The Patriarchal Period  -  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,

as recorded in the remainder of Genesis

Abraham

God now decides to raise His own people and chooses Abram (later to be named Abraham) to be the father of this new nation. Directed by God, Abram takes his wife Sarai (later to be named Sarah), his nephew Lot and all they possess and move to Canaan.

Whilst there, a great famine forces them to travel to Egypt where Abram, in fear of his life, pretends Sarai is his sister (she is in fact his half-sister). His fears seem justified when Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s house. Because of Sarai, Abram receives many gifts of livestock and servants, which he is permitted to keep even when the deceit has been revealed by divine intervention. He is then able to safely return to Canaan.

In time, grazing becomes insufficient for both Abram’s and Lot’s herds. Given the choice by Abram, Lot chooses to move to the area of Sodom.

There had been a history of conflict between kings in the plains that eventually leads to a war in which Sodom and Gomorrah are defeated, and the people and their goods, including Lot and his family, are taken captive and carried off to Dan. When Abram comes to hear of this, he takes 318 of his own armed and trained men and rescues all those taken and their possessions. On his return, Abram is met by Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the God most high, who brings bread and wine, blesses Abram and receives a tithe from him.

God makes an unconditional covenant with Abram by putting him into a deep sleep while the covenant ritual is performed by God alone. This covenant promises Abram’s seed will inherit the land of Canaan from the Sichor [the river of Egypt] to the Euphrates.

Sarai, lacking faith in the promised seed in herself, gives her Egyptian handmaiden Hagar to Abram for a concubine. Hagar conceives and has a son who she names Ishmael.

Four years later, God confirms His covenant with Abram, introduces circumcision as the sign of the covenant and changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah.

Soon after, when Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be punished for their wickedness, the Lord and two angels visit Abraham and Sarah. During this visit, the promise of a child by Sarah is renewed. When the two angels leave for Sodom, Abraham barters with the Lord concerning it’s fate, eventually getting agreement that Sodom and Gomorrah would not be destroyed for their sin, even if only ten righteous men are found there.

The two angels arrive at Sodom, are met by Lot and accept his hospitality. They then have to thwart a demand by men and boys from all parts of the city for them to be handed over for their sexual gratification by striking them with blindness. The next morning, with Lot’s sons-in-law having ignored warnings of Sodom’s fate, Lot, his wife and two daughters are compelled to leave the city and head for Zoar. Despite being warned not to do so, Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and becomes a pillar of salt. Fearing to stay in Zoar, Lot goes to live on a nearby mountain in a cave. Later, he is made drunk by his two daughters who then commit incest with him and bear sons, Moab and Benammi. These two sons become the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites, who in time will become adversaries of the Israelites.

Abraham journeys south to Gerar where he again says that Sarah is his sister. Abimelech, king of Gerar, takes Sarah into his house, but having been warned by God in a dream not to touch her, rebukes Abraham, presents him with much silver, livestock and servants, and returns Sarah to him.

Isaac

Abraham is a hundred years old when Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac.

When Isaac is a young man, Abraham’s faith is tested with a command from God to offer him as a sacrifice at Moriah. Abraham readily obeys, fully trusting in God who had promised him a son. However, Isaac’s death is prevented at the last moment. Abraham is told that through his seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed because of his obedience.

Sarah dies soon after, age 127. She is buried in a cave in land purchased by Abraham at Mamre (that is, Hebron).

Abraham sends his chief servant to his relations in Haran to find a wife for Isaac. By divine intervention he finds Rebekah, Abraham’s brother Nahor’s granddaughter. With her family’s approval he returns with her and presents her to Isaac. Isaac accepts Rebekah and she becomes his wife.

Abraham dies at the age of 165 and is buried with Sarah in the cave at Mamre.

Jacob

Rebekah gives birth to twins, Esau, the eldest, and Jacob.  Esau grows to be a hunter and is favoured by Abraham, whereas Jacob is a plain man and is favoured by Rebekah.

Esau has no regard for his birthright, and when he is particularly hungry, rashly sells it to Jacob for some broth.

The Abrahamic covenant is now renewed with Isaac. God then instructs him to sojourn in Gerar while there is a famine in the land. Like his father before him, Isaac lies about Rebekah, pretending she is his sister. After some time, the deceit concerning Rebekah is realised, but Isaac and Rebekah are protected by Abimelech and Isaac grows in prosperity.

Following disputes concerning wells, Isaac eventually moves and settles at Beersheba.

As he approaches his final days, Isaac calls Esau to give him the blessing due to the firstborn. Instigated by his mother, and with her help, Jacob fraudulently obtains his father’s blessing. To avoid Esau’s anger, also encouraged by Isaac for the purpose of finding a wife, Jacob leaves for his uncle Laban’s. On the way he rests for the night and has a vision of a ladder between earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. The Lord stood above the ladder and promised Jacob he and his seed would inherit this land, and through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed, the same promise made to Abraham and Isaac.

Nearing his uncle Laban’s, Jacob meets Rachel and falls in love with her, but has to work seven years for her hand in marriage. On the wedding night, following much celebration, Jacob is tricked into sleeping with Rachel’s older sister Leah. As a consequence, he has to accept her as his wife. It cost another seven years of service before he is able to marry Rachel.

Through divine intervention, Rachel is unable to conceive and Jacob’s first eleven children - ten boys and a daughter - are conceived by Leah, her handmaiden and Rachel's handmaiden. Finally, Rachel is able to conceive and gives birth to Joseph.

Jacob now wants to leave Laban, but is persuaded to stay longer. During the next six years he becomes rich in cattle. Deciding it is now time to leave, Jacob takes the opportunity whilst Laban is away sheep shearing. When Laban returns he pursues Jacob, but when he catches up with him there is reconciliation, and Laban returns home peacefully.

One night, Jacob wrestles with God through the night, then in the morning God renames him Israel.

Later in their journey, Jacob learns Esau is some way off with 400 men. He contrives a way to win Esau over by sending gifts of livestock ahead, then arranging his company to meet Esau a part at a time for safety. However, there was no need, as his meeting with Esau is as brothers reuniting and all is well. After the reunion, Jacob is able to continue on his way in peace.

Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter, is raped by Shechem, a Hivite. Following an attempt at appeasement by Shechem and his father, Simeon and Levi deceive the Hivites by imposing a condition that they all are to be circumcised. On the third day, whilst they are still sore, they slaughter all the men and take their families and possessions. Now in danger from surrounding tribes, God tells Jacob to move to Bethel.

Soon after, Rachel dies whilst giving birth to Benjamin, Jacob’s twelfth son. After burying Rachel, Jacob settles near Edah, close to Bethlehem. It is while they are there that Reuben has intercourse with Billhah, one of his father’s concubines.

Isaac dies aged 180, and is buried by his sons Jacob and Esau.

Joseph

Joseph, now seventeen years old, is hated by his brothers as his father’s favourite and for his dreams. His brothers sell him to some passing Ishmaelites, who sell him to Potipher, an officer of Pharaoh, letting his father believe he has been killed by wild animals.

Joseph’s half-brother Judah fails to honour a commitment to his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, to give her one of his sons to raise a child in his brother’s name. When Judah’s wife had died, and he is away sheep-shearing, Tamar disguises herself as a harlot and sells herself to Judah. She conceives and bears Judah twins, Pheraz and Zarah.

Joseph, blessed by God in all he does, is promoted to be in charge of all Potipher’s affairs. After some time, Potipher’s wife falsely accuses Joseph of trying to seduce her and he is thrown in prison.  

Having previously interpreted dreams of a baker and butler while in prison, Joseph is remembered by the butler and released to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. This he does by not only foretelling seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, but advises how the situation should be managed. As a consequence of this wisdom, he is made ruler of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Joseph is given Asenath, the daughter of a priest as his wife, and is to have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, before the famine comes.

As foretold by Joseph, after seven years of plenty a severe famine hits Egypt and the lands around. Jacob’s sons have to go twice to Egypt to buy corn, each time tried by Joseph, but do not recognise him. On the second occasion, Joseph reveals himself to them and an emotional reunion follows. All Jacob’s family are now able to go to Egypt and live freely in the land of Goshen, nourished by Joseph.

After blessing Joseph’s sons and his own, Jacob dies and is carried with great pomp and ceremony to be buried in Canaan with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah.

After having given orders concerning his own burial, Joseph dies aged 110.