Covenant Love, Lesson 3.3

Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical Worldview

Lesson Three: Our Father, Abraham

Lesson Objectives

  1. To read Genesis 12-50 with understanding.
  2. To understand God’s covenant with Abraham and to see how that covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
  3. To appreciate key figures and elements in the Abraham story - Melchizedek, circumcision, the sacrifice of Isaac - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

III. Age of Patriarchs

A. Jacob the Younger

With the story of Abraham we turn a page in salvation history. The remainder of Genesis (chapters 12-50) tells the story of the "patriarchs," the founding fathers of the chosen people. In Genesis 12-25:18, we'll read about Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. In Genesis 25:19-36:43, we hear the story of Isaac and his two sons, Esau and Jacob. And the book concludes, in Chapters 37-50, with the story of Jacob's 12 children, founders of the tribes of Israel, and especially Jacob's son, Joseph.

Isaac grows up to marry Rebekah. Like his mother Sarah, she's barren. But Isaac, as his father Abraham had before him, appeals to God to give them children (see Genesis 25:21;15:3). While her twins are fighting in her womb, God tells Rebekah that each will be a nation, but the younger of the two, Jacob, will rule the older, Esau (see Genesis 25:23).

This is another sub-plot in Genesis, closely connected to what we've talked about already concerning the "first-born." Notice that after the failure of His first-born in Eden, God seems to prefer the younger son: Abel's offering is preferred to Cain's. Isaac is chosen over Ishmael. Jacob's youngest son, Joseph, becomes the hero of the later books of Genesis, while Reuben, Jacob's first-born, fails to defend him against his brothers (see Genesis 37).

Why does God do this? He chooses the young, the weak and the sinful to show that salvation history is governed by His free grace and His love. St. Paul gives us the general principle when he says that God chose Jacob over Esau "in order that God's elective plan might continue, not by works but by His call...So it depends not upon a person's will or exertion, but upon God" (see Romans 9:11-13).

Don't be distracted by the drama and trickery of how Jacob secures Isaac's blessing. Esau had proven himself unworthy of the blessing, selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. As the Scripture says: "Esau cared little for his birthright" (see Genesis 25:29-34).

Jacob's deception is criticized by the prophets (see Hosea 12:4; Jeremiah 9:3), and he gets his "payback" within the text of Genesis. For instance, he will be tricked by his uncle Laban into marrying not Rachel whom he loves but Laban's firstborn daughter, Leah (see Genesis 29:25). And later, when his son Joseph is sold into slavery, his other sons will deceive him by soaking Joseph's coat in goat's blood. The irony surely isn't lost on the narrator of Genesis - Jacob's deception of his father had involved the use of goat skins (compare Genesis 27:15-16; 37:31-33).

But Jacob's lie serves God's purposes. God chose Isaac over Esau (see Malachi 3:1;Romans 9:13). Through Jacob, God will extend the blessing he gave to Abraham (see Genesis 28:3-4). God Himself confirms this in showing Jacob a ladder into the heavens (see Genesis 28:10-15). Later, Jesus will apply this dream to Himself, revealing that in Him heaven and earth touch, the human and the divine meet. He is what Jacob saw as "the gateway to heaven" (see John 1:51; Genesis 28:17).

God changes his name to Israel after a mysterious all-night struggle. The name Israel means "He who contended with God" (see Genesis 35:10; Hosea 12:5).

B. Joseph and Judah

Jacob's twelve children - born of his two wives, Leah and Rachel - form the twelve tribes of Israel (see Genesis 47:27; Deuteronomy 1:1).

And in the story of Joseph and his brothers, we again see God choosing the youngest to carry out His plan of salvation.

Joseph is a type of Jesus. What happens to him foreshadows not only what will happen to children of Israel, but also the sufferings and the salvation won for us by Jesus.

Joseph is the victim of jealousy and rejection by His brothers, the children of Israel, and is sold for the price of a slave (compare Genesis 37:28 and Matthew 26:14-15). Compare the words of Joseph's brothers to the words of the evil tenants in the parable of Jesus (see Genesis 37:20; Matthew 21:38).

Still, both Joseph and Jesus forgive their brothers and save them from death. The Pharaoh tells his Egyptian servants to do whatever Joseph tells them. And Mary will echo these words, telling the servants at the wedding feast to do whatever Jesus tells them to do (compare Genesis 41:55 to John 2:5).

As Joseph explains to his brother, his story shows us that even what men plan as evil, God can use for the purposes of His saving plan (see Genesis 50:19-21).

The Bible's first book ends with Israel on his deathbed giving his blessing to his children. To one - Judah, he promises a royal dynasty that will be everlasting (see Genesis 49:9-12). He will rule over all peoples of the world - a Scripture that the Church interprets as a promise of Jesus, the Messiah-King. The line of Judah is the line of the kings David and Solomon (see2 Samuel 8:1-14; 1 Kings 4:20-21).

Jesus will come as the royal son of David (see Matthew 1:1-16) and the Lion of Judah (see Revelation 5:5).

In our next lesson, we'll see how God fulfills the promise of Abraham, the promise that his grandson, Jacob, repeats when he says to Joseph: "God will be with you and will restore you to the land of your fathers" (see Genesis 48:21).

It's important to remember, however, that the "land" that we speak of so much in these early covenants "does not belong exclusively to the geography of this world," as Pope John Paul II has said in his extraordinary homily, Commemoration of Abraham.

When we read the Abraham story and the stories that follow, we need to always be mindful, as the Pope says: "Abraham, the believer who accepts God's invitation, is someone heading towards a promised land that is not of this world...In the faith of Abraham, almighty God truly made an eternal covenant with the human race, and its definitive fulfillment is Jesus Christ," Whom by His Cross and Resurrection leads us "into the land of salvation that God, rich in mercy, had promised humanity from the very beginning."

Continue to Section 4

Other Lessons

  • Lesson One: The Master Key that Unlocks the Bible
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To learn the "big-picture" overview of the Bible - the story that the Bible tells.
    2. To understand the concept of "covenant" and its importance for reading and interpreting the Bible.
    3. To learn in general detail the six major covenants in the Bible.

    Begin Lesson One

  • Lesson Two: From Sabbath to Flood
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 1-12 with understanding.
    2. To learn the meaning of the first two covenants of salvation history - the Sabbath, and the covenant made with Noah.
    3. To begin to understand the "patterns" of biblical history.

    Begin Lesson Two

  • Lesson Four: The First-Born Son of God
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai and to see how this covenant looks forward to and is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate the key figures and events - Moses, the Passover, and the vocation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests” - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Four

  • Lesson Five: A Throne For All Generations
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To finish reading the Old Testament (from Joshua to Malachi) and to read with understanding.
    2. To understand the broad outlines of the history of Israel in light of God’s covenant with Abraham.
    3. To appreciate the crucial importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David.

    Begin Lesson Five

  • Lesson Six: The New and Everlasting Covenant
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the New Testament with understanding.
    2. To understand how the New Testament depicts Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenants of the Old Testament.
    3. To appreciate, especially, the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David for understanding the mission of Jesus and the Church as it is presented in the New Testament.

    Begin Lesson Six