob’s wealth at this time exceeded Laban’s—to believe that Rachel, had some hope that these ‘gods’ would bring her yet another son.
Three days after the fact, Laban learned of his son-in-law’s departure and rounded up some relatives to follow in hot pursuit. A week later, they caught up with Jacob in the mountains of Gilead, but God spoke to Laban in a dream and warned him to watch what he said (22-24). Laban asked Jacob what had possessed him to steal away, carrying his daughters “like captives taken with the sword” (25-26). He claimed he would’ve given them all a proper send off—if not a party, then at least kissing his daughters goodbye (27-28). He could understand Jacob wanting to go home to his family, but asked, “why did you steal my gods?” (30).
Jacob explained his covert escape, saying he was afraid Laban would take his daughters from him by force (31). Unaware of what Rachel had done, he said, “With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you” (32). Jacob didn’t want an idolater or a thief in his company any more than Laban wanted to part with what was his. Laban searched every tent in the camp, but found nothing (33). When he got to Rachel’s tent, she had hidden the idols in the luggage under her camel’s saddle and sat on it. She told her father she was having her monthly period and was unable to get up—knowing no self-respecting man would defile himself by touching what a menstrual woman had sat upon (34-35).
When Laban returned empty-handed, Jacob let his father-in-law have it. He reminded Laban how he had served him twenty years, suffering all sorts of hardships in the line of duty, and how Laban had changed his wages ten times (36-41). Then he added, “Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night” (42).
Even then, Laban wouldn’t admit his fault. He said everything Jacob had was his, but he could do nothing about it (43). Instead, he called Jacob to make a covenant (44). The two men set up boundary stones—each calling it “Heap of Witness” in his own language—saying the stones and YHWH were witnesses of their agreement that day (45-49). Laban said God would see if Jacob mistreated his daughters or took other wives (50). They promised neither would cross that boundary to harm the other, and then they made a sacrifice and shared a meal together to seal the deal (51-54). After spending the night, Laban got up early the next morning, kissed his daughters and blessed them, and then went back home (55).
Genesis Chapter 32
After his meeting with Laban, Jacob was surprised to meet some angels (Gen. 32:1). He named the placeMahanaim, which means “two camps,” because he realized he wasn’t the only one occupying that bit of real estate (v. 2).
Not wanting to wander through his brother’s territory without fair warning, and also probably desiring to feel out Esau’s disposition toward him these days, Jacob sent messengers ahead to inform his twin that he was back (3-5). When they returned saying his brother was heading their direction with 400 men, Jacob was terrified, and divided his household into two camps—hoping that if the first was attacked the second would have some chance of escape (6-8).
Jacob went to the Lord in prayer, reminding Him of His command to return home (9). He said he was unworthy of the kindness God had shown thus far—considering that when he left home he had nothing but his staff, and now his household and possessions were enough for two camps (10). He begged for the Lord to save him from Esau’s wrath, reminding God of the promises He had made to prosper and multiply him (11-12).
Jacob and his family camped at Mahanaim for the night (13). Before he bedded down, Jacob selected a large quantity of sheep and goats, camels and donkeys to give to his brother as a present (13-15). Then he instructed his servants to take the animals in separate droves, with a good space between each group, and go ahead of him to meet Esau (16). As each one encountered Jacob’s twin, they were to inform him that the animals were a present from his brother, who would be coming along shortly (17-20).
After bedding down for the night, Jacob decided to move the rest of the family across the river Jabbok (21-23). This left him alone on the east bank, where he wrestled all night with a Man—very likely a pre-incarnate Jesus or an angel (24). This fellow, who had single-handedly moved the large rock over the well outside of Haran (Gen. 29:10), actually almost bested his adversary, who resorted to disabling Jacob to end their match (Gen. 32:25)! As daylight approached when others might see them struggling, the heavenly being told Jacob to let him go. Jacob refused to let him go, unless He blessed him first (v. 26). That’s when Jacob was given the new name of Israel, “Prince with God.” The Man explained, “for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed” (27-28).
When Jacob asked the stranger’s name, He evaded the question, and then blessed the patriarch (29). Convinced the Man’s origin was divine, Jacob named the place Peniel (“Face of God”), saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (30). Then he limped across the river back to his family (31). The price of this blessing was a life-long disability remembered by his descendents long after Jacob’s lifetime (32).
Genesis Chapter 33
No sooner had he reached the other side, than Jacob saw in the distance the horde of Esau’s men fast approaching (Gen. 33:1). He hastily divided the rest of his family into groups—each mother with her own children—and put his concubines first, followed by Leah and then Rachel (vv. 1-2). He himself went ahead to meet Esau, bowing seven times before reaching his brother (3). Imagine Jacob’s surprise, when the brother he expected to harm him actually jumped down and gave him a bear hug and kiss (4)! Both brothers had a good cry on each other’s shoulders then.
When Esau dried his eyes and spotted Jacob’s family, introductions were made (5-7). Then the older twin asked about the flocks and herds he had encountered along the way (8). Jacob told him it was a gift and urged his reluctant sibling to accept it, “inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me” (9-11). Having taken Esau’s birthright and blessing, it was the least Jacob could do to share some of the good things God had given him.
When Esau offered to accompany Jacob back home, the younger brother declined, saying he didn’t think his children and nursing animals could handle the pace (12-15). Actually, I think he was afraid to keep company for too long with Esau, in case his favorable mood should fade. So Esau traveled south to his home in Seir; while Jacob moved west to Succoth (which means “booths”), where he built temporary shelters for himself and his animals (16-17).
When Jacob reached the town of Shechem, he purchased the land where he pitched his family’s tents, and built an altar, named El Elohe Israel—“God, the God of Israel” (18-20).
Genesis Chapter 34
This, it turned out, was not a good move for Jacob. For, while his daughter Dinah was out visiting other girls her age in Shechem, the young man the city was named for raped her (Gen. 34:1-2). The young man really seemed to care for the girl and tried to make it all right by requesting her hand in marriage (vv. 3-4).
However, Jacob and his family were very upset about the circumstances, so when Shechem and his father Hamor came to ask for Dinah’s hand, the boys answered deceitfully (5-13). Dinah’s brothers said there was no way they would be willing to intermarry with the Shechemites, unless all the men were willing to be circumcised; otherwise, they’d take their sister back and be on their way (14-17).
This seemed reasonable enough to the two men, so they went back and persuaded the townsmen, saying,“Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us” (18-23). So the men consented with an eye toward personal gain through intermarriage with this wealthy outsider (24).
Three days later, while all the men of the city were recuperating from their surgery, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi came and killed everyone to avenge their sister (25). The men were in too much pain to resist, so the two brothers had no trouble rescuing Dinah from Hamor’s household (26). The rest of the brothers came and helped themselves to the spoil—including the women and children, who were probably taken as slaves (27-29).
Jacob strongly objected, fearing that neighboring peoples would unite to avenge the destruction of Shechem and wipe out his family (30). However, Simeon and Levi justified themselves, saying, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?” (31).
Genesis Chapter 35
God told Jacob to head with his family to Bethel and build an altar where He had first appeared to him when Jacob fled from Esau (Gen. 35:1). Apparently having discovered Rachel’s theft by now (along with idols his sons may have taken from the homes of the Shechemites), Jacob told everyone in his family, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone” (vv. 2-3). When they had turned over the images, along with their earrings (perhaps also a sign of devotion to particular deities?), Jacob buried them all under a big tree outside the city, then moved out (4).
Rather than come after the family responsible for wiping out an entire city, the inhabitants of the land were terrified of Jacob and company. In this way, God protected them from retribution (5). So they all arrived safely at their destination, where Jacob built an altar and named the place El Bethel—“God of the House of God” (6-7).
Now, at some point, Jacob must’ve reconnected with at least part of his father’s household, because verse 8 tells us Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah, died at this time and was buried at Bethel. The tree where they dug her grave was called Allon Bachuth, or “Terebinth of Weeping,” due to the family’s mourning over this loss. This lady must’ve been something special to have merited a verse of her own in this narrative of Israel’s family history!
God again appeared to Jacob and blessed him, reminding him his name was no longer Jacob, “Supplanter,” but Israel, “Prince of God” (9-10). He reiterated the original commandment given to mankind at creation and after the Flood, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28, 9:1 & 7, 35:11). Then God told him that, not only would Israel’s descendants receive the land YHWH had promised to Abraham and Isaac, but nations and kings would proceed from him (Gen. 35:11-12). When the Lord left, Jacob set up a pillar of stone and poured out wine and oil on it in dedication of the monument, again calling it Bethel (vv. 13-15).
After leaving Bethel, Rachel went into heavy labor with her second child just before they reached Ephrath/Bethlehem (16). Something went wrong, and Rachel died from childbirth, but first she named the baby boy Ben Oni—“Son of My Sorrow” (17-18). It was bad enough that he should have to bury his favorite wife (19). Jacob did not want to also have his youngest son’s name to be a constant reminder of his grief, so he renamed the boy Benjamin—“Son of the Right Hand,” or “Son of My Strength” (18). After erecting a pillar over her grave, Jacob moved on to Eder (20-21).
It was obvious by this time that the wicked customs of the lands where they had dwelt had had their effect on Jacob’s children. His son Reuben went and had a fling with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Although Jacob knew about it, he did nothing at the time—probably because he was still too numb from his loss of Rachel (22).
In verses 23-26, we have a brief recap of the children of Jacob, according to their mothers’ names and the order of their birth:
|Leah||Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun|
Sometime later, Jacob reached his father’s settlement in Mamre/Kirjath Arba/Hebron (27). Isaac died thereafter, at the age of 180, and was buried by his two sons, Esau and Jacob (28-29). Apparently, the old man managed to hang on just long enough to see the return of his long absent son.
Genesis Chapter 36
This chapter focuses briefly on the family of Esau. The first five verses talk about his three wives and their children. Verse six tells us he moved the whole family, his livestock and his other possessions “to a country away from the presence of his brother Jacob.” Just as their great uncle Lot and grandfather Abraham had experienced, the two brothers had too much stuff to live close together—especially when it came to finding sufficient grazing land and water for their livestock (v. 7). “So Esau dwelt in Mount Seir,” a land to the east of Canaan (8).
If you study the rest of the chapter carefully, you notice right away that Esau’s family quickly integrated into the culture of the people where they had moved. For example Eliphaz, the son of Esau’s Hittite wife Adah, took a concubine named Timna, who was the sister of one of Seir’s sons, Lotan (See vv. 10, 12, 20 & 22). These two were parents of Amelek—most likely the ancestor of the violent tribe that later caused Israel so much trouble. You also find that one of Esau’s wives, Aholibamah the daughter of Anah, was in fact from Seir’s family (c.f.—2, 20 & 25).
So, apparently, Esau went to live close to his in-laws, eventually so filling the country with his descendants, that the region became known as Edom, rather than Seir. Verses 31-39 list the kings of Edom who ruled long before Israel was ever a monarchy. While the final verse removes all doubt that “Esau was the father of the Edomites” (43).
You can find a condensed version of this genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1:34-54.
Genesis Chapter 37
While Esau made his home in the territory of Seir, Jacob set up housekeeping in his father’s homeland of Canaan (Gen. 37:1). Chapter 37 begins to zero in on one member of his family in particular—young Joseph. Even at age seventeen, Joseph got himself into some trouble, because he ratted on his older brothers Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher, after he had been out with them feeding his father’s flock (v. 2). What made things worse was that their dad made Joseph a beautiful long-sleeved tunic with many colors (3). Realizing he was Israel’s favorite made the older brothers so resentful, they couldn’t speak a civil word to him (4).
What really made things bad for the young man was his dreams—and his lack of discretion in sharing them. First, he dreamed that he and his brothers were gathering grain in a field, when all of a sudden their sheaves bowed down to his (5-7). The obvious insinuation that he would be ruler over them was galling to the brothers to say the least (8)! But when he shared another dream, in which eleven stars, the moon and the sun bowed down, even his father was disgruntled that the lad would envision his brothers and his parents bowing to him (9-10). The brothers were consumed with envy and hatred, while Israel kept it all in mind (5, 8 & 11).
Jacob must’ve been a trusting soul, because he sent Joseph one day to find his brothers and report back to him (12-14). Not finding them where he expected, Joseph was eventually directed to where they had moved the sheep (15-17). However, the brothers caught sight of the young man long before he reached them and conspired to kill him (18-20). Then “We shall see what will become of his dreams,” they said. Reuben, the oldest, convinced them not to kill their younger sibling, but to toss him into some pit (21-22). His intention was to come back and rescue Joseph—perhaps to win some much-needed favor from his father, since the incident with Jacob’s concubine. So they stripped him of his coat and put him into a waterless hole in the ground (23-24).
While they were eating dinner, they noticed some Ishmaelite traders bringing their wares from Gilead to Egypt (25). Judah decided they might as well gain some profit from their brother by selling him to them as a slave (26-27). There were apparently some Midianite traders in that same caravan, for while the brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites, it was the Midianites who wound up in possession of the young man and later sold him in Egypt (28 & 36).
Pocketing their twenty shekels of silver, the brothers then came up with a plan to hide the dirty deed from their father. Poor Reuben was beside himself when he returned to the pit and found Joseph was gone (29-30). However, the others came up with a scheme of covering the lad’s coat with goat blood and bringing it to their father, pretending to have found it somewhere (31-32). Jacob assumed a wild animal had torn Joseph to pieces and mourned a long time for his lost son, refusing to be comforted (33-35).
Genesis Chapter 38
This chapter briefly switches from the account of Joseph to focus on another important member of Jacob’s family—his fourth son, Judah. Judah married a Canaanite woman named Shua, who bore him three sons (Gen. 38:1-5).
When Er, the oldest, was of marriageable age, Judah found a Canaanite bride for him, as well (v. 6). However, “Er…was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD killed him” (7). So Judah ordered his second son, Onan, to marry the woman and raise up children in his brother’s behalf (8). Very likely understanding that whatever son he fathered would receive a double inheritance in Er’s place, diminishing his own, the second-born kept withdrawing during intercourse, so that Tamar could not conceive (9). This, too, was displeasing to God, so the Lord killed him (10).
By now Judah was sure this girl he had given as a wife to his two sons was a jinx of some sort! He was not about to risk losing his third son, so he sent her home to live with her own family until the youngest was of marriageable age (11). Meanwhile, Judah’s own wife died (12).
Still feeling the loss of his wife, Judah went to shear his sheep in the company of his friend Hirah the Adullamite. Tamar found out and disguised herself as a prostitute, stationing herself along the road (13-14). As heavily veiled as she was, Judah never recognized his daughter-in-law, but approached her for sex (15-16). When they had agreed upon a young goat from his flock in payment, she requested some collateral to hold until he made good on his promise—his signet and cord, plus the staff he was carrying—to be surrendered when he brought the animal (16-18). However, when his friend Hirah came back to make the exchange, the woman was nowhere to be found, since Tamar had discarded her disguise and gone back home (19-22). Afraid of being called a fool, Judah dismissed the lost items and the entire incident (23).
It was not until three months later, when Tamar was found pregnant out of wedlock that Judah’s property was recovered. He was ready to have her burned for harlotry, but she revealed the secret of her pregnancy through the identifying articles (24-25). He then admitted they were his and declared Tamar “more righteous than I,” because he hadn’t kept his promise to give her to his youngest son (26). Nevertheless, Judah was never intimate with her again.
Twins were born to Judah by Tamar (27). One stuck out his hand, and the midwife tied a thread around his wrist to designate the firstborn (28). However, he withdrew and the second came out unexpectedly. So that boy was called Perez, which means “breach” or “breakthrough,”while the other was named Zerah, which means “dawning” (29-30).
Genesis Chapter 39
Whenever God is at work in someone’s life, the enemy tries to mess it up. But no matter how bad things may get, YHWH’s purposes always prevail. As we see in the rest of this book, such was the case in the life of Joseph.
The Lord’s hand was on Joseph from the very beginning: He was a miracle baby conceived by a barren woman. Then God gave him dreams concerning his destiny in life. His father made it clear he intended to put Joseph in charge. For a while, it seemed like those dreams would never come to pass, because the jealous anger of his brothers. But God wasn’t finished yet!
Joseph had been sold to an Egyptian officer named Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s guard (Gen. 39:1). God blessed everything Joseph touched, so Potiphar soon promoted the young man to chief steward of his household—the only thing the master of the house concerned himself with was the food he ate (vv. 2-6).
Unfortunately, another member of the family took notice—not only of Joseph’s intelligence and capable leadership, but also his manly figure and good looks. Soon, Joseph was harangued by the lustful advances of Potiphar’s amorous wife (6-7). To his credit, Joseph made clear his thoughts on the matter: Not only would it be a betrayal of his master’s trust to sleep with his wife, but it would be a sin against God, and Joseph would do neither (8-9). He managed to avoid and rebuff the woman for a while, but one day he found himself alone in the house, with no one around but her (10-11). Taking advantage of the situation, she grabbed his coat and demanded sex again; Joseph left the coat behind and got away as fast as he could (12).
The angry vixen then came up with a plan to get back at him. She screamed for help and told all the household staff that Joseph had tried to take advantage of her and had left the cloak behind when she cried out (14-15). She kept the ‘evidence’ at her side until her husband got home, and then repeated the same accusation to him (16-18).
The master was furious! Being captain of the guard, Potiphar could have had his Hebrew slave executed. But he must’ve had some doubt regarding the tale of attempted rape his wife told, because he instead had Joseph put into the prison that was also under his authority (19-20). There Joseph stayed for quite some time, but even in prison God was with him and eventually put the young man in charge (21-23).
Genesis Chapter 40
During Joseph’s confinement, Pharoah became angry with two of his household servants and had them put in jail (Gen. 40:1-3). Joseph was put in charge of the two men and happened to notice one day that they seemed especially gloomy (vv. 4-6). When he asked about it, they told him they had each had dreams the night before but had no way of knowing what they meant (7-8). He replied, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.”
The king’s former cupbearer described his dream first: He saw three clusters of grapes grow almost instantly. Then he took the cup of Pharaoh that was in his hand and squeezed the juice into it and handed it to his master (9-11). Joseph explained that the three clusters represented three days; in that amount of time, Pharaoh was going to restore the cupbearer to his old job (12-13). Joseph asked a favor of the man to tell the king about him when he was released, so that Pharaoh would get him out of prison, since he was innocent of any crime (14-15).
The royal baker was delighted with the interpretation of his friend’s dream and was optimistic that his might bode well, too. He described from his dream three baskets filled with all sorts of baked goods on his head. Although intended for Pharaoh, the bread was being devoured by birds (16-17). Joseph had to be the bearer of bad news to this man. The three baskets in his dream represented three days, as well—only the king’s baker would not be restored, but hanged within that time period (18-19). I imagine that man was hoping Joseph was wrong, while his companion prayed he was right in his case!
Three days later, it all played out as Joseph said. His majesty was in a generous mood on his birthday and restored the cupbearer to his position (20-21). However, the baker he decided to execute (22). Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph for quite some time, so the young man continued to languish in prison (23).
Genesis Chapter 41
God did not forget His faithful servant, but actually used dreams again to gain Joseph’s release. Two years later, Pharaoh was disturbed one night by two vivid and perplexing dreams (Gen. 41:1-7). Sensing there was some significance to the symbolism of the dreams, the king called all his astrologers and wise men into the palace to interpret them; yet not one of his most learned advisors could tell him a thing (v. 8)!
That’s when the cupbearer recalled his experience with Joseph. Apologizing for not mentioning it sooner, he told the king how this Hebrew in prison had interpreted his dream and that of the baker, and they came true just as he had said (9-13).
Immediately Joseph was summoned to court; he cleaned up, changed and shaved and then came into the palace from the dungeon (14). When Pharaoh explained the situation, Joseph replied, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (15-16).
Pharoah described the first dream in which he was standing by the Nile, when seven fat cows emerged from the river and began feeding along its banks. Then seven scrawny cows, more emaciated than Pharaoh had ever seen in Egypt came and gobbled up the others. But when they were done, they were still just as starved and ugly-looking as before (17-21). In the second dream it was seven fat heads of grain on one stalk that were devoured by seven blighted heads (22-24). “I told this to the magicians,” Pharaoh said,“but there was no one who could explain it to me.”
Joseph wasted no time telling the king that the two dreams had the same interpretation and were a message from God regarding the future (25). Both the seven fat cows and the seven good heads of grain represented seven years of plenty which would come to Egypt, while the seven thin cows and blighted heads of grain were seven years of famine to follow thereafter. So bad would be the seven years of famine that no one would remember the good years before that, due to the severity of their deprivation (26-31). The fact that the dream was repeated twice meant God was determined to bring it to pass—and soon (32).
Joseph didn’t stop with the interpretation. He also offered advice. He said, “Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt” (33). This man would be the king’s agent to collect 1/5 of the crops produced during the seven good years to store up for food during the seven bad ones. That way the nation would not be wiped out by starvation in the years ahead (34-36).
Pharaoh and his advisors could think of no one more qualified than the man who had just proposed the plan (37-38). Recognizing that Joseph was a wise man, filled with the Spirit of God, the king appointed Joseph as his vice-regent (38-41). He gave the former slave and prisoner his signet ring, clothed him in fine linen and gold, put him in the second finest chariot in all the land and commanded everyone in his kingdom to submit to him (42-44). Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name, Zaphnath-Paaneah, which means, “Savior of the World,” “Revealer of the Secret,” “Treasury of the Glorious Rest,” or “the God Speaks and He Lives” (depending on which linguist you consult). Then he selected for Joseph one of the most desirable noblewomen available—Asenath, daughter of the high priest of the sun-god—and put him in charge of all the land (45). At the age of thirty, Joseph was literally the second most powerful man in the then-known world (46)!
During the seven years of plenty, Joseph built storage silos in every city in Egypt and collected the surplus grain from its surrounding fields. So abundant was the produce of the land that his agents stopped trying to keep track of what they stored, “for it was immeasurable” (47-49)!
At that time, God blessed Joseph with two sons (50). The first was named Manasseh, which means “Making Forgetful,” since Joseph said, “God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house” (51). The second he named Ephraim, or “Fruitfulness,” saying, “God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (52).
When famine came, it affected not only Egypt but all of the Middle East (53-54). When the people cried out for food, Pharaoh referred them to Joseph, who sold them all grain (55-56). So not only the Egyptians, but people from all over the world were now currying his favor (57)!
Joseph’s dreams were being fulfilled beyond his wildest imagination! If only his family could see him now…
Genesis Chapter 42
As the famine worsened throughout the then-known world, word reached Canaan that there was food in Egypt. Jacob sent all but his youngest son to buy grain, afraid to let Benjamin out of his sight, “Lest some calamity befall him” (Gen. 42:1-5). When Joseph’s brothers bowed before him in Egypt, he recognized them, but they did not know who he was, so he pretended to be a stranger (vv. 6-8). He couldn’t help but remember the dreams they had scoffed at and how remarkably the first one was being fulfilled (9).
Whether he meant to make them uncomfortable, was having a bit of sport or what his motive was we don’t know. However, he treated the men very roughly, accusing them of spying on Egypt (9-12). In the course of his interrogation, the brothers admitted they were ten of twelve “sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more” (13). They had told the same lie about Joseph being killed by wild beasts so many times, it came automatically to say so. Or perhaps it was easier to believe Joseph was dead than to realize he might be languishing in bondage somewhere because of them.
At first, Joseph said he would confine all the brothers and send one home alone to fetch the other to verify their story (14-16). For three days he kept all ten in jail—giving them a taste of what he himself had endured for years (17). The third day, he released the brothers, saying he feared God (18). He decided to send nine of them home with this instruction: “go and carry grain for the famine of your houses. And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die” (19-20).
While they were still in his presence, Joseph’s siblings said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us” (21). Reuben reminded them he had not been part of the plot against Joseph, yet now bloodguilt had come on all of them (22).
Because he had spoken to them through an interpreter, the brothers didn’t know Joseph could understand them (23). Overcome with emotion over their words, he dismissed himself, but returned and took Simeon away bound as his hostage (24).
Joseph had each man’s sack filled with grain—and the money they had brought to pay for it (25). The matter was not known to them men until one of them opened his sack to feed his donkey on the way home (26-28). They were sure God was up to something. When they got home, they told Jacob what had happened and then unloaded the rest of the grain (29-35). Without exception, each man found his money in his sack and were terribly afraid.
Their father reacted bitterly, “You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me” (36). Although Jacob didn’t know the full story, he felt his elder sons were somehow responsible for his misery. When Reuben offered to let his father kill his two sons if they did not return Benjamin safely, Jacob refused: “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him…then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave” (37-38).
Genesis Chapter 43
When the supplies they had purchased on their first trip to Egypt were consumed, Jacob told his sons to return and get more grain (Gen. 43:1-2). Judah reminded his father of the terms required for them to trade in Egypt (v. 3). Unless he was willing to let Benjamin accompany them, the brothers could not go back (4-5).
Jacob asked why they had told the ruler about his youngest in the first place (6). They answered that they had no idea where the man was going with all his questions (7).
Knowing their survival as a people depended on Benjamin accompanying them, Judah offered himself as a guarantee of his brother’s safety: “If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever” (8-9). Unlike Reuben’s offer, Judah’s failure wouldn’t require the death of yet another family member—only the grief of knowing he had let his father down.
When Judah said they could’ve been to Egypt and back by now, were it not for his hesitation to send Benjamin, Jacob took action. He ordered them to load up with some of the produce they had from their homeland in spite of the famine in grain—balm, honey, spices, myrrh, almonds and pistachios—along with double the money to pay for the grain to appease the man (11-12). He appealed to the Lord to be merciful, so both Simeon and Benjamin would be returned safely. Nevertheless, Jacob resigned himself to whatever might happen, saying, “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!” (13-14).
When they arrived back in Egypt and Joseph saw that Benjamin was with his brothers, he ordered his steward to prepare a meal, so they could dine with him (15-16). Having no idea what this could mean, the brothers were sure the man meant to seize them and take them as slaves because of the money that was in their sacks before, so they spoke to the steward and told them they had brought double what should’ve been paid before (17-22). He assured the brothers there was no mistake; he had their money. “Your God…has given you treasure in your sacks” (23).
The man brought Simeon out to them and provided what they needed to wash up and feed their animals (23-24). Then the brothers prepared their gifts (25).
When Joseph came home at noon, the eleven bowed before him, fulfilling perfectly the dream he had had as a young man (26). He asked about their father (27-28). When he greeted Benjamin, Joseph had to retreat to his bedroom, since he couldn’t let his brothers see him cry (29-30).
After he washed his face and returned, the meal was served, with separate tables set for Joseph, his Egyptian guests and the men from Canaan (31-32). The brothers were amazed to find themselves seated at the table in order of their ages, with Benjamin receiving five times the amount of food than all the others (33-34)!
Genesis Chapter 44
When it was time for the brothers to head home, Joseph again commanded his steward to put their money back in each person’s sack. He also said for his servant to hide Joseph’s personal cup in the sack of the youngest (Gen. 44:1-2). Having given them something of a head start out of town, Joseph then sent the steward after them, claiming someone had stolen his master’s cup which he used for divination (vv. 3-5). Of course, Joseph, being a servant of YHWH, would never practice fortune-telling—it was all part of the Egyptian persona he was portraying to test his brothers and see if they had changed at all.
When they had been overtaken by the steward and his men, the brothers defended themselves, reminding the man how they had tried to return the money they had found before. Certain none of them would be so dishonest, they said, “With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves” (6-9). The steward wouldn’t agree to anything so harsh, but said the man in whose possession the cup was found would become a slave, while the rest could go free (10).
The man systematically searched each sack—from the oldest to the youngest—until the chalice was found in Benjamin’s possession (11-12). All the brothers tore their clothes in anguish, reloaded their animals, and then returned with Benjamin and the steward to Joseph’s house (13-14).
The brothers prostrated themselves before Joseph, who continued the pretense of being some sort of Egyptian magician and asked how they thought they could get away with stealing from him (14-15). Judah answered for his family, indicating they had no defense: “God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found” (16). The brothers could not imagine returning to their father without Benjamin, so they offered to stay with him as slaves, as well. Joseph would have no part in that, but said only the guilty party would stay, while the rest were free to return home (17).
Remembering his commitment to Jacob, Judah stepped forward and explained how it would devastate their father, if the brothers returned without Benjamin. He quoted Jacob’s objection to sending Benjamin with the brothers to Egypt in the first place: “You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, ‘Surely he is torn to pieces’; and I have not seen him since. But if you take this one also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave” (18-29). Describing how he had pledged himself for his youngest brother, Judah asked Joseph to accept him as a substitute for Benjamin (30-33). “For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?” (34).
Surprise! Surprise! How the oppressor had changed! Judah, the one who had suggested the brothers sell Joseph into slavery, was now the one offering himself as a slave to save his youngest brother (now the favorite of Jacob) from bondage.
Genesis Chapter 45
This was what Joseph was looking for. Unable to bear the pretense any longer, he dismissed all his staff and disclosed his true identity to his brothers (Gen. 45:1). His unrestrained weeping was heard beyond the walls of his own home (v. 2).
Seeing how terrified the brothers were, he reassured them that they shouldn’t be upset about selling him into slavery, “for God sent me before you to preserve life” (3-5). He explained that the famine was just starting; there would be five more unproductive years to come (6-7). It was God who “sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance,” making him a trusted adviser and ruler under Pharaoh (8).
He urged his brothers to return home and bring their father and their families back to Egypt, so he could provide for them (9-11). They were to tell their father all about Joseph’s position in Egypt and convince him to come to Goshen, so they could be near him (13). Joseph and Benjamin cried on each other’s necks, and then Joseph kissed and cried over each of his other brothers (14-15). They talked for some time afterward—having a lot of catching up to do.
When Pharaoh heard that Joseph had been reunited with his brothers, he told his second in command to send them home with as much as their animals could carry (16-17). He provided wagons to transport their families to his country, where they would enjoy “the best of the land of Egypt” (18-19).
So Joseph gave them carts, provisions and fine clothing—but to Benjamin he gave more (21-23). Sending them off, he urged them not to quarrel along the way (24)!
When the brothers got home and told their father Joseph was not only alive but was governor of Egypt, Jacob could not believe it at first (25-26). But when they relayed all he had said and saw the carts of good things Joseph had sent with them, “the spirit of Jacob their father revived,” and he resolved to go and see his son before he died (27-28).
Genesis Chapter 46
On his way to Egypt, Jacob stopped in Beersheba to offer sacrifices to God (Gen. 46:1). That night the Lord appeared to him and told him not to worry about going down to Egypt, since He would be with him to make his family a great nation (vv. 2-4). With the statement, “Joseph will put his hand on your eyes,” God let him know that his beloved son would be there when Jacob died.
So Jacob and his sons loaded the carts with everything they had, and moved with their families and livestock to Egypt (5-7). Verses 8-27 list the names of each family member, according to which of Jacob’s wives they came from, including Joseph and his sons, but not the wives the men had married. In all, there were 66 direct descendants that left Canaan with Jacob. Adding the patriarch, Joseph and his two boys, that made 70 Hebrews in all (26-27). [The discrepancy between this passage and Stephen’s history of the patriarchs in Acts 7:14, has to do with the record of the Pentateuch, which added Manasseh and Ephraim’s families to make a total of 75.]
Joseph met his father when the family arrived in Goshen, and the two of them had a good long cry (Gen. 46:28-29). Jacob said he was ready to pass on, now that he had been reunited with his son (v. 30). Joseph then briefed his brothers on what to say when he presented them to Pharaoh, especially emphasizing that their occupation was that of shepherds (31-34). Because the Egyptians had been ruled for a time by the Hyksos, a barbarous bunch of “shepherd kings,” they had a particular aversion to shepherds. So that would guarantee they would let Jacob’s family live apart from them in Goshen.
Genesis Chapter 47
When Joseph introduced five representatives of his father’s family to Pharaoh, they repeated essentially all he had coached them to say (Gen. 47:1-4). Pharaoh then authorized them to select from the best of his land in Goshen (vv. 5-6). Moreover, he entrusted his own livestock and herdsmen to their supervision.
When Jacob himself was presented to the king of Egypt, Pharaoh was curious as to how old he might be (7-8). Jacob replied that he was 130 years old; “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage” (9). Then the old man blessed the king of Egypt and left his presence for his new home in Rameses [an area that was part of the territory of Goshen] (10-11).
While Joseph provided all the food his family needed, the rest of Egypt languished under the effects of the famine (12-13). First the people exhausted all their finances to buy grain (14-15). So Joseph gave them food in exchange for their livestock—horses, sheep, cattle and donkeys (16-17). The following year, they had nothing to barter but themselves and their land, so Joseph moved them into the cities and acquired their property for Pharaoh (18-21). From that time on, almost everyone in Egypt became Pharaoh’s serfs—farming the land and giving the king 1/5, while keeping the rest to provide food and seed for their families (23-26). Only the priests were exempt, since Pharaoh gave them an allotment, and they did not have to sell anything to acquire food (23).
Meanwhile, Jacob’s family prospered and multiplied in Goshen (27). Jacob lived another seventeen years (28). As his death approached, Jacob made Joseph swear that he would not bury him in Egypt but in the family plot in Canaan (29-31).
Genesis Chapter 48
When Jacob became ill, Joseph took his two sons with him to meet their grandfather (Gen. 48:1). Jacob mustered the strength to sit up in bed, and then gave a brief summary of God’s promise to him (vv. 2-4). He claimed Joseph’s two sons as his own and said any future descendants of Joseph would be counted under Manasseh and Ephraim (5-6).
The old man’s eyes were failing, so he couldn’t really recognize the boys when Joseph presented them to him, but he gave each one a kiss and hug (8-10). He told his son, “I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!” (11).
Joseph put the older son on Jacob’s right side and the younger at his left; however, his father crossed his arms and put his hands on the young men differently than Joseph expected (12-14). Joseph didn’t notice until after Jacob had pronounced his blessing over the boys, that his father had put the younger first, but then he tried to correct the old man (15-18). Jacob said he had intentionally done it this way. Referring to the firstborn, Israel said, “He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations” (19). He foretold that Israelites would bless one another in the future, saying, “May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!” because of the way the Lord would multiply their families (20).
Before they left, Jacob said God would bring Joseph back to the land of his fathers (21). He also bequeathed him a double portion of the land of Canaan, “which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow” (22). The Bible bears no record of Jacob taking land by force, but perhaps he was foreseeing how Joseph’s descendants would displace the inhabitants of the land to claim their inheritance. The double portion of a man’s property was normally reserved for his firstborn son. However, since Joseph was the eldest of his favorite wife’s children, as well of his most favored son, Jacob gave him the right of the firstborn.
Genesis Chapter 49
In this chapter, we read how Jacob called together and blessed each of his sons before he died. His words not only express how he regarded each one, but they were also highly prophetic (Gen. 49:1-2).
He started with Reuben, his firstborn, expressing how he started out well, being dignified and powerful (v. 3). But with his unstable character he ruined his chances for success, when he “defiled” his father’s bed [sleeping with Bilhah, his concubine, as recorded in Gen 35:22] (Gen. 49:4). The tribe of Reuben never really distinguished itself in Israel’s later history.
Israel’s second and third sons, Simeon and Levi, were remembered for their fierce anger—probably when they attacked the men of Shechem for raping their sister (Gen. 34:25-31). Jacob wanted nothing to do with their violence or cruelty and declared the curse, “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel” (5-7). Interestingly enough, both tribes ended up dispersed among the others when the Promised Land was allocated centuries later—Levi because the priests were given property throughout the other tribal territories, and Simeon being allotted cities in the midst of Judah (See Numbers 35:1-8 & Joshua 19:1-9).
Judah, Leah’s fourth son was the first to receive a true blessing. Playing on the meaning of his name, “praise,” Jacob said he would be praised by his family and his father’s descendants would bow down to him (Gen. 49:8). Comparing him to a lion, Jacob told of Judah’s victory over his enemies and his leadership in Israel (vv. 8-10). He also used imagery of a donkey’s colt and clothes stained red, later applied to the Messiah (11-12).
Of Zebulun (actually Jacob’s sixth son by Leah, but listed fifth in the blessing) Israel says he “shall dwell by the haven of the sea” and be “a haven for ships” adjoining Sidon (13). The phrase, “shall dwell” was a play on Zebulun’s name, which means “dwelling.” Zebulun was later allocated territory in the north not far from Sidon, the capital of Phoenicia (c.f.—Josh. 19:10-16). It was a land-locked area, but did border the River Kishon, which may have included a stretch where sea-faring vessels could safely harbor.
Jacob’s fifth son, Issachar, is compared to “a strong donkey, lying down between two burdens” (14). His father predicted his tribe would eventually sacrifice their freedom to enjoy their land and peace, subjecting themselves to servitude to a foreign power (15).
Dan, the firstborn son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, was next in line. Jacob used a play on the meaning of his name, as well, saying, “Dan shall judge his people” [Dan means “judge”] and compared him to a serpent biting at the heels of horses so that their riders were thrown off backward (16-17). In fact, one of the mightiest judges of Israel, Samson, was from the tribe of Dan and was a constant menace to the Philistines, who lived not far from that tribe’s territory (Judges 13-16).
The name of Gad, Leah’s maid Zilpah’s firstborn, meant “Troop” or “Fortune.” Jacob played on the meaning of his eighth son’s name by prophesying, “a troop shall tramp upon him, but he shall triumph at last” (19). Gad, which adjoined Ammon, was constantly being harassed by its pagan neighbors, yet there are incidents in the book of Judges where leaders from Gilead defeated their enemies eventually (See chapters 10-11).
Jacob predicted Zilpah’s other son, Asher, would be well-known for baked goods (Gen. 49:20). This tribe in fact settled along the productive coastal plain of the Mediterranean (Josh. 19:24-31).
Bilhah’s second son, Naphtali, was compared to a “deer let loose” (Gen. 49:21). This tribe was apparently to be well-known for their eloquence.
Joseph, Jacob’s favorite and eleventh son, received several verses’ worth of blessings. He was compared to a fruitful vine planted by a well, whose branches grow all over the wall (v. 22). In symbolic terms, Israel recalled his brothers’ attack and how God made him strong in spite of it (23-24). He promised God would help Joseph, blessing him in every conceivable way (25-26). Obviously, God had already blessed Joseph and made him the second most powerful man in the Middle East. As the nation of Israel grew, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were, in fact, two of its most powerful tribes (next to Judah). Many rulers of the Northern Kingdom descended from Joseph, and the area was prophetically referred to as “Ephraim” (e.g.—Isaiah 7:9).
Finally, Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin, received a brief blessing. This warlike tribe was compared to “a ravenous wolf,” devouring prey and dividing spoil (Gen. 49:27). The Benjamites were often among the first to respond to a call to battle and yielded many valiant warriors throughout Israel’s history as a nation.
Having conveyed his blessings to each son, Jacob then charged them all to bury him in the cave that was originally purchased by his grandfather Abraham (vv. 28-30). There Abraham and Sarah were buried, along with Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob’s own wife Leah (31).
It is significant to note that, of all Jacob’s wives, only the one he “hated” was buried in the family tomb. In this way, God saw that—even in death—she was the most honored of her husband’s wives. She bore him the most children (six out of twelve). Of Jacob’s offspring, two of hers became most prominent in the nation of Israel: Judah was the ruling tribe, through whom eventually came the Messiah. Levi was the priestly tribe, charged with both the worship and judicial affairs of the nation.
Having concluded this important business with his sons, Jacob “drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last,” dying at the ripe old age of 147 (Gen. 47:28 & 49:33).
Genesis Chapter 50
Poor Joseph was sorely grief-stricken! Having lived with his father only about 35 years, the man was probably sorriest to see him go. When the old man passed on, the mighty prince of Egypt “fell on his father’s face, and wept over him, and kissed him” (Gen. 50:1). What a man—not in the least bit afraid for others to see and hear him cry!
The Egyptian physicians were ordered to embalm Joseph’s father—a process which took forty days (vv. 2-3). The people of Egypt observed a total of seventy days of mourning for the patriarch—perhaps the oldest living resident of that kingdom. Then Joseph went to Pharaoh and requested a leave of absence, so he could return to his father’s homeland and bury him in fulfillment of his vow (4-6).
With Pharaoh’s approval, Joseph and a large retinue of dignitaries from the land of Egypt departed for Canaan, along with his entire family and an army of chariots and horsemen (7-9). After arriving at their destination, they observed seven more days of mourning (10). The spectacle so impressed the local inhabitants, that they named the spot Abel Mizraim, or “Mourning of Egypt” (11). As Jacob had commanded his sons, he was laid to rest in the family burial plot, and then everyone returned to Egypt (12-14).
Sadly, seventeen years was not enough for Joseph’s brothers to see that he loved them and meant them no harm for what they had done. Shortly after their father’s death, the men approached the vice-regent and made up some story of Jacob asking Joseph to forgive them for their sin against him (15-17). Joseph wept—either because of the still-tender memory of his father, or because his brothers still lived under a mantle of guilt and fear. The brothers bowed before him, saying “we are your servants,” willing to live as slaves rather than be killed in vengeance (18).
However, Joseph replied, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?” (19). Although he realized they had intended evil against him, Joseph asserted “God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (20). He “spoke kindly to them,” and again promised to provide for the brothers and their families (21).
Joseph lived with his family in Egypt and was able to see his descendants—even to the third generation (22-23). Before he died, the 110-year-old prophet foretold, “God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (24). With that in mind, he made his relatives promise to preserve his body and “carry my bones up from here” to Canaan (25). So when he died, Joseph was embalmed and “put into a coffin in Egypt,” until the Israelites could make good on their promise (26).
Thus we have witnessed the origins of the children of Israel. We will see the significance of much of what was written in this historical record, when we study the other four books of Moses.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.