It should be no surprise that this world that we live in did not always exist. The forests, the mountains, the oceans, the moon, the sun all had a beginning. Everything God makes has a beginning. But God is different from the things He makes. God always existed, and He never changes. He will always be the same God that He was even before He made everything.
At the very beginning of time, God made the universe, forming galaxies, stars, and planets, including our world—not as we see it today, for at first water covered the whole surface of the earth, and there was gloomy darkness everywhere. What a strange, unwelcoming world this must have been! But God planned to make it beautiful, so He caused light to shine through. He called this light day, and the darkness He called night. And then the evening of the first day passed, and the morning of the second day of creation began.
On the second day God made a clear expanse of sky and called it heaven. On the third day He caused the waters to flow together in wide, deep places, and He called them seas. Then dry land appeared, and He called this earth. But the land was desolate, nothing grew anywhere—the entire earth was empty and lifeless. So God caused grass to grow on the bare ground and flowers and trees to grow from the earth. When God looked at all these things, He saw that they were good.
On the fourth day the sun, moon, and stars appeared in the sky. God made these to distinguish the day from the night.
After these things were made, God began to create living creatures. He made fishes of all sorts and sizes to swim in the seas and birds of every description to fly above the water and land, just as we see them doing today. The world continued to become more delightful, and the fifth day of creation passed.
On the sixth day God made all the other animals, big and small, and every crawling thing. Then the hills, plains, air, and sea were filled with life. What a beautiful world, but so strange because there were no people in it!
But God was not done. He had always planned to create people. They could enjoy the world’s beauty and take care of creation as no other living creature could do. They could know the God who had made all these great things, and they could love and worship Him. So God made the first man. God made the man’s body out of the dust of the ground. Then, when God breathed into the body, it became alive. And God gave the man a spirit that would never die.
God called the first man Adam, and He gave Adam the authority to rule over all the other living creatures. Adam’s first task was to name all the animals and birds, so God brought them to him. Adam saw what every creature was like, but he could not find a single one to be his partner in the work God had given him. But God was still not done creating. He had one more creation left; someone like Adam, someone who could enjoy the world, rule it, and take care of it with Adam, someone who could know God and worship Him alongside Adam. Adam needed someone like this very much, so God made a woman. The woman became Adam’s wife, and he loved her very much. He called her Eve.
When the sixth day ended, God had made the world and had put everything in it just as He wanted. Therefore, on the seventh day He rested from His work.
ADAM AND EVE
God made Adam and Eve a beautiful garden for them to live in. In the middle of this garden God planted an important tree, called the tree of life. Whoever ate the fruit from this tree would live forever.
Adam and Eve were very happy. God had given them good things to enjoy, and they knew nothing about evil and wrongdoing. They often talked with God and listened to His voice as He walked and talked with them in the cool of evening.
Among the other trees that God had planted in the garden, He also included one particular tree called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree would give Adam and Eve the opportunity to either be obedient or disobedient to God; for He had told them, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it, you will surely die.”
One day something terrible happened. Satan, wanting to ruin God’s wonderful creation, entered into a snake in order to speak to Eve. Surprisingly, she spoke back to it. The snake asked, “Has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” This was so far from what God said that it’s almost funny, but it got Eve talking.
Eve corrected the snake. “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat,” she answered. Then she admitted that they could not eat from the tree giving the knowledge of good and evil or else they would die; but she added that God had also forbidden them to touch it, which was not in His original instructions.
“You surely will not die!” the snake replied, lying to her. Then he made her think that God was being unfair. He said that the only reason God did not want them to eat from that tree was that if they learned the knowledge of good and evil they would become like God. God knew that, and in order to stop them from becoming like Himself, He made up the lie that the tree would kill them. Of course, this was not true. God wanted Adam and Eve to be like Himself. He even made Adam and Eve in His own image; or in other words, like Himself.
Until this time Eve had not eaten from the forbidden tree; but now she looked at its fruit and thought that if it really would make her wise like God, she wanted to try it. Soon she gave in to the temptation and picked the fruit and took a bite. Then she gave some to Adam, and he also ate the forbidden fruit.
After they had eaten the fruit, Adam and Eve felt shame and realized they were naked. Another strange new feeling filled their hearts—it was fear. Adam and Eve had never been afraid before, but now they tried to find a hiding place among the trees in the garden in order to hide from God.
Soon a voice called to Adam and said, “Where are you?” and the frightened man answered, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” “Who told you that you were naked?” God asked. Then He asked Adam whether he had eaten some of the forbidden fruit. Adam confessed that he had, but pointed out that Eve, the “woman whom You gave to be with me” had given him the fruit, as if both Eve and God Himself were the ones to blame.
God questioned Eve: “What is this you have done?” So she confessed that she had eaten the fruit, but pointed out that the snake had deceived her.
God was sad when Adam and Eve did not obey Him. Things between them had changed. They could no longer be as close of friends as they had been. And Adam and Eve were no longer able to live in the beautiful garden that God had made for them because the tree of life was there. For even though they had sinned, the fruit from the tree of life was still able to make them live forever. So God made them leave the garden. He also placed an angel with a flaming sword at the gate of the garden to prevent them from coming back to eat any of the fruit that grew on the tree of life.
But there was more. To Eve, God said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth; in pain you will bring forth children. Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
God punished Adam as well. Fruits and vegetables would no longer grow freely from the ground for Adam and Eve to eat. Now Adam had to work hard to keep these things growing. Weeds, thorns, and thistles would grow in his fields to make his work even harder. Eventually Adam and Eve would become old and feeble, and then they would die. Their children and everyone who came after them—the entire human race—would suffer the same fate. All of these problems came because of sin.
But while God made Adam and Eve leave the garden, He promised that He would send a Savior. Everyone who trusted in the Savior would be set free from sin and death.
CAIN AND ABLE
After God had to send Adam and Eve out of the garden because of their sin, they built a new home for themselves. They began to feel the punishment that their sin had brought on them. As God said, Adam now found it difficult to provide food for himself and Eve. His hands and feet hurt and bled from thistles and thorns. Eve also felt pain, and a lot of it, when she gave birth to her first child.
Adam and Eve’s first child was a son. They named the baby Cain. After a while God gave them another little boy who they named Abel. They taught Cain and Abel to worship God. Since they could no longer talk to God face to face, they built altars and made offerings to God.
Eventually Cain and Abel became young men. Cain worked in the fields raising grain and fruits, while Abel took care of sheep. Then the time came for them to make offerings to God. For his offering, Cain brought some of the things he grew, while Abel brought a lamb. But Cain’s offering did not please God. We do not know why God did not accept it. Perhaps He required an animal or he did not sacrifice out of love for God. When he saw that God did not accept the offering, Cain became very angry. God talked to him and warned him that sin would overpower him if he continued to be angry instead of doing the right thing. But Cain was not willing to listen; he remained angry.
Then it happened: one day while the brothers were together in the field, Cain let sin take over, and he attacked and killed Abel. No one had ever sinned like this before. Life was hard ever since that horrible day in the garden, but life was still a precious gift. Now Cain had taken away even life itself from his brother. Sin was gaining power in the world.
Later God spoke again to Cain, and asked, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain replied disrespectfully to God, saying, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” This was like saying, “Why are You asking me? I am not his babysitter.” Cain may not have realized that God had seen everything he had done. And now for punishment God told Cain that he must leave his home and family and go far away into the world. He would never again know the blessings of his old home; from then on he would wander about from place to place like a frightened, hunted animal.
NOAH AND THE FLOOD
The children of Adam and Eve lived to be very old, and their children also lived for hundreds of years. There was even a man named Methuselah who lived for 969 years, longer than any other man had ever lived. Then he died like all other people had done, except one. His name was Enoch. When Enoch was 365 years old, God took him away from earth to heaven, and he did not die.
By this time there were many people living in the world. Most of the people decided not to follow God’s instructions, if they heard about them at all. Their hearts were so full of sin that their thoughts, words, and actions were all very evil and violent. They had no concern about pleasing God. They did not love Him. They did not thank Him for the blessings of food, shelter, and sunshine which He gave them. They did not teach their children to love good, pure things but allowed them to grow up and become evil men and women. Sin was everywhere. The sick and horrible things of this world had taken over. God decided to destroy all these people because of their wickedness. He would in fact destroy everything—people, animals, and every other creature that lived on the earth by causing a great flood of water to cover the earth.
However, there was one man who was different from all the rest, Noah. Here was a man who tried to do the right thing regardless of all his evil surroundings. God was pleased with Noah, and He talked to him sometimes. He told him about His decision to destroy the world with a flood of water. But because Noah had been trying to do what was right, God promised that he and his family would not be killed like the evil people would be.
God told Noah to make an ark, which was a huge ship. When it was finished, he and his family were to go inside the ark, which would protect them from the flood. They would stay there until the flood was over. God would also preserve some of every kind of animal, bird, and other creature that lived on the earth—two of most kinds, seven of others. All the creatures were to be kept in the ark for as long as the flood lasted.
Noah believed God and built the ark. A strange-looking structure now stood before them—a very large boat-like building three stories high, resting on dry land! The local people must have laughed at faithful old Noah and his three sons because they did not believe that there ever would be such a widespread flood.
When everything was ready God called Noah and told him to bring his wife, his three sons, and their wives and enter the ark. God also caused the animals, birds, and every kind of creature that lived on the earth to enter it. When they were all inside the ark, God Himself shut the door so that it was sealed.
Then the rain began to fall. Water poured down from above as if giant windows in the sky had been opened. Soon the small streams and the rivers were rising higher and higher. People began to leave their homes and rush to the hills for safety. Animals also ran in confusion everywhere, trying to find a place of safety and shelter from the storm. But still it rained, and higher and higher the waters rose until every person outside the ark realized that Noah had told the truth. But now it was too late.
For forty days and forty nights the rain fell, but Noah and his family were safe. For more than six months the ark floated high above the water-covered earth. Then God caused a wind to blow over the waters to dry them up. So the water level started dropping. As the flood waters sank lower, the ark found a resting place on the top of a mountain. Here it rested for two months, and during that time the water level continued to drop lower down the mountainsides.
After waiting a while, Noah opened a window high up near the roof. He allowed a raven to fly out of the window. Now, ravens have strong wings, and this bird flew around until the waters had gone down. A while later, Noah sent out a dove; but this bird could not find a place to nest, so it soon returned to the ark. A week later Noah sent out the dove again. It returned with an olive leaf in it’s mouth. He sent out the dove the next week, and it did not come back.
Then God told Noah to bring his entire family and all the animals and other creatures out of the ark. So Noah left the ark with his family and stepped out onto the dry ground. All the animals, birds, and other creatures came out also, and began to live on the earth as they had done before the flood. They had been inside the ark for over a year! Once outside the ark Noah offered sacrifices to God, and God promised Noah that He would never flood the whole earth again. God said that the rainbow would remind everyone of this promise.
THE TOWER OF BABEL
A new world lay before Noah and his family when they stepped out of the ark. Over time the number of people grew and grew until the earth became as full of people as it was before the flood. From the mountains of Ararat, where the ark came to rest, people went into the valley of Mesopotamia and lived on a plain in the land of Shinar.
“Let us build for ourselves a city,” the people said after they reached Shinar. They wanted the city to have a tower whose top would reach to the sky. They thought it was important that they make a name for themselves, “Otherwise,” they said, “we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” And so the people went to work.
Then something happened that the people had not expected. God came to see the city and the tower. He did not talk to the builders, and they probably did not know that He had been there to look at their work. But God was not pleased with what He saw. He knew that the people would become more sinful if they finished the giant tower. They were already thinking more and more about their own work and less and less about the God who gave them the strength to do their work. Soon they might completely forget God and worship what they made instead. So God decided to stop them.
Until this time all the people in the world spoke one language. But God suddenly caused them to speak different languages. The people of one family could not understand what their neighbors were talking about. As a result they could not keep on building the city because the workers could not understand one another. Then they all moved away from one another and were scattered everywhere. This was the very thing they thought building the city would prevent. The unfinished city was named Babel.
GOD CALLS ABRAM
Most of the people who moved away from Babel into different parts of the world did not pray to God. Their hearts were sinful, so they gradually forgot about God. But the people did pray to something. Many of them worshiped things that God had made, such as the earth, sun, moon, and stars. They made idols of wood and stone—images that represented the things they worshiped.
Not far from the city of Babel, where the tower was left unfinished, another city was built. This city was called Ur of the Chaldees because it was built in the home country of the Chaldean people. The people of Ur worshiped a moon-god. On the plains near Ur lived an older man named Terah. One day Terah left Ur to move far away. His grown son named Abram (later changed to Abraham) and other family members traveled with him. The group journeyed up the great Euphrates River until they came to a place called Haran. They had originally planned to go all the way to the land of Canaan, but when they got to Haran, they decided to settle there instead.
Abram was a good man. He believed in the true God. He built altars and brought offerings to sacrifice to God, just as Abel and Noah had done many years before. God heard his prayers and was pleased by his offerings. One day God told Abram to go on a long journey. God promised to lead him to a land, where He would bless him and give him a famous reputation. God also promised to make a great nation from Abram’s family and to bless every family in the world through his. So Abram continued traveling to the land of Canaan. Naturally, Abram’s wife, Sarai (later changed to Sarah), went with Abram. But Abram also took along his nephew Lot. They turned away from the great river and traveled southwest, toward the land of Canaan. On one side of them the mountains rose high in a strange and wild land, while on the other side, as far as they could see, the barren desert stretched away toward the south. On and on they traveled—across rivers, through valleys, and over hills—each day farther from their homeland and nearer to the land that God had promised.
When they came to the plain of Moreh, in Canaan, God spoke to Abram again. “To your descendants,” God told him, “I will give this land.” So Abram built an altar there and worshiped God. This land of promise was called Canaan because the Canaanite people lived in it. These people had been there for a long time and had built some towns and cities. Abram did not live alongside of the Canaanite people but instead set up his tents out on the hills or plains, wherever he could find grass for his livestock to eat and water for them to drink. All the while his flocks and herds grew larger, and Abram eventually became very rich.
LOT DEPARTS FROM ABRAM
Since Abram and his nephew Lot were both very rich, they both had a lot of servants and a lot of animals. Wherever these men and their servants set up their tents, the place looked like a tent-town. And the countryside all around them would be dotted with cattle and sheep.
Soon there were problems between the servants of Abram and Lot. Abram’s servants wanted the best pastureland for Abram’s flocks, and Lot’s servants wanted that same land for their master’s flocks. And so the trouble grew. Abram heard about the argument. He looked out over the crowded countryside and saw how hard it must be for the servants.
So Abram decided to talk to Lot. The two of them would have to live in different places. Abram told Lot that he did not want there to be any bitterness between them and said, “Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.”
From the height on which Abram and Lot stood, they could see far to the east and to the west. Since God had promised all this land to Abram, he could have chosen the better part. But Abram was not selfish. He kindly offered Lot the first choice. And Lot, ignoring the kindness of his uncle, was selfish and chose the best country for raising animals, where the Jordan River flowed. He knew that in this region he would always be able to find plenty of water and grass for his flocks and herds, so he took it.
After Lot left with all his servants and livestock, God spoke again to Abram. Perhaps Abram was sad that Lot chose the better land, for God reminded him of the promise that all of Canaan’s land would belong to him and his children. Abram and Sarai had no children yet, but God said that someday their grandsons and great-grandsons would have many children. Abram believed God.
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAM
After Abram and Lot went their separate ways, Abram moved to another place in Canaan called Mamre. Abram was now growing older. Although he was rich and had many servants, he had no children. But God promised him again that he would have a son. From this son, many generations would follow, and before long Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. They would live in Canaan, and it would be theirs. But before they had Canaan for themselves, something bad was going to happen. They would move to Egypt for hundreds of years, and in Egypt they would become slaves. Then they would return to Canaan.
Nobody knew how Abram and Sarai could have a son because Sarai had never been able to have children, and now she was too old for it. But she came up with a plan to get the child that God had promised. She had a servant named Hagar, and in those days she could allow Abram to marry her servant as a second wife. If Hagar and Abram had a baby, it would be considered Sarai’s child because Hagar was her servant. Abram went along with the plan, and soon Hagar was pregnant. But, as it turned out, this plan did not solve any problems. It only created more. When Hagar became pregnant she began to look down on Sarai. Sarai then began to treat Hagar harshly, and the two women came to hate each other. It got to be so bad that Hagar ran away.
After wandering in the sandy desert for a time, Hagar stopped to rest. Someone found her there—the angel of the LORD. The angel of the LORD told her to return to Sarai and to be her servant again. Hagar probably dreaded this. But the angel had good news for her too. She was going to have a son, and he would have so many descendants that no one could count them. The angel told her to name her son Ishmael, meaning “God hears,” reflecting the fact that God was aware of her situation and was taking care of her.
Hagar knew that the messenger was from God. And she now knew that she could never run away from God, for He had seen her the whole time. After Hagar returned to Sarai, God gave her the child He had promised. Abram loved Ishmael; but Ishmael was not the child that God had promised to give him.
The years passed by until Abram was almost a hundred years old. Then God spoke to him again. Abram bowed and listened. God said that He would make a covenant with Abram. A covenant is a promise between two people, each one agreeing to do something for the other. In this covenant God promised again to give Abram countless descendants and the land of Canaan. The descendants would begin with a son, and Sarai would be the one to have the baby! Abram found the idea a little hard to believe—as anyone would. And he pleaded with God to just use Ishmael instead. But God made it clear that Sarai would give birth to their son. In return for all these blessings, Abram was to be circumcised and to make it a requirement that all his male descendants be circumcised. It was also at this time that God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s to Sarah.
ABRAHAM PLEADS FOR SODOM
It was perhaps noon, and the sun was hot everywhere on the plains. But Abraham sat in the shade of his tent door, beneath a tree. Soon three men approached. Abraham asked them to rest for a while in the cool shade. They were ready for some rest and accepted the invitation. In Abraham’s culture it was very important to treat visitors extremely well. First Abraham sent for water to wash their feet. People wore sandals so their feet would get very dirty as they traveled. He also served them a meal. Sarah made fresh bread and Abraham had a servant kill one of Abraham’s best calves in order to serve them meat with the meal.
When the meal was over, one of the men repeated God’s promise to both Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son together! Then the men got up to continue their journey. Abraham walked with them for a little while. By this time he knew that they were not like other men, but were heavenly beings. Two of them were angels, and the other one was the Lord. Then the Lord told Abraham that He was going to visit Sodom and Gomorrah to see if their sin was actually as terrible as it appeared to be.
The two angels went on toward Sodom, but Abraham stood there with the Lord a while longer. Abraham understood that God might destroy these cities. His nephew Lot lived in Sodom, and he feared for Lot’s safety. Abraham wanted to try to save Lot, so he asked the Lord, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Then he asked Him if He would destroy the city if there were fifty righteous people in it, arguing that it would not be fair to the fifty if He did. The Lord promised that He would spare the entire city if He found fifty righteous people in it.
But then Abraham was afraid—for good reason—that there might be fewer than fifty. So he asked the Lord if He would spare Sodom if only forty-five righteous people were found in it. The Lord was kind to Abraham and promised to save the city if He found forty-five righteous people.
Still Abraham was worried. So he asked the Lord if He would spare Sodom if there were only forty righteous people, and then thirty, and then twenty, and then just ten. Each time the Lord graciously promised to spare Sodom. Even if He could find only ten, He would spare the city. Then the Lord left, and Abraham returned to his tent.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Evening was coming as the two angels, disguised as men, came to Sodom. Lot was by the gate of the city when they entered. Lot probably did not realize they were angels, but he knew they would need a place to stay. So he invited them to stay at his house. It was normal in their culture to invite traveling strangers to stay with you. But the two strangers said they would just spend the night on the city streets. Lot knew this was a bad idea. The people in Sodom were evil and would try to harm them. So Lot kept asking them to stay with him until they finally said yes. When they got to his house, Lot brought water to wash their dusty feet and prepared a feast for them.
Soon the news spread all over Sodom that Lot had two visitors at his home, and men came hurrying from every part of the city to see them. They planned to hurt them. But when Lot refused to let them see his guests, they pushed him aside and tried to break open the door. The angels pulled Lot quickly inside and then struck the men with blindness.
When he saw the men blinded, Lot must have realized that his visitors were angels. They told him that God had sent them to destroy Sodom because the people were so wicked, and that he needed to get his loved ones out of the city right away. So Lot left to warn the men who were going to marry his daughters. But they thought he was joking and ignored his warning.
When morning came it was time to leave. But Lot was not sure if he wanted to go. The angels were not about to let Lot and his family die; so they grabbed him, his wife, and his daughters and dragged them out of the city. Then one of the angels told him to run to the mountains and to not look back toward their old home, otherwise they would be killed. However, Lot did not want to go to the mountains. He did not believe the angels that he would be safe there. So he asked the angels if he could go to the city of Zoar instead. It seems God may have been planning on destroying Zoar along with Sodom and the other cities in the area; but for Lot’s sake, the angels said that Zoar would be spared. When Lot reached Zoar, his wife was behind him, but unfortunately she looked back at Sodom, ignoring the angel’s warning. At that moment her body became a pillar of salt.
When Lot and his daughters were safely inside the city of Zoar, God sent a rain of fire and sulfur that destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah, and all of the neighboring cities. As it turned out, Lot did not feel safe in Zoar either, so he ran to the mountains with his daughters after all. In the mountains they found a cave and made it their home.
ABRAHAM IS TESTED
For a long time God had been promising Abraham that he would have a son—for about twenty-five years! At times it was difficult for him, but Abraham believed God that He would give him the son he wanted so much. Then, when Sarah was around the age of ninety, it finally happened! She became pregnant. Abraham and Sarah had a son. They named him Isaac, and they loved him deeply.
God knew how much Abraham and Sarah loved their son, but it was God’s plan to put Abraham’s faith and obedience to the test by requiring that he give up what he loved the most. So He called to Abraham one day, and Abraham answered, “Here I am.” Then God gave him an incredible command, one that was horribly painful and made no sense to him: “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”
Abraham did not know why God would ask him to put Isaac to death as an offering. He could not understand how the promises that depended on Isaac would be fulfilled if he had to offer Isaac as a sacrifice on an altar. He must have struggled with many questions, but he decided to obey God. He figured that God had the power to raise the dead, so maybe that’s what He was planning.
The land of Moriah was far from where Abraham was living, and the trip there would take a three days. On the third day of the journey, Abraham saw the mountain where God wanted him to build the altar and offer his sacrifice. He and Isaac started to climb the mountain. Isaac carried the wood, and Abraham brought fire and a knife. For the fire he probably had a container that held a burning coal or smoldering wood that could be fanned into a flame.
As they climbed the mountainside together, Isaac began to wonder why his father had forgotten to bring a lamb for a sacrifice. So Isaac said to his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb.”
When they reached the place God had chosen, Abraham built an altar, laid the wood upon it, and then tied Isaac’s hands and feet and placed him on the wood. Next Abraham took his knife, and was about to kill his son, when a loud voice called to him out of the sky, “Abraham! Abraham!” Abraham stopped to listen, and the angel of the LORD said to him, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Just then Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush nearby. He took this animal and offered it as a sacrifice to God instead of offering his son Isaac. And the angel of the LORD called out from the sky again, repeating to Abraham the promise that he would have countless descendants and that through him every nation would be blessed.
ABRAHAM FINDS A WIFE FOR ISAAC
Isaac’s mother Sarah died at age 127. Abraham buried her in a cave in a field that he bought from a Hittite named Ephron (the field and cave were known as Machpelah). After Sarah died, Abraham wanted to find Isaac a wife. It was the custom back then for parents to choose who their children married. Abraham knew that the women of Canaan were idol- worshipers and that they would not teach their children to love and to worship the true God. Because he wanted Isaac’s children to serve God, he would not choose a young Canaanite woman to be Isaac’s wife. So Abraham decided to send someone to the town of Haran, in northern Mesopotamia, to bring back a wife for Isaac from among his own people. He told his trusted servant Eliezer to travel back to Haran and try to find a godly wife for Isaac. Then Abraham made Eliezer take an oath that he would follow the instructions exactly.
Abraham also told Eliezer to bring the woman back with him, and this raised the question in Eliezer’s mind of what to do if she was unwilling to return with him. So he asked Abraham if he should take Isaac to Haran to meet the woman if that was her answer. Abraham was completely against Isaac going there; so if the woman refused to come back with Eliezer, then his task would be finished, even though it was unsuccessful, and Abraham would consider the oath fulfilled.
Then the long journey began. Eliezer took with him ten camels, several servants, and many valuable gifts. For days they traveled, crossing valleys, hills, and edging alongside the great, lonely desert. Finally they came to the land of Mesopotamia, to the northern part, called Paddan-aram, and then at last their tired camels stopped outside the city of Haran and knelt down near a well.
It was evening, and the women of the city were coming to this well to fill their pitchers with water. Eliezer had learned to trust in Abraham’s God and now prayed that God would send the young woman who was His choice as Isaac’s wife to the well, and he asked for a sign so that he would know she was the one. This would be the sign: he would ask a woman for a drink, and if she was willing to give him one and also offered to get water for his camels, she would be the one.
While Eliezer was praying, a beautiful young woman approached with a pitcher on her shoulder. Eliezer waited until she had filled the pitcher with water, then he asked for a drink. Although he was a stranger, she spoke kindly to him and said she would draw water for his camels also. Again and again she filled her pitcher and poured the water into the trough for the thirsty animals. When she had done this, Eliezer gave her some of the beautiful gifts that he had brought. Then he asked her whose daughter she was and if there was room for him, his fellow servants, and their camels at her father’s house. It turned out that this young woman was Rebekah, Abraham’s grandniece, and that there was plenty of room in her father’s house. Because of her reply Eliezer knew that his prayer had been answered, and he bowed his head and worshiped God. Then Rebekah hurried home to tell her family what had happened at the well and to show the beautiful gifts that Eliezer had given her.
When her brother Laban heard Rebekah’s story and saw the expensive gifts that Eliezer had given to her, he ran quickly to meet the strangers at the well and to invite them to come to his home—and they did. Laban treated these guests as any good host in that culture would. He first brought water for them to wash their feet and then served them a meal. But before they ate, Eliezer wanted to speak. First he told Rebekah and her family all about how rich Abraham was. Then he told them about his mission. He was there to find a bride for Isaac from his relatives. Eliezer told them about how God had led him right to Rebekah and even confirmed that she was His choice by answering his prayer for the sign. Now all he needed to know was whether Rebekah would return with him.
Rebekah’s father and brother Laban were willing to let her go back with Eliezer because they believed that God had sent him. And Rebekah was also willing to go. Eliezer was thankful for their willingness, and he bowed his head once more to worship the great God who had helped him on his trip. Then he presented more gifts of silver, gold, and clothing to Rebekah, and valuable gifts to her mother and brother as well. Afterward Eliezer and the servants who came with him enjoyed the feast which had been prepared for them.
The next day Rebekah and some of her servants left with Eliezer, and Eliezer led the way to Canaan. They probably traveled the same route that Abraham had taken many years before, when he went with Sarah and Lot to the land that God had promised. At last they came near to the place where Abraham and Isaac now lived. It was almost evening, and Isaac was out in the fields alone, thinking about God, when he saw the camels coming. He went to meet them; and when Rebekah saw him, she asked Eliezer who this man was. “He is my master,” he replied.
When Isaac met them, Eliezer explained to Isaac how God had answered his prayers and sent Rebekah to him. So Isaac married Rebekah.
As time passed, Abraham married again and had more children, but he still promised all that he had to Isaac because God had told him to do this. Finally, at the age of a hundred and seventy-five, Abraham died. Ishmael heard about his death and came to help Isaac bury their father. They placed his body in the cave where Sarah had been buried. Then Isaac became the owner of all his father’s wealth. And God blessed Isaac just as He had blessed Abraham.
JACOB STEALS ESAU’S BLESSING
After some years a change took place in Isaac’s home life. Two children now played around his tent door—two little boys. They were his twin sons. The one who was born first was named Esau. His hair was red and it grew thickly all over his body. Issac dearly loved Esau. The second boy was named Jacob. He was not at all like his brother, and he was the favorite son of his mother, Rebekah.
When Esau and Jacob grew older, Esau enjoyed hunting and would often take his bow and arrows and go out to the woods in search of deer. Not only did he know how to kill the deer, but he also knew how to prepare and cook the meat just the way Isaac liked it.
There was a custom among the people of those lands to give the firstborn son twice as much of the property as the other children when the father died. This was part of what was called the birthright. And Esau, as Isaac’s firstborn, possessed that birthright.
However, when he was young, Esau did not care much about his birthright. His younger brother, Jacob, thought a lot about the birthright and wished that it could be his instead of Esau’s. He would be happy to receive his father’s blessing, the double portion of all his wealth, the tents they lived in, and the servants who belonged to his father’s household. The son with the birthright also became the spiritual leader of the family, and this was not one of Esau’s strengths.
One day when Esau came home from his work in the field, he saw that Jacob had just prepared a dish of tempting food. And he was very hungry, so he asked Jacob to give him some of the food to eat. Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau grew hungrier than ever when he smelled the good food in Jacob’s dish, and he thought his appetite was more important than his birthright. “I am about to die,” he said, “so of what use then is the birthright to me?” Even if Esau was joking, Jacob was not. He was going to hold Esau to the agreement. “First swear to me,” Jacob said. And Esau did, selling his birthright for something to eat!
Isaac lived a long time, and when he got older, he lost his eyesight. He became convinced that he would die soon, so he wanted to give Esau, his firstborn son, a blessing. A blessing was like a prediction of good fortune which was expected to come true. In Esau’s case, his blessing would also include inheriting all the promises that God had given to Abraham. Isaac may not have not known that Esau had sold his blessing (as part of the birthright) to Jacob. Or he may have forgotten. Or he may not have cared. In any case, he favored Esau and wanted to bless him according to the custom. So he told Esau to go hunting and bring him back something to eat, prepared just the way he liked it.
Esau obeyed his father and hurried away. He was older now and wished that he had not sold his birthright. However, it seemed as if it did not matter after all; his father was going to give him the blessing anyway. But Rebekah had heard Isaac’s instructions too. She was not about to let Esau get the blessing. She came up with a plan to trick her husband into blessing Jacob instead. Since her husband could not see, she would send Jacob into Isaac with two young goats seasoned the way Esau would prepare meat. To make this deception more believable, she had Jacob put on Esau’s clothing. This would make him smell like Esau.
Isaac was surprised when Jacob came to him with the dish of food that Rebekah had prepared. Isaac knew that Esau had not been gone long enough to hunt and kill a deer and then prepare the meat. So he immediately asked, “Who are you, my son?” When Jacob claimed that he was Esau, Isaac asked, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” This must have frozen Jacob in his tracks. He had to think of another lie on the spot to cover up his first lie. As often is the case in these situations, Jacob’s next lie was extremely flimsy, and he made it worse by involving God in it: “Because the LORD your God caused it to happen to me.”
Given Jacob’s unconvincing lie, Isaac still wondered how it could be that Esau had returned so much sooner than usual and was suspicious. So he asked Jacob to come closer so that he could touch his skin, to see if it felt like Esau’s hairy body. Rebekah had planned for this by putting goat skins on Jacob’s bare skin. After touching him, Isaac said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” It seems odd that Jacob did not attempt to sound more like Esau. In any case, Isaac finally ate the meal and went on to bless Jacob with the blessing that was passed on to him by God through his father Abraham.
It turned out to be a good thing that Jacob did not wait to bring the food to his father; Isaac had only just finished blessing Jacob when Esau came back from the hunt. Esau prepared the meal for his father and brought it into him. Then he said to Isaac, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” “Who are you?” exclaimed Isaac. The question must have alarmed Esau, who could only reply, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled in shock. He asked who it was that had already brought him a meal and received the blessing. Without waiting for an answer, and instead of trying to take back the blessing, Isaac simply said, “Yes, and he shall be blessed.”
All Esau could do now was to ask his father for another blessing. Isaac was very sad, knowing that what his favorite son Esau really wanted was impossible. He replied with the bitter truth: “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” Still Esau begged for a blessing; but he may have been better off without it. Isaac could only promise the truth to him, and the “blessing”—such as it was—foretold of a hard life that included serving Jacob, for Isaac already promised this to Jacob in his blessing. The only good news was that one day Esau would gain his freedom from Jacob.
Now Esau hated his brother. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” And with this evil thought of revenge he comforted himself in his grief and anger.
JACOB TRAVELS TO LABAN
When Rebekah heard that Esau wanted to kill his brother Jacob as soon as their father Isaac died, she sent for Jacob at once. “Your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you by planning to kill you,” she told him. Then she instructed him to run far away and stay with her brother Laban until Esau was no longer angry.
Yet it appears that Rebekah did not want Jacob to flee secretly. She wanted Isaac to send him away. But she did not discuss Esau’s anger or her fears for Jacob’s safety with Isaac. She wanted Isaac to send him away with an honorable task. So she told Isaac that as far as she was concerned, life would no longer be worth living if Jacob married one of the idolatrous women who lived in their land. The two Hittite women that Esau had married had already caused her great grief.
Isaac had also been sad when Esau married women who were idol- worshipers. So he called Jacob and said, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan.” Then he told him to go to to Paddan- aram, the region of Mesopotamia where the town of Haran was located, and marry one of Laban’s daughters.
So Jacob said goodbye to his mother and his father and started out on his long journey. He took no camel to ride on and no servant for a companion, but traveled alone instead. He was afraid of his brother and did not know if he could ever return again to his home and feel safe. We do not know what his thoughts were as he journeyed alone, but he probably felt guilty for tricking his father, whom he might never see again. Whatever his thoughts were as he walked along the dusty road, Someone was listening to each and every one of them. That Someone was God.
The sun went down, and Jacob may have felt lonelier than ever with only the darkening sky above him. But as he became very tired, he chose a stone for his pillow, and lay down on the ground to sleep. While he slept he had a dream with a towering ladder which reached to heaven. He saw beautiful angels climbing up and down on the ladder. And God was standing at the top. In his dream God spoke to him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham, and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie, I will give to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.”
Jacob woke up from his dream and looked around. Now he knew that God was with him. He got up early in the morning and made an altar by piling up stones, and he put the stone he had used as a pillow on top. He then poured some olive oil on this stone and named the place Bethel, which means “the house of God.”
At the end of his long journey, Jacob saw some men in a field, near a well. Around them three flocks of sheep were lying down and waiting to be given water. He went closer and spoke to the men. “My brothers, where are you from?” he asked; and when they replied that they were men of Haran, he knew that at last he was near his uncle Laban’s home. He eagerly asked them if they knew Laban. They replied that they did and that Laban was doing well. Then they added, “Here is Rachel his daughter coming with his sheep.”
Jacob thought it was a little strange that three flocks of sheep were all there with their shepherds and no one was getting any water from the well. So he encouraged them to go ahead and water their sheep and leave, perhaps hoping that he would be able to meet with Rachel alone. But the men said they had to wait until all the shepherds got there before they would roll away the stone that was on top of the well. Jacob did not want to wait, so he rolled the stone away by himself and got water out of the well for Rachel’s sheep. After that he took the liberty of kissing her, and suddenly he wept loudly, undoubtedly overcome with joy. Then Jacob told her that he was her cousin, the son of her father’s sister, Rebekah. Rachel could not wait to run and tell her father about Jacob, so off she went.
JACOB IS DECEIVED BY LABAN
When Rachel told her father, Laban, that Jacob had arrived, he hurried out to meet his nephew and to welcome him to his home. He was glad to hear news from his sister, Rebekah, and to speak face to face with her favorite son. At first he showed kindness to Jacob.
As the days passed by, Jacob willingly helped his uncle with his work. Then when a whole month had passed, Laban told Jacob that he should not be working for him for free just because they were related, and he asked Jacob what he thought his wages should be. Jacob replied that he would work for Laban seven years just for the privilege of marrying his younger daughter Rachel. In those days marriages could be arranged by such an agreement with the bride’s father. Laban accepted, but as it would turn out, Laban had no intention of honoring the agreement.
At the end of the seven years Jacob reminded his uncle that the time for payday had arrived. Laban then arranged a marriage feast. He invited many friends to attend the wedding. In the evening he brought the veiled bride to Jacob, and Jacob completed their marriage by going to bed with her, apparently without ever seeing the bride’s face or hearing her voice. When he woke up the next morning, it was not Rachel who was in bed with him, but her older sister Leah! We do not know how Laban managed to trick Jacob. He undoubtedly made sure that Jacob had too much wine to drink and would not notice anything when Leah and he went to bed.
How unhappy Jacob was when he realized that his uncle had tricked him! He confronted Laban, shouting, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?” When Jacob demanded an explanation, Laban merely said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn.” Then he added that Jacob could also have Rachel as his wife if he would work for him another seven years. Jacob would eventually have four wives. Both Leah and Rachel would end up giving him their maids as secondary wives, in attempts to earn Jacob’s love by giving him more sons. In those days people did not think it was wrong for one man to have several wives.
We are not told whether Laban’s reply and new offer angered Jacob; we just know that he agreed to it and worked another seven years for Laban. Perhaps Jacob came to the conclusion that this was God’s way of punishing him for what he did to his father and brother. When the fourteen years had gone by, Jacob wanted to return to Canaan, but Laban wanted him to stay. Laban knew that God was blessing him just because Jacob was working for him. When Jacob insisted that he needed to provide for his own family, Laban asked him to name his price. Jacob said that he would continue to tend Laban’s flocks if he could just take the black and the motley-colored sheep and goats from Laban’s flocks as his own. This seemed like a very good deal to Laban, so he agreed. But instead of allowing Jacob to pick out the animals, Laban did it himself, putting the black and motley-colored animals in the care of his own sons. Then, for extra protection, Laban separated his sons and Jacob by a distance of a three day’s journey. This allowed Laban to be sure that the two groups would not mate with each other and produce more black and motley-colored offspring.
But this was not a problem for Jacob. He was able to get Laban’s flock to produce more black and motley-colored offspring, and he kept these as his payment. The techniques Jacob used seem to defy scientific explanation, and, ultimately, God’s miraculous power was the cause of his success. As a result, Jacob ended up with many sheep and goats, and Laban paid for treating his nephew so poorly. Since God kept blessing Jacob, he became rich. He bought camels and donkeys and owned many servants. God also gave him eleven sons and one daughter.
When Jacob’s riches increased, Laban’s sons became jealous of him. They felt that he had taken advantage of their father. Laban, who was selfish, began to be jealous of him too. He forgot that much of his wealth came from God blessing Jacob. He also seemed to forget that Jacob had never broke their agreements. Then the angel of God spoke to Jacob in a dream telling him to go back to Canaan.
Jacob remembered that Laban had not let him go before when he told him that he wanted to return to his father. Now he was afraid that Laban would not allow him to take his daughters, Leah and Rachel, to far-off Canaan, so he decided to sneak away. He told Leah and Rachel that God had talked to him and had told him to return to Canaan. They both replied that they were ready to go with him because they were angry with their father. But more importantly, they also believed that God was with Jacob.
Busy days followed in which Jacob prepared to start out on the long road over which he had traveled twenty years before. The sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and donkeys were all gathered from the fields where they had been grazing on the tender grass. At this time Laban had gone to shear his sheep that were with his sons, and Rachel took advantage of the opportunity by stealing small idols that her father kept in the house.
Two or three days after they had left on their secret journey, someone discovered that they were all gone and informed Laban. He probably would have found out sooner if he had not moved the flocks under Jacob’s care three days’ journey away from the ones with his own sons. Now Laban took some men from his family with him and set out after Jacob. Meanwhile, Jacob and all those with him were fleeing and traveling as fast as they could, but Laban and his men could move faster and quickly covered a distance that would normally take a week, so Laban had Jacob’s group in sight. It must have been late in the day because Laban decided to make camp for the night, intending to confront Jacob in the morning. But God came to Laban in a dream and said, “Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.”
At that point a wiser man might have abandoned the pursuit and returned home, but not Laban. He caught up with Jacob and demanded to know why he had taken his daughters and left without saying a word. But he quickly added that if he had been told, he would have given them a joyful farewell party. He also pointed out that he had the power to harm them, but had been warned by God against that. He finished by asking Jacob why he had stolen his idols.
Jacob was quick to respond. He had left in secret because he was afraid that instead of this grand celebration Laban was now describing, Laban would have tried to take his wives away from him by force. As for the question about the idols, it caught Jacob completely by surprise, for it was the first he had heard about it.
It’s clear that he did not really think through his response because he gave Laban permission to do a search for the idols, and he foolishly promised to execute whoever had them!
Rachel heard what Jacob had said, and she went into her tent, put the idols in a saddlebag, and sat on it to hide them. When Laban came to her tent and searched it, she claimed that she could not get up because it was her time of the month, so he did not find the idols. After the search was over, Jacob and Laban continued to argue with each other. Finally they made a covenant, or solemn agreement, to part ways for good. As part of the agreement, Laban reminded Jacob that God had His eye on him in case he might mistreat Rachel or Leah. They spent the night there, and in the morning Laban got up and kissed his daughters goodbye and blessed them. Then he turned back toward his home at Haran, leaving Jacob and his family to continue their journey to Canaan. With this confrontation behind him, Jacob still worried about another one. Although twenty years had passed since Jacob left Canaan, he never forgot the fear that had made him go to Haran. And the memory of that fear bothered him—what if Esau would never forgive him?
JACOB’S NAME IS CHANGED TO ISRAEL
God knew that Jacob was afraid of Esau, and He sent a group of angels to meet him. After this Jacob felt more courageous and sent some messengers to his brother to announce his return. But Esau no longer lived in Canaan. He now lived in Seir (Edom), which lay south and east of the Dead Sea. When the messengers found him, they returned to Jacob with a message: Esau was coming to find him, and he had four hundred men with him!
The news sounded disastrous. As far as Jacob saw it, Esau was coming with a small army to kill him and everybody with him. Why else would Esau need four hundred men? Jacob came up with a plan. He would try to win over his brother with an extremely generous gift. He sent servants ahead with a large amount of animals: a group with goats, a group with sheep, a group with camels, a group with cows, and a group with donkeys. They would all go ahead of Jacob and meet Esau in waves. Whenever one of the groups met Esau, the servants were to give him the animals as a gift from Jacob. If these did not go over well, they would at least serve as an obstacle and slow Esau down. The second part of Jacob’s plan was to divide all the people with him into two groups. The people he cared about more would go in the second group. That way if Esau attacked the first group, the other group could escape.
At this point it was night, and in the darkness a strange man took hold of Jacob and wrestled with him until morning. Jacob wrestled fiercely, and neither of them gained an advantage over the other. When daylight appeared the man wanted to leave, so he touched Jacob’s hip socket, miraculously causing it to dislocate. Obviously he had been going easy on Jacob up until that point. This should have forced an end to the match, but Jacob realized that he had been wrestling with the angel of God, so he was determined to fight on despite the pain. Then the angel said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But Jacob answered, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The angel told Jacob that God was changing his name from Jacob to Israel because he had struggled against both God and people and had prevailed. After the angel left, Jacob named the place Peniel (“the face of God”) because he believed that he had seen God face-to-face there.
When the sun rose, Jacob was limping on one leg because of the injury to his hip. Soon he saw his brother Esau coming to meet him with the four hundred men. He quickly divided up his family into marching order, again putting those who mattered most to him behind the others. So his secondary wives and their children were in front, followed by Leah and her children, and Rachel and her son Joseph were last. He himself hurried forward to be the first to greet Esau.
Despite everything Jacob had been afraid of, things turned out differently than he expected. Esau was actually happy to see him. When the two met, Esau rushed forward and hugged Jacob and kissed him. The two brothers cried for joy, and all the pain of the past seemed to be forgotten. God had also been gracious to Esau, and had given him plenty. The prophecies Isaac had spoken about the two brothers, especially Esau’s hard life and service to Jacob, would apply more to their descendants than to them.
After their short visit together, Esau returned to his home in Seir, and Jacob journeyed on to Canaan. In Canaan God reminded him that the promises originally given to Abraham were now his as well. God added that kings would come from him. Jacob moved from place to place in Canaan, but eventually he returned to his old home where his father was still alive. But before they made it there, a sad thing happened. Rachel died while giving birth to a baby boy. Jacob gave him the name Benjamin; and just as his father played favorites, Jacob loved Rachel’s children, Joseph and Benjamin, more than all the rest of his kids. Sometime after Jacob’s return, Isaac died at age 180, and Esau came to help Jacob bury him.
JOSEPH IS SOLD INTO SLAVERY
Among Jacob’s twelve sons, the one he loved the most was Joseph—the eleventh born in his household and the eldest son of Rachel, his favorite wife, who died giving birth to Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin. Because Jacob loved Joseph so much, his brothers became jealous of him. And when Jacob made a wonderful coat of many colors and gave it to Joseph, the older sons became even more jealous, to the point that they hated Joseph. One day while he was in the field with four of them, he saw them do something bad and he told his father about it. Now his brothers hated him so much that they no longer said anything nice to him. Maybe he did not notice their hatred, but it seems he could not keep himself from doing things that would obviously make his brothers upset.
One night, when Joseph was about seventeen years old, he had a strange dream and told his brothers about it. In the dream they were all harvesting in the field, and the bundle of what Joseph harvested stood up. Then all of his brothers’ bundles bowed down to it. Telling them this did not go over well. “Are you actually going to reign over us?” the brothers asked in angry voices; and they hated him even more than before.
Yet things were about to get worse. Soon Joseph dreamed again. This time he saw the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowing down before him. If such a dream had any meaning at all, how could it mean anything else but that he would someday become a ruler and that his relatives would bow down to him? Having learned nothing from telling his brothers about the first dream, he told them this one too. Then he told his father. Even his father was annoyed by this. It would be humiliating for Jacob to bow down to his own son.
Now, Jacob had a lot of flocks, and there was not always enough grass and water where they lived. During one of these times, Joseph’s older brothers were watching the flocks far away; and Jacob sent Joseph out to find out how things were going. But when Joseph got there, his brothers spotted him from far off because Joseph was wearing that coat that made them hate him!
So his brothers said to one another, “Here comes this Dreamer! Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” The oldest brother, Reuben, realized what a terrible thing it would be to do this, and he wanted to save Joseph. But he was afraid that the others would not listen if he told them not to hurt him, so he suggested that they throw him into the pit alive and leave him to die there. Reuben planned to rescue Joseph when the other brothers were not watching. The others quickly agreed with Reuben, and when Joseph came they grabbed him, stripped off his coat, and threw him into the pit. Then they sat down on the ground and ate their lunch, not listening to his cries. Reuben went away by himself to wait for an opportunity to rescue Joseph.
But as it turned out, God had a different plan for Joseph. While the brothers were eating their lunch, they saw a group of traveling merchants riding on camels. Some of these merchants were Midianites, and some were Ishmaelites, and they were going to Egypt to sell things such as rich spices. Judah, another of Joseph’s older brothers, got an idea and said, “What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother.” The others were willing to sell Joseph; so they pulled him out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelite merchants for twenty pieces of silver. The brothers greedily divided the money between themselves and thought that he was gone forever.
After the Ishmaelites were gone and the brothers went away to different parts of the field, Reuben came hurrying back to the pit. Leaning over, he discovered that Joseph was no longer there. Grief and shock overwhelmed him. Reuben found his brothers and exclaimed, “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?”
Being the oldest son, he knew that he would have to answer to their father for Joseph’s disappearance.
When the brothers sold Joseph, they kept his coat. Now they killed one of the goats they were supposed to be watching, drenched the coat in its blood, and brought it to their father. They told Jacob that they had found the coat and wanted to know if he thought it might be Joseph’s. The plan worked perfectly. Obviously, Jacob recognized the coat as Joseph’s, and he assumed exactly what the brothers were hoping for: a wild animal had killed Joseph!
JOSEPH BECOMES A PRISONER IN EGYPT
When Joseph arrived in Egypt, he was sold to a man named Potiphar. Potiphar was the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. He was a very rich man and had many other servants. He found that Joseph succeeded at everything he did, and he came to the conclusion that God was with Joseph. All of the sudden, Joesph, who had lacked common sense at home, became the picture of wisdom. It was all God’s doing. God blessed everything Potiphar owned because of Joseph, so Potiphar put Joseph in charge of everything. Since Joseph took care of everything, the only thing Potiphar had to worry about was choosing what to eat. Through all of this Joseph remained obedient to God and Potiphar, and everything was going well. But Potiphar’s wife noticed how attractive Joseph was, and she often tried to convince him to lie down with her. Because he would not, she finally became angry with him and lied about him to her husband, claiming that Joseph had tried to violate her. Potiphar believed her lie, and to punish Joseph, he threw the honest young man into the king’s jail. Perhaps Joseph wondered why he had to suffer for the sins of other people. To be a slave had seemed bad enough; to be thrown into jail while trying to do right was even worse.
But God was still with Joseph, even in the jail. Day after day the chief jailer watched him, and finally he decided that Joseph was the very one he needed to help care for the jail. So he put Joseph completely in charge of the entire jail. Things went so well with Joseph in charge, that the chief jailer did not have to worry about anything. And God caused everything Joseph did to succeed.
About that time Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, became frustrated with two of his special servants—the chief cupbearer, who served him wine, and the chief baker, who served him bread and other baked goods. Because of his frustration he put both of them into the jail, and Joseph cared for them there.
One morning Joseph found these men looking unusually sad. “Why are your faces so sad today?” he asked. They had both had unusual dreams the night before, but there was no one there to tell them the meanings of their dreams. In the king’s court there were fortune- tellers who often told the meanings of dreams, but there was no one in the jail to do that. Yet Joseph knew that only God was capable of actually knowing and interpreting someone’s dream. “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Joseph asked. “Tell it to me, please.” The cupbearer and the baker knew nothing about Joseph and his dreams, of course, but they thought there would be no harm in telling him.
The chief cupbearer was first to tell his dream. He said that he saw a grapevine with three branches, and as it budded, it produced ripe grapes. “Now Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand,” he continued. “So I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.”
God enabled Joseph to understand the meaning of the dream, and Joseph said, “The three branches are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office.” After interpreting the dream, Joseph added, “Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.” Joseph had done very well up to now and had made the most of his circumstances, but like any other normal young man, he was homesick and wanted his life back.
Since the chief cupbearer got such good news, the chief baker was eager to tell Joseph his dream. “There were three baskets of white bread on my head,” he said, “and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”
No doubt the chief baker’s joy continued as Joseph began to interpret the dream, for the interpretation began the same way. “The three baskets are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head . . . .” But this was not good news. The interpretation took a different turn: “Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you.” The chief baker was not going back to work; he was going to be executed!
Three days later Pharaoh held a feast for his servants in honor of his birthday. During the feast he removed both the chief cupbearer and the chief baker from the jail and did with them just as Joseph had said he would. But the chief cupbearer soon forgot about Joseph, and two entire years passed before he remembered to speak to the king about him. However, God had not forgotten about Joseph. This was all part of God’s plan for him.
JOSEPH BECOMES A RULER IN EGYPT
One morning Pharaoh woke up wondering about the meaning of two strange dreams that he had dreamed during the night. He called the fortunetellers of Egypt to tell him what the dreams meant, but they could not. So he was very upset. When the chief cupbearer heard about the king’s problem, he thought of his own experience when he was in jail and how Joseph interpreted his dream. Now he told Pharaoh about Joseph, and immediately the king sent for him.
When Joseph arrived at the palace, he was brought into the room with Pharaoh. Pharaoh spoke directly to him: “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.” Joseph wanted to make it clear to Pharaoh that his ability to interpret dreams was not some magical power that he had, but God simply told him their meanings. So he replied, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
So Pharaoh described what he had seen: “In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile; and behold, seven cows, fat and sleek came up out of the Nile, and they grazed in the marsh grass. Lo, seven other cows came up after them, skinny and very ugly and gaunt, such as I had never seen for ugliness in all the land of Egypt; and the lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows. Yet when they had devoured them, it could not be detected that they had devoured them, for they were just as ugly as before! Then I awoke.”
Pharaoh continued, describing the second dream in which he saw seven good ears, or kernels of grain, on a stalk, and then seven more ears sprouted up after them that were thin and withered because they were scorched by the hot east wind. “And the thin ears swallowed the seven good ears,” he said. He repeated that no one had been able to explain the dreams to him.
Joseph could see that the dreams were connected, and he began by saying, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine. It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land.”
Joesph went on to explain, “Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about. Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.” Joseph went on to recommend that a fifth of all the grain produced in the country be collected as a tax during each of the seven good years, and that all of this grain be stored under guard in various cities as a reserve for the seven years of famine.
Pharaoh and his officers listened carefully to Joseph’s words, and when he had finished speaking, the king thought that since God was with Joseph, the job should go to him. “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are.” Then he made Joseph a ruler over all the land of Egypt. He gave Joseph so much power that he was the second most powerful person in Egypt. Only Pharaoh was more powerful than Joseph.
Joseph did just as he said he would do. For the first seven years, when there more than enough food growing, he collected a fifth of the grain that people grew. He stored all this extra grain in buildings for the future, until finally he had a huge amount set aside for the years of famine that were coming. During this time God blessed Joseph with two sons, whom he named Manasseh and Ephraim. And Joseph was grateful to God for all His blessings. He realized that God had made him go through all those troubles for a reason.
When the seven years of plenty had passed, the troubled years of famine began. None of the fields in all the land of Egypt would grow crops, and people needed food. Then they came to Joseph, and he opened the buildings where he had the grain stored and sold food to the Egyptians. The famine was not only in Egypt, but also in the surrounding countries. From near and far people came to Joseph, asking him to sell grain to them so that they would not die of hunger.
JOSEPH SEES HIS BROTHERS AGAIN
The deadly famine that struck Egypt reached Canaan too. Food was becoming hard to find, and people were wondering what they should do. Then good news came that there was plenty of food in Egypt.
Jacob and his eleven sons were rich in silver, gold, and livestock. But without grain their riches could not keep them alive. So Jacob sent his ten older sons to Egypt to buy grain. He kept his youngest son, Benjamin, at home because, without Joseph, Benjamin was now his favorite son. Even though it had been over twenty years since Jacob lost Joseph, he never allowed Benjamin to go far away from home for fear that some terrible thing might happen to him as well.
When the ten brothers arrived in Egypt, the only way to buy grain was to go to Joseph. But the brothers did not know that he was Joseph. More than twenty years had changed him from a boy into a full-grown man. Now he went by a new name, sat on a throne, dressed like a prince, and everyone who came to him with a request bowed humbly before him—just as if he were the king. His ten brothers also bowed down before him, as the other people did.
Joseph recognized his brothers at once, and when they bowed before him, he remembered his dreams. Now he knew those dreams had come true, and he understood why God had allowed him to be sold into Egypt. But he decided that he would wait to tell his brothers who he was. So he pretended that he did not know them. He spoke to them in the language of the Egyptian people with an interpreter, and he pretended to be unkind and suspicious.
“You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!” he declared harshly.
They responded, “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies.”
“No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!” he insisted.
“Your servants are twelve brothers in all,” they answered, “the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive.”
Joseph had been close to Benjamin, and he wanted to see him again. So he declared again that the brothers were spies, but this time he said that he was going to test their story by having one of them go back to their home and bring their youngest brother to him. In the meantime he would have the other nine of them thrown in jail.
Joseph now put his brothers into jail, where he himself had spent several long years. On the third day, however, he spoke to them again. “Do this and live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.”
The brothers believed that God was punishing them for what they had done to their younger brother Joseph. They did not know that the Egyptian ruler was Joseph, and that he could understand their language, so they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.”
Joseph pretended not to understand what they were saying, but when he heard them talking like this, his heart was touched. Now he knew that they were sorry for their sin, and he turned his face away and wept. Then he dried his tears and spoke to them again in the language of the Egyptians. He took Simeon, who was the second oldest, tied him up in front of them, and put him back into the jail.
He sent the others back to Canaan.
He ordered that their sacks be filled with grain, but he also secretly told his servants to return their money in each sack with the grain.
It was a difficult journey home for the nine brothers. They wondered what their father would say. Joseph was gone, and now Simeon was a prisoner, and Benjamin had to go to Egypt or else they would lose Simeon forever! But the situation was about to get even worse. At the end of the first day when they stopped for the night and began to feed their donkeys, one brother saw his bag of money in his sack of grain. He told the other brothers, and their hearts all sank because they knew that the Egyptian ruler would accuse them of theft; and they would have no explanation to offer. How could God do such a thing to them?
At last they reached home, tired and discouraged. They told their father about the trouble they were in and explained why Simeon was left in Egypt. Benjamin would have to go back with them to appear before the Egyptian ruler. Then they began emptying their sacks, and they were shocked to discover that the money they had used to buy the grain had made its way back to all of their sacks, and not just the one!
When Jacob saw this, he gave up hope of ever seeing Simeon again and blamed the nine brothers for the loss of Joseph and Simeon. Reuben could see that their father was unwilling to send Benjamin back with them, so he took personal responsibility for Benjamin, promising to return him. Reuben offered his own two sons as his guarantee, telling Jacob that he could put them to death if Benjamin was not returned safely. But Jacob did not trust Reuben to guarantee Benjamin’s safety, and refused to send him with them. To keep Benjamin safe, Jacob would let Simeon stay in jail in Egypt.
JOSEPH REVEALS HIMSELF TO HIS BROTHERS
The famine continued to rage in Canaan: the waters of the brooks dried up, nothing would grow in the fields, and the water levels in the wells were becoming lower each day. After a while the food that Jacob’s sons had brought from Egypt was almost gone. “Go back, buy us a little food,” said Jacob, as if their troubles with Joseph had never happened.
So Judah reminded him, “The man solemnly warned us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ ” Then Judah, speaking for all the brothers, made their father face the facts: he must let them take Benjamin with them to Egypt, or else they would not go. Without Benjamin the journey would be pointless.
But Jacob was still unwilling to let Benjamin go. So Judah told his father the plain truth; if they did not go, they would all die. Then he offered that his father could hold him personally responsible if Benjamin did not return, and he ended his argument with the remark, “For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice.”
There really was no choice; they were running out of grain. Finally Jacob agreed to let Benjamin go. Jacob knew that it would be foolish to approach an angry foreign ruler empty-handed. So in addition to letting Benjamin go with them, he told them to put together a generous gift for the Egyptian ruler. He also told them to take twice as much money as they needed for the grain they wanted to buy and to return all the money they had found in their sacks after the first trip.
When the brothers returned to Joseph, he saw that Benjamin was with them. So he sent them to his own house and gave orders to his servants to prepare a feast for the noon hour. Since his brothers did not understand what Joseph was saying, they were frightened of being brought to his house. They thought that he was planning to make them his slaves because of the money that they had found in their sacks.
But when they got to Joseph’s house, things turned out differently than they expected. When they told the servant over Joesph’s house their side of the story about the money in their sacks, he told them not to worry, adding, “Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.” Then he brought Simeon to them. He treated them like honored guests by bringing them water to wash their feet and feeding their donkeys. They also learned that they were going to be served a meal. So they were less afraid and started preparing their gift to give to the Egyptian ruler.
At noon Joseph came home to meet them. When they saw him, they brought their gift into the house and bowed down before him. He spoke kindly to them and asked right away whether their father was still alive. He seemed overly interested in their father whom they had left in Canaan. Next he turned to Benjamin and asked, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?” When he knew for sure that Benjamin was his own brother, he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” He wanted to kiss Benjamin and hug him right away, but he still was not ready to let his ten older brothers know that he was Joseph.
After the tables had been set, Joseph and his brothers entered the dining hall. Other guests were there—Egyptians, probably officers. The brothers saw that three tables had been set—one where Joseph ate alone because he was the ruler, another where the Egyptians ate, and around the third table the brothers were assigned places according to their ages, beginning with Reuben. “How strange!” they probably thought, “for how can this man know our birth order?” Joseph then sent food to them from his table, but he gave Benjamin five times as much as the others. Perhaps he wanted to see if they were as jealous of Benjamin as they had once been of himself.
After the meal was over Joseph secretly instructed the servant over his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.” The servant did as he was told.
The next morning the brothers started for home. But when they had just left the city behind, Joseph’s servant caught up with them and demanded, “Why have you repaid evil for good?” He then accused them of stealing Joseph’s personal cup. The brothers denied the theft. They had already proved their honesty by returning the money that they originally found in their sacks. “How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house?” they sincerely asked. They were so certain that none of them had stolen the cup that they invited him to search them and added, “With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.”
Joseph’s servant did not want it to come to all that, so he said, “He with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” Then the search began, with each man putting his sack on the ground and opening it to be searched, beginning with Reuben and ending with Benjamin. And one by one the men were glad when the missing cup was not found in their bag. Suddenly the unimaginable happened: the missing cup was found in Benjamin’s sack (right where the servant had placed it).
Joseph was waiting at his house for them. “What is this deed that you have done?” he demanded as they bowed before him. Judah answered that they had no explanation, except that God was punishing them for their sin. He told the ruler to take all eleven of them as slaves. “Far be it from me to do this,” replied Joseph, more kindly now; “The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.” This may have been a test by Joseph to see if they were willing to let Benjamin suffer to save themselves.
But Judah approached Joseph and asked to speak to him privately. After receiving permission, Judah spoke of how hard it was for their father to allow Benjamin to even go to Egypt. If Benjamin did not return from Egypt, it might kill their father. He added that he had personally guaranteed Benjamin’s safety to their father, and he pleaded with Joseph to allow him to take Benjamin’s place as his slave.
Judah’s offer touched Joseph’s heart. Judah had been the one who suggested that they sell Joseph into slavery. Now here he was offering himself as a slave in place of Benjamin. Joseph quickly told his Egyptian servants to leave the room; and when they were all gone, he cried out loudly, so loudly that everyone in the house could hear him. Then, turning to his brothers, he said, “I am Joseph!”
Surprise and fear overcame the brothers, leaving them speechless. Since they could not speak, Joseph continued, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph went on to add, “Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Joseph told them to go home and tell their father about him and to have their father and all their families move to Egypt where they would live comfortably.
The Egyptian servants had heard Joseph crying, and they hurried to tell Pharaoh that Joseph’s brothers had come. Everyone was glad because everyone loved Joseph. Pharaoh provided wagons and offered Joseph’s family the best land in Egypt on which to live.
When they arrived home, the brothers told their father Jacob everything that had happened, especially that Joseph was still alive. Jacob was astonished; he did not believe them at first, but became convinced when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent. He was overjoyed and said, “It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
THE STORY OF JOB
The Book of Job
Long ago there lived a good man named Job. His home was in the country called Uz, which may have been east of the land of Canaan. Job was a very rich man and was considered the greatest man in the country. He had thousands of camels, donkeys, cattle, and sheep. He had many servants too. And Job had seven sons and three daughters.
Although many of his neighbors worshiped the sun and the moon, Job was godly—he thought about God and always tried to do things that he believed would please God. He built altars of earth or stone and sacrificed sheep and oxen to God. Then he prayed and asked God to forgive his sins and to bless him. He would pray the same way for his children. And God noticed Job. He blessed him with health and happiness. He gave him many friends and great honors.
But one day Satan spoke to God against Job. He said to God, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”
This was not true. Job did not serve God only because God had blessed him. God did not believe Satan’s accusation because He knew Job very well. Nevertheless, God allowed Satan to test Job.
So Satan sent troublemakers from other countries to steal Job’s oxen, sheep, camels, and donkeys. They even killed his servants. And then a big storm came and destroyed the house where Job’s sons and daughters were eating—killing every one of them!
When Job heard all this horrible news he tore his clothes in grief, as his people customarily did, but then he bowed down to the ground to worship God. He did not turn away from God as Satan had predicted. In fact, he blessed God just as he had always done.
Satan was not ready to give up. He came to God and argued that just like anybody else, Job would turn his back on everything to save his own life. So he claimed that Job could be broken by extreme pain: “Put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” Once again God allowed Satan to attack Job, but he was not allowed to kill him. Satan caused big, ugly sores to break out all over Job’s body. These sores were very painful. Everyone looked at Job in alarm, and even his wife wished that he would just die and end his suffering.
Then three godly men, who had been friends of Job for a long time, came to see him. They had heard about his problems and they wanted to try to make him feel better. But when they first saw him from a distance, they did not even recognize him. The ugly sores made his face look so different that they could hardly believe it was Job. It made them cry and tear their clothes in grief for him. Then finally they came over and sat down on the ground near him. But they did not talk to him for an entire week. They saw how intense his suffering was, and they just wanted to be there for him.
Eventually Job broke the silence by cursing the day he was born! The pain and all his other suffering had finally overpowered him, but even then he did not curse God. He just complained and insisted that he was innocent. Now that Job had spoken, his friends thought that it was time for them to speak too. But what were they to say? They could not make sense of Job’s extreme suffering without believing that God was punishing him for some awful sin; otherwise God would be brutally unfair. They had no idea—nor did Job—of the true reason why this was all happening to him. So they saw it as their job to get him to confess the sin that must have led to this terrible suffering. That way he could then seek God’s forgiveness. As a result, when they spoke to him, they did not comfort him. They insisted that he was trying to hide his sin. All of this only added to Job’s suffering by making him frustrated and angry, for he knew that he had not sinned to cause his pain. His friends were doing him no good at all.
Then God spoke to Job during a storm, and Job bowed down low to the ground and worshiped. God was rather hard on Job because of all the complaining Job had done, and God pointed out to Job that he was in no position to question anything that God had done. Job responded with deep humility: “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” He went on to say, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” God was pleased with Job, but He was not pleased with Job’s three friends. He told those men to bring offerings for their sins and to ask Job to pray for them.
After this God caused Job’s ugly sores to heal, and soon his body was well again. Then God sent many blessings to Job. Every year he grew richer until he had twice as many riches as he had before he was attacked by Satan. And God gave him seven sons and three daughters again. These daughters were the most beautiful women in the entire country. And so Job received health, happiness, riches, and honor again—this man who would not let any kind of disaster or tragedy turn him away from God. And Job lived to be a very old man.