The story of Abraham and his family occupies the majority of the book of Genesis. Today I start a series on this story, exploring it as a densely interwoven tapestry of events and characters, revealing deep truths about human life and divine action.
Welcome back. Today I am going to be starting something new—a history of Abraham’s family. This will take us from chapter 11 of the book of Genesis until the very end, chapter 50. The bulk of the book of Genesis is given over to this history and I want us to look at this in some detail to see, within this huge cast of characters, what the parts they all play are, how their stories are related together, and what is the deeper significance of what is taking place.
When we read the story of Abraham, often we can neglect a lot of what is taking place, even when we purposefully try and recover certain figures. When we do this, we are all too often recovering them merely as individuals, as detached figures that will help us identify with someone within this story, perhaps a woman who is neglected within the story, and we want some more female characters, and so we will focus upon the female characters. But this can isolate them from the larger fabric of what is taking place. In the same way, if we read the story of Abraham just as an example of faith, and not as the story of a family beginning to take place, we will miss much of what is taking place there too.
What I want us to look at, then, is the story of Genesis as the story of a family, and their densely interconnected roles, the ways that their lives ricochet off each other, and the implications of certain people’s actions for many down the line. What we see within the story of Genesis is that actions have consequences—consequences for the person who does the actions, but also consequences for a great host of other people, who, unbeknownst to them, are affected by what has been done. I wanted to look at this in some detail, to reflect upon each character that comes up, and to think about what part they play within the story.
When we read through the story, we can often focus very narrowly upon Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph—this line of the covenant as it goes down the generation—and we ignore everyone else. We kind of push everyone else to the side. But yet, if you look at the sides, you will see a great deal of the point is seen in the broader, and seemingly peripheral figures that are part of the story. It is like a great soap opera in some respects. All these different characters with entangled lives, with stories playing out over generations, where we see the repercussions of original actions developing over the history that follows.
Read the story, and you will see a great number of people. Terah, Haran, Nahor: the brothers and the father of Abraham. Abram and Sarai. Milcah, the wife of Nahor. Bethuel. We have characters like Laban and others, who are within that line of the family. Lot, who is the son of Haran. We have a host of other people then coming into the story, like Sarai and Hagar. And then we have Ishmael and Issac. Later on we have Jacob, Esau, and Rebekah. As we go through the story, we will see that each person within the story has some part to play. And they all help to teach us something about the deeper significance of what is taking place. This is a story about human lives and the repercussions of actions and God’s work in the tangled mess of one particular family—a family through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed.
It is a remarkable story and it is a story of people who are lost. It is a story of death reversed. It is a story of recovery and it is a story of tragedy. And it is a story of life, and hope, and love, and all these other things that make for a compelling narrative. This is what we find within the book of Genesis. It is the stuff of human life. And it is something that is given very close and subtle attention. The details are very finely drawn. If you pay close attention to those details, you will see much is taking place that you will miss if you are not looking.
We often think about our lives as detached individuals. Our self-conception is such that we detach ourselves from the movement of one generation to another. We do not think enough about ourselves in terms of the ramifications of the actions of our grandparents and how those play out in our lives. However, the book of Genesis pays attention to that sort of thing.
As we read this story, we will be tracing some of those threads and thinking about what is taking place within this broader tapestry of human relationships. What is God doing? What is the life of this family to teach us? What can we learn about who we are? We will also be thinking about relationships and how the actions of one person can have a whole set of ramifications and implications for other people that they never could have foreseen. We will think about how negative ramifications can be reversed in certain respects, how God can recover what was lost, how there can be turnarounds in history, how we can learn from our history as a means of restoring others—as a means of bringing life where there was once death.
Now, as you read this story, you will see a lot of these elements take some attention to discover. They do not just appear on the surface of the page—but they are there! And so, I want us, over the next few months, to dig into this text in great depth and discover some of the things that lie there—some things that you may not have seen before, but which, when you see them, help you to understand a lot else that is taking place.
The family is the point of this story, and typology is part of how we will understand how this point plays out. Typology shows us the relationship between events, and the relationships between persons. And typology in association with a family story helps us to see the lines of family influence, how families, and their patterns of life play out over generations. It shows us how that can anticipate events of a yet far-distant future that we will come to at the end of our discussion of Genesis. We will be exploring texts later on that Genesis has anticipated. The story of David, for instance, where these themes of Genesis start to percolate again. You discover there—in 1 and 2 Samuel—figures that are reminiscent of figures that you have met earlier on in the book of Genesis. You will also see events that anticipate later events of Exodus, for instance, or the whole history of Israel being played out in various ways within this book of Genesis.
And so, I want to invite you to join me, to explore this in detail, to discover something about what God has to teach us from this particular set of texts, as a connected web of stories. As we pull at each thread and we see how it is connected, I hope we will begin to see that these threads are part of a dense, interwoven tapestry, a beautiful work, a work that is rich with symbolism, rich with revelation, and that will help us to understand something about who we are, how the world works, and how God is acting within creation and in history.