Verse 1: Why does this work use the name “Abraham” for the person in question when we know from Genesis that his name was as yet still “Abram”? What does it tell us that Abraham says “the residence of my fathers” (plural) rather than “the residence of my father” (singular)? Why did Abraham think he needed to “find another place of residence”? (Compare Genesis 12:1 as well as Abraham 1:5-12 and 2:1-4.) What do you make of the dispassionate, deliberate character of Abraham’s language in this verse and, in the later verses, of his account of the Chaldean attempt to sacrifice him? Is that an artefact of translation, perhaps, or does it show us something about Abraham?
Verse 2: What does Abraham mean by “the blessings of the fathers”? Verse 4 tells us that the phrase refers to the priesthood. Then why is it plural? If it does not refer to the priesthood in this verse, to what does it refer? What would it mean to have the right to administer the blessings of the fathers? Who were the fathers? Assuming that this verse is about the priesthood, how does possessing the High Priesthood make Abraham “one who possessed great knowledge”? Are having the priesthood and possessing great knowledge the same thing for Abraham? How would having this blessing that he desires make him “a greater follower of righteousness”? What do you make of this double repetition:
Having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge. (Italics added)
How would Abraham have thought that having great knowledge would be relevant to him becoming the father of many nations? Did he receive that blessing (Genesis 12:2) when he received the priesthood? Does he intend “follower of righteousness” to mean the same as “follower of God”? Are “father of many nations” and “prince of peace” intended to be two ways of saying the same thing? If so, how does that work? If not, why are they in parallel here? What about “desiring to receive instructions” and “desiring . . . to keep the commandments of God”? Do they mean the same? In the ancient Near East, gods were associated with a particular place: the gods of Assyria, the gods of Egypt, etc. How was Abraham’s understanding of God different? How as it important to his time? Is there anything comparable to the local gods in our own understanding?
Verse 3: What does this history of the priesthood that Abraham has received tell us? What do these verses tell us about the priesthood? Why is that important to our understanding? The first word in the verse, “it,” refers to “the right of the firstborn.” What does that tell us about the priesthood that Abraham is talking about? Why does Abraham qualify “the firstborn” with “the first man, who is Adam, or first father”? Is Adam the only firstborn that Abraham is talking about? Are all firstborn a figure of Adam?
Verse 4: The first part of the verse is straightforward: “I sought for mine appointment to the Priesthood.” But what does “Priesthood” mean when it is qualified by “according to the appointment of God”? Or does that phrase modify instead “I sought for”? What does it mean to say that the appointment of God was “unto the fathers concerning the seed”? Does that phrase help us know how we should understand the word “appointment”?
Verse 19 (my addition to the reading for this lesson): What does the Lord mean when he tells Abraham “As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee”? Why is the next sentence in the verse written as a contrast with the first: “As with Noah so with thee, but thy ministry will be known through the earth”?
Verses 1-2: Does the account here agree with Genesis 11:31-32? If so, how? If not, how do you explain that difference? Do we understand things differently in each case?
Verses 3-5: Some have noticed that the order in which the Lord tells Abraham to leave is slightly odd: first country, then kindred, then father’s house. That is the opposite of the actual order in which a person would leave: first he would leave his father’s house, then he would leave his larger family, then he would leave his country. Do you think that reversal of what we might expect the order to have been is significant? Why do you think Abraham felt it necessary to include the kinds of details we see in these verses in his record? What have they to do with us?
Verse 6: How do you think we should understand the word “minister” here? What does it mean to give something as “an everlasting possession” to someone “when they hearken to my voice”? Doesn’t that qualifying phrase mean that the possession isn’t eternal, that I can be lost?
Verses 7-8: In verse 7 are the particular actions named by the Lord important? If so, for what reasons? Why is it important that Abraham know that the Lord knows the end from the beginning (verse 8)? Are the end and beginning of which he speaks temporal or spatial? Why does the Lord use that wording, “the end from the beginning”? How does the word “from” function in this sentence? For example, does it indicate a difference, like knowing chocolate from vanilla ice cream? Does it entail temporality: the Lord knows how things will end from the very beginning? What other ways of understanding “from” are there? What does the imagery of “my hand shall be over thee” suggest?
Verse 9: How will the Lord make Abraham into a great nation? Why is that a great blessing? The Lord says, “thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations.” Does this mean “You will be a blessing to your seed so that they can take the ministry and priesthood to everyone,” or does it mean “you will be a blessing to your seed in that they will take the ministry and priesthood to everyone”? In other words, explain how Abraham is a blessing to his posterity and what that has to do with them preaching the Gospel.
Verses 10-11: What does it mean to say that the Lord will bless Abraham through Abraham’s name? Who are Abraham’s children? Who will bless Abraham? In what sense is Abraham our father? How and when do we recognize that? Why does verse 11 say that both Abraham and his seed are his priesthood? What is Abraham’s priesthood? Do John 8:39 or Romans 9:7-8 add to our understanding of this promise?
It is often assumed that the word “Hebrew” comes from the root ivri meaning “someone from the other side.” The most straightforward way to understand that name is that it designates someone who comes from Mesopotamia, on the other side of the river. However, are there other ways to understand that Abraham and those who descend from him are from “the other side”?
Gordon Wenham says this about the stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. (Warning: what follows is a long quotation.)
Genealogically, the narratives are connected by Abraham’s being father of Isaac, Jacob’s being Isaac’s son, and Joseph’s being Isaac’s grandson. But there are many parallels between the plots of each group of stories, and these tend to highlight the similarities between the careers of the leading patriarchs and, more loosely, with the subsequent history of Israel, for example:
1. All these heroes leave their home-land (12:1; 28:2; 37:28)
2. All quarrel with their brothers (13:7; 27:41: 37:4)
3. Three go down to Egypt, one to Gerar, i.e., toward Egypt (12:10; 26:1; 37:28; 46:6)
4. Two patriarchal wives are seduced or nearly so; an Egyptian wife attempts to seduce Joseph (12:14–16; 20:1–14; 26:1; 39:6–18)
5. Their wives are barren and quarrel (in Abraham’s and Jacob’s cases) (16:1–6; 29:31–30:8)
6. The younger sons are divinely favored (also Joseph’s sons) (17:18–19; 25:23; 48:14; 49:8–12, 22–26)
7. Brides met at well (24:15; 29:9)
8. Promises of children, land, divine blessing (e.g., 12:1–3, 26:2–5; 28:13–14)
9. Gentiles acknowledge God’s blessing on the patriarchs (21:21–22; 26:28–29: 41:39–40)
10. Buried in cave of Machpelah (23:1–20; 25:9; 35:27–29; 49:29–32)
These parallels between the patriarchs seem to be rather more than coincidence. Obviously, in a family where traditions run strong, it is not surprising that everyone is buried in the same ancestral grave. But the stories do seem to lay special emphasis on this point, and a whole chapter of the Abraham cycle is devoted to recording the purchase of the family tomb. Other features, though, like the seduction of the patriarchs’ wives and Joseph’s experience, meeting one’s bride at a well, or the acknowledgment of divine blessing by foreigners, can hardly be put down to family tradition. These parallels are being consciously drawn and even accentuated so that the analogy with the experiences of different generations can be observed. Therefore the stories should not be interpreted in isolation. They were written to shed mutual light on each other, and if we are to recapture and appreciate the original writer’s motives and intentions, each cycle of stories must be read in the light of the others and each episode ought to be compared with other similar episodes. The slight differences from one version to another help to enhance the portrait of the actors. For example, while Jacob and, later, Moses both personally encounter their future brides at the well and then negotiate terms of marriage with their fathers-in-law, Isaac stays at home. Abraham’s servant meets Rebekah, negotiates with Laban, and brings her to Isaac. This suggests that Isaac is a rather retiring, unforceful person, an impression that is confirmed later in his dealings with the Philistines and in his manipulation by Rebekah and Jacob.
If these parallels among the narratives give them depth and interest, they also illustrate the theological principle of typology. There is already in the parallels between Cain’s and Adam’s sin in Gen 3 and 4 a rudimentary typology. We see men acting in similar fashion in similar situations. But typology is not merely a result of human nature’s unchanging weaknesses; it also reflects the constancy of God’s character. God always punishes sin and always keeps his promises, so it is not surprising that the accounts of his dealings with one generation resemble in some degree those of the next. And man’s propensity to disobedience only makes it more likely that history will repeat itself to some extent.
Yet we must not exaggerate the similarities among the cycle: there is a real development from one story to the next in the tightness of the plot, the depth of characterization, and in theological sophistication. The differences between the primeval history and the patriarchal stories are most marked. (Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary : Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary [Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002]. 256–258.
Verses 2-3: What does it mean to say that Abram will not only be blessed, but will “be a blessing” to others? Why is that part of the covenant? Do those who inherit Abram’s blessing inherit that obligation to be a blessing? What does that mean to us? Is verse 3 a repetition of the meaning of verse 2, or does it say something new? If it is a repetition of verse 2, why does the Lord bother with that repetition? Notice that the revelation of verse placed Abram outside, putting a barrier between him and all those to whom he had been related. (Is this another repetition of the “expulsion from the Garden” theme? If so, why does scripture repeat that theme?) In these verses, however, Abram becomes universal, a blessing to all. The movement is from particularism in verse 1 to universalism in verse 3. What do you make of that? What does it mean to us? Does it perhaps help us understand our individual relation to the Church or the world, the relation of the Church to the world, . . . ?
Verses 4-5: What does “all their substance that they had gathered” (verse 5) imply? What does “all . . . the souls that they had gotten in Haran” imply? In this verse, the wording suggest that Lot and his family are part of Abram’s family: “Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son.” However, the wording of Genesis 13:1 suggests a difference: “Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him.” If something has changed, what is it?
Verses 6-8: If you can, locate on a map where Abraham settled. What is the significance of Abram building an altar? Is there anything comparable in our lives? If so, what? If not, why not? Where are our altars to the Lord that express our gratitude for his blessings to us and from which we make our petitions to him?
Verse 1: The Lord calls himself El-Shaddai, the Almighty God. Later he tells Moses that this was the name by which he was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but he was not known to them as the Lord, Yahweh (Exodus 6:3). Why do you think he used the name “Almighty God” in his relations with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but later used the name Yahweh, “the Lord”? When the Lord commands Abram to be perfect, what is he commanding him to do?
The Hebrew word translated “perfect” is the same word we saw used to describe Noah (Moses 8:27; Genesis 6:9): tamim, meaning “complete” or “whole.” How is this like or unlike the commandment that the Savior gave in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48—the Greek word there is teleios, “having attained its purpose or end”)?
How is what the Lord commands here like or unlike the commandment with which the Lord begins the Mosaic law (Leviticus 19:2)? Do these scriptures help us understand what the Lord is commanding when he commands us to be perfect? What kinds of misunderstandings might we have of that commandment? Do the scriptures undo those misunderstandings?
Verse 2: What is a covenant? We often compare it to a contract, but how does it differ from a contract? In the ancient Near East, society was created and maintained by covenants rather than by laws. (There were laws, such as Hammurabi’s Code, in some societies, but those societies were the exception rather than the rule.) Looking at those ancient covenants between peoples and nations can help us understand better what a covenant was in that world and it may help us better understand what a covenant is for us. In those ancient covenants we see several things:
(1) They usually occur in response to some important historical event, such as a battle.
(2) The parties making the covenant are not usually equals.
(3) In some sense, the covenant creates an exclusive relationship.
(4) They involve appeals to God.
(5) They describe the norms for expected future behavior.
(6) A ritual act of some kind, often a sacrifice or the eating of a sacrificed animal, is part of ratifying the covenant.
How does the covenant that the Lord makes here with Abraham fit that model? We see the Lord covenant with Abraham at least three times, in Genesis 12 (Abraham 1), Genesis 15, and here. Are these three different covenants or a repetition of the same covenant?
Verse 3: Why did Abraham fall on his face? What does that act imply?
Verses 4-9: Why might the Lord have changed Abram’s name to Abraham? (Verse 5) “Abram” means “exalted or lofty father.” Given Hebrew naming conventions, most scholars believe that means “the Father is exalted” rather than “Abram is an exalted father.” The name “Abraham” means “father of many.” In your own words, what does verse 7 promise Abraham? What does the promise of verse 8 mean today?
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