Bible Overview
Exodus and Conquest The Patriarchs The Beginnings Israel’s Exile A Divided Kingdom The Monarchy The Early Church The Story of Jesus The ‘Silent’ Years Judges and Ruth Israel’s Return Revelation

The Patriarchal Period  -  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,

as recorded in the remainder of Genesis


God now decides to raise His own people and chooses Abram (later to be named Abraham) to be the father of this new nation. God promised that he and this new nation will be great and blessed, and through him all the families of the earth will be blessed. Abram’s father, Terah, takes Abram, Sarai and Lot, a nephew of Abram, and moves north from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran in Padanaram. A few years after settling in Haran, and following Terah’s death, God selects Abram (later to be named Abraham) to be the father of His chosen nation. After giving him a promise that he and this new nation will be great and blessed, and that through him all the families of the earth will be blessed, God directs Abram to take his wife Sarai (later to be named Sarah), his nephew Lot and all they possess to move to Canaan, a land that God then promises to Abram’s descendants. 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. God then repeats His promise to Abram concerning the land, this time adding that possession of it will be forever. Abram then moves to Mamre (Hebron) where he builds an altar to God. 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, with the people and their goods, including Lot and his family, being 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 most high God , who brings bread and wine, blesses Abram and receives a tithe from him. In a vision, Abram expresses his concern to God that he has no heir through which His promises could be fulfilled. God then reassures Abram and enters 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, stating it will be an everlasting covenant, and introduces circumcision as the sign of the covenant. At this time God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. With Abraham still having concerns about he and Sarah parenting a child in their old age, God promises that Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. 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 where they 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.


Abraham is a hundred years old when Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac. After Isaac is weaned, Ishmael begins to mock him. Sarah protests to Abraham, wanting Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, saying that she does not want Ishmael to be heir with Isaac. Abraham is deeply worried about this, but God gives His approval, assuring Abraham that Ishmael would survive to be the father of a great nation. The next morning, Abraham gives provisions to Hagar and Ishmael and sends them into the desert where, through God’s intervention, they are later rescued from dying of thirst. Ishmael grows to become an archer and lives in the wilderness of Paran where he marries an Egyptian woman. 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. At the last moment, the angel of the Lord prevents Abraham from going through with the sacrifice . Abraham is told by the Angel of the Lord that the Lord has sworn, saying that i n thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. [Which must include all non-Jews] . 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, and her agreement, he returns with her and presents her to Isaac. Isaac accepts Rebekah and she becomes his wife. Abraham marries Keturah and has four more sons by her. These sons are sent away with gifts rather than share in Isaac’s inheritance. Abraham dies at the age of 165 and is buried with Sarah in the cave at Mamre.


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, demonstrated one day, when he is particularly hungry, by rashly selling it to Jacob for red pottage . The Abrahamic covenant is now renewed with Isaac, then God 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 it. The Lord stood above the ladder and promised Jacob he and his seed would inherit the land on which he is resting, and through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed, the same promises made to Abraham and Isaac. Nearing his uncle Laban’s, Jacob meets Rachel and falls in love with her, but has no dowry and 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, and Leah and Rachel's handmaidens. Finally, Rachel is able to conceive and gives birth to Joseph. Jacob now wants to leave Laban, but is persuaded to stay longer. After six years, Jacob has become rich in livestock and decides it is now time to leave, To avoid confrontation, he seizes on the opportunity to leave whilst Laban is away sheep shearing. Unbeknown to Jacob, Rachel has stolen some of her father’s images. When Laban returns he pursues Jacob, but when he catches up with him, the potential problem concerning the stolen images is avoided, 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 are all 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, where he is again told by God his name is now Israel. God then repeats His promise of the land being given to Jacob and his seed after him. 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, now seventeen years old, is hated by his brothers because he is his father’s favourite and for his dreams, which implied that his brothers and parents will bow down to him. One day, when the brothers are out feeding their father's flocks, they conspire against Joseph, strip him of his coat and throw him into a pit. They then 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 story is interrupted here by a sordid tale concerning his half brother Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar. 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. (King David is to be descended from Pheraz.) Joseph, blessed by God in all he does, serves Potipher well and 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 into prison. Even in prison, God blesses Joseph in all he does and the prison keeper puts him in charge of all the prisoners, two of whom, a baker and a butler, have dreams that Joseph interprets. The butler is later released. Two years later Pharaoh has two dreams. The first is about seven fat and lean cattle and the second seven fat and thin ears of corn, but no one is able to interpret them. Joseph is remembered by the butler and released to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which he does. He not only foretells seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, but then 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 questioned by Joseph, but they do not recognise him. On the second occasion, Joseph reveals himself to them and an emotional reunion follows. Pharaoh hears of this reunion and tells the brothers they are to bring their father and families to Egypt, and that he will provide wagons and food for the journey. All Jacob’s family are now able to go to Egypt and live freely in the land of Goshen, nourished by Joseph. When Jacob is approaching death, Joseph takes his sons to him to be blessed. Jacob tells Joseph that God had said to him Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. He also tells him he will adopt his sons as his own, equal to Reuben and Simeon. Jacob’s sight has become so poor that Joseph has to position his sons with the eldest in front of Jacob’s right hand to receive the firstborn’s blessing, but Jacob crosses his hands and it is Ephraim who receives this blessing. Joseph objects but Jacob’s action is deliberate. Jacob then gathers his sons together to bless them before he dies. After blessing each in turn, he gives instructions that he should be buried in Canaan with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah. Joseph later dies aged 110, and is carried with great pomp and ceremony to his burial place.