Lesson 7: Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 24-36 & 38)
What if… God wants us to question faith and science?
God speaks to Abraham:
Genesis 12:1-2, 6-7; 15:1-6; 17:1-14; 22:15-18. God repeats His promises to Abraham, almost as if Abraham needs reminders, just like we do, that He can be trusted.
Genesis 18:16-33. Abraham argues with God, a reminder that this is a real relationship, where we’re allowed, maybe even expected, to complain and ask questions (as science does).
Genesis 18:1-3. Some traditions suggest that Abraham’s visitors were angels, and that one was the pre-incarnate Christ – God in human form. Whoever they were, Abraham related to them as he would be expected to relate to visitors.
God speaks to Isaac:
Isaac’s mother dies, leaving Abraham and his son alone. The story of the search for a wife for Isaac starts in the very next chapter. Perhaps Isaac’s impending marriage is triggered by his mother’s death. Certainly it’s followed by Abraham’s remarriage in Genesis 25:1-6.
Genesis 23:2-6. Sometimes God just makes our path work out.
Genesis 24:1-8. God’s covenant might mean that Isaac can’t marry a Canaanite, or that he can’t leave Canaan to look for a wife. So Abraham keeps faith and keeps flexible, wise advice perhaps for us.
Genesis 24:12-21. The servant asks for signs and guidance, then waits and keeps watching, something we should remember to do too.
Genesis 24:61-67. Confirmation of God’s plan is given in human emotions.
Genesis 26:6-11 Isaac tells Abimelech that Rebekah is his sister, just as Abraham did with Sara in Genesis 20. Some readers suggest it’s the same story told with different characters, but there’s no reason the same sequence of events wouldn’t happen twice. This time God’s protection is much simpler.
Genesis 27: 1-4, 35:27-29. God heals. Isaac was supposed to be dying when Jacob got Esau’s promise, but here he is living to see his two sons reconciled.
God speaks to Esau:
Esau loses out on his spiritual birthright, though he does eventually inherit the family home, which is his human birthright. God speaks to him through the way events turn out.
Genesis 25:12-18, 19-28. God’s choice is not the same as man’s choice—in the case of Isaac and Ishmael, and later of Jacob and Esau, it’s not the older son, not the more humanly powerful, who inherits the promise. Perhaps God’s choice was made with foreknowledge that Esau would marry outside the tribe. (Genesis 26:34-35)
Genesis 25:29-34 doesn’t mean God chooses the sneaky, but our bad behavior doesn’t alter his choice.
Genesis 28:6-9. Obedience is important, and Esau eventually marries within the tribe, just as his father did. But obedience doesn’t change God’s mind.
Note, Mahalath’s name changes to Bazemath (Genesis 36:3) in part of the story, but the two names would be pronounced very similarly. The change in spelling perhaps reflects multiple oral and historical sources, again, lending credence to the Bible’s not being a story made up after the event. Also, the fact that she is Ishmael’s daughter reminds us the family was not at war.
What if… Jacob was just as big a sinner as we are?
What if… human birthrights aren’t the same as spiritual ones?
Genesis 25:29-34. Traditionally, the oldest son inherited the lands and house and the younger sons settled round about. Ultimately, Esau does obtain the “human” birthright (Genesis 33:12-20), but the one that he loses to Jacob is the inheritance promised by God. It becomes clear in the Bible that the different faiths and traditions around God’s people pose a threat to their belief, so keeping that inheritance from Esau makes sense since he immediately marries outside the tribe.
What if… God’s protection doesn’t free us from consequences?
Genesis 27:41-45. God protects Jacob by letting Rebecca know that he’s in danger. But God doesn’t free Jacob from all the consequences of his folly.
Genesis 28:10-17, 32:30, 31:13, 35:9-15. God reassures Jacob, in this case through dreams and signs.
Genesis 32:24-32. God challenges Jacob, and shows that human strength can’t prevail against him, and even human victory isn’t enough.
What if… polygamy wasn’t considered a sin?
Read Genesis 29:21-30. The taking of multiple wives and servant wives agrees with contemporary historical documents. We might choose the read the problems that ensue as proof that the Bible disapproves, but the Bible never says that’s the case, and God is seen taking care to bless each of the wives (Genesis 29:31, 30:22)
What if… Jacob was learning how to breed for chosen traits?
Read Genesis 30:35-40. It’s not clear that Jacob’s methods of producing striped and speckled goats would work, but God’s methods always work. Since we’re not told the precise timings of the events, it could be that the “mixed” breeds were breeding back to their natural white, while the white goats had already crossed with mixed and were breeding speckled. It’s interesting to note that Jacob’s theory that stronger animals will produce stronger offspring is an very primitive form of genetic engineering.
What if… even Jacob’s family carried household gods?
Read Genesis 31:30-35, 35:1-4,9-15. Apparently Rebekah wasn’t entirely devoted to God; she carries her father’s household gods with her when they leave. Remains of god statues have been found in archeological digs, so the story rings true. But God disapproves, and the gods are buried after the debacle with Dinah and her brothers.
What if… Dinah wasn’t raped?
Read Genesis 34. Was it rape or love? Justice or sin? And how does this story relate to modern times?
Jacob’s second and third son lose their position as head of the household in punishment for the murders. In a later story (Genesis 35:22), the oldest son, Reuben, loses his position as well, as a result of lying with his father’s concubine. This leaves Judah as the future head of the tribe – head of the line from which Christ is born.
What if… Tamar was an ancestor of Christ?
Read Genesis 38 and Matthew 1:3). The picture of ancient marriage customs is verified in other sources. This time Judah is the one who sins, but God’s choice prevails.