Genesis - chapters 12-23

Lesson 6: Abraham’s Family: Genesis 12-23

What if… faith and science agree on history and culture and traditions?

Abraham’s Wives:
What if… someone says Abraham had three wives?

Sarai as Abraham’s sister? Read Genesis 12:10-13, 20:1-3. Actually, calling your wife your sister wasn’t an uncommon practice at the time. In Genesis 26:6-7. Isaac plays the same trick on Abimelech as his father did before him – though it may be Abimelech’s son… And in other historical records, the same idea is repeated – an attempt to avoid the alternative where a king kills the husband to gain access to the wife (as David eventually did to Uriah).

In fact, since Sarai was probably related by blood to Abraham, she may technically have been his “sister” as well as his wife, since the same word would have covered many types of cousin. So maybe Abram didn’t lie.

Servant as surrogate mother? Read Genesis 16:1-4. Another culturally common practice, particularly in Egypt, was that of a servant giving birth to a child on the wife’s lap. And Hagar was Egyptian. She was probably given to Sarai as a servant while they were staying in Egypt. Again, the Bible is accurate to the culture it records, not to a later, glorified image of that culture.

How old was Ishmael when Isaac was born? Read Genesis 16:16, 21:5. Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born. (This might correspond to around 56 if 40 is being used for a generation). If he was 100 when Isaac was born (or 70) then Ishmael would have been about 14. However accurate or otherwise the numbers are, it’s clear that Ishmael was no infant at the time.

The Bible doesn’t say that Ishmael did anything wrong to get himself sent away (some texts just say he was playing). And it’s not even clear that Abraham lost touch with him – see Genesis 25:9.

What happened to Ishmael and Hagar? Read Genesis 21:21. Clearly being cast out from Abram’s tribe was a problem, but not an insurmountable one, once God provided water. Ishmael marries an Egyptian and becomes a great nation in Paran – south of Israel.

Who is Keturah? Read Genesis 25:1-6. After Sarah’s death, Abraham married again. I some sense Keturah would have been his third wife (counting Hagar). At least, she’s the third mother of his children, and he has more children by her than by any other wife.

Abraham’s sons:
What if… someone says Abraham had lots more sons?

The Sacrifice:
Why did Abraham try to sacrifice a son? We know from other sources that it was not uncommon for a “god” to demand human sacrifice of a first-born son. Maybe God was teaching Abraham that He was different, and He would not make such demands. Maybe He was preparing the way, through stories, for the sacrifice of Christ. Or maybe Abraham simply misunderstood. Most importantly, God does make it clear that He is our provider.

Who did he try to sacrifice? Islamic tradition has varied between claiming Isaac and Ishmael as the son required to be sacrificed. Read Genesis 22:2. He’s named first just as the “son who you love.”

Where did the sacrifice take place? Jewish and Islamic traditions both place the mountain of the sacrifice in Jerusalem, making this the first worship on the Mount. It’s not clear how old Isaac was, but he must have been old enough to carry a heavy load. Equally, it’s not clear what Abraham thought – that God would provide an offering, that He would raise the dead, that He meant the other son after all? Again, it’s the outcome of the story, and God’s provision that’s recorded and remembered.

The Inheritance:
Read Genesis 16:12. God tells Hagar that Ishmael will be at war with his family. Is this a curse, or just a statement of fact. God also promises that he’s heard her and cares for her – presumably also for her son.

Read Genesis 17:20. God tells Abraham that he will be the father of many nations, through his second son, Isaac. But he also promises that Ishmael with father 12 tribes and have great success, just as Isaac’s son later does.

Read Genesis 25:1-18. Abraham gives “all that he has” to Isaac, but his other sons also gain land and inheritances, just as one would expect at that time.

Abraham’s neighbors:

Read Genesis 22:20-24, 24:10, 27:43. Haran and Nahor are probably the same place, renamed for a prominent citizen. It’s clear that Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob) stayed in touch with relatives there. Probably traders carried information.

Read Genesis 25:7-10. Clearly Abraham stayed in touch with Ishmael too, since he reappears at the funeral.

Read Genesis 20:1-3, 13-17; 21:22-34; 26:1-2, 12-14, 26-32. Abimelech meets the Israelites several times. Issues over wells and grazing rights accurately depict what would be expected of life in that time and place.

Read Genesis 23:2-20. A very good historical description is given of local covenants, property law, and burial customs.


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