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A Journey through the book of Genesiswith Willow Creek Community Church

Read Genesis

Week 6/Day 3: Forgiveness and Family Reconciliation

Willow Creek Community Church

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!

~ Genesis 45:4

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One of the persistent and destructive themes we see throughout Genesis is how sin causes division in families. In Genesis, sin causes spouses to blame each other (Genesis 3:12,) parents to favor one child over another (Genesis 25:28; 37:3; 42:38,) and brothers to kill, cheat, and sell one another into slavery (4:8; 27:36; 37:28.) The theme is so pervasive that we see its effect in nearly every chapter of the book. Yet, for all the stories of sin dividing families, the book draws to a close with a powerful story of how one brother’s radical offer of forgiveness brings reconciliation to his family. Upon revealing his true identity to his brothers in Genesis 45, Joseph chooses not to send his brothers away, but instead he invites them to “come close” to him. 

Joseph’s invitation to his brothers to “come close” can be surprising when we consider all that he suffered as a result of their hatred. He spent years enslaved, imprisoned, and living away from his home and family. The sight of his brothers in Egypt no doubt triggered many emotions. From his position of power, Joseph could exact whatever revenge he wanted on his brothers. However, upon seeing their remorse and repentance, he decided to forgive.

Joseph’s radical choice to forgive teaches us that forgiveness is essential for reconciling relationships. It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to be in harmony with one another if we refuse to forgive and surrender our right to retaliate. Forgiveness is rarely easy, especially when significant wrong has been done to us. However, when we choose to forgive, we are partnering with God in restoring our relationships and His creation to His intended design. Forgiving each other provides us a glimpse of God’s forgiving nature toward us (Ephesians 4:32.)


Genesis 45–46

45

Joseph Makes Himself Known

1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me — ou, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

16 When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, 18 and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.’

19 “You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. 20 Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.’ ”

21 So the sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey. 22 To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes. 23 And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!”

25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

46

Jacob Goes to Egypt

1 So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

2 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

3 “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”

5 Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. 6 So Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. 7 Jacob brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters — ll his offspring.

8 These are the names of the sons of Israel (Jacob and his descendants) who went to Egypt:

Reuben the firstborn of Jacob.

9 The sons of Reuben:

Hanok, Pallu, Hezron and Karmi.

10 The sons of Simeon:

Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman.

11 The sons of Levi:

Gershon, Kohath and Merari.

12 The sons of Judah:

Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez and Zerah (but Er and Onan had died in the land of Canaan).

The sons of Perez:

Hezron and Hamul.

13 The sons of Issachar:

Tola, Puah, Jashub and Shimron.

14 The sons of Zebulun:

Sered, Elon and Jahleel.

15 These were the sons Leah bore to Jacob in Paddan Aram, besides his daughter Dinah. These sons and daughters of his were thirty-three in all.

 

16 The sons of Gad:

Zephon, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi and Areli.

17 The sons of Asher:

Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and Beriah.

Their sister was Serah.

The sons of Beriah:

Heber and Malkiel.

18 These were the children born to Jacob by Zilpah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Leah — ixteen in all.

19 The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel:

Joseph and Benjamin. 20 In Egypt, Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.

21 The sons of Benjamin:

Bela, Beker, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim and Ard.

22 These were the sons of Rachel who were born to Jacob — ourteen in all.

 

23 The son of Dan:

Hushim.

24 The sons of Naphtali:

Jahziel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem.

25 These were the sons born to Jacob by Bilhah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Rachel — even in all.

 

26 All those who went to Egypt with Jacob — hose who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives — umbered sixty-six persons. 27 With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.

28 Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, 29 Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.

30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”

31 Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 42, 43, and 45, we see Joseph getting emotional in response to his brothers. What does this outward display of emotion tell us about the character and heart of Joseph? What emotions are represented in these three passages?

Reflection Question

2. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Joseph’s brothers came forward with an apology for their actions 20 years prior, but we do see proof of their changed hearts when they exhibit remorse for what they did. Despite the fact that they did not apologize, Joseph forgives them. When someone wrongs us, we frequently don’t receive an apology. Do you believe that forgiveness can only come after an apology? How can you forgive someone when they don’t show remorse? Who might you need to forgive today even if they haven’t or won’t apologize?

3. Genesis 45:5-8 is one of the most profound examples of God’s sovereignty. Joseph is able to see how all of the bad things that happened in his life were actually a part of God’s plan. This doesn’t mean that God causes bad things to happen, but it does mean that God can bring good things out of bad situations. When we wonder why bad things happen to us, we must remember God’s sovereignty. How have you seen God use something bad for good in your life? What can you do to remain faithful and hopeful in hard seasons? 

 
 

Week 6/Day 2: Learning from Past Mistakes

Willow Creek Community Church

“Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’ Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.”

~ Genesis 44:32–33

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At the end of Genesis 44, Judah delivers the longest and most heartfelt speech in the book of Genesis. This speech is motivated by a test in which Joseph threatens to enslave Benjamin, Jacob’s new favorite son and Rachel’s only remaining child. In his fervent speech, Judah reveals all he has learned over the years. As a young man, Judah, because of his hatred and jealousy, was the mastermind of the plan to sell his father’s favorite son into slavery (Genesis 37:26-27). In this speech, he offers to exchange his own life for the life of another favored brother, Benjamin (Genesis 44:33). Judah’s sinister plan caused his father to mourn inconsolably (Genesis 37:35), but now, Judah refuses to allow his father, Jacob, to relive that misery (Genesis 44:34). 

We even see how much Judah has learned and changed since his experience with Tamar. He previously made a scandalous pledge, guaranteeing he would give the disguised Tamar what she was owed as a prostitute (Genesis 38:17-18). But now, he reveals he has made an honorable pledge, guaranteeing the safety of his brother Benjamin (Genesis 44:32).

For Joseph, Judah’s speech confirms that his remorse is genuine and he has repented for his sin. It becomes the basis for the forgiveness Joseph later offers Judah. For us, Judah’s speech demonstrates that we don’t have to be defined by our past mistakes and choices. By God’s grace, we can learn from our mistakes, change our ways, and experience freedom from our past.


Genesis 43–44

43

The Second Journey to Egypt

1 Now the famine was still severe in the land. 2 So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”

3 But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ ”

6 Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?”

7 They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”

8 Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. 9 I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10 As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift —  little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

15 So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal; they are to eat with me at noon.”

17 The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house. 18 Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.”

19 So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. 21 But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver — he exact weight — n the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22 We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”

23 “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

24 The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.

26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. 27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”

28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.

29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”

32 They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33 The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34 When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.

44

A Silver Cup in a Sack

1 Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. 2 Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.

3 As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? 5 Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’ ”

6 When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. 7 But they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”

10 “Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.”

11 Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.

14 Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?”

16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves — e ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”

17 But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”

18 Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’

21 “Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’ 23 But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.

25 “Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’

27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’

30 “So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, 31 sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32 Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’

33 “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 43, the sight of Benjamin was so overwhelming to Joseph that he had to run out of the room to hide his emotions. Of Jacob’s twelve sons, Benjamin was Joseph’s only full brother who shared Rachel as their mother. What can Joseph’s reaction tell us about the meaning of his relationship to Benjamin? Why do you think he had to hide his emotions?

2. Joseph secretly tested his older brothers by ordering the steward to put Joseph’s cup at the top of Benjamin’s bag. Why do you think Joseph did this? What did his brothers’ reactions tell Joseph about the state of their hearts?

Reflection Question

3. Judah’s plea for Benjamin marks the turning point in the relationship between Joseph and his brothers. In his plea, Judah exhibits humility, confession, remorse, and respect for Joseph. It is apparent that Judah’s evil heart has been changed. This passage doesn’t tell us what caused the change in Judah’s heart, but it’s clear that he isn’t the same person he used to be. One of the best parts of this story is that Joseph, without holding a grudge, gives Judah an opportunity to show that he’s changed. Is there anyone in your life that you need to offer a second chance to? What would letting go of the past look like?

 
 

Week 6/Day 1: Closer Than We Think, Better Than We Realize

Willow Creek Community Church

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.

~ Genesis 42:6

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When Joseph was a child, God revealed the high calling placed on his life through a pair of dreams. God didn’t make clear to Joseph the exact details of what his future would hold, but Joseph knew that he would one day rise to a position of such prominence that his whole family would bow down to him (Genesis 37:5-11). Soon after Joseph had these prophetic dreams, his life seemed to go in a very different way. Instead of finding himself with an elevated status, he was sold into slavery and then was thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Even when he worked hard to win the respect of his peers and overseers, he continued to find himself in places that seemed far from where God had called him. 

The great irony of Joseph’s story is that even when Joseph may have thought he was moving away from his true purpose, God was actually bringing him closer and closer to it. God used Joseph’s adverse circumstances to fulfill the dreams he had as a child. Even though the path to the fulfillment of these dreams was longer and more difficult than Joseph might have expected, the results were better than Joseph could have ever hoped. Not only did his brothers submit to his authority, but so did all of Egypt, then the most powerful nation in the world.

It is easy to become discouraged when the dreams God has placed on our hearts never seem to be fulfilled. Rather than pressing on, it’s tempting to abandon our God-given callings or settle for lesser versions of them. Joseph’s story shows us the value of perseverance and trusting in God’s timing. Even when our dreams seem impossibly distant, it could actually be that their fulfillment is closer than we think and they may turn out better than we could ever hope.


Genesis 41:41–42:38

Joseph in Charge of Egypt

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.” 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt. 47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. 48 Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. 49 Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.

50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” 52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”

56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.

42

Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt

1 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” 2 He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”

3 Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. 5 So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan also.

6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.

“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”

8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

10 “No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”

12 “No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

13 But they replied, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”

14 Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17 And he put them all in custody for three days.

18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.

21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”

22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.

24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.

25 Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, 26 they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.

27 At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28 “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”

Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”

29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30 “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’

33 “Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.’ ”

35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”

37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”

38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”


Exploring the Text

1. When Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt, they bowed down to him. They had no idea that the Egyptian man standing in front of them was their brother. This passage is the fulfillment of Joseph’s prophetic dreams in Genesis 37:7-9. Look back at these passages. What happened in those two dreams? How many years passed between the dreams and the fulfillment of the dreams?

2. In Genesis 42:25-28, Joseph compassionately provides grain for his brothers before they go back to Canaan. He also puts their money back into their saddlebags. Why do you think he does this? Why do you think the brothers “tremble” (vs. 28) when they discover their money in their bags? Why do you think they attribute this to God?

Reflection Question

3. The reuniting of Joseph and his brothers is an emotional experience for Joseph. Imagine what it must have been like to suddenly see the family you haven’t seen in 20 years—the family who sold you into slavery and wanted you dead. Imagine how angry and bitter you would be. In this story, Joseph has the power to retaliate against his brothers, but he doesn’t. What do you think Joseph was feeling the day his brothers arrived? Why do you think Joseph reacted to his brothers compassionately? What would it take to forgive someone who has wronged you, even if it was obviously unjust? 

 
 

Week 5/Day 3: Favoritism in the Family

Willow Creek Community Church

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. 

~ Genesis 37:3-4

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Jacob’s story is plagued by favoritism. During his childhood, Jacob’s mother favored Jacob over his brother Esau (Genesis 25:28). As an adult, Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Genesis 29:30). In both cases, favoritism resulted in family rivalry and division. Now, in the final stage of Jacob’s life, favoritism rears its ugly head again, this time among his children. In Genesis 37:3, Jacob is said to have “loved Joseph more than any of his other sons.”

In light of the rivalry and division that favoritism caused earlier in his life, it’s a surprise that Jacob succumbs to it here. Had favoritism become so ingrained in his life that he didn’t recognize it for what it was? Was he a widower desperately trying to cling to his preferred, but now deceased, wife through her oldest son? If his hope was to cling to Joseph more tightly, his preferential treatment of Joseph brought about terrible, unintended consequences. Instead of keeping Joseph close, Joseph ends up being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.

As we continue to read Genesis, we will discover how God uses Joseph’s unfortunate enslavement for great good. It is also important to note that God’s grace in the face of sin does not mean that He condones wrongdoing. God is adamantly opposed to favoritism and all the sins that result from it (Leviticus 19:15; Acts 10:34; James 2:9). This story challenges us to consider whether we, like Jacob, have become blind to favoritism in our own lives. Do we ever allow favoritism to infect our family, our work, or our church communities?


Genesis 36–37

36

Esau’s Descendants

1 This is the account of the family line of Esau (that is, Edom).

2 Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan: Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite —  3 also Basemath daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth.

4 Adah bore Eliphaz to Esau, Basemath bore Reuel, 5 and Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam and Korah. These were the sons of Esau, who were born to him in Canaan.

6 Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. 7 Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock. 8 So Esau (that is, Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir.

 

9 This is the account of the family line of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir.

 

10 These are the names of Esau’s sons:

Eliphaz, the son of Esau’s wife Adah, and Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Basemath.

11 The sons of Eliphaz:

Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam and Kenaz.

12Esau’s son Eliphaz also had a concubine named Timna, who bore him Amalek. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Adah.

13 The sons of Reuel:

Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Basemath.

14 The sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon, whom she bore to Esau:

Jeush, Jalam and Korah.

 

15 These were the chiefs among Esau’s descendants:

The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau:

Chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, 16 Korah, Gatam and Amalek. These were the chiefs descended from Eliphaz in Edom; they were grandsons of Adah.

17 The sons of Esau’s son Reuel:

Chiefs Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were the chiefs descended from Reuel in Edom; they were grandsons of Esau’s wife Basemath.

18 The sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah:

Chiefs Jeush, Jalam and Korah. These were the chiefs descended from Esau’s wife Oholibamah daughter of Anah.

19 These were the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these were their chiefs.

 

20 These were the sons of Seir the Horite, who were living in the region:

Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 21 Dishon, Ezer and Dishan. These sons of Seir in Edom were Horite chiefs.

22 The sons of Lotan:

Hori and Homam. Timna was Lotan’s sister.

23 The sons of Shobal:

Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho and Onam.

24 The sons of Zibeon:

Aiah and Anah. This is the Anah who discovered the hot springs in the desert while he was grazing the donkeys of his father Zibeon.

25 The children of Anah:

Dishon and Oholibamah daughter of Anah.

26 The sons of Dishon:

Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran and Keran.

27 The sons of Ezer:

Bilhan, Zaavan and Akan.

28 The sons of Dishan:

Uz and Aran.

29 These were the Horite chiefs:

Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 30 Dishon, Ezer and Dishan. These were the Horite chiefs, according to their divisions, in the land of Seir.

The Rulers o f Edom

31 These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned:

32 Bela son of Beor became king of Edom. His city was named Dinhabah.

33 When Bela died, Jobab son of Zerah from Bozrah succeeded him as king.

34 When Jobab died, Husham from the land of the Temanites succeeded him as king.

35 When Husham died, Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, succeeded him as king. His city was named Avith.

36 When Hadad died, Samlah from Masrekah succeeded him as king.

37 When Samlah died, Shaul from Rehoboth on the river succeeded him as king.

38 When Shaul died, Baal-Hanan son of Akbor succeeded him as king.

39 When Baal-Hanan son of Akbor died, Hadad succeeded him as king. His city was named Pau, and his wife’s name was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, the daughter of Me-Zahab.

 

40 These were the chiefs descended from Esau, by name, according to their clans and regions:

Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, 41 Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, 42 Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, 43 Magdiel and Iram. These were the chiefs of Edom, according to their settlements in the land they occupied.

 

This is the family line of Esau, the father of the Edomites.

37

Joseph’s Dreams

1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

2 This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Joseph Sold by His Brothers

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe — he ornate robe he was wearing —  24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

31 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

33 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 37, Jacob gave Joseph an ornate robe. In addition to showing that Joseph was his favorite son, this may have signified that Joseph was the chosen successor for clan leadership. Look back at Genesis 35:22-26. According to cultural customs, who should have become the future clan leader? Why was that person not chosen?

2. After scheming to kill Joseph, Reuben pleads with his brothers to spare Joseph’s life and to instead throw him into a pit. Why do you think Rueben was the only one who cared about Joseph? What does the text say the brothers do after they throw Joseph into a pit? How does this reflect the nature of their hearts?

Reflection Question

3. The favoritism that Jacob showed Joseph created jealousy and hatred among his sons. In today’s culture of fairness and equality, we might not easily recognize favoritism, but we can all fall prey to it. Perhaps you have a colleague at work that you enjoy working with, so you give them more opportunities than someone else. Or, maybe you have a family member that you like more than others, so you spend more time with that person. Consider what favoritism looks like in your life. How does it affect your family, work, or church communities?

 
 

Week 5/Day 2: Pledging Allegiance

Willow Creek Community Church

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes.”

~ Genesis 35:2

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Earlier, in Genesis 28, while Jacob was fleeing to the city of Harran, he made a vow to God. “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking . . . then the Lord will be my God.” This vow was a pledge of allegiance to the Lord, the God of Israel. Jacob promised that if God would be faithful to him, then he would give his full allegiance to the Lord. This might seem like an odd vow for Jacob to make. Was the Lord not already his God? What other god might have competed for Jacob’s allegiance? 

Understanding the religious background of Jacob’s extended family in Harran sheds light on the importance of Jacob’s pledge. The names of Jacob’s ancestors and the places where his ancestors lived make it clear that Jacob came from a family of moon worshippers. Terah, Jacob’s great-grandfather, was named after the moon, which in Hebrew is yareah. Laban, Jacob’s uncle, has a name that sounds like the Hebrew word for full moon, Lebanah. Moreover, Harran and Ur, two of the cities where Abram lived were major centers of moon worship. This and further evidence suggests that moon worship was a part of Jacob’s family history. 

This background information can help us appreciate the significance of the vow that Jacob made to God. Jacob wanted God to know that if He would watch over Jacob while he was in Harran, then Jacob would not turn back to his old family gods. 

In Genesis 35, Jacob effectively fulfills his vow to God by commanding all those with him to “rid” themselves of their “foreign gods” (Genesis 35:2). God had proven to be faithful by being “with him” wherever he went (Genesis 35:3), now it was Jacob’s turn to give his full allegiance to God. While we may not struggle with the idea of foreign gods, we may still have a hard time giving God our full allegiance. We prioritize things over God, such as our work or our possessions because these are things that give us feelings of power and security. Jacob’s instruction applies to us as well. What do we need to change in our lives to ensure that God has our full allegiance?


Genesis 34–35

34

Dinah and the Shechemites

1 Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. 2 When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. 3 His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. 4 And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

5 When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home.

6 Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. 7 Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter —  thing that should not be done.

8 But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. 9 Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”

11 Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12 Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.”

13 Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14 They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. 15 We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. 16 Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. 17 But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”

18 Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 The young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city. 21 “These men are friendly toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. 22 But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. 23 Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.”

24 All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.

25 Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. 26 They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. 28 They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29 They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

31 But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

35

Jacob Returns to Bethel

1 Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.

6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.

8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.

9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.

14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

The Deaths of Rachel and Isaac

16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last — or she was dying — he named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.

19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.

21 Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. 22 While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.

 

Jacob had twelve sons:

23 The sons of Leah:

Reuben the firstborn of Jacob,

Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.

24 The sons of Rachel:

Joseph and Benjamin.

25 The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah:

Dan and Naphtali.

26 The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah:

Gad and Asher.

These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram.

 

27 Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. 28 Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 35:11-12, God renews His promise to Jacob with a blessing. Who else has received this same blessing? What is the significance of this blessing to Jacob?

Reflection Question

2. The horrific account of Dinah left her brothers demanding justice. They allowed their anger to cloud their judgment and, in the end, made a terrible mistake. We are inundated with injustice all around us in today’s world. What injustice do you see that breaks your heart? How have you seen the pursuit of justice take a turn for the worst, like with Dinah’s brothers? What can you do today that would honor God and seek to heal a broken world?

3. Pledging allegiance to God means that we acknowledge the evil temptations in our life and vow to remain faithful to God’s commands. When we pledge our allegiance to God, we commit to worshiping Him even in trial and tribulation. What does it mean for you personally to pledge allegiance to God? How does this impact your decisions and your actions? When have you worshiped God in the middle of a trial? 

 
 

Week 5/Day 1: Seeing the Face of God, Being the Face of God

Willow Creek Community Church

“No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.”

~ Genesis 33:10

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In Genesis 32, Jacob has a mysterious encounter with a man who appears out of nowhere, and it is not immediately clear who this mystery man is. As the story progresses, Jacob learns that this individual, while appearing to be a man, is actually God himself. This leads Jacob to name the location of this encounter “Peniel” which means “face of God,” because he “saw God face to face” and yet he lived.

Immediately after this mysterious encounter, Jacob has another significant encounter, this time with his brother Esau. To Jacob’s surprise, Esau doesn’t seek retribution for all the ways Jacob had deceived him. Instead, Esau runs toward Jacob, embraces him, and kisses his long lost brother. In response to these surprising actions, Jacob says to Esau, “[T]o see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33:10.) 

Through his word choice, Jacob draws a comparison between God and Esau. Esau’s “face” was reminiscent of the “face of God” which he had just seen. One might conclude that Jacob is referring to the physical appearance of God. However, it is more likely that Jacob intends to convey the way Esau’s actions are reminiscent of how God treats repentant people. God doesn’t give repentant people the punishment they deserve. He is eager to forgive them. Millennia later, Jesus affirms this comparison in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Like Esau, the forgiving father runs out and welcomes the son who has finally returned home (Luke 15:20.) 

It is not always easy to forgive those who have wronged us, but when we relinquish our claim to retribution and choose to forgive, we show the world a picture of how God acts towards each of us.


Genesis 32–33

32

Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau

1 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’ ”

6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

7 In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ ”

13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”

17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’ ”

19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’ ” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

Jacob Wrestles With God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

33

Jacob Meets Esau

1 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. 5 Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”

6 Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. 7 Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

8 Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”

“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.

9 But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”

13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. 14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

15 Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.”

“But why do that?” Jacob asked. “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.”

16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.

18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 32, Jacob is given a new name, Israel, in accordance with the new person he was becoming. What did his old name mean? What does Genesis 32:28 suggest his new name means? What does this name foreshadow about what his descendants, the Israelites, would be like?

Reflection Question

2. Scripture teaches us that forgiveness is always necessary, no matter how minor or severe the offense. We must seek forgiveness in our relationship with God as well. Our sin is a transgression against Him, and we are called to repent and seek His forgiveness. Despite our sinful human nature, we can have peace knowing that God will always forgive us when we apologize. Each day, we need to confess our anger, selfishness, and sinful actions to God. You can do that right now. What do you need to ask God for forgiveness for?

3. We can imagine the fear that Jacob had as he saw Esau coming towards him with his 400 men. Jacob was expecting the worst. Most likely he felt shame and guilt for what he had done to Esau, and he expected Esau’s anger to still be burning. Instead, Esau welcomed Jacob with love. This is how God welcomes us when we return to Him after going astray. Consider this in your own life. Do you believe that God will always welcome you back? Have you always welcomed back others who ask for forgiveness? What about forgiving others who haven’t asked for forgiveness? How do you know God loves you even when you don’t deserve it?

 
 

Week 4/Day 5: Magic, Manipulation, and the Patient Power of God

Willow Creek Community Church

When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods.

~ Genesis 31:19

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In Biblical times, people frequently participated in magic rituals. We see this often in the stories that surround Jacob’s life. In Genesis 30:14-16, Rachel, Jacob’s wife, acquires mandrake plants, superstitiously hoping to overcome her infertility. In that culture, it was believed that mandrakes could help a woman have children because the roots of mandrake plants look like the human body. Similarly, in Genesis 30:37-43, Jacob sets branches with the bark removed in streaks in front of mating sheep, believing that the sheep would give birth to streaked offspring.

In today’s reading, Rachel steals her father’s “household gods” (in Hebrew, teraphim). It is not clear from the story what Rachel intended to do with them, but if we look at other places that this Hebrew word is used, it consistently appears in texts where people are trying to access hidden knowledge or knowledge of the future (what the Bible often calls divination). It is likely that Rachel wanted to use them so she could know what lay ahead.

In all these examples, people try to use magic in order to manipulate situations that were otherwise outside of their control. It is important to note that the Bible later condemns engaging in these sorts of rituals. God can’t be coerced into working on our behalf. He wants us to ask for His help through prayer. These rituals aren’t explicitly condemned in Genesis 30, but it’s important to note that no power is attributed to them. The reminder is that God patiently stood by His misguided people and continued to demonstrate His control in their lives, even when they thought they were controlling Him.


Genesis 31

31

Jacob Flees From Laban

1 Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.

3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

4 So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. 9 So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.

10 “In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’ ”

14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16 Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”

17 Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18 and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

19 When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. 21 So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead.

Laban Pursues Jacob

22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

25 Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? 28 You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. 29 I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”

31 Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32 But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.

35 Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.

36 Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. “What is my crime?” he asked Laban. “How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? 37 Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.

38 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”

43 Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”

45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.

48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.”

51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there.

55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.


Exploring the Text

1. Jacob’s overwhelming success as a shepherd created deep resentment in Laban’s sons and Laban became bitter and resentful. Jacob no longer felt welcome in Laban’s house and knew he would have to leave. But Jacob didn’t know where he would go since he had fled his homeland out of fear of his brother, Esau, many years previously. How do you think Jacob felt in this situation? How does God rescue and provide for Jacob?

2. In ancient Near Eastern covenants, people usually invited the gods to serve as “witnesses” to the agreements being made. In Genesis 31:45-46, Jacob and Laban both use stones to serve as witnesses to their covenant, presumably to represent their gods. Yet there is a difference between the stones they use. What is the difference? What might this suggest about their different religious beliefs?

Reflection Question

3. In Genesis 31:36-43, Jacob finally had enough of the injustice he had endured by Laban and unleashed 20 years of pent up anger at his father-in-law. Jacob had spent years deceived and trapped by Laban, but complied to keep peace in the family. Oftentimes we carry our own anger or resentment for someone but don’t tell him or her because we fear conflict. These feelings could turn into bitterness and in a moment, like Jacob, we could lash out. Take some time to vulnerably consider any broken relationships you have. Is there anyone that you need to have a conversation with before you “explode”? Take a moment to journal your feelings. Would you be willing to talk to that person today?

 
 

Week 4/Day 4: Deceiver Deceived

Willow Creek Community Church

When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” 

~ Genesis 29:25

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In the ancient Near East, a name said a lot about a person. As we’ve studied before, a name could tell us what a person did or what a person was like. We see this frequently in Genesis, especially with the character of Jacob. Jacob was born grasping his brother’s heel, so in Genesis 25:26, he was given a name (yaaqov) which comes from the same root as the word for heel (aqev). Over time, his name came to mean “deceiver” because Jacob had the habit of deceiving people, and the word for deceive (aqav) also comes from the same root as Jacob. As Esau says in Genesis 27:36, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob [yaaqov]? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me [yaaqveni].”

Jacob, the deceiver, first deceived Esau when he swindled him out of his birthright. Jacob then deceived Esau, and his father, when he swindled Esau out of his blessing. Ironically, as Jacob’s story unfolds in Genesis, the great deceiver is deceived himself. In chapter 29, Jacob’s father-in-law tricks him into marrying the wrong daughter. Then in chapter 37, in the same way that Jacob deceived his father, his sons deceive him using a slaughtered goat and their brother’s clothes.

The role reversal that Jacob experiences later in life serves as a vivid example of the proverb “a man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). Might Jacob’s sons have learned deception from watching their father? Our sin always has consequences, and oftentimes, it has a way of finding its way back to us. We can be thankful, then, that the eternal consequences we deserve have been covered by Jesus who took it on Himself to reap what we sowed.


Genesis 29–30

29

Jacob Arrives in Paddan Aram

1 Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. 2 There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. 3 When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.

4 Jacob asked the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?”

“We’re from Harran,” they replied.

5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”

“Yes, we know him,” they answered.

6 Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”

“Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”

7 “Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.”

8 “We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.”

9 While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.

13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”

Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”

22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.

25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

Jacob’s Children

31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.

34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.

35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.

30

1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”

2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”

3 Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”

4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5 and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan.

7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.

9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad.

12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.

14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”

“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”

16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.

17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.

19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun.

21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.

22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”

Jacob’s Flocks Increase

25 After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. 26 Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.”

27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.” 28 He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”

29 Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. 30 The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?”

31 “What shall I give you?” he asked.

“Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. 33 And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.”

34 “Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” 35 That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. 36 Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.

37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40 Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. 41 Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, 42 but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. 43 In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.


Exploring the Text

1. The story of Jacob meeting Rachel at the well is reminiscent of the story of Abraham’s servant meeting Rebekah at a well. Yet there is one significant difference between these two stories. Abraham’s servant spent just one night at Laban’s home. How long does Jacob end up staying with Laban (see Genesis 31:38)? What does this remind us about their different reasons for traveling to Paddan Aram?

Reflection Question

2. As we read the story of Leah, our hearts go out to her. The Bible tells us that Leah wasn’t beautiful like her sister and didn’t have any men interested in marrying her. Her father forced her into a loveless marriage where she spends her life craving affection from a husband who didn’t want to marry her. Yet, in a society where a woman’s prestige depended almost entirely on her success in bearing sons, God provides her with six sons. Why do you think God did this? Although polygamy was culturally accepted, it went against God’s plan for marriage. How did this sin affect Leah, Rachel, and Jacob?

3. Throughout today’s reading, we see that Laban was a very deceitful and controlling man. And, while we feel bad for Jacob, we must remember that Jacob himself was once a deceiver who had run from the consequences of his sin. Sin has effects and we can never run from our sin. This is why Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection are so important. It’s only through Jesus that we can ever be freed from the consequences of our sin. What does Jesus’ death on the cross mean to you? How has this freed you from your sin?

 
 

Week 4/Day 3: Ziggurats, Portals, and the Nearness of God

Willow Creek Community Church

He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord.

~ Genesis 28:12–13a

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In Genesis 28, Jacob departs to Mesopotamia and along the way has a remarkable dream. In this dream, he sees “a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” It is likely that the structure Jacob envisions here is what is frequently referred to as a ziggurat. Ziggurats were stepped, pyramid-like structures built throughout ancient Mesopotamia that were designed to be like portals to the divine realm. The Mesopotamians believed that the stairways featured on ziggurats made it possible for the gods to descend from the heavens to their temples on the earth below. In this way, people could have access to otherwise distant gods. 

Interestingly, what Jacob sees in his dream corresponds in part to what we know about ziggurats. Like the Mesopotamian gods, the angels of God ascend and descend on the stairway. However, Jacob’s dream departs from Mesopotamian beliefs in one critical way. God Himself has no need for the stairway. It is significant that in this story God never uses the stairway Himself. He is depicted as standing on the earth, beside the ziggurat (the Hebrew phrase translated as “above it stood” is better translated as “beside it stood” as we see in Genesis 28:13). The point is that God can travel to and from the earth, and all throughout the earth, as He pleases. He does not need a stairway to be with His people. 

The significance of this for Jacob was that God could be with him wherever he went. As God says in verse 15, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go . . . . I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Likewise, the significance for us is in recognizing that God isn’t distant from us. God is with us, even when we, like Jacob, find ourselves alone, uncertain, and journeying to unknown places.


Genesis 26:34–28

Jacob Takes Esau’s Blessing

34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.

27

1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”

“Here I am,” he answered.

2 Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your equipment — our quiver and bow — nd go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”

5 Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.”

13 His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”

14 So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.

18 He went to his father and said, “My father.”

“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”

19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.

21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”

22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.

“I am,” he replied.

25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”

Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”

27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,

 

“Ah, the smell of my son

is like the smell of a field

that the Lord has blessed.

28 May God give you heaven’s dew

and earth’s richness — 

an abundance of grain and new wine.

29 May nations serve you

and peoples bow down to you.

Be lord over your brothers,

and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.

May those who curse you be cursed

and those who bless you be blessed.”

 

30 After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31 He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”

33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him — nd indeed he will be blessed!”

34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me — e too, my father!”

35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

37 Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”

38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.

39 His father Isaac answered him,

 

“Your dwelling will be

away from the earth’s richness,

away from the dew of heaven above.

40 You will live by the sword

and you will serve your brother.

But when you grow restless,

you will throw his yoke

from off your neck.”

 

41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

42 When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. 45 When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”

46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

28

1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.

6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”


Exploring the Text

1. Considering what we learned in today’s reading about ziggurats and staircases in Mesopotamian and Biblical traditions, what do you think Jesus means in John 1:51 when He says, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man?” How does Jesus function as a stairway or portal to Heaven?

2. Before Jacob’s departure in Genesis 28:3-5, Isaac gives him two major covenant blessings. What were those two blessings? These blessings are a theme throughout Genesis – why are they so important? 

Reflection Question

3. The short passage in Genesis 26:34-35, give us an insight into Esau’s heart. He marries not one woman, but two. Both women are pagans. And both women make life difficult for Isaac and Rebekah, their in-laws. Then again in Genesis 28:6-9, Esau learns of his father’s disapproval of his wives and instead of divorcing them, takes a third Canaanite wife. This certainly seems spiteful! For Isaac and Rebekah, we might consider how they felt watching their son make so many poor decisions and stray from God’s commands.

How have you seen this played out in your own life? Is there anyone in your life who you have watched make poor decisions to satisfy his or her own desires? How has their life been affected by their decisions? How have you responded?

 
 

Week 4/Day 2: Firstborn Rights

Willow Creek Community Church

 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 

~ Genesis 25:32

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There was a practice in ancient Israel called primogeniture in which the firstborn son of a family was granted certain rights. One of these rights was a double share of the family inheritance. For example, in a family with two sons, the youngest son would receive a 1/3 share of the family inheritance while the firstborn son would receive a 2/3 share, or a double share, of the family inheritance. The right to a double share was not simply for the purpose of benefiting the firstborn son. It also came with certain responsibilities, including the role of protector and caretaker of the extended family. Still, there was a significant financial privilege to being the firstborn son, especially in a smaller family.

This background helps amplify the absurdity we see in Genesis 25 when a firstborn son from a small, wealthy family sells his firstborn rights to his brother in exchange for a bowl of stew. In this story, the firstborn son, Esau, returns home hungry after a long, unsuccessful hunting trip. He sees his younger brother, Jacob, cooking some stew. Feeling as though he is starving to death, he agrees to a wildly disproportionate trade and exchanges his firstborn rights to Jacob for some of the stew. 

When we read this story, it is easy and even appropriate for us to question Esau’s thoughtless actions here. How could Esau trade away something so valuable for such a temporary pleasure? All too often, Christians do this very thing, trading away our spiritual inheritance in exchange for temporary pleasures in life (Hebrews 12:16-17). Esau’s blunder should serve to teach us to always remember the value of God’s gift to us, especially when we’re tempted to trade it away for the temporary. 


Genesis 25–26:33

25

The Death of Abraham

1 Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. 3 Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Ashurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.

5 Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. 6 But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.

7 Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.

Ishmael’s Sons

12 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Sarah’s slave, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham.

13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. 16 These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. 17 Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. 18 His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.

Jacob and Esau

19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.

21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

23 The Lord said to her,

 

“Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples from within you will be separated;

one people will be stronger than the other,

and the older will serve the younger.”

 

24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

26

Isaac and Abimelek

1 Now there was a famine in the land — esides the previous famine in Abraham’s time — nd Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” 6 So Isaac stayed in Gerar.

7 When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”

8 When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelek king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9 So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?”

Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”

10 Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”

11 So Abimelek gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

12 Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. 13 The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. 14 He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. 15 So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.

16 Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”

17 So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. 18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.

19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. 20 But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. 21 Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. 22 He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”

25 Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.

26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”

28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’ — etween us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.”

30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.

32 That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” 33 He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.


Exploring the Text

1. In today’s reading, the issue of being sent East, away from God, shows up again in Genesis 25:6. Why do you think Abraham sends Keturah’s sons eastward, away from Isaac? What is the land God promised to Isaac?

2. In Genesis 25:8, the Bible refers to Abraham as being “gathered to his people” after his death. We see this phrase again in verse 17. What does this mean?

Reflection Question

3. We see how sin has the ability to tear apart all sorts of relationships, especially families. There are clear parallels between Genesis 3 and 25 of snatching/grasping heels, pain in childbirth, and bearing children in anguish. This leads to anger, resentment, pain, sadness, and separation—all effects of sin. Often, within our families is where we see sin rear its ugly head the most. How has sin affected your family or your family of origin? How has your own sin affected a family member? 

 
 

Week 4/Day 1: Hesed veEmet

Willow Creek Community Church

Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.

~ Genesis 24:26–27

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In Genesis 24, two key Hebrew words appear a number of times: hesed and emet. Hesed, translated as “kindness,” appears four times (24:12, 14, 27, 49.) Emet, translated as “faithfulness” and “right,” appears 3 times (24:27, 48, 49.) 

These are important words in Scripture. They frequently appear together to describe what God is like. Exodus 34:6 says, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love [hesed] and faithfulness [emet].” They also frequently appear together in Israel’s songs of worship. Psalm 138:2 says, “I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love [hesed] and your faithfulness [emet].

Genesis 24 marks the very first time that these terms are used together in the Bible. Here, they appear in the context of a story and, in doing so, they establish the basis for us saying or singing that God is abounding in love and faithfulness. In this story, God proves He is loyal to His people and He is faithful in fulfilling His promises, even when He is silently working behind the scenes.


Genesis 24

24

Isaac and Rebekah

1 Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2 He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. 3 I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4 but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

5 The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?”

6 “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. 7 “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’ — e will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

10 Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor. 11 He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water.

12 Then he prayed, “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — et her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

15 Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. 16 The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.

17 The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.”

18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.

19 After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. 21 Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. 23 Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” 25 And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”

26 Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, 27 saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

28 The young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. 29 Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. 30 As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring. 31 “Come, you who are blessed by the Lord,” he said. “Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.”

32 So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. 33 Then food was set before him, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.”

“Then tell us,” Laban said.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

39 “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’

40 “He replied, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family. 41 You will be released from my oath if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you — hen you will be released from my oath.’

42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

“Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, 48 and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. 49 Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.”

50 Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is from the Lord; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. 51 Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.”

52 When Abraham’s servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before the Lord. 53 Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. 54 Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there.

When they got up the next morning, he said, “Send me on my way to my master.”

55 But her brother and her mother replied, “Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.”

56 But he said to them, “Do not detain me, now that the Lord has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.”

57 Then they said, “Let’s call the young woman and ask her about it.” 58 So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

59 So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

 

“Our sister, may you increase

to thousands upon thousands;

may your offspring possess

the cities of their enemies.”

 

61 Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.

62 Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. 63 He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. 64 Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel 65 and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?”

“He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself.

66 Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. 67 Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 24:2, Abraham has his servant place his hand under his thigh. Why do you think Abraham does this? What do you think this symbolized?

2. The relationship between Rebekah and her brother is one of uncustomary respect and love. The arranged marriage between Rebekah and Isaac would be of great benefit to Rebekah and her family. She would become the matriarch of a powerful dynasty. Despite the cultural norms, her brother seeks her opinion and blesses her. This relationship is in deep contrast to the way Lot treats his own daughters (Genesis 19:6-8). What have you learned so far about the cultural norms of how women were treated during this time? What authority did Rebekah’s brother have? How did Rebekah’s brother show her respect and love?

Reflection Question

3. Abraham’s servant shows a great deal of faith in trusting God to provide. God provides exactly what Abraham prophesied and He provides it quickly! This immediate response to prayer is often how we hope God will respond to us. The Bible teaches us that God’s answer to our prayers doesn’t always look like we expect it to, or in our timing. Have you ever been disappointed by God’s answer to your prayers? When has He given you more than you asked for or expected? How would you answer the question if someone asks you, “Does God answer my prayers?”

 
 

Week 3/Day 5: Faith Even When Things Don’t Make Sense

Willow Creek Community Church

“Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” 

~ Genesis 22:5

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Abraham’s story began in Genesis 12 with God challenging him to leave his family behind and go to a place that God would show him. In Genesis 22, his story draws to a close in a similar way. God challenges him to be willing to leave a family member behind and go to a place that God would show him. What distinguishes the second challenge from the first is the second challenge involves not just saying goodbye to family members, but actually sacrificing a family member, Abraham’s beloved son Isaac. How would Abraham handle this incomprehensible challenge?

Abraham’s life was marked by his blunders of faith, but here, Abraham puts on one of the most profound displays of faith seen in all of Scripture. He demonstrates his faith through his actions: he gathers the materials for the sacrifice, travels to the specified mountain, and comes close to sacrificing his son. Even more importantly, he demonstrates his faith through his words when he says to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” This statement could be interpreted as a white lie. By saying, “We will come back,” rather than, “I will come back,” Abraham could be trying to hide his real mission from his servants and Isaac. More likely, his statement reflects faith in a moment of cognitive dissonance. Even though God was asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham knew that God had promised to make him into a great nation “through Isaac” (Genesis 21:12). Therefore, Abraham said, “We will come back,” because he was certain that whatever happened on the mountain, Isaac would still return home with him. God had proven faithful before, so Abraham was confident that God would prove faithful again.

Abraham’s faith can serve as a model for us when God’s plans don’t make sense to us. We may not always understand what God is doing, but like Abraham, we can be confident that in the end, He will always prove faithful. 


Genesis 22–23

22

Abraham Tested

1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love — saac — nd go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Nahor’s Sons

20 Some time later Abraham was told, “Milkah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22 Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milkah bore these eight sons to Abraham’s brother Nahor. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maakah.

23

The Death of Sarah

1 Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. 2 She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.

3 Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, 4 “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”

5 The Hittites replied to Abraham, 6 “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”

7 Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. 8 He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf 9 so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”

10 Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. 11 “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”

12 Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”

16 Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.

17 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre — oth the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field — as deeded 18 to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. 19 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 23, Abraham buys a piece of land as a burial plot in Canaan. How does this relate to the promises God had given Abraham earlier in life?

Reflection Question

2. Sometimes God prompts us to do things that don’t make sense to us! Abraham must have felt this way as he considered the reality of sacrificing the son that God had provided and promised him. We can imagine his confusion and fear, yet he showed an immense amount of faith as he trusted in God’s plan. Has God ever asked you to do the unimaginable? In what ways has God prompted you to do something that didn’t make sense? What did you learn from those experiences? 

3. In Genesis 22:11-12, the Angel of the Lord called out to Abraham and instructed him not to lay a hand on Isaac. Abraham had passed the test, providing evidence that he feared God more than he loved his only son. If you’re a parent, consider the love you have for your children. If you’re not a parent, consider the love you feel for someone close to you. Now imagine yourself in Abraham’s shoes. What would your response be to God’s request? God calls us to love Him above all else (Exodus 20:3). Would you put God first if it meant letting go of someone you love?

 
 

Week 3/Day 4: Father to the Fatherless, Defender of Widows

Willow Creek Community Church

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 

~ Genesis 21:17

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Genesis 21 begins by announcing that God “did for Sarah what he had promised” (Genesis 21:1). He provided a son named Isaac for her. As joyous as this occasion was for Sarah, the birth of Isaac introduced a new conflict into the story. What did the birth of Isaac mean for Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son and his primary heir?

For Sarah, the answer was simple. Ishmael’s fate was sealed. “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:10). In that culture, there was a law which stated that if an enslaved woman and her children were granted freedom from a situation like Hagar and Ishmael’s, then her children would lose the right to their inheritance. Therefore, Sarah’s strategy would cause Isaac to become Abraham’s sole heir.

While this plan would greatly benefit Sarah and her son Isaac, it would leave Ishmael fatherless and, in essence, leave Hagar a widow. The mother and son would be left in an extremely precarious situation, especially in a culture without welfare. In this story, God does not prevent Abraham from sending Hagar and Ishmael away. He does, however, step in and provide for the two outcasts. God’s actions here demonstrate something about God’s character that we see frequently in Scripture—He cares for fatherless children and widows (Psalm 68:5). Just as importantly, His actions establish the basis for what later Scripture commands us—we should care for fatherless children and widows as well (Isaiah 1:17).


Genesis 20–21

20

Abraham and Abimelek

1 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”

8 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.” 10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”

11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” ’ ”

14 Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”

16 To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”

17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, 18 for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

21

The Birth of Isaac

1 Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

6 Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” 7 And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away

8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

The Treaty at Beersheba

22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.”

24 Abraham said, “I swear it.”

25 Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized. 26 But Abimelek said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.”

27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty. 28 Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, 29 and Abimelek asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?”

30 He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”

31 So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

32 After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. 34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.


Exploring the Text

1. In today’s reading, Sarah finally gives birth to the child God promised to Abraham in Genesis 13. A great deal of time has passed between when God promised to produce a nation through Abraham and the fulfillment of His promise. How many years passed between God’s promise and Isaac’s birth? What can this teach us about God’s timing versus our own expectation of time?

Reflection Question

2. Abraham’s faith in God’s provision is a journey filled with ups and downs. In today’s reading, we see how Abraham’s fear once again overpowers his faith as he sends Sarah to Abimelech. His fear of being killed tempted him to compromise God’s provision of a son through Sarah. Why do you think Abraham had such fleeting faith? When have you allowed overwhelming fear stop you from trusting in God? How has God proven his faithfulness to you? 

3. Imagine how scared and lonely Hagar was when she was banished to the desert in Genesis 21:8-21. In a moment of despair, she leaves her son and weeps as she imagines his impending death. Have you ever found yourself in a lonely and scary situation like Hagar and Ishmael? How did God provide for you? Did His provision come immediately or did it take time? How can you help someone you know who might be in a similar situation right now?

 
 

Week 3/Day 3: Nothing is Too Hard for God

Willow Creek Community Church

Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 

– Genesis 18:14

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Genesis 18 records one of the many times that Sarah and Abraham doubted God’s promise to provide a child for them. Sarah “laughs” when she hears someone say that within a year, she would have a son. At one time, this laugh might have been a laugh of joy, as God was finally fulfilling His promise! However, at this stage in Sarah’s life, when she is “past the age of childbearing,” it is more like a laugh at a cruel joke or a ridiculous statement. How could she possibly have a child now? 

In response to her pained and desperate laugh, God asks Sarah a rhetorical question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” This is an interesting question for God to ask Sarah. The question assumes that Sarah would know that the obvious answer is no, of course nothing is too hard for the Lord. After all, God does all sorts of “hard” things in Scripture. The word translated here as “hard” is used over 70 times in the Old Testament to refer to various wonders or marvelous acts that God performed, like the mighty wonders in Egypt during the Exodus (Exodus 3:20).

What makes this such a unique question for Sarah is that it is the very first time the word is used in this way in Scripture. Sarah didn’t have the gift of answering this question with knowledge of all the wondrous things God did in the Bible. She had no prior data or experience that would help her believe that God could do anything like this. Sarah had to take God at His word. 

Fortunately for us, we have the gift of hindsight. We can look back at how God worked in Sarah’s life and the lives of so many others in the Bible, and we can be confident that nothing is too hard for God. God has provided children for barren women, He has freed people from slavery, and He has even raised the dead to life. This means, that if God chooses, he is capable of performing wonders in our lives as well, because nothing is too hard for God.


Genesis 18–19

18

The Three Visitors

1 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way — ow that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Abraham Pleads for Sodom

16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing — o kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”

“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

19

Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed

1 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom — oth young and old — urrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here — ons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19 Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it — t is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah — rom the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities — nd also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

29 So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

Lot and His Daughters

30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children — s is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 18 & 19, Abraham and Lot both show hospitality to a group of visitors. Both greet their visitors, and both provide food for their visitors. How does their hospitality contrast with the way that the city of Sodom treated these same visitors?

Reflection Question

2. In Genesis 18:22-32, we see an example of petitionary prayer. In this passage, Abraham shows a deep respect for God and a confidence in God’s power and justice. But that doesn’t stop Abraham from persistently asking God to spare the city of Sodom, due to his compassionate concern for his nephew Lot and the other inhabitants of the city. After reading this passage, we might wonder why Abraham cared so much for such an evil place, but he believed that good could still be found. Oftentimes, it’s hard for us to see the potential good in someone or something when we can clearly see the bad. While we don’t condone sin, we are reminded that Jesus makes Himself available to everyone. How can you have compassion for and see the “good” in someone who is evil or bad? Think of the person that you find impossible to love or even like. How does God feel about that person? What might you need to pray for today?

3. It’s easy to wonder, as we read about Sodom and Gomorrah, how someplace or someone could be so corrupt. In a world without God, people can easily lose sight of their morality and fall prey to Satan’s temptations. Despite the evil depicted, a common theme of Genesis 18 & 19 is a lack of hospitality and injustice. The extreme juxtaposition is most obvious in the comparison of Abraham’s hospitality to his guests with the treatment of guests in Sodom. In Luke 10:10-12, Jesus references Sodom when he is teaching His disciples about how to handle inhospitality as they travel spreading the Good News. Why does God care so much about hospitality? Do you care about hospitality? In what ways does inhospitality breed injustice?

 
 

Week 3/Day 2: Waiting on God

Willow Creek Community Church

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

~ Genesis 16:1-2

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Genesis 16 begins with a story about Abram and his wife, Sarai, once again doubting God’s promises. After ten years of waiting for Sarai to conceive, they begin to wonder whether God had actually planned to build a great nation for Abram through a different woman and not Sarai. So in Genesis 16:2, Sarai comes up with a new strategy to provide children for Abram: “Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” 

While this strategy may seem baffling to us, it is helpful to know that this was a fairly common practice in the ancient Near East. Legal customs allowed (at times, even obligated) a barren wife to acquire another woman so that she could provide children for her husband. We see an example of this in one legal text about a woman named Kelim-ninu that says, “If Kelim-ninu bears (children), Shennima shall not take another wife; but if Kelim-ninu does not bear, Kelim-ninu shall acquire a woman of the land of Lullu as wife for Shennima.” By legal standards, Abram and Sarai’s actions were understandable. Sarai was using lawful measures to provide children for Abram.

While Abram and Sarai’s actions were technically legal, they were hardly in line with God’s standards for marriage and the family (Genesis 2:24). God never approved of polygamy. In Genesis, we read numerous stories about polygamous families, and a consistent theme in all these stories is that polygamy leads to family dysfunction. This wasn’t God’s plan. God’s plan was to build a nation through Sarai.

More importantly, Abram and Sarai’s actions represented a failure to give God the same patience that He regularly showed them. Their timing was not God’s timing. They were tired of waiting on God so they developed a faulty strategy to fulfill the promises on their own terms. This story challenges us to consider our own attitudes about God’s timing. Is it possible that what seems to be a delay might actually be God’s desire to more clearly reveal His power?


Genesis 16–17

16

Hagar and Ishmael

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant

and you will give birth to a son.

You shall name him Ishmael,

for the Lord has heard of your misery.

12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;

his hand will be against everyone

and everyone’s hand against him,

and he will live in hostility

toward all his brothers.”

 

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

17

The Covenant of Circumcision

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner — hose who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 16:4-6, the tables turn from Hagar disrespecting Sarai to Sarai mistreating Hagar, forcing her to run away. As you read these verses, what emotions and actions do you see in Hagar? In Sarai? What do you think is the true source of Hagar’s problems? What can this story teach us about jealousy, disrespect, and vengeance? 

2. God’s first command to humanity was to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28.) This is important to remember as we read Genesis 17 and God’s covenant requirement of circumcision. This covenantal act was to be upheld by all of Abraham’s future generations as a symbol of each person’s willingness to surrender to God. Who does God command must be circumcised? Why do you think God commanded every male in Abraham’s household to have this common mark?

Reflection Question

3. Sarai finds herself in a dilemma in Genesis 16. The Lord promised her husband that he would become a father, yet prevented her from conceiving. By ordering her husband to take Hagar as a wife, Sarai thinks she has found her own way to “fix” the problem, but it backfires. Instead of fulfilling God’s promise, Sarai’s decision to take matters into her own hands leaves her suffering as she has to face her own inadequacies. 

Often our own failures meet us head on when we fail to give control over to God. What are some failures or shortcomings you have struggled with? In what ways might the root of those issues stem from your desire to control them? God was faithful to Sarai, even when she wasn’t faithful to Him. If God makes a covenant with someone and they don’t keep their part of the covenant, does God always fulfill His part of it?

 
 

Week 3/Day 1: The Covenant Confirmed

Willow Creek Community Church

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.

~ Genesis 15:17–18

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In Genesis 15, God meets Abram in a moment of doubt and encourages him by providing the formal confirmation of their “covenant.” We don’t use the word “covenant” frequently, but a covenant is not all that different from a “contract” in the business world. In the ancient Near East, a covenant was basically an agreement between two parties. 

Covenants were particularly common between conquering kings and kings they had defeated in battle. In these covenants, conquering kings would lay out a list of stipulations, telling their defeated opponents how they expected them to live. Then, like agreeing to a contract by “signing on the dotted line”, these covenants were confirmed with a ceremony.

One confirmation ceremony involved having the inferior party walk between the pieces of an animal that had been cut in two. Through this ceremony, the inferior party was symbolically indicating that they would become like this dismembered animal if they broke the covenant. Jeremiah 34:18 alludes to this form of covenant confirmation ceremony, “Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces.”

This deeper understanding of covenants helps us see how God turned the tables when He confirmed the covenant in Genesis 15. Usually, the inferior party received the stipulations and walked through the pieces of the animal. Here, however, God, the superior party, put stipulations on himself, detailing what He would do on behalf of Abram, and then confirmed the covenant by moving through the parts himself. The point God was making for Abram was that Abram could be certain that God would fulfill his promises. Because God cannot die, He could never become like the animal cut in two. Therefore, Abram would certainly receive the promises God had given him. 


Genesis 14–15

14

Abram Rescues Lot

1 At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). 4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7 Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.

8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar — our kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

 

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Creator of heaven and earth.

20 And praise be to God Most High,

who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

 

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me — o Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

15

The Lord’s Covenant With Abram

1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

 

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward. ”

 

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars — f indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates —  19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”


Exploring the Text

1. With a major sea on the west and a vast desert to the east, the plot of land that God promises to give Abram’s descendants sits in the middle of an international super-highway. Why do you think God wanted them to live on this land? How could this help Abram’s descendants fulfill their mission to bless all peoples?

2. In Genesis 15:13-16, God tells Abram what the Israelites’ future is, as we see it played out later in the Bible. What land is God referring to when He says it is “not their own?”

Reflection Question

3. In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram, promising him as many offspring as the stars in the sky. God also made this promise to Abram in chapter 12. However, at this point, time has passed and Abram has likely begun to wonder what God’s plan is. Abram is given the challenge of having faith in God’s perfect timing. Describe a time when you had to be faithful to God, trusting in His timing. How about a time when you took matters into your own hands? How did you act or react to the circumstances?

 
 

Week 2/Day 5: Self-Preservation, Self-Profit, and the Patience of God

Willow Creek Community Church

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” 

~ Genesis 12:11-13

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Immediately following the story of Abram’s first great act of obedience in Genesis 12:1-9, Abram is confronted with the first challenge to his new-found faith. Genesis 12:10-20 tells the story of a famine that forced Abram to leave the land that God had led him to and enter into a foreign country—Egypt. 

As they were about to enter Egypt, Abram made a strange request of his wife Sarai. “Say you are my sister,” he said, “so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” On the surface, this request reflects Abram’s desire for self-preservation. He recognized how beautiful his wife was and he was afraid that an Egyptian might kill him and take Sarai as his own wife. 

But when we look below the surface, we see that Abram’s request may also reflect a desire for self-profit. In that culture, brothers had the right to arrange their sister’s marriages. By having Sarai identify herself as his sister, Abram put himself in a position to negotiate a marriage alliance with a wealthy Egyptian (in this case, Pharaoh), and to personally profit from the arrangement.

Whether Abram’s motives were rooted in self-preservation or in self-profit, what we can be certain of is his short-sighted actions ultimately conflicted with God’s promise to make a great nation out of his offspring with Sarai. Fortunately, God intervened and thwarted Abram’s plan, while still providing blessings for Abram through it all. God’s silent intervention in this story teaches us about His patience and commitment to fulfill His promises, even when we get in the way.


Genesis 12:10–13:18

Abram in Egypt

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

13

Abram and Lot Separate

1 So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

3 From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.

14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.


Exploring the Text

1. In the book of Genesis, movements toward the East are often associated with moving away from God (Genesis 3:24, 4:16 and 11:2.) In today’s reading, Lot chooses to journey eastward. What might this suggest about him? Reread Genesis 13:10-13 and list the various ways in which this land is described. 

Reflection Questions

2. Abram allowed his fear of Pharaoh to cloud his judgment and it eroded his faith in what God wanted to do in his life. How have you found yourself getting in the way of what God wants to do in your life? How has God shown His patience to you? 

3. Sarai’s addition to Pharaoh’s harem meant she was no longer a part of Abram’s household. This separation from Abram threatened God’s promise of offspring through Sarai. To ensure His promise was fulfilled, God graciously restored His plan by placing a plague on Pharaoh’s house and releasing Sarai back to Abram. The theme of God’s faithfulness in response to people’s disobedience resonates throughout Scripture. What does God’s faithfulness mean to you? How do you know that God is a faithful God?

 
 

Week 2/Day 4: Faith and the Promises of God

Willow Creek Community Church

“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 

~ Genesis 12:1–3

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Genesis 12 represents a major turning point in the book of Genesis. The first eleven chapters of Genesis tell story after story of the compounding problems of sin and death. Seemingly small sins like disobedience and hate snowball into egregious sins of murder and revenge. God counters these sins with judgments, including the judgment of death. These judgments do not solve the sin problem; they just reveal how inclined people are to sin (Genesis 8:21).

In response, God initiates a new plan in Genesis 12 to address the problems of sin and death. Humans had proven that they weren’t capable of living righteous lives, so this new plan does not rely on any person’s righteousness. Instead, it hinges on God’s faithfulness and humanity’s faith.

God promises Abram that if he will follow in faith, God will bless him, and not just him, but also “all peoples on earth.” Abram likely had no idea just how far-reaching this promise was. We who have the fortune of hindsight and the complete Scriptures know what God ultimately intended here. Through Abram’s lineage, God brought Jesus into the world, in the culmination of God’s plan to bless all nations. It is through Jesus that God overcame the problems of sin and death that started here in Genesis. Through Jesus, God also has a promise for us. If we are willing to follow in faith like Abram, we can experience eternal blessing in our lives.


Genesis 11:10–12:9

From Shem to Abram

10 This is the account of Shem’s family line.

Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad. 11 And after he became the father of Arphaxad, Shem lived 500 years and had other sons and daughters.

12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. 13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he became the father of Eber. 15 And after he became the father of Eber, Shelah lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg. 17 And after he became the father of Peleg, Eber lived 430 years and had other sons and daughters.

18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he became the father of Reu. 19 And after he became the father of Reu, Peleg lived 209 years and had other sons and daughters.

20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he became the father of Serug. 21 And after he became the father of Serug, Reu lived 207 years and had other sons and daughters.

22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he became the father of Nahor. 23 And after he became the father of Nahor, Serug lived 200 years and had other sons and daughters.

24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he became the father of Terah. 25 And after he became the father of Terah, Nahor lived 119 years and had other sons and daughters.

26 After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.

Abram’s Family

27 This is the account of Terah’s family line.

 

Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah. 30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.

31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.

12

The Call of Abram

1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

 

2 “I will make you into a great nation,

and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,

and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

will be blessed through you.”

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.


Exploring the Text

1. Genealogies can be confusing and it’s easy to get lost in the long list of names. In Scripture, each genealogy has an important purpose. In ancient times, genealogies painted a picture of the history and background of a certain person or people group. In Genesis 11:10-31, we learn the history and backstory of one very important person in Scripture. Who is that person? 

Reflection Questions

2. In Genesis 12:1, God commands Abram to “go”. This one word implies that Abram would be leaving his home and his family to do what God commanded. Obedience to God often means leaving one thing in order to receive something even better. God might be calling you to leave something or let go of your future plans and be obedient to Him. Consider your own life and evaluate your decisions. Is there anything you feel God might be calling you to let go of or walk away from? What would being obedient require of you and/or your family? Are you willing to be obedient to God, even if it’s hard or scary?

3. The Lord’s promise to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s offspring is the single most repeated affirmation in the first five books of the Bible (the Torah). This is an important and emphasized promise because it shows God’s faithfulness to His people. However, in this passage, Abram and his wife are old and they don’t have any children. Imagine the emotions Abram would have felt after hearing this! How would you feel if God promised you something you didn’t think was possible? God can do the impossible, but we have to believe He can! This requires living an expectant life. What does living expectantly of God mean to you? 

 
 

Week 2/Day 3: Making a Name for Oneself

Willow Creek Community Church

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

~ Genesis 11:4

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In the ancient Near East, a person’s name said a lot about them. A name could share insights about what a person was like, or it could tell us about what a person did. There are many great examples of this in the book of Genesis. For instance, the name Adam means “human,” which is fitting because he serves as a representative of humanity. The name Abel means “breath,” which is also fitting because his lifespan was short, like a breath. 

Names were so closely linked to the people they represented that in many ways, a name was thought to carry on the essence of a person even after death. The belief was that if a person’s name could become great and live on after that person died, then that person could attain a sort of immortality. This was, of course, a big deal. Making sense of death was as big of a problem thousands of years ago as it is for us today. Therefore, people often tried to overcome death by making names for themselves. 

Powerful people often tried to make names for themselves through major building projects. We see an example of this in the story of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11:4, a nameless group of people says, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”

One of the many ironic twists in Genesis 11 is that the tower the nameless people built failed to reach the heavens. In fact, from God’s perspective, the tower was so small that God actually had to come down from Heaven just to see it (Genesis 11:5). As a result, the builders of this tower failed to make a name for themselves. This story teaches us that some things, like immortality, can never be reached through human achievement. It is only through faith in God that we can ensure that we live, even after we die.


Genesis 10–11:9

10

The Table of Nations

1 This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.

The Japhethites

2 The sons a of Japheth:

Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshek and Tiras.

3 The sons of Gomer:

Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah.

4 The sons of Javan:

Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittites and the Rodanites. 5 (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.)

The Hamites

6 The sons of Ham:

Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.

7 The sons of Cush:

Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteka.

The sons of Raamah:

Sheba and Dedan.

 

8 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12 and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah — hich is the great city.

 

13 Egypt was the father of

the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, 14 Pathrusites, Kasluhites (from whom the Philistines came) and Caphtorites.

15 Canaan was the father of

Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, 16 Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.

 

Later the Canaanite clans scattered 19 and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha.

20 These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

The Semites

21 Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.

 

22 The sons of Shem:

Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.

23 The sons of Aram:

Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshek.

24 Arphaxad was the father of Shelah,

and Shelah the father of Eber.

25 Two sons were born to Eber:

One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.

26 Joktan was the father of

Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan.

 

30 The region where they lived stretched from Mesha toward Sephar, in the eastern hill country.

31 These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

32 These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.

11

The Tower of Babel

1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel — ecause there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.


Exploring the Text

1. Genesis 10 includes the family records of Noah’s sons. This genealogy lists 70 descendants, the number that represents completeness. This record proves that Noah’s sons fulfilled the commandment to be fruitful, multiply, and spread out over the earth. It also shows the two distinct lineages of “chosen” and “unchosen” descendants. Which of Noah’s sons did the “chosen” lineage descend from? What makes this lineage special?

2. In Genesis 11:7, what does God do to reverse the evil human plot and cause humanity to scatter throughout the earth? In light of Genesis 9:1, why is this important?

Reflection Question

3. In the account of the Tower of Babel, we see humanity’s sinful pride and desire to be God-like. They planned to “make a name” for themselves, give themselves access to God’s domain, and rebel against God’s command to fill the earth. It might seem odd to us that they felt capable of being God’s equal. 

The reality is that we do this every time we take control and decide we don’t need or that we can do things better than God. A prideful heart towards God isn’t always obvious, even to the one whose heart is prideful. Where in your life do you struggle with pride? What areas of your life do you refuse to or feel like you can’t surrender to God? How would it feel to surrender your prideful areas over to God’s control?
What do you need to let go of today?

 
 

Week 2/Day 2: God’s Upturned Bow

Willow Creek Community Church

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

~ Genesis 9:13

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In the ancient Near East, a victorious king sometimes followed the custom of extending his bow towards his defeated enemies with the string facing conquered people and the front of the bow facing back towards himself. By aiming the part of the weapon intended to inflict harm back toward himself, the king showed he was willing to extend peace to his defeated enemies. We have an example of this practice in a sculpture known as the Black Obelisk. The sculpture depicts an Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III, holding his bow in this way while meeting with a foreign, inferior king. The idea behind this custom was that if a king pointed his bow toward himself, he could do his enemies no harm. An inward pointing bow was actually a symbol of peace.

At the end of the flood story in Genesis we see God doing something that reflects this custom. In Genesis 9:15, God makes a covenant to never again allow flood waters to destroy the whole earth. He then confirms this covenant by setting a “rainbow” in the sky. The word translated in this passage as “rainbow” is the Hebrew word qeshet. It appears 78 times in the Old Testament and every other time it appears (except once in Ezekiel 1), the word qeshet refers to an archer’s bow. 

When we consider how this word is used in Scripture and the fact that the crest of a rainbow points toward the heavens, rather than towards the earth, we can begin to appreciate the significance of what this image would have meant to the early readers of Genesis. The appearance of a rainbow in the clouds was more than just a reminder that God would never again completely flood the earth, it was a symbol that He was extending peace to the world.


Genesis 8–9

8

1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf ! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you — he birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground — o they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds — verything that moves on land — ame out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

 

22 “As long as the earth endures,

seedtime and harvest,

cold and heat,

summer and winter,

day and night

will never cease.”

9

God’s Covenant With Noah

1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6“Whoever sheds human blood,

by humans shall their blood be shed;

for in the image of God

has God made mankind.

7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you — he birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you — very living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

The Sons of Noah

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!

The lowest of slaves

will he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!

May Canaan be the slave of Shem.

27 May God extend Japheth’s territory;

may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,

and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

 

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 9, God blesses Noah. This blessing draws a parallel between Noah and Adam as each blessing commands them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. This command is mentioned twice in this chapter. Why do you think it is repeated? 

2. In Genesis 1:2, creation begins with the “Spirit of God” hovering over the waters. The word translated there as “Spirit” is the same as the word translated as “wind” in Genesis 8:1. What similar role does the wind of God have in the flood story and the Spirit of God have in the creation story?

Reflection Question

3. The parallels between Adam and Noah continue in Genesis 9:18-29. Adam sinned when he consumed the fruit, and here Noah sins by getting drunk from fermented fruit juice, or wine. When sin entered the garden, Adam’s innocence was shattered and his nakedness was associated with shame. Noah also brought shame on himself through sin associated with his nakedness. God clothed Adam after he sinned, and Shem and Japheth covered their father, Noah, after he sinned. The pattern: God blesses, man sins, and God gives grace. Consider each of these in your life. What blessings has God given you? How have you sinned against God? What do you need God’s grace for today?