In part 2 of the illustrated explanation of Genesis, we will get an overview of the key people: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. God promises to bless Abraham’s family line, so the rest of Genesis explores the events of Abraham’s family. Genesis doesn’t gloss over things, either. It portrays flawed, sinful people, but it also depicts how God works in and among them, even at their worst.
This ought to be a great comfort to us because we know ourselves to be flawed, sinful people. There is hope for us, too, because just as God worked through Abraham’s family, He will work through us despite our weaknesses.
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The book of Genesis. In the first video we saw how chapters 1 through 11 set up
the basic storyline of the Bible. God has created all things and he makes humans
in His image to rule the world on his behalf. The humans choose sin and
rebellion and so the world spins out of control into violence and death all
leading up to the rebellion and scattering of the people in Babylon.
And so the big question is what is God going to do to rescue and redeem his world?
Well out of that scattering at Babylon, the author traces the genealogy of just one
family that leads eventually to a man named Abram, later known as Abraham.
And God’s promise to Abraham at the beginning of chapter 12 opens up a whole
new movement in the story. God calls Abraham to leave his home and go to the
land of Canaan which God says will become his one day. And in that land, God
promises to make Abraham into a great nation, to make his name great and bless him.
Now these promises are connected back to earlier parts of the book.
So Babylon had arrogantly tried to make a great name for itself and that didn’t go
very well. But God in his generosity is going to bestow a great name on this
no-name guy, Abraham, and God’s blessing of Abraham echoes all the way back to
that original blessing God gave humanity in the beginning. So the question is: “Why
is God going to blessed Abraham and his family?” And the last line of God’s
promise makes this clear: “So that all the families of the earth will find God’s
blessing in you.” Now this is key for understanding the whole rest of the
biblical story. God’s plan is to rescue and bless his rebellious world through
Abraham’s family and this is why the whole rest of the Old Testament story is
just going to focus on this one family,
eventually called the people of Israel. This is also why Israel will
later be called a kingdom of priests at Mount Sinai. God wants to use them to
show all of the other nations what he’s like and ultimately this is the promise
that gets picked up by the later biblical prophets and poets who say that
its fulfillment will come through Israel’s messianic king,
whose reign will bring justice and peace to all of the nations. Now at this
point of the story, none of that is clear.
You just have to keep reading and watch the promise develop.
And so the rest of the book focuses on Abraham and his family. First Abraham
himself, then his son Isaac and then his son Jacob and then Jacob’s twelve sons.
And the stories about each generation, they’re united by two main themes.
So first, each generation of Abraham’s family is marked by repeated failure.
They just keep making really bad decisions that mess up their lives and
put God’s promise in jeopardy.
However God remains faithful to them. He keeps rescuing them from themselves and
reaffirming his commitment to bless them and bless the nations through them
despite their failings. So the Abraham stories – God had promised Abraham huge
family – but on two different occasions he’s afraid for his life because other
men are attracted to his wife and so he denies that he’s even married to her,
which creates, of course, all of these problems. And not only that, Abraham and
his wife Sarah they can’t have children and so Sarah arranges for Abraham to
sleep with one of their servant girls, which also creates all of these problems
in the family. But each time God bales Abraham out and in chapters 15 and 17 God
even formalizes his promise to Abraham with an official commitment called
a covenant. This is a classic scene. God invites Abraham to look up at the night
stars and to count them and he says that’s how numerous your family’s going to be.
And despite all of the odds – having no kids and no way to have any at the
moment, Abraham looks up in the sky and simply trusts God’s promise. And God
responds by entering into a covenant with Abraham, promising that he will
become a father of many nations, that God’s blessing may come to the whole world.
And then God asked Abraham to mark his family with a sign of the covenant:
circumcision of all the male boys in the family. This is a symbol to remind them
that the fruitfulness of their family is a gift from God. And so Abraham has lots
of kids eventually and he dies at a good old age.
Now the Jacob stories play out these themes even more dramatically. From birth,
Jacob lives up to the meaning of his name, which is “deceiver”. He cheats his
brother Esau out of his inheritance and blessing and he does it by deceiving his old
blind father no less, and then he just takes off. He goes on to take four
wives even though he really only loves one, Rachel and this creates all of these
rivalries in the family.
The only thing that humbles Jacob is being deceived by his uncle Laban, who
cheats him out of years of his life.
The tables have finally turned. And so it’s a humbled Jacob that returns to his homeland.
In a very strange story Jacob ends up wrestling with God as he demands that
God bless him. Some things never really change, do they? However, God honors his
determination and he passes Abraham’s blessing on to him and he renamed Jacob
as Israel, which means “wrestles with God.” Now it’s this last part of the book the
story of Jacob sons where all the themes come to a head. Jacob loves his second to
youngest son Joseph more than any of the others and he gives him a special jacket.
And the 10 older sons come to hate Joseph and so they kidnap him and
they plan to kill him, but instead they decide to just sell him into slavery in
Egypt where he ends up in prison. Talk about family failure. But God is with
Joseph and He orchestrates Joseph’s release from prison and Pharaoh ends up
elevating Joseph to second in command over all of Egypt. And so Joseph saves
the nation of Egypt during a famine and he also ends up saving his brothers and
his family from starving to death. And so once again we can see the folly and the
sin of Abraham’s family is met with God’s faithfulness, who subverts even the
evil of the brothers into an occasion to save life. And this is actually what
Joseph says right near the end of the book. He says to his brother’s, “You planned
this for evil but God planned it for good, to save many lives.” Now these words
are strategically placed at the end of the book because they summarize not only
the story of Joseph and his brothers, but the book as a whole.
From Genesis 3 onward, humans keep acting selfishly and doing evil but
this God does not going to leave his world to its own devices. He remains
faithful and determined to bless people despite their failures. You can see this
especially in how that mysterious promise about the descendant of the
woman gets developed throughout the book. So remember Genesis 3? God promised
that this wounded Victor would come and crush the snake and defeat evil at its source.
And the author then connects this promise directly to the line of Abraham.
This is a part of how God’s gonna bring his blessing to the nations. Now from
Abraham this promise gets connected to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob. And this is how.
In an extremely important poem in chapter 49, an aging Jacob, he’s on his
deathbed, he wants to bless his twelve sons and when he comes to Judah, Jacob
predicts that Judah will become the tribe of Israel’s royal leaders and that
one day a king will come who will command the obedience of all the nations
and fulfill God’s promise to restore the garden blessing to all of the world.
And then after this Jacob dies and later Joseph dies too. So the growing family
remains in Egypt and so the book of Genesis ends with all of these future
hopes and promises left hanging and undeveloped. And it forces you to turn
the page to see how it’s all going to turn out. But for now that’s the book of Genesis.