The book of Genesis, specifically chapters 12-50, explains how and why Yahweh God came to choose Abraham’s family and make a covenant with them. Through the covenant, the Lord preserves his promise as established with Abraham’s family, despite the many difficult situations that the patriarchs encountered. The geography of the book of Genesis, according to Hill and Walton, serves to lay the foundation for Israel’s ethnic and theological identity. The book of Genesis also explains how Israel came to be organized. When first introduced to Abraham, he is noted as a righteous man, which is contrary to the culture at the time. Abraham was instructed to separate himself from the world and follow Yahweh, and was promised a covenant with God once he met all of the conditions set before him. In Gen. 15, the Lord ratifies the covenant with Abraham. Moses gains credibility in his writings because he details the faith struggles of the patriarchs. The ultimate faith test for Abraham is in Genesis 22 where God asks him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. As Abraham obeys, overcoming many obstacles, the covenant becomes established. When Jacob is introduced to the reader, it is interesting to see that he originally appears as a deceiver. He steals his brother’s birthright and blessing. Ultimately, in Genesis 33 when Jacob and Esau are reunited, the reader understands the significant of Esau’s acceptance and forgiveness of Jacob, signifying that there should be no discord among the tribes, or more simply, among brothers. Lastly, the story of Joseph recounts how the family of Abraham ended up in Egypt. God elected the patriarchs as an act of grace, choosing them as “His instrument of revelation.” Because of God’s relationship with the patriarchs, the idea of a covenant becomes the “centerpiece of Israelite theology”.
The text reveals many significant theological points. The story of the patriarchs details how Yahweh plans to extend the benefits of relationship and salvation through the covenant. Moses’ audience would have been familiar with the idea of a treaty, and the idea of loyalty between a servant and their master. They would have understood that obedience would ensure that they would receive the blessings of the covenant. For example, the Lord promises Abraham that his clan would be a great nation, that they would be blessed by the King and that the Lord’s name would be made great through Abraham. Moses details the various struggles that Abraham experiences, testing him and refining his faith. Another key theological idea is highlighted in the story of Jacob and Esau. Though Jacob deceives his brother, Moses points out that if Israel is to go to the promise land, brothers need to get along. Thus, it is understood that not only do brothers need to get along, but all tribes should remain loyal to one another. Through the story of Joseph, we see that the Lord blesses Joseph, making him successful, even after his brothers betrayed him, selling him to traders in Gen 37. The story of Joseph reveals to the reader that despite those around who are acting unfaithfully, God will work though the patriarchs for good to preserve the many.
The modern reader of Genesis 12-50 should focus their study on the idea of a covenant. As Moses exposed through his accounts of the patriarchs, faith is a journey. God gives his people commandments for their good and for His glory. Therefore, the reader can rightfully interpret that their faith journey will be similar to that of the patriarchs in Genesis 12-50, with a series of spiritual highs and lows. Much like the science of metallurgy, the Lord refines our faith through spiritual tests and through our life experiences. The goal of this is to bring one to a closer relationship with God. Those who are faithful to God will be set as an example for others to follow. Through the account of the patriarchs, God’s people are encouraged to be obedient to the commands of the covenant to gain salvation. Today, God has fulfilled his covenant with humanity through His son, Jesus Christ. We are still called to be obedient to the Lord and live a life that is set apart, but we no longer have to follow a strict set of rules and regulations to achieve relationship and salvation with the one true God.