Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Story of the Bible, Part 3

After the Tower of Babel, the next major character we meet is Abraham. Abraham is called by God to move to another land, which turns out to be the land of Israel; and he is told that he will become a great nation through which the entire world will be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise of blessing is expanded to Abraham in subsequent years (Gen. 12:7, 13:14-17, 15:1-21, 17:1-22, 22:15-18) and includes a promise that the Messiah would come through his lineage.

Abraham and his wife Sarah have no children until their old age. God's promise is short-circuited by Sarah, who offers her maidservant Hagar to Abraham; Hagar bears a son named Ishmael. He becomes the father of the arab peoples, meaning that Abraham and Sarah's faith-less attempt at fulfilling God's word would have enormous, world-wide consequences all the way to the present day.

Twelve years after Ishmael's birth it is announced to Abraham and Sarah that Sarah would indeed bear a son (Gen. 18); this son was born and named Isaac.

Isaac becomes the father of two twin sons, Jacob and Esau. It was promised that both of them would become nations, yet despite Esau being the firstborn, Jacob was promised to be the stronger (Gen. 25:23). Esau sells his birthright to Jacob (Gen. 25:29-34), and Jacob and his mother trick Isaac into giving him the paternal blessing (Gen. 27, repeated in Gen. 28:1-4).

Jacob flees to his uncle, Laban. En route, God appears to him and repeats the blessings that He had promised to Abraham (Gen. 28:12-19). During the twenty years he spends with Laban, he accumulates two wives and two concubines, along with a large quantity of cattle, wealth, and children. His twelve sons would become known as the "twelve tribes" of Israel—Israel being the name God gives Jacob in Gen. 32:28.

Jacob's eleventh son, Joseph, becomes his father's favorite and is hated by his ten elder brothers (his younger brother is his only "full" brother). These ten capture him, sell him into slavery in Egypt, and concoct a story, believed by Jacob, that Joseph has been killed by wild animals. Joseph ends up in Egypt and eventually interprets a pair of dreams that Pharaoh has (Gen. 41). Pharoah makes him a second ruler in the kingdom, where he prepares for seven years for the great seven-year famine which he has foretold via Pharaoh's earlier dreams.

When the famine comes, Jacob sends those ten elder brothers into Egypt to buy grain to keep the family alive. Joseph recognizes them (they do not recognize him) and after he sends them back home and they return the following year with his younger brother Benjamin, he reveals himself to them. They fear he will punish them—he had that authority—but he reveals to them that God sent him ahead to protect their families from famine and suffering (Gen 45).

Joseph sends his brothers back to Jacob, and all of Jacob's clan moves to Egypt, where Joseph provides for them through the following years. It was in this way that "the children of Israel" found their way into Egypt, where they remain for the next four centuries. In Exodus, we learn how they "came out of Egypt."

The Story of the Bible, Part 7
The Story of the Bible, Part 6
The Story of the Bible, Part 5
The Story of the Bible, Part 4
The Story of the Bible, Part 2
The Story of the Bible, Part 1

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