Lesson 3

Old Testament Survey
Lesson 3
The Patriarchs


Books of the Old Testament = 39
Break them up into sections = 5-12-5-5-12
First five books are the books of Moses written to the Israelites in the wilderness
First book is Genesis
Last time we looked at chapters 1-11:

The first three chapters dealt with two basic and crucial realities about people:
1) We are made in God’s image 2) We have fallen in rebellion & sin

God demonstrated that He was righteous (as in, not ignoring or condoning evil) by judging sin through the flood. However, because sin is so deeply written on the heart of men (Genesis 8:21-22), He would repair the damage another way–through the preservation of a righteous line of people who would continue to call on the name of the LORD (Genesis 4:26). We have traced that line all the way to the man Abraham at the end of chapter 11. It is with him that we pick up the story.

Abraham: A Central Figure

The term patriarch means either ‘great father’ or ‘first father’.
There are four basic patriarchs in Genesis. The first and most foundational of the patriarchs is Abraham. His story begins in a rather abrupt way, which is probably appropriate, since that seems to be how it happened to him:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Even though people were living a longer life on average in those days, it is clear from other passages that 75 is considered fairly old, certainly beyond childbearing years. You would expect people of this age to be getting comfortable, settling down. But at this time God commands Abram to leave all he has known and to go to an undisclosed location. This step of faith is the beginning for a man who will become known as the father of the faithful (Galatians 3:9), and Hebrews records this as his first great act of faith. It is clear even at this point that Abram was an important, wealthy sort of man, and he was risking what he had on what surely seemed like a fool’s journey to many.

Yet Abraham did not go without some awareness of what he was doing. He was going on the basis of three magnificent promises that God held out to him:

1)    Land (12:1)
2)    Nation (12:2)
3)    Blessing (12:3)

We need to park on these promises, because they form the foundation for the hope of Israel, and truly the hope of all Christians.

1) Land: God promised Abraham a land of his own. In Genesis 13:14-17 God identifies to Abram this land is the land of Canaan. In chapter 15:13-21, God explains that there will be a delay of over 400 years in receiving the land as his descendants will be slaves in Egypt. Moses is sent by God to bring people into this land (Exodus 3:7-10, 17), and is permitted to see the land before he dies (Deuteronomy 32:48-49). Joshua records this land as Israel inherits it in detail in Joshua 12-19, and sums up the whole account by saying in Joshua 21:43 that Joshua gave the people the land of their forefathers. Yet Hebrews hints that even this land was a foretaste, an earthly parable of the eternal land which God has prepared for all who believe in him (Hebrews 4:8-11, Hebrews 11:10 esp.)

2) Nation: As you will either remember or discover when you read Abraham’s life, this was the promise that gave him the most trouble. God promised to make a nation from Abram, but the second thing we learn about his wife, after her name, is that she is barren (Genesis 11:30) Abram was tempted to doubt this promise (Genesis 15:2-3), but God affirmed it repeatedly. Abram even went so far as to try to force God’s hand by having a child through his wife’s maidservant, Hagar, (Genesis 16) but God made clear he would accomplish this promise in His own way, one that would show clearly that it was from Him. It was surely a real step of faith for Sarai (Sarah) in Genesis 17:5 to obediently call her husband, who had as of then no children by her, Abraham—Father of Nations. Yet God fulfilled this promise to Abraham at one hundred years old, giving him Issac (Genesis 21:3). After all of this, God tests Abraham to see if this precious son has become an idol to him, and asks the most difficult thing a parent could be asked—to sacrifice their child. For Abraham it is doubly difficult, for in this child is bound up all the promises of God. God spares Issac, but paints a precious picture of His own love in Genesis 22. From Abraham comes Issac, from Issac comes Jacob, and Jacob will have twelve sons. Jacob’s name will be changed to Israel, and his twelve sons become the twelve tribes of Israel.
Yet we will see that, just as the promise of land had a greater fulfillment in Christ, so Jesus clarifies the promise of nation. John the Baptist warned the Jews of being overconfident in their Jewish heritage, saying that God could raise up children for Abraham from the very stones (Matt 3:9). Paul makes clear in Galatians 3:8-9 that the way one proves that they are a part of this special nation God is raising up is not through genealogy, but by having faith like that of Abraham..

3) Blessing: Clearly in the life of Abraham and his children, we see that God honors the promise to bless them (Genesis 24:1), and also to bless those who are with them (Genesis 30:27, 39:5), and even to curse those who curse them (Genesis 20:17-18). This promise of blessing is reaffirmed to the nation of Israel (Deuteronomy 2:7, 33:29), even as it is explained that they must walk in the LORD’s ways to experience the fullness of that blessing (Deuteronomy 28). Those who have the faith of Abraham will receive the blessing of Abraham.
Yet there is an even greater promise of blessing given to Abraham at the end of verse 3, a blessing which Israel often forgot, and had largely forgotten in the days of Jesus. The promise given to Abraham was that all the nations of the world would be blessed through Him. God had made a special relationship with Abraham, and through him would display His own goodness. God never intended for the blessing of Israel to end with Israel. As Israel was faithful, they would experience blessing, drawing the attention of the nations. As they were observed by surrounding nations, the nations would then see that Israel was special because of the God they served and the wise laws he had given them. The blessing of Israel would spill over its borders until the earth was filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). Yet Israel never attained to this fullness. You see glimmers with Solomon and the marveling of the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-13), but never like what was described.
So then, did the promise fail? Of course not! Though Israel falters, God will not. Through Abraham’s greatest son, Jesus, the promise of blessing has gone out to all the nations (Matthew 28:20, Romans 1:8, Galatians 3:8, Colossians 1:6, 1 John 2:2). We are presently doing the work of Matthew 24:14—This gospel will be preached to all the nations. At the fullness of time, God will declare this work complete, and all the nations of the earth and their kings will rejoice in the glory and blessing of life given by King Jesus (Revelation 21:24-26).

Issac, Jacob and Joseph

Through their collective stories, you see the development of the promises given to Abraham. First, by the continuation of the righteous line (again I use that term knowing that at times these men look anything but righteous). Secondly, the growth of the people through the great fruitfulness of Jacob—twelve sons! Thirdly, through the life of Joseph and the providence of God, the people of Israel are moved from Canaan to Egypt in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-21).

Take away points

1) The promise of God to Abraham is foundational to understanding the whole story of Israel, the Old Testament and the entire Bible.
2) The three promises God made to Abraham were to give him land, a nation and blessing.
3) God fulfills his promises, though in His timing and way. We should wait on Him!
4) Through God’s providence, Abraham’s little family (Israel) become residents of Egypt.


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