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Chapter 4 – God’s Covenants with Noah and Abraham, Joseph’s Journey To Egypt

    Noah's Sacrifice by Daniel Maclise
    Noah’s Sacrifice by Daniel Maclise

    We now to return reading the book of Genesis and  chapter 8 with the story of Noah and the great flood as they set foot on dry land (v13-19). Genesis contains the story of God choosing individuals and the making of a people who are God’s chosen tribe. Noah’s first action after coming out of the ark is to make an offering to God who reacts with pleasure and makes a promise to never again destroy life or the seasons of the worlds.

    God’s ‘covenant’ – is a promise from a more powerful party with a lesser one, rather than the modern idea of an agreement between equals.

    rainbowAs we continue to read in chapter 9, “God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ ” (Genesis 9:1), notice how much this resembles the first creation stories in Genesis chapters 1-3. God continues his promise: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (verse 11-13)
    Noah was long lived, 950 years, and in chapter 10 we read a genealogical list of Noah’s descendants. This leads into the story of God intervening in the tower of Babel plan and the scattering of the people throughout the world with multiple languages. Another genealogical list connects Noah’s son, Shem, to Abram (later know as Abraham). Starting at Genesis 11:31, we read of Abram’s journey from the Ur of Chaldeans (modern day Iraq) to Haran. In the same way that God choose Noah to participate in God’s saving and blessing actions for the world, God speaks to Abram and gives him direction to leave his ancestral family and go to Canaan, a new land that God’s is promising to Abram.

    There are several repeating themes that show up in the book of Genesis that you can read in Genesis chapters 12, 15:1 to 18:15, 21:1 to 21:7.

    • Genealogies – connecting the generations to God’s chosen people
    • Journeys – going to a new land, often unknown or possibly dangerous territory
    • Barren women – connecting child bearing to God’s will and the woman’s trust in God
    • Men, and sometimes women, being afraid, lying to / about their family, tricking others – none of which are very honourable behaviours, yet God is still working through these people
    • God promises blessings on people with land and also lots of descendants
    • People’s names often have meanings and are sometimes changed, for example, Abram (Noble Father) is renamed Abraham (Father of many) and Sarai, (Princess) becomes Sarah (Mother of Nations). Some of the names become the names of tribes or places,

    Genesis has 50 chapters in total and is the 4th largest book in our bible. In this introduction we do not have space to follow the details of the story, so here is a sketch of the story to take us from God’s glorious promise to Abram/Abraham, through to Joseph and the whole tribe moving to Egypt. Read all the chapters listed below if you have time. This story line reads like a modern soap opera with treachery, trickery, jealousy and passionate love. Of course there is also faithful behaviour as people follow God’s will and we read of God’s involvement and direction for the world.

    • Abraham & Sarah have a son, Isaac – Genesis 21
    • Isaac gets a bride, Rebecca, from Abraham’s ancestral family – Genesis 24
    • Isaac and Rebecca have twins and the younger Jacob tricks his brother Esau. Isaac blesses Jacob passing on the blessing and covenant God made with Abraham – Genesis 25, 27:1 to 28:5
    • Jacob is tricked by Laban (Rebecca’s father) and ends up with two wives, Laben’s daughters, Leah & Rachel (Jacob first fell in love with the younger Rachel) – Genesis 29
    • Jacob has 12 sons and a daughter from his wives Laben, servant maids Bilhah and Zilpah and finally Rachel after a long barren period – Genesis 29, 30. The sons become the names of the 12 tribes of Israel.
    • Jacob tricks Laben and then flees with his family and Laben’s herds – Genesis 30-31
    • Jacob wrestles (literally) with God and is renamed: ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’Read all of Genesis 32 The descendants of Jacob become known as Israelites.
    • Israel/Jacob favours his 2nd youngest son, Joseph, who dreams of greatness over his older brothers. The brothers fake his death and sell him as a slave. They show Joseph’s multi coloured coat covered with goat’s blood to their father. Read all of Genesis 37 as this is a key chapter in the story. After all of God’s actions of forgiveness and blessings for God’s chosen people, the human emotions of jealousy take over the brother’s behaviour. This is also the point when the story moves to Egypt.
    • Joseph finds favor with Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Potiphar’s wife takes a fancy to Joseph, who refuses her, and she has Joseph thrown in jail. Again Joseph finds favour and thrives even in jail. We read that God is with Joseph. Genesis 39.
    • Joseph starts to interpret other peoples’ dreams including the Pharaoh’s dream and predicts an impending famine. Joseph is put in charge of Egypt as the Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” Under Joseph’s direction, Egypt stock piles grain in preparation. Read Genesis 41.
    • Meanwhile … back in Canaan, the famine has Joseph’s brothers heading for Egypt to see if they can buy food. They meet Joseph to ask for grain. They do not recognise Joseph but he recognises them. Read Genesis 42 about how this interaction unfolds. The previous trickery starts to unravel. Eventually grain is sent back to Canaan. In the end, the brothers do bow down to Joseph recognising his greatness. Genesis 43 – 45.
    • Israel/Jacob now knows that his beloved Joseph is alive. The whole family moves to Egypt and is given land there. Genesis 46-47.
    • Joseph continues to prosper. Israel/Jacob is dying, he blesses his sons, and is buried back in Canaan. Genesis 48-50.
    Genealogical lists appear frequently in our bible. They link us back to our ancestors and to those who walked and talked with God directly. We stand on the shoulders of these great people.Explore the lists online:

    Abraham’s family tree

    This is a long and intriguing story where God continually leads his people, often with the younger son having the position of power which is contrary to the normal pattern of the eldest being in charge. The tribe of Israelite’s have survived internal family jealousies, famine and other perils, and now are a strong people living in Egypt. God has worked though his own, Abraham’s descendants, and also through others to make God’s will come to be.

    Next chapter – the story continues with the Israelite’s fall from strength to slavery. God chooses Moses, a new leader, to help them escape their slavery.


    Written by Pastor Steve Johnston