© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 29 October 2016
4B24. Acute heart-testing situations for Abraham, his chosen descendants and Esau:
(a) God continued to permit situations where their commitment to Him was challenged by The Satan, as well as by their circumstances and influences upon each other
(b) Yet by God’s grace these situations were also new opportunities He was giving them to carry out His Covenantal commission
4B24(title) Acute heart-testing situations for Abraham and his chosen descendants
Like all people since the FALL, Abraham and his chosen descendants faced many situations that challenged and acutely tested their heart-commitment to God.
4B24 is clearly the central feature of Chart 4B and the “driver” of all the rest of that Chart (as were 2B24 and 3B24 in Charts 2B and 3B). The people’s responses were vital. Carrying out God’s commission in each Era depended on their wholehearted commitment to Him. That was the main determining factor in His responses to them and the consequent outcomes for themselves and their wider communities.
4B24(a) God continued to permit situations where their commitment to Him was challenged by The Satan, as well as by their circumstances and influences upon each other
All of these challenging situations were God-permitted and frequent. The commitment to God of various people was challenged in one or more of the above ways.
I have summarized 31 of these situations as recorded in GEN 11:27 – 50:26. These are grouped in 10 wider settings [see 4B24(a)(i-x)]. This would seem to be overdoing it!! But Abraham and his first descendants had a vital initial position in the ongoing historical accomplishing of God’s primary purpose. So these testing-responses cycles are all significant.
4B24(b) Yet by God’s grace these situations were also new opportunities He was giving them to carry out His Covenantal commission
Abraham and his chosen descendants were meant to respond wholeheartedly to God by believing His Covenantal declarations and promises, and obeying His Covenantal requirements, commission and warnings.
But The Satan also took these situations as his opportunity to provoke people to sin.
God had not withdrawn the people’s freedom of choice. So their reactions and responses were up to them to make.
Arrow 4B21 -> 4B24
This arrow indicates the vital role of God’s instructions for Abraham and his chosen descendants when faced with acute heart-testing situations that challenged their commitment to God.
Arrow 4B23 -> 4B24
This arrow indicates the relentless attempts by The Satan to influence Abraham and his chosen descendants to weaken in their commitment to God, so that they would sin by not believing Him or obeying His instructions.
THIRTY ONE CYCLES OF ACUTE HEART-TESTING SITUATIONS AND RESPONSES
Almost all of GEN 11:27 – 50:26 is narratives about cycles of acute heart-testing situations, and the responses by various people and then by God. It has clearly been structured to highlight these situations.So describing 31 of them is a valid way to summarise this whole section of the Bible.
For ease of reading, the detailed explanations follow the sequence of the biblical text rather than the numbering of the Chart boxes. The next section in each cycle is found by clicking on the “Continue to…” note at the end of the prior section.
4B24(a)(i) Challenges for Abraham resulting from God’s command to migrate to Canaan
4B24(a)(i.i) Abraham was confronted with leaving his father Terah in Ur
While living in Ur with his father Terah’s household Gen 15:7a Abraham had been commanded by God to leave there Gen 12:1. In order to obey God’s command, Abraham was challenged by his circumstances. He would have to migrate about 1500km north-west to Canaan and leave behind his elderly father and his father’s household. Also, the long and hazardous journey would be made with only his own household and possessions.
4B24(a)(i.ii) Abraham was confronted with leaving his father Terah in Harran and travelling on to Canaan
If Abraham was going to obey God’s command to migrate to Canaan (a further 500km south-west) he would have to leave his 145 year old father Terah behind in Harran Gen 11:26, 12:4. So Abraham was challenged to fully obey God by departing from under the authority of his elderly father or remaining to care for him.
4B24(a)(ii) Challenges for Abraham resulting from God’s Covenantal declaration that He was giving possession of the Land of Canaan to him and his offspring
4B24(a)(ii.i) Abraham’s further migration within Canaan
So despite having obeyed God and migrated to Canaan, Abraham was unsettled there. The reason for this constant moving was not stated. It may simply have been due to the nomadic methods of herdsmen seeking pastures in semi-arid lands. Yet he was probably challenged by these circumstances to wonder about how God was dealing with him in his new promised Land.
4B24(a)(ii.ii) Drought caused Abraham and Lot to leave Canaan and go to Egypt. But dangers were feared there due to Sarah’s beauty.
A severe drought developed, so that Abraham and Lot had to leave Canaan and migrate further south to Egypt Gen 12:10. But because of Sarah’s beauty Abraham feared that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take her for themselves Gen 12:11-12. So he was challenged to believe that God could protect him, bring him back to Canaan and give him descendants.
4B24(a)(ii.iii) After returning to Canaan, conflict developed between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot
After returning safely to Canaan, they all moved nomadically north until they again reached Bethel Gen 13:1,3. But next there was quarreling between their herdsmen Gen 13:7a because the land was overstocked by their large herds as well as those of the local people Gen 13:5-6,7b.
So Abraham faced these further difficult circumstances of “overcrowding” back in Canaan. He was probably being acutely challenged to believe that God would actually fulfil His promise to give the Land of Canaan to him and his offspring, as it was already inhabited by Canaanites and others. He may also have regretted not leaving Lot in Ur or at Harran with his father Terah, since God had originally commanded him at Ur to leave all his relatives behind! Gen 12:1.
4B24(a)(ii.iv) Abraham had to get involved in tribal wars in order to rescue Lot
Abraham’s belief in God’s promise would have been challenged by Lot’s crisis and these further threatening situations near Canaan.
4B24(a)(ii.v) Abraham was challenged to believe that possession of Canaan was even possible
Abraham had twice previously honored God after He had promised that Abraham and his descendants would possess the Land of Canaan Gen 12:7b, 13:15,18. But that Land was already inhabited by the Canaanites Gen 12:6b. Also, ever since he arrived in Canaan, Abraham had faced difficult circumstances in trying to settle there Gen 12:8a,10, 13:6-7, 14:12-16. So when God promised it to him a third time Gen 15:7 Abraham was challenged to believe that it would really be possible!
4B24(a)(iii) Challenges for Abraham resulting from God’s Covenantal promise that he would father a son and heir who would have countless descendants
4B24(a)(iii.i) Although Abraham was old and had no children, God promised that he would father a son and heir
But Abraham was childless and growing old, as was Sarah his childless wife Gen 18:11. His heir was not a relative but one of his household servants Gen 15:2. So he questioned how God could give Canaan to his non-existent descendants Gen 15:3.
Abraham was challenged to believe that God could do what seemed impossible!
4B24(a)(iii.ii) How Abraham understood God’s Covenantal promise of fatherhood
Abraham had believed God’s promise Gen 15:6a that although he was old and childless he would father a son Gen 15:4. Yet he was challenged as to how this could happen, since Sarah had been unable to bear children and was now too old for childbearing Gen 18:11.
4B24(a)(iii.iii) Abraham five times received God’s Covenantal promise that Sarah would bear a son to him in their extreme old age! Sarah also twice heard God repeat this “impossible” promise to Abraham
More than 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, God again twice repeated His promise to Abraham that he would have multiple descendants Gen 17:2b,6a. They would become many nations and kings! Gen 17:4b,5b,6b. This was when God even renamed Abram (“exalted father”) to be Abraham (“father of many”) as further confirmation of His promise Gen 17:5.
God then specifically promised Abraham three times that this would be fulfilled through Sarah Gen 17:16a,19a,21b. God confirmed this by giving her this new name Sarah instead of Sarai (both names meant “princess”. God emphasised that this also referred to there being kings amongst her descendants) Gen 17:15-16b.She would bear a son although she was nearly 90 and he was nearly 100! Gen 17:17b. Later God again repeated this promise twice to Abraham in Sarah’s hearing Gen 18:9-10,14b.
Abraham and Sarah were being challenged to believe in their hearts that this extraordinary promise of God would be kept despite Sarah’s “impossible” circumstance of being far too old for childbearing Gen 18:11.
4B24(a)(iii.iv) Abraham was wary of trouble again in the Negev region due to Sarah’s beauty
Abraham again moved nomadically from Mamre to Gerar near Kadesh in the Negev region Gen 20:1. He had previously experienced difficulties there related to Sarah’s beauty Gen 12:9-10, 14:7-16. So he was challenged to trust God for protection, especially for himself and Sarah. They had just received God’s “impossible” promise that they would become the parents of a son.
4B24(a)(iii.v) Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac
When Isaac had become a young man, God commanded Abraham to take him to Moriah and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering to God! Gen 22:1-2. This ghastly project was God testing Abraham Gen 22:1a. It was the first specific mention in Genesis of such testing (although the whole prior account of Job was about God testing him Job 7:17-18, 23:10, 34:35-36 [3B(JOB)24]).
The nature of this testing was obviously related to Abraham’s heart-motivations. His love for his only God-chosen son Isaac – the most powerful inner drive of his life – was being directly challenged Gen 22:2a. Like God’s severe testing of Job, this was Abraham’s most acute heart-testing situation.
4B24(a)(iv) Challenges for Isaac resulting from his nomadic circumstances
4B24(a)(iv.i) Isaac feared for his safety at Gerar due to Rebekah’s beauty
Just as for Abraham [4B24(a)(iii.iv)] drought caused Isaac to relocate to Gerar Gen 26:1. God had appeared to him and specifically told him to move there, and he did Gen 26:2-3a,6. God also reaffirmed his promises to Isaac of protection, blessing, descendants and possession of Canaan Gen 26:3,4,5.
Yet like Abraham, Isaac also was fearful for his life due to his wife’s beauty Gen 26:7b. So although God had reaffirmed His promises, Isaac was challenged to trust God for protection, especially for himself and Rebekah.
4B24(a)(iv.ii) Isaac’s agricultural efforts at Gerar were contested by the local Philistines
Isaac’s first crop yielded a big harvest Gen 26:12a. This was evidence of God’s blessing and his wealth grew Gen 26:12b-14a. But the local Philistines became envious and filled in Abraham’s old wells in that area Gen 26:14b-15. Then Abimelech sent Isaac away! Gen 26:16.
Isaac would have been challenged to continue believing in God’s promised blessings after this strong opposition and expulsion from his successful agricultural efforts in Canaan.
4B24(a)(v) Challenges for Isaac’s sons Esau and Jacob while living at home with their parents in Canaan
4B24(a)(v.i) Esau was asked by Jacob to sell his “birthright” to him
Isaac’s twin sons Esau and Jacob as young men were still living with their elderly parents who did not love them equally Gen 25:27-28. Esau once came home from the open country desperately hungry and feeling ready to die! Smelling a stew that Jacob was cooking he urgently asked him for some Gen 25:29-30,32a. But scheming Jacob demanded that Esau first agree with an oath to “sell his birthright” to him in exchange for the food Gen 25:31,33a.
Esau was being challenged by his own circumstances and self-serving desires for food, to give up to Jacob his inheritance rights as the eldest son. That is, to disregard his whole heritage as a chosen descendant of Abraham!
4B24(a)(v.ii) Jacob’s mother Rebekah plotted to deceive his father Isaac into giving his patriarchal blessing to Jacob instead of Esau
In his old age Isaac prepared to give his formal patriarchal blessing to Esau as his firstborn son Gen 27:1-2,3-4. The intention of this blessing was for Esau to prosper and be powerful over the surrounding nations (one of God’s Covenantal promises) and rule over his brothers Gen 27:29.
But Rebekah wanted Isaac to give his blessing to Jacob instead, who was her favorite Gen 25:28b. She deliberately plotted to have Jacob pose as Esau and deceive Isaac who was almost blind Gen 27:1a,5-10,13b.1
Jacob was being challenged to join in this deliberate deception to satisfy his mother’s and his own selfish desires and NOT do what he knew was “right and just”.
4B24(a)(v.iii) Esau found out that Jacob had deceitfully taken his patriarchal blessing and it could not be withdrawn or duplicated
When Esau returned and the plot was revealed, both he and Isaac were outraged! But Isaac forlornly told Esau that his blessing of Jacob could neither be withdrawn nor duplicated Gen 27:33,34-35,36,37. Isaac later reaffirmed his blessing of Jacob Gen 28:1a and declared the Covenantal promises upon him Gen 28:3,4.
Esau was then severely challenged as to how he would respond to this theft of his rightful blessing.
4B24(a)(vi) Challenges for Jacob about going to Harran
4B24(a)(vi.i) Jacob’s parents told to him flee to his mother’s brother Laban in Harran
To avoid Esau’s threatened revenge, Rebekah instructed Jacob to flee immediately to her brother Laban in Harran (over 700km north) Gen 27:42-43. Isaac pronounced another blessing upon Jacob and also commanded him to get a cousin, one of Laban’s daughters, to be his wife Gen 28:1-2. This time Isaac’s blessing included the core Covenantal promises of countless descendants and possession of the Land of Canaan Gen 28:3,4.
Jacob would be thrown into and unknown situation. So he was being challenged to obey his parents by going to Laban in Harran and seeking a wife there.
4B24(a)(vi.ii) Jacob was challenged to trust God’s promises for his journey safely to Harran and return
God had awesomely appeared to Jacob in a dream at Bethel and repeated two of His Covenantal declarations and one Covenantal promise, along with giving him specific personal promises Gen 28:12-15.
All of this simply challenged Jacob to believe and trust God for safety and success throughout his journey to Harran and back.
4B24(a)(vii) Challenges for Jacob during his time at Harran with his uncle Laban
4B24(a)(vii.i) Jacob was deceived by Laban into marrying Leah as well as Rachel
After arriving in Harran, Jacob soon fell in love with his beautiful cousin Rachel and asked Laban for her in marriage. Jacob offered to work for Laban unpaid for seven years as the bride-price for her Gen 29:18. Laban rather ungraciously accepted his offer and Jacob happily worked for him as agreed Gen 29:19-20.
When the seven years had passed, Jacob asked Laban for Rachel Gen 29:21. So Laban held a celebratory feast Gen 29:22. But he deceived Jacob by putting his older daughter Leah to sleep with Jacob that night! Gen 29:23.
Laban’s “excuse” for doing this seemed rather lame. He claimed that what he had done was merely in accord with a local custom by which the eldest daughter had a “birthright” to be the first to be married Gen 29:26.
Laban then set some unjust conditions for Jacob. He required Jacob to have Leah exclusively for just one week! Then he would also give him Rachel!! But Laban then exploited Jacob by requiring him to work unpaid for another seven years as the bride-price for Rachel!!! Gen 29:27.
Jacob’s integrity was acutely challenged by these unwanted marital and employment circumstances unjustly thrust upon him by Laban’s deception. He was under pressure not to do “what was right and just” towards his unintended first wife Leah and her father Laban.
4B24(a)(vii.ii) Jacob’s ongoing relationships with his wives Leah and Rachel
4B24(a)(vii.iii) Jacob continued to be exploited unjustly by Laban
Jacob had worked diligently for Laban Gen 31:6. The first fourteen years were as payment of the bride-prices for Laban’s two daughters, although seven of those years had been unjust due to Laban’s deception concerning Leah.
After Rachel finally gave birth, Jacob wanted to return to Canaan with all his household Gen 30:25-26. But Laban pleaded with him to stay. He said he believed that God had prospered him because of Jacob Gen 30:27. Jacob confirmed that this was true Gen 30:30b.
Laban asked Jacob what wages he would accept in order to stay. They then made a deal that all speckled and spotted sheep and goats and dark coloured lambs would be Jacob’s Gen 30:31b-33,34. But Laban immediately removed all these from the flocks under Jacob’s care! Gen 30:35-36.
Jacob would have been challenged to continue acting with integrity in caring for Laban’s livestock and not neglect them or try to cheat Laban.
4B24(a)(viii) Challenges for Jacob during his return journey from Harran to Canaan as commanded by God, with all his household and livestock
4B24(a)(viii.i) Jacob pursued by Laban
God had commanded Jacob to return to Canaan and promised to be with him Gen 31:3. Jacob told his wives about this and all that he had suffered under their father Laban Gen 31:4,6-7,8. But he also acknowledged how God had overruled the situation Gen 31:5b,7b,9,11-12 and was now commanding him to return to Canaan Gen 31:13. They then agreed that he should obey God and they must all go away from Laban Gen 31:14-15,16.
It would be difficult for them to leave Laban and set out on a long and vulnerable journey with all the young children, household and livestock. So Jacob would have been challenged to obey God’s command and trust in His promised presence to protect and provide for him. He also would have been challenged to fulfil his vow made to God at Bethel Gen 28:20,21-22, 31:13a.
In response to God’s command, Jacob left Harran and set out on his return journey to Canaan with all his household and livestock, leaving secretly Gen 31:17-18,20. But Laban and his relatives pursued and caught up with them a week later! Gen 31:22-23. Laban then threatened Jacob and accused him of sneaking away and stealing his “household gods” Gen 31:26-27,28,30. So Jacob was severely challenged by these threats to his integrity and to the safety of all his household.
4B24(a)(viii.ii) Jacob was confronted by the threat of a violent showdown with Esau
Continuing on his way to Canaan, Jacob approached Edom where his brother Esau lived. He sent messengers to Esau to seek safe passage through Edom Gen 32:3-4,5. But they returned and reported that Esau was approaching with 400 men! Gen 32:6. So Jacob was severely challenged to trust in God’s protection in this potentially disastrous showdown!!
4B24(a)(viii.iii) Jacob reached Canaan
After parting from Esau, Jacob continued on to Shechem in Canaan. So he had returned safely as God had promised him Gen 33:18. This now meant that Jacob was challenged to honour his conditional vow that he had made to God before leaving for Haran Gen 28:20-21,22 [4B28(e)].
4B24(a)(ix) Challenges for Jacob when he was living back in Canaan
4B24(a)(ix.i) Jacob’s sons slaughtered all the Shechemite men in revenge for Shechem having raped their sister Dinah
The eldest of Jacob’s thirteen children would have been only about age twelve when they arrived at Shechem Gen 31:41a and Dinah was the youngest Gen 30:21. But in the next narrative Dinah is an adult Gen 34:3. So Jacob had apparently settled at Shechem for about twenty years or more.
Dinah was raped by Shechem the son of the local ruler Hamor Gen 34:1-2. This outraged Jacob’s adult sons Gen 34:7 who used deception to weaken the men of the city of Shechem Gen 34:13-24. Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi then slaughtered all of those men and brought Dinah home Gen 34:25-26. All the brothers looted the city and took their women and children Gen 34:27-29. So Jacob’s heart-commitment to God and His ways was challenged by this crisis.
4B24(a)(ix.ii) Jacob had been commanded by God to relocate from Shechem to Bethel and erect another altar there
God had commanded Jacob to move on from Shechem to settle at Bethel and build an altar there Gen 35:1. So Jacob was challenged to obey God’s command rather than stay on at Shechem where he had already bought land, built an altar and become established for many years.
[Genesis verse references as shown below]
4B24(a)(ix.iii) Jacob’s relationships with his sons
Ten of Jacob’s twelve sons were born to either his first wife Leah or his wives’ maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah Gen 35:23-26. So they were the sons of women whom their father did not love Gen 29:31a,33a. They were also the older half-brothers of Joseph and Benjamin, the sons of Jacob’s second wife Rachel whom he loved dearly Gen 29:20b,30a. So Jacob was challenged to do what was right and not discriminate against his ten older sons.
4B24(a)(x) Challenges for Joseph and Jacob at home and then in Egypt
4B24(a)(x.i) Joseph was hated by his half-brothers and they sold him as a slave. He was taken to Egypt and suffered further hardships there
Joseph’s half-brothers hated him because of his superior attitudes and that he was the favorite of their father Jacob Gen 37:4. They had threatened to kill Joseph Gen 37:18-20 but instead sold him as a slave and he was taken to Egypt Gen 37:26-28. They covered up this crime by convincing Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal Gen 37:31-33.
In Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, a high-ranking official of the Pharaoh. Joseph then faced a further series of adverse situations:-
# Joseph had to serve as a slave in Potiphar’s household Gen 39:1
# Finally she falsely accused Joseph of attempted rape and he was wrongfully imprisoned Gen 39:11-20a
# Joseph correctly interpreted the dream of a fellow prisoner and asked him to appeal to Pharaoh on his behalf Gen 40:12-15. But when the prisoner was released he forgot Joseph, who remained in prison Gen 40:23
# After two more years in prison, Joseph was suddenly summoned by Pharaoh to interpret his dreams! Gen 41:14-15. This was a high-risk position for Joseph as Pharaoh could have executed him if he did not interpret them or was displeased with his interpretations.
# The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams included the bad news that seven years of severe drought would ravage Egypt Gen 41:30-31.
Having been subjected to hateful violence and blatant injustice against him, then suddenly being brought before Pharaoh, Joseph was repeatedly challenged to respond with wholehearted commitment to God.
4B24(a)(x.ii) Joseph became second in command over all Egypt by God’s intervention
Because Pharaoh believed that Joseph’s interpretation of his two dreams was God-given Gen 41:37-39 he abruptly promoted Joseph aged 30 Gen 41:46a to be second in command and the administrator of all Egypt! Gen 41:40-41,44. His task was to store grain in readiness for the coming famine Gen 41:35-36.
The drought came and was severe everywhere Gen 41:57. So Joseph’s ten half-brothers went to Egypt to buy grain Gen 42:3-5. Joseph saw and knew them but they did not recognize him Gen 42:7-8. He could of course understand everything they were saying to each other! Gen 42:23.
Joseph would have been challenged by these circumstances to abuse his power and mistreat his half-brothers because of all their past mistreatment of him.
4B24(a)(x.iii) Jacob was told that his beloved Joseph was alive in Egypt
When Joseph’s brothers finally returned to Jacob they told him that Joseph was alive and the governor of Egypt! Gen 45:25-26. Jacob was challenged to believe their report!
1. There is a play on similar-sounding Hebrew words here, perhaps suggesting how intertwined these three key elements were in the events and relationships as narrated:-
birthright = bekorah
blessing = berakah
Rebekah = ribqar(Return to reading).