8. God’s Covenant Faithfulness to the Patriarchs

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Introduction

Looking back to the fall and the spread of human rebellion we continually saw that God’s response was to initiate and provide for reconciliation. We saw that in the garden he sought out rebellious man and paired with judgment issued a gracious promise. When Cain murdered his brother Abel we saw God’s gracious response to Cain and we also saw His gracious response to Adam and Eve with the provision of another son Seth, through whose line the promised deliverer of Genesis 3:15 would come. In the story of Noah God gracious provided the means by which Noah and his family could escape the impending judgment and after this deliverance God echoed the commands of Genesis 1:28 by saying, “be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7). Again we saw God’s grace at the Tower of Babel as humanity gathered to make a name for themselves the Lord confused their languages and dispersed them over the face of the earth, which again echoes the mandate of Genesis 1:28. Again God is gracious in judgment as he calls Abram and establishes a covenant for Abram. With this,

“Abraham is asked to give up all the symbols of security and autonomy with which the builders of Babel sought to shore up their own identity . . . [and yet in an amazing contrast] The trophies that the people of Babel attempted to take for themselves―fame, security, and a heritage for the future―are God’s free gift to Abraham.”[54]

While studying the Abrahamic Covenant we noted four distinct promises made to Abram. These promises are reaffirmed to Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. These promises profoundly shaped the lives of the patriarchs as they struggle to trust God for their fulfillment.

I. The Narrative of the Patriarchs

There is much that cannot be covered due to time constraints; because of this the passages covering each of the patriarch’s narratives are listed on the outline.

A. Abraham―Genesis 11:27-25:11

Would someone read Genesis 12:1-4?

This begins the story of Abram. God has established His covenant and Abram has left his country to follow the Lord. The story of Abraham highlights his struggle concerning God’s fulfillment of the promise concerning his offspring. There are two places where this struggle reaches a climax.

Would someone read Genesis 16:1-11 and 17:15-21? What does this story teach us about Abram? What does it teach us about God?
Would someone read Genesis 22:1-14? Read verse 6 what can we learn about Isaac according to the description found here? What do you think that tells us about Isaac’s attitude in verse 9? What picture are we given by the “ram, caught in a thicket?” Isaac’s life also gives us a picture, what might this be?

Isaac is carrying enough wood for a burnt sacrifice this is not the description of a small child. Furthermore, we learn of Isaac’s submissiveness as he allows his father to bind him. I think many of us would note the similarities between the “ram, caught in a thicket” and Christ but I have never thought of Isaac as a pattern of the resurrection. But is that not one of the central points of substitution? A substitute died in his place and because of that substitute he lives.

B. Isaac―Genesis 21:1-35:29

The Genesis text emphasizes the lives of Abraham and Jacob with Isaac playing a transitional role between these two narratives.[55] Because of this you can read the account of his life in the Genesis text and we will focus our study on the two characters given literary emphasis. It is important to note that the fourfold promise made to Abraham his father is repeated to him in Genesis 26:3-4.

C. Jacob―Genesis 25:21-50:14

Certainly Abraham had his struggles but the story of Jacob’s “reprehensible features are rather strongly brought out. This is done in order to show that divine grace is not the reward for, but the source of noble traits.”[56]

Would someone read Genesis 25:21-34? How is Jacob described in these verses?

Jacob is conniving and cold as he uses his brother’s weakness to purchase his brother’s birthright from him. In the same way we see his deceptiveness in Genesis 27 as he disguises himself as Esau to receive a blessing from his dying father Isaac.

How are we to understand these stories? What moral lessons are we to take away from them? What do these stories teach us about God? What do they teach us about how we are to read His Word?

These storied teach us that God rescues those who do not deserve it. No one merits God’s favor; neither Adam, nor Cain, nor Noah, nor Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob has in any way merited God’s favor. His covenants and promises are wholly and act of His redeeming grace. Furthermore, we cannot use God’s Word as simply a moral handbook because if you do then this passage will lead you to prize deception. Rather you must read God’s Word as a metanarrative. The greater redemptive context provides a clearer understanding of this text and that is to show, as we read earlier, “that divine grace is not the reward for, but the source of noble traits.”[57] We continue to see this divine grace even as God reaffirms his covenant to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15.

Would someone please read Genesis 35:22b-36? What is the significance of Jacob’s offspring? How has God kept His promise to Abraham?

These are the twelve tribes of Israel; God is beginning to make of Abraham a great nation.

II. Common Themes in the Patriarchal Narratives

A. Covenant Promises in Crisis

During each of the patriarch’s lives different promises are the source of struggle and possible failure. With Abraham the possibility of a seed is the source of much tension. With Jacob God’s blessing and protection is a source of struggle. The promise of land is far removed from the patriarchs; they wonder in it but in no sense has God given them this land, so in a way while God has fulfilled aspects of the promise other aspects are left unfulfilled at this point.

B. Election

One of the central themes of this section, which will be heavily emphasized later on, is that of election. How does the narrative bring this out?

This can be clearly seen in God’s calling of Abraham but it is emphasized the most in the story of Jacob.

III. The Patriarchal Narratives as Eschatology

Just like Noah before him Abraham is another Adamic figure who points towards recreation. With Noah we were pointed to a renewed creation. With Abraham we are pointed to a renewed people, a particular people, and a people through whom all peoples will be blessed. “Salvation meant blessing on a particular people (Israel) and blessing through that particular people (for all nations).”[58] God is not just creating a particular people He is creating a missional people for a particular mission, His mission. With this progression we are reminded of past progressions all of us which pointed to something greater and indeed with this small nation, consisting of twelve sons, we are left to anticipate the day when they are indeed a great nation and the nations are blessed through them

Conclusion

How have we seen God’s covenant faithfulness through the lives through the patriarchs and what are these stories teaching us?

[54]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 53-54.

[55]VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 103.

[56]Vos, Biblical Theology, 108.

[57]Ibid., 108.

[58]Christopher J. H. Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story, Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 60.

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