© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 18 October 2016
4A10. God’s Covenantal requirements for Abraham and his chosen descendants and their households:
(a) God commanded them:-
(i) To migrate to Canaan
(ii) To circumcise all their baby boys when eight days old
(iii) To do what was “right and just”
(b) Each man must only marry a woman from their own people
4A10(title) God’s Covenantal requirements for Abraham and his chosen descendants and their households
In grace, God had made an extraordinary range of UNCONDITIONAL declarations and promises to Abraham and his chosen descendants. But there were also some requirements for how they were to respond to God.
4A10(a) God commanded them
4A10(a)(i) To migrate to Canaan
This had been God’s first command to Abraham while he was living in Ur with his father’s people Gen 12:1. Its significance was emphasised when God made vast declarations and promises to Abraham Gen 12:2-3 after he had begun to obey this command Gen 11:31. But it was essential that they migrate to Canaan, and Abraham eventually did so Gen 12:4,5. After he arrived there, God promised that He was going to give the Land of Canaan to his offspring to be their homeland forever Gen 12:7a. This promise was later repeated several times [4A8(b)(ii)]. So Canaan became the territorial focus of all God’s other promises.
4A10(a)(ii) To circumcise all their baby boys when eight days old
God made it clear that both He (“as for me”, Gen 17:4a) and Abraham (“as for you”, Gen 17:9a) had Covenantal obligations. For Abraham this was the simple but painful requirement that all their baby boys must be circumcised Gen 17:10b-11a. This applied not only to Abraham and his chosen descendants but also to their households, including all non-descendant males such as slaves and their sons Gen 17:12b,13a. Abraham carried this out immediately Gen 17:23-27. In future all male babies were to be circumcised when eight days old Gen 17:12a.
This was a specified rite to be strictly observed by all the men as the “sign” of God’s Covenant with them Gen 17:11,13b. Its intended effect was to indicate their commitment in a very personal way. It would signify their choice for themselves, their sons and all males in their households to be identified as God’s chosen people and to meet all of His Covenantal requirements.
4A10(a)(iii) To do what was “right and just”
God’s double command Gen 17:1c was His first communication to Abraham when He began to establish His Covenant with him. This required Abraham to be the same as Noah – faithful and blameless Gen 6:9b. Abraham was also to do all that God had commanded him, like Noah Gen 6:22, 7:5,16, 8:15-19.
God later extended this to Abraham’s descendants. Abraham had been chosen by God and was to direct his family and household to live in God’s ways Gen 18:19a. This too was a repetition, being the same basic requirements that God had stated to Cain, to “rule over” sin and “do what is right” [2A10(a, b)]. So God was now focusing these prior requirements more precisely upon His chosen people, as His ethical foundations for the nation of Israel.
4A10(b) Each man must only marry a woman from their own people
There was no explicit command by God concerning this issue, although it can be inferred from a number of incidents and their outcomes, as follows.
4A10(b)(i) Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael
Abraham and Sarah had a lifelong marriage that weathered several crises. Perhaps the worst of these resulted from Sarah’s inability to bear children. It led to her scheme to obtain an heir by giving her Egyptian maidservant-slave Hagar to Abraham Gen 16:1-4a. But after Hagar conceived, it resulted in ugly conflict for Sarah with both Hagar and Abraham Gen 16:4,5,6 [see 4B28(c) and 4B29(c)]. With Abraham’s consent, Sarah mistreated Hagar who then fled. But God’s angel told her to return to Sarah Gen 16:6-7,8-9,10, prophesied about her baby’s future and told her to name him Ishmael (meaning “God hears”) Gen 16:11-12. So Hagar returned, gave birth to her baby and gave him the name Ishmael Gen 16:13-14,15-16.
Later Ishmael mocked Isaac Gen 21:8,9. Sarah then viciously demanded that Abraham get rid of Ishmael and Hagar Gen 21:10. Because Ishmael was his son this greatly distressed Abraham Gen 21:11. But God confirmed that he should send them away Gen 21:12-13. So he did Gen 21:14. Hagar later took a wife for Ishmael from Egypt Gen 21:20-21. His descendants were numerous Gen 17:20, 21:13,18 and like him they lived in hostility towards all their brothers Gen 16:12, 25:18.
In addition to Sarah, Abraham had a second wife Keturah who bore him six sons Gen 25:1-4. At what stage of his life this all occurred, or what peoples Keturah came from, are not stated. He also had concubines who bore him sons. But ultimately Abraham left his total inheritance to Isaac only Gen 25:5. He had simply given the others gifts and then sent away these whole sections of his own family! Gen 25:6.
This whole saga showed that trouble resulted from having concubines and/or additional wives. Getting wives or concubines from other peoples had similar consequences. So this all at least implied that Abraham and each male from his chosen descendants must only marry a woman from their own people.
4A10(b)(ii) Abraham’s procedure to get a wife for Isaac
Abraham made his chief servant swear in God’s name that he would not take a wife for Isaac from among the local Canaanite women Gen 24:2-3,9,37. Instead he was to go back to Mesopotamia and get a wife for him from amongst Abraham’s own Aramean relatives there Gen 24:4,38, 25:20. Yet he must not take Isaac there Gen 24:5-6,7,8b. This solemn oath concerning who Isaac was to marry indicated the seriousness of the issue. It may have been influenced by the grievous outcomes that resulted from Abraham having taken Hagar and other women as his concubines, as well as having another wife.
The God-honoring chief servant then had an outstanding experience of God’s guidance in finding and bringing back Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife Gen 24:10-67. This all implied God’s endorsement of the whole procedure.
4A10(b)(iii) The Canaanite wives of Esau
Esau married two Canaanite women who brought grievous outcomes for his parents Isaac and Rebekah Gen 26:34-35, 27:46. Later Esau deliberately married one of Ishmael’s daughters to spite his father Isaac Gen 28:8-9. He did this because Isaac had blessed Jacob instead of him and then commanded Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman Gen 28:6-7. Esau also took other Canaanite wives Gen 36:2-3. This again implied the problems of having multiple wives, as well as them being not from Abraham’s own people.
4A10(b)(iv) The two wives and concubines of Jacob
Like his father Abraham, Isaac also commanded his son Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman but return to his mother’s people in Paddan Aram to get a wife Gen 28:1-2 which he did Gen 28:5, 29:1 – 31:55. But due to the deception of Laban and Leah, the sisters Leah and Rachael both became his wives there! Their handmaidens also became his concubines. They produced 11 sons and one daughter Dinah Gen 29:16 – 30:24. Later they all returned to Canaan where Rachael died while giving birth to Jacob’s 12th son Benjamin Gen 35:16-19.
However, just as with Abraham, this arrangement of multiple wives and concubines led to Jacob’s family becoming torn by favoritism and subsequent negative outcomes [see 4B24(a)(vi.i, vii.i, vii.ii, ix.iii)].
4A10(b)(v) Other examples of the negative effects of having foreign wives
Hamor the Hivite wanted to get Dinah the daughter of Jacob as a wife for his son Shechem, who had already raped her Gen 34:1-2,3-4,6,7,8,11-12. Hamor urged Jacob to settle amongst his people and intermarry with them Gen 34:9-10. But instead Jacob’s sons deceived, massacred and plundered them in revenge for violating their sister Gen 34:13-31.
Judah, a son of Jacob, took a Canaanite wife and had three sons by her Gen 38:1-5. This led to disastrous outcomes Gen 38:6-30. The genealogy of Simeon specifically recorded that he too had a son by a Canaanite woman, implying that this had been irregular Gen 46:10.
It is significant that no mention was made at this stage of the threat of foreign wives being a means by which idolatry and its evil practices could be “imported”. Even Abraham’s relatives in Paddan Aram were not immune to this problem. They used divination and relied upon idols Gen 30:27, 31:19,32,33,34,35. That resulted in Jacob’s own household later having to be cleansed from idolatry Gen 35:2,3. After this had been done, God powerfully protected them! Gen 35:4-5 (this was another example of how the nature of God was intended to be demonstrated positively THROUGH the nation of Israel TO other nations).
4A10(b)(vi) Joseph’s wife and children were an exception
Joseph was required by the Pharaoh to take an Egyptian noblewoman assigned to him to be his wife Gen 41:45. She bore him two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh Gen 41:50-51,52. The outcome for them was favorable. Jacob formally blessed them Gen 48:1-20 thus recognizing them as being chosen descendants of Abraham.
No explicit command by God was recorded concerning this issue. Yet it can be inferred from the commands of Abraham and Isaac, as well as the outcomes of the above cases, that it was God’s intention for each of Abraham’s chosen male descendants to marry only one woman, who came from their own people.
Arrow 4A8 -> 4A10
This arrow indicates that, having made a self-binding commitment to Abraham, God then specified Covenantal requirements to be obeyed by him and all his chosen descendants. This set boundaries to their freedom of choice and action. By obeying these requirements they would fulfil one of God’s CONDITIONS for them to share with Him positively in accomplishing His primary purpose [see 4A11(b)].