Genesis 1-11, less than a quarter of the book, quickly covers over 2 millenniums of history, thousands of years. But then when you get to Abraham in Genesis 12 the coverage of history slows dramatically. From there to the end of the book, over 3 quarters of the book, it only covers about 2 centuries, just a couple hundred years. And you’ve probably noticed how the book zooms in from looking at the whole world and all its people in the first 11 chapters to now mainly one family, and just 4 generations of that one family from Genesis 12 to the end of the book.
I don’t know all of God’s reasons, but God chose, out of all the people in the world, this man Abraham, then his son Isaac, and then his grandson Jacob to form a unique relationship with them. He formed a covenant with them and revealed much about Himself and His plans to all the rest of mankind for the rest of time; all through His dealings with these 3 men. Later in the Scriptures, God is often identified as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” because His dealings with these 3 men reveal a great deal about who He is.
What are some of the big things God wanted to communicate about Himself through His interaction with these patriarchs? Well, we’re going to notice 4 qualities about God that I think are emphasized in this portion of Scripture.
Number one, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob very simply is the…
Does this world seem chaotic to you, as it does to me? I think this when I watch the news and I see the things that are happening over in the Middle East and with the refugee crisis, all the war and suffering and chaos, and you never know who’s going to do something crazy and plunge us into World War III or a nuclear war. And I think of Kim Jong Un, the baby face guy over there in North Korea, with his huge army, he seems a little unstable and who knows what he might do. And China and Russia in our computer systems… But if there’s one thing I see about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis, it’s that He’s got this. He is over all this. All these rulers and armies and nations are in His control. In Hebrew, He’s referred to (several times in the Genesis account) as El Shaddai; God Almighty, which also makes Him El Elyon, God Most High. Whatever powers or rulers or even supernatural beings there are, He is the highest. He is on the throne of the universe and He is in control.
Think of how God explained in detail to Abraham what He would do with his descendants. He told him, “I will bless your son Ishmael. He will become a great nation, the father of 12 princes. And he’ll live to the east of his brothers. And your descendants, through your son Isaac, I will multiply like the sand on the seashore and the stars of the heavens. And they will possess this land of Canaan. But first they’re going to spend 400 years in slavery in a land that’s not theirs. And then I’ll deal justly with that nation that oppressed them. And by that time the iniquity of the Amorite people who live in this land will be complete and it will be time for their judgment. And I will bring your descendants here and they will take possession of this land”. God told Isaac’s wife Rebekah when she was pregnant with twins, “You’ve got 2 nations in your womb, the nation of the second born will be stronger. The nation of the first born will serve the other”. God was claiming, “Nations are mine. I determine (as Paul words it) their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation. It’s not armies or presidents or kings or anything else. I determine who rises and who falls”.
Abraham believed this: in Genesis 14 when 4 kings and their armies came from the far East destroying one city after another as they came. They came to battle against 5 kings of cities near the land of Canaan, 2 of them being the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. The 4 kings from the east defeated the 5 kings and plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and took the people captive including Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who was living in Sodom. One who escaped from the battle came to Abraham and reported what had happen. Abraham had gathered 318 of his servants and 3 of his friends. Not much of a force to take on 4 armies that have conquered much of his side of the world. But Abraham believed those kings and armies were in the hands of his God and he said, “Lord, I won’t take any of the spoil, not even the thong of a sandal if you’ll just let me rescue my nephew and the people”. Abraham and his little army pursued the 4 armies for about 150 miles. Then he divided his forces against their camp at night and sent those armies running. Abraham came back with all the goods and his nephew and all the captives. And as he was returning, it says the king of Salem (which would later become Jeru-salem), a man named Melchizedek (who interestingly was also a priest of Abraham’s God), came out to meet Abraham. And Melchizedek knew who really won the battle. He blessed Abraham saying, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand”.
Abraham was never surer about this than when he talked with God about what His plans were with Sodom and Gomorrah; God said if He could find 10 righteous people in the Sodom He would not destroy it. Abraham arose early in the morning after that conversation and went up a hill and looked over toward Sodom and Gomorrah and the whole area was engulfed in smoke like a furnace. He rules the nations.
But not just big things like nations, even the wombs of mommies. He’s opening and closing wombs all through the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He’s gives and takes away all things. He gives to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob flocks and herds, silver and gold, servants and maids, camels and donkeys. He rules even over the coloring of sheep and goats. When Jacob was being paid in sheep and goats for taking care of his uncle Laban’s flocks, Laban said, “Jake, your wages are the speckled colored sheep and goats that are born”. God would have the flocks bear speckled colored babies. And if Laban said “No, your wages are the striped ones,” then God would have the flocks bear striped ones. And if he said, “No, you get the white ones,” then they’d bear white ones.
When Abraham was 99 years old, Paul says in Romans 4 that he considered his own body as good as dead. His wife Sarah was 90 and Paul says her womb was dead. She’d gone through menopause so long ago she couldn’t even remember. And yet God came to Abraham at that time and said, “You’re going to have a baby with Sarah”. And at first, Abraham fell down on the ground laughing. Maybe he thought God was kidding him. But then God said, “And you’re going to name the little boy, Yitschaq (Isaac)”, which means “he laughs”. And then later, when Sarah heard a visitor outside the tent tell Abraham, “I will return to you this time next year and your wife Sarah will have a son”, she laughed to herself as well. And the visitor asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”. It was a rhetorical question. And sure enough God used his ‘as good as dead’ body and the deadness of Sarah’s womb and enabled them to have that son He promised.
He is God Almighty and Most High. The nations are like clay in His hands and so are the circumstances of our individual lives.
But then another thing that’s clear about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is that He is a…
God who hears and sees
In Genesis 16, Sarah was getting old and wasn’t having any children, and she had an Egyptian maid named Hagar, and she said, “Abraham, I want you to take my maid as a wife and get her pregnant so that I can have children through her”. And Abraham said, “Well, I guess I could make that sacrifice for you honey”. And when Hagar became pregnant, she started to think of herself as better than Sarah, so Sarah started to treat her harshly, and so Hagar decided to run away back to her homeland, to Egypt. She was traveling through the wilderness in the middle of nowhere and sat down by a spring of water thinking she was all alone. But there, the angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “Hagar, maid of Sarah, where are you going?… Go back and submit to Sarah. I am going to bless you. I’m going to greatly multiply your descendants beyond counting. You’re going to have a boy and you’re going to name him Yishmael’ (which means God hears), because the Lord has heard all your affliction”. In other words, “I’ve heard how harsh Sarah is with you. I’ve heard you crying in your bedroom. I’ve heard it all”. And then Hagar said, “And you are El-roi” which means God who sees. He is a God who hears and a God who sees even when you don’t think anybody hears you or anybody sees you.
In Genesis 21, Hagar was reminded of this again. There was conflict between her and Sarah again when Ishamael was mocking Isaac, and Sarah wanted Abraham to send Hagar and her son away, and Abraham was distressed about it, but God told Abraham that in this instance it’s alright to send them away. So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael off, and they were traveling through the wilderness when they ran out of water and became very weak. She laid Ishmael in the shade of some bushes and then went about a bowshot away so that she wouldn’t have to see him die. He was crying and moaning, she was balling. And the text says “God heard” and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Didn’t I say I will make Ishmael a great nation? And I’ve heard him crying. Now, look over there, there’s a spring of water. Go get him a drink”.
The angel of God came to Jacob in a dream one night when he was working for his rotten uncle Laban, and He said, “Jacob, you’ve noticed how the sheep and goats generally always bear the right colored babies so that they belong to you and not your uncle. That’s because I’ve seen how your uncle has been treating you and I’m taking from him and giving to you”. He’s a God who sees when you think nobody sees. He sees when your boss at work is unreasonable to you. He sees when your spouse is ugly to you at home. He sees when you’re by yourself taking care of kids every day and exhausted. He sees your struggles. He sees when you’re trying to do right in your life and when you’re not. He sees the good you do that no one else sees and He sees the bad that no one else sees.
Most definitely He’s a God who hears prayers. He heard Abraham praying for healing for king Abimelech and his family. And He heard Isaac praying that his wife might have a baby. And He heard Jacob praying for protection from Esau.
And I love the story in Genesis 24 of when Abraham sent his most trusted servant to the land of his birth, to Mesopotamia to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant loaded up 10 camels with a variety of good things for the bride to be and her family and he set out several hundred miles to Mesopotamia. He got there and came to a well of water just outside the city of Nahor. He had the camels kneel down there by the well. It was toward evening, the time when the women of the city would come out to draw water for their households. They didn’t have newspapers at the time, so a classified ad for a wife wouldn’t work. And they didn’t have computers, so online dating services weren’t an option either. So the servant did this. He prayed to God Almighty who’s in control and who hears. He said, “O God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today. Please show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by this well and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’ — may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac”. And before he’d finished his prayer, here came beautiful young Rebekah with her jar on her shoulder to draw water. She drew her water and then Abraham’s servant came up to her and asked her for a drink and she said, “Drink, my lord,” and lowered her jar and gave him a drink and then said “I will water your camels too” and she went and filled the troughs for his 10 camels. So not only did God hear his prayer, but God heard his prayer long before he even prayed it, because God had already arranged the answer; He had Rebekah on her way to the well even while he was praying. What a holy, awesome, beyond what we can comprehend God, this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who hears even before we speak.
Thirdly, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob most definitely is a…
God of grace and mercy
God is willing to bless and be a personal friend of undeserving people.
All 3 of these patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, engaged in deception and lying. Abraham and Isaac lied about their wives when they were afraid that somebody might want their wives and be willing to kill to get them. So they’d say, “She’s my sister”. (Which in Abraham’s case was half true, but still deceptive). And they almost brought ruin on a couple of kings because of those lies.
Jacob was the worst of the 3. I think God had a hand in the way Jacob came out of the womb so that he would receive a name that would fit him when he got older. He was a twin. His brother came out first with a full body of hair, reddish hair. So they named him “hairy”, which in Hebrew is Esau. And then Jacob came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, and so they named him Yaacob, Jacob, which meant “heel grabber”. But the term Yaacob also had a metaphorical meaning of a supplanter, one who takes over the place of another, like somebody who comes up behind you and grabs you by the heel and pulls you out of his way. So heel grabber or supplanter is what Jacob means. And he lived up to that name. He sort of pulled his brother out of his way and took what belonged to his brother. You remember the occasion when his brother Esau came in from an unsuccessful hunting trip, starving, and Jacob took advantage of his hunger and got him to trade his birthright, a double share of the inheritance, for just a measly bowl of soup. Then there was that time when his dad Isaac was old and blind and he called Esau and told him, “Get your gear and go hunt for me and bring back some game and fix up a savory dish for me just how I like it, and then I’ll bless you in the presence of the LORD”. And then while his brother was out, Jacob brought in a savory dish to his old, blind dad and deceived him into thinking that he was his brother and he took Esau’s blessing.
It appears Jacob didn’t have much of a relationship with God, at least for a while. When he was headed up to uncle Laban’s to get away from Esau, who wanted to kill him, and laid down to sleep one night with a rock as his pillow, he had a dream of a latter connecting heaven and earth, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it, and the Lord stood at the top of it, and then the Lord said to Jacob, “I’m going to multiple your descendants like the dust of the earth and I’m going to give to them this land of Canaan. And I’m going to be with you on this journey and take care of you and one day bring you back to this land”. And he woke up and said, “Wow! God is in this place”. And he marked the spot with the rock he’d used as a pillow. He set it up as pillar. And then listen to the vow Jacob made on that occasion. He said, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s houses in safety, then the LORD will be my God… and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You”. In other words, “God if you do this and that for me, then I’ll serve you”. Hmmm, shouldn’t we serve God no matter what? Shouldn’t we, like Job, be willing to serve God for nothing? But Jacob wasn’t there yet. He wasn’t quite ready to surrender to the God of his father and grandfather. He would get there eventually. God would humble him. He would come back from uncle Laban’s 20 years later a changed man. When he comes back you read of him building altars and worshiping God and telling his family to put away all their foreign gods. But it took Jacob a while to get to the point where he was wholeheartedly devoted to the God of his fathers.
And God gave Jacob a taste his own cheating, deceiving medicine up at uncle Laban’s. I can’t help but chuckle a little every time I read Genesis 29:25, “So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah!”. He’d worked 7 years for the pretty sister, Rachel, and he woke up on that first morning of his honeymoon and it was the homely sister, Leah, because Laban did a switch on him and she was veiled all through the wedding and then they went to bed in the dark.
And we know Isaac and Jacob weren’t the best of fathers. Isaac showed favoritism to the boy who was a skilled hunter, over the boy who would rather stay home with mom and cook. Jacob made it obvious that he favored his boy Joseph over all his other sons. And that caused a lot jealousy and strife in the family.
These were very human men. They had weaknesses and flaws. They made mistakes. They did the wrong thing sometimes. Jacob had a past he wasn’t proud of. And yet, these men were chosen of God, and they all ended up blessed friends of God. Hebrews 11:16 says of them that “God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them”. He is a God of grace and mercy, willing to accept and bless very undeserving people.
What was it about them that won God’s grace and mercy and friendship? Well, that brings us to a 4th thing we learn about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He is a…
God, whose favor is won by those who will simply come to trust and obey Him.
Hebrews 11:8-10 explains, “By faith Abraham, when he was called [that is called to leave his home and his relatives in Ur of Chaldeans in Mesopotamia], obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God”. Archaeologists have discovered that Ur was one of the largest, wealthiest cities of that time, likely over 250,000 people. It was a rather sophisticated city. Two-story homes with ten to twenty rooms lined many of the streets. We’d call them mansions. Many places in the city had indoor plumbing and tile floors. Many of the people who lived in Ur were highly educated. They were surprisingly proficient in mathematics, astronomy, weaving, and engraving. There were even libraries. They wrote on clay tablets. God told Abraham to leave all that sophistication, conveniences, and customs he was familiar with to go live in a tent in some land he had never seen. He probably had relatives and friends and property where he was, a house even, and yet was told to leave all of that. And he was in his late 60s maybe early 70s at the time. Do you like change when you’re in your 60s or 70s, or are you kind of settled down by then and comfortable with your way of life? But Abraham believed God’s promises, that if he left and went to this strange land, God would bless him in all the ways He promised and would make him a blessing to others. The Hebrew writer says He was looking for the city which had foundations whose architect and builder was God. He had apparently heard something about the afterlife. He had some concept of heaven. And he seemed to have believed that would be included in being blessed by God. So he trusted the promises of God and went where God told him. And he could have packed up and headed home whenever he wanted. But he just continued to trust God and stayed where God wanted him.
Years went by and he was in his 80s and he still didn’t have any of these promised descendants. And God took him outside at night and said, “Look at the heavens, look at all those stars, so shall your descendants be”. It says, “He believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness”. This faith he had, God reckoned to him as righteousness. That’s good news! Do you know what that means? It means Abraham was not counted by God as His friend and righteous because he’d lived such a remarkable perfect life or was flawless in his character or by earning it. But that status of righteousness was rather a gift that God gave Abraham because he had faith in whatever God said. And he would demonstrate that faith by obedience to God. When he was 99 and God cracked him up, saying Sarah is going to have a baby, when he saw God was serious, he believed Him. He trusted God even when what was promised seemed impossible from a human perspective. He believed God is the Almighty and that nothing is too difficult for Him and He will do everything He says.
God said, “Abraham, I want you and all the males in your household to be circumcised as a sign of my covenant with you and your descendants”. Yow! But he did what God said.
“Abraham, take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you”. Can you imagine how shocked and confused he must have been? But He got up early in the morning, split the wood for the burnt offering, loaded up the donkey, and took two servants and his son Isaac and we went to the place God said. It was a 3 day journey to get there. Three days for Abraham to think and change his mind. On the third day they could see the mountain off in the distance. And Abraham made the most remarkable statement to his servants. He said, “Stay here with the donkey and I and the lad will go over there and we will worship and then we will return to you”. Abraham knew Isaac was coming back, because God promised him that he would have descendants like the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore through Isaac. So he knew if he killed him, God would bring him back. He had that kind of confidence in God’s word. They hiked up to the top of the mountain, built the altar, arranged the wood, then Abraham bound Isaac. “Dad what are you doing?” “Son, I’m doing something that God has commanded me to do. I don’t understand why. It doesn’t make sense to me, but I know it will be okay. I know that God is good and I know that He will make you a father one day like He promised. You’ll be alright. I trust Him.” And he laid his son on the altar and took the knife and would have done it had God not stopped him. Listen to what the angel of the Lord said to Abraham after that, “Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’”. That’s why Abraham was so blessed, because he simply trusted all that God said and obeyed His voice.
Isaac learned to do the same and eventually Jacob as well (Heb 11:20-21). He is a God whose favor is won by simple faith and obedience. And that’s a condition every one of us can meet today.
– James WIlliams