God is all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere at once, and yet God still decides to use the flawed human creation for his masterful plan. He didn’t have to or need to use humans, but wanted to use them. As the story continues we find God choosing a man who isn’t special or dignified in the land at the time; his name is Abram.

What does it say about God’s character that he choose to use humans?

Read Genesis 11:27-32

Abram, later Abraham, was probably not a nomadic wanderer, as some have reported, when God called him. He lived in the land of Ur, a city far from the Promised Land, when God called him to leave and go to a place he would show him later.

What was this place Abraham lived in before God called him? The city of Ur around 2000 B.C.  (established around 3800 B.C.)

  • 800 years before Abraham was born Ur had become one of the most prosperous of the city-states, controlling access to the sea via the Euphrates River, near which Ur was located.
  • Being the wealthiest city in Mesopotamia also made it a political power of the area.
  • In Ur were
    • many commercial buildings
    • two-story homes with up to 13 or 14 rooms, courtyards, fountains, fireplaces, plastered walls, and sanitary systems.
    • school buildings with clay books showing assignments in math, writing, reading, grammar, and history.
    • Temples which records show were supported by the tithes of the people and by the city’s great commerce.
    • One estimate says that Ur was the largest city in the known world with around 65,000 residents about the time that Abraham was born.

The city also shows obvious remnants of a huge flood, as do most areas of the world, go figure based on our last Bible study. However the flooding of Ur, according to archaeologists, was way beyond a typical rise in the nearby Euphrates.

It was a center of false religion marked by the 70 ft high ziggurat. The ziggurat was supposed to the tallest building, sitting on the uppermost part of the city. This was done so that at any point in time you could look to the place where the gods resided. Here is an artist’s rendition of what the early ziggurats looked like.

In short Abraham was:

  • Probably very familiar with urban living, political power of one’s country, and knew the wealth of having the national capital a center of world-wide trade traveling on the Euphrates.
  • Called by an unknown God
  • Obeyed that call from an unknown God
  • Left the known to travel to the unknown at the command of an unknown God.

What do you think his family thought when Abraham came to them with this plan to leave the city and go somewhere? Would this same plan work for your family today?

How difficult do you think the decision was to leave their home?Would you make the same decision?

Shortly after Abraham’s departure, along with his father, Terah, and the whole entire family, he settled in Harran, a sort of merchant outpost on a trade route to and from the Mediterranean.  There his father died and Abraham became the head of the family.

Through archeological record, we also learn at this time, the power and wealth of Ur began to diminish as it was attacked by its enemies seeking to take its empire and wealth. Ancient dating being what it is, it’s hard to tell if God was rescuing Abraham’s family from war, but with it being around the same time frame…I don’t believe in coincidences.

Read Genesis 12:1-6

God called Abraham to leave Harran and continue his journey. The entire family also went along with him as they traveled to Shechem.

Have you had to move from one place to another? What did it feel like to pick up and move? How hard was it to get used to a new place?

Let’s turn our discussion to Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Everyone has someone in their family that is the difficult one, always getting themselves into a mess. If you can’t think of the one in your family…it might be you. Just kidding!

Abraham and Lot traveled together for much of the journey. But, in Genesis 13 Abraham offered Lot the choice of where he would like to take his flocks because the combined herds could not be supported by the land on which they were living.

Though much is made of Lot’s unwilling escape from Sodom and some remember his rescue by Abraham’s men when taken captive, there is something more important to see in Lot. His decision to take the best, or what he thought was the best, when his uncle (the head of the family and primary ruler of the group) offered  him the choice shows that Lot was selfish and unconcerned with the hierarchy of the family.

Gracious and generous, as was his God, Abraham let it go without saying anything, knowing that God was his provider. Lot, on the other hand, seems to have thought that he had everything under control…all by himself.

God showed Abraham what faith he had been given by announcing that Sodom would be obliterated (a good translation of the word used). Upon hearing that this ungodly city would be destroyed, Abraham went through a pleading session with God to spare the city. God finally (as He planned) told Abraham that if there were only 10 righteous men in Sodom, it would be spared.

Lot was spared in the destruction of the city, but his wife “looked back” and was turned into a pillar of salt. Why? Probably not because she looked back physically, but because she could not help but yearn for the life that her husband had chosen for her. Lot’s next actions prove that he also had been badly influenced by the culture of Sodom and he lacked a real connection with God.

Lot failed to understand that we are to be in this world, but not of this world!

What happened to Lot as he assimilated himself in the land of Sodom? Do you think he longed for Sodom even though he knew it would be destroyed? Why did he have such a connection with a wicked place? Do you ever feel like you have been assimilated into our culture to the point that you would not want to leave it?

Genesis 15 Abraham has another conversation with God about having a name that means “father of many” while not having any children. People are starting to laugh… two of them are Abram and Sarai as they laugh at God.

This is when the whole issue of multiple “wives” enters the picture.

The promise of a son at such a great age was just plain impossible to fulfill, or that is what Abraham and Sarah decided. Though the Story proclaims that Abraham “did not waiver…regarding the promise of God”, he did.  That paragraph is taken from the New Testament.  We can try to let Abraham off the hook here, but the Bible doesn’t say that. Sarah (Sarai) offered her slave as Abraham’s concubine, and he agreed.

Much is made of Sarah’s laughter at the thought of motherhood; that her laughter was out of doubt, but Abraham’s out of joy. However, God’s words to Abraham indicate that he too laughed out of doubt

“…he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Gen 17

After all, Abraham wasn’t perfect–and God’s promise seemed pretty crazy.

The birth of Ishmael would have been “on the knees” of Sarah. In other words, legally the child would belong to Sarah. Abraham, of course, was the father. IF Abraham’s faith was not weakened; IF he had no doubt, then he would have not taken Hagar. Abraham had the same doubts as did Sarah.

The decision was a disaster, as were all multiple wives marriages in the Old Testament. Also, if you notice, God did not command any of them!  People often make the mistake of thinking that if it is in the Bible, then it was God-approved. Not so.  In the whole mess,  Abraham was consistent in one thing–he always ducked the decision-making.

There is a beautiful part to Hagar’s misery. When she runs away and decides to die with her son, Ishmael, God comes to her and makes her a huge promise concerning her offspring. God cares about the women in His family–all of them. Too many people today deny His fatherly love for women because they believe the Bible is full of male dominated language. They do not bother to learn about what God really believes about women.

Ishmael was the first-born of Abraham. Legally, he was also the son of Abraham’s wife. But, he would not inherit his father’s covenant with God, nor the usual double share of estate inheritance, because God’s chosen was Isaac. This makes sense because it had already been planned that way by God. Abraham and Sarah messed it up with their decision to hurry along the promise of God with the taking of Hagar and the birth of Ishmael. The “put-down” of Ishmael was not God’s fault, it was the fault of his father.

Many of God’s promises can seem pretty crazy to us. How have you struggled with a plan that you believed that God had for your life? Did you ignore it or pursue it? 

Even after the promise of a child comes to Abram and Sarai, they still have to wait for it to come true. Those times of waiting can often be trying on people.

Have you had to wait for a promise to come true? What did it feel like to wait? Were there times of doubt? Did you attempt to find another way out like Abram and Sarai? 

Finally they have a son and they call him Isaac. But, God is not done testing. He says to Abram, that he wants him to sacrifice his son.

Read Genesis 22:1-12

Perhaps Abraham needed some testing after his not-always-good decisions, (not only did he take Hagar, but TWICE he passed Sarah off as his sister to avoid possibly being killed by a ruler who could want her), or perhaps God asked him to sacrifice Isaac in order to prove to the old man that he was more faithful than he believed. It is often in testing that we discover what great faith God can give to us when needed.

There is also the faith of Isaac to be mentioned here. Isaac was probably about 14 at this time. His father was closer to 120. Could not Isaac have overpowered the old man and run like a deer? But, he did not. He remained obedient to his father even when what was about to happen became obvious.

But God is never going to ask you to do something that only he can do. God tells Abram to stop before he plunges the knife into Isaac. This is a foreshadowing of what God will do with his one and only son…the difference is, no one will stop him. It is a sacrifice that only God can make.

The nation building continues… Read Genesis 25:19-34

Isaac is grown and has some children of his own. Twin boys were growing in Rebekah’s womb (Isaac’s wife). Esau is the first-born and Jacob the second. The two resemble Cain and Abel in the jobs, but the story goes a little bit differently.

Rebekah has a favorite child, and its Jacob. she wants him to get the inheritance over her older child, Esau. So actually, Jacob wasn’t the “master manipulator” when it came to fooling his father into giving him the inheritance that the old man planned for Esau. That would be his mother.

There were two inheritances to be had by the sons in those days. One was financial. This was what Esau gave up for a bowl of soup. That incident shows us that Esau’s attention, or loyalty, was not to the family. Unfortunately, it also shows us that his brother, Jacob, was not above using his brother for gain instead of helping him get something to eat.  The second inheritance for the sons of God’s patriarchs was the promise of the covenant; the blessings from God passed on to the son. Again, and this will continue, the second son ends up receiving the blessing from his father and his God.  However, Jacob was about to learn a lesson concerning what it felt like to be used and abused.

Fleeing from his brother, Jacob met Laban–perhaps the sneakiest guy to come along in centuries.  Marrying Leah was not part of the original “deal”.  He thought that he married Rachel, but having had too much wine at the reception, Jacob didn’t realize that good ol’ Laban sneaked Rachel’s sister, Leah, into the wedding tent. The relationship was consummated and Jacob was forced to marry Leah. Then he had to work seven more years (a total of 14) to finally get Rachel.  Again the multi-wife setup was not only a disaster in the making, but again was not God-approved.

Battles between the wives ensued, even to the point of Rachel “renting” Jacob from her sister, Leah. When finally leaving Laban behind, Rachel stole her father’s household idols. She had been learning from her husband, I guess. But, Why? According to the notes in the Archaeological bible,

 “If the inheritance were disputed in court, possession of the family idols could be accepted as proof that the deceased had intended the possessor to be his heir.”  This is really telling—1. Laban, Rebecca’s brother, was a pagan, living by pagan society’s rules.  2. Rachel either wanted the idols for inheritance guarantee, or was she still attached to them?

It is interesting that Jacob was God’s choice. When approaching Esau for the first time in many, many years, Jacob was terrified, convinced that Esau would kill him.  He sent many gifts ahead to pacify Esau, and planned how to divide his men so that as many as possible could survive what he was sure would be Esau’s attack. All of this he did on his own, without God’s advice. He prayed like we do–we pray for deliverance and then go do things our own way.

Where was his faith? Where is ours?

Read Genesis 32:22-32

That very night God came to him and taught him what it meant to belong to the one and only true God. He wrestled with a character that Jacob believed was God. Some commentators say that he was actually wrestling the per-incarnate Christ.

Have you ever wrestled with God? What was the battle over? Did you escape victorious or was God the ultimate victor?

When Jacob finally sees Esau there is no animosity and Esau welcomes his brother home.

Why did Esau, hold no animosity toward Jacob? Did God change his mind?

The many faults of the great patriarchs we have studied so far show us something very important–it isn’t our goodness that makes God choose us. It isn’t that he believes that we are going to act perfectly every time. So why does he choose us?

Why He does choose us may be beyond our comprehension. I do know one thing for sure…it feels great to be chosen.

What one or two things stood out to you the most in this lesson? What will you do to incorporate it into your life?

Please feel free to comment and ask questions as we interact with God’s Word.

Be blessed and be a blessing today!