Chapter 4: The Genesis account and prophets
Where better to start our study of Bible prophets than right at the beginning, in the Book of Genesis. Genesis is not known for providing us with an abundance of prophets, even though it covers a period of over 2000 years, significant as it is longer than the entire period covered by the rest of the Old Testament. Yet it is vital to our study of the prophets; missing it out would be tantamount to reading a book from half way through. Genesis means origin or beginning, for it tell us how much that is significant in the world as we know it now came into being.
Like the proverbial football match, sometimes seen as a game of two halves, Genesis can be divided, unequally it is true, into two halves:
- The origins of humankind (chapters 1-11)
- The origins of Israel (chapters 12-50)
Part 2 is nearly 4 times as long as Part 1, and it only covers four generations of mainly one family (that of Abraham) and a period of not much more than 200 years, one tenth the size of Part 1. If we are to work on the basis of the Bible, including Genesis, is the Word of God, it reflects what God deems as important and tantalizingly, sometimes, omits certain details. Part 1 tells us for the first time about much God deemed important: the creation of the world, how God established two genders, the creation mandate, the institution of marriage, the origin of sin, the pathway to redemption, angels and demons, sacrifices and offerings, how nations began, culture and industry, and a lot more besides.
The significant origin not covered is that of God Himself, and all we are told is there right at the start: “In the beginning God” (1:1) – and it is a mind-blowing thought that God always was, is, and will be. Part 1 tells us of how He wanted to have a relationship with those He created and how they fell out of His favour through disobedience (despite being given free reign, they did the one thing that was forbidden), even though God still wanted to (and did) extend His favour to humankind, even though we read, prior to the Flood: “And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (6:6), and yet, despite man’s rebellion, God continued to graciously reach out to him.
It is not our intention to get embroiled in the many arguments as to whether or not planet Earth was created in six days and is less than 10000 years old, there was a great flood covering at least the then known world and other “unlikely” happenings, like two highly significant trees, a talking snake, the ”mysterious” mark of Cain, a race of giants – a hybrid between angels and humanity, and a Tower (Babel) from which we can trace how the nations of the world began. Rather, this book is written on the assumption it all happened, as Genesis 1-11 states, and all these origins are highly significant, even if the majority opinion among those who pontificate over its veracity is that Genesis Part 1 is myth.
Before moving onto Part 2, it is worth dwelling on two points about God’s creation, which helps further inform us why He dealt with humankind in the way He did, through the prophets that were to come: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (1:27) and “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (1:31).
Part 2 talks about one important origin not covered in Part 1 – that of the nation of Israel. Much of what is written is concerning the Jews who comprised that nation, and that focus remains throughout the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament, where the emphasis is on the Gentiles, the Jews were never far from God’s thoughts, who are still to play a significant part in prophecy yet to be fulfilled. One of the big questions to which we do not have a perfect answer is “why did God choose the Jews” and for what purpose? One poet put it: “How odd of God to choose the Jews“, although for the sake of balance one response was “But not so odd as those who choose a Jewish God yet spurn the Jews“. The conundrum of the mistreatment and dismissal of the Jews, to this day, including by “Christians”, at the same time their resilience and survival, is a major one.
While it may not be entirely clear why God should choose Abraham and His descendants to be His special people, and this despite their constant falling away thereafter, we do get some insights into the reasons why: “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” Deuteronomy 7:6-8. And to this day, Jewish people have been vilified by many, but we can only point to what God thinks and challenge those who consign Jewish folk to being now irrelevant, which as we will see will not let them off the hook when they disobey God and are made even more accountable because they are God’s chosen people, and those who do oppose them will find they are opposing God and will reap the consequences. We will not understand the Hebrew prophets if we ignore God’s special relationship with Israel, that is unique among the nations, and the Genesis account of how Israel began.
Part 2 begins: “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (12:1-3). Chapters12 – 24 records events in Abrahams life and after briefly turning our attention to his son, Isaac, the remaining chapters (25 – 50) are mainly about Jacob and, to a lesser extent, his younger son, Joseph, and other sundry events. Genesis ends with Jacob and his family (by this time numbering 70) living in Egypt, where they remained for 400 years, with the story being picked up again in Exodus, with Moses being the main character.
As far as Genesis goes, the only one identified as a prophet was Abraham, when God told Abimelech, king of Gerar, who had designs on Abraham’s wife, Sarah: “Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine” (20:7). There is no mention anywhere else in the Old Testament that anyone else mentioned in Genesis was a prophet, although the Talmud cites the three Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as all being prophets. Unexpectedly maybe, in the New Testament, another Genesis figure is spoken off as a prophet: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” Jude 1:14-15. For our study, we will look at five persons from Part 1 as being possible prophets: Adam, Abel, Seth, Enoch and Noah and four persons from Part 2: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. We don’t know enough about Abel, Seth and Enoch to comment but the Bible recalls all the others doing acts of foolishness or plain wrong, and yet God was able to use them all, who all played vitally significant roles in what is after all HIS STORY.
Adam (and Abel and Seth)
It is strange that the first “prophet” we mention is not regarded as such by most Christians and Jews (although Muslims believe Adam to be a prophet). The intention is not to be controversial but rather to work within the loose definition of a prophet as someone who has heard directly from God and has passed on what he has heard. While the first part is definitely true of Adam, who daily communed with God in the Garden of Eden, we can only surmise that Adam passed on to those who came after him what he had heard, for how else would we know about what God did at the beginning, including notably concerning one of his descendants (Jesus): “it shall bruise thy (the serpent – Satan) head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (3:15). After Adam and Eve were driven from Eden, upon eating the forbidden fruit, God gave them animal skins to wear as a covering, an early indication of the principle of redemption by blood, which was to become a reoccurring theme of the Bible. We also see a contrast with Adam and the second Adam (Jesus) in the New Testament. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive“, 1Corinthians 15:22.
Regarding Abel, we know little other than what we are told: “And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell” (4:4-5) and being subsequently murdered by his outraged older brother. We are told in the New Testament: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh”, Hebrews 11:5. What is clear is, unlike his brother, Abel believed God and showed future generations how offerings were to be made, including the importance of blood sacrifices.
We know even less about Seth than we do Abel. But we are told: “And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:25-26). Checking out the descendants of Seth and Cain, only in Seth’s line do we find those who feared God, and just maybe that was the legacy Seth passed on that Cain did not. Just as with Adam, so with Abel and Seth, whether these could be regarded as prophets depends on how one regards prophets, yet all three acted prophetically.
All we know about Enoch from the Old Testament is: “And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (5:21-24). In the New Testament, there are two references – in the Book of Jude (cited above) and “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God”, Hebrews 11:5. About Methuselah, one possible meaning of his name is “his death sends”. It is interesting to note that the year Methuselah died, something very big was sent – the Flood. Methuselah’s name may well include a prophecy that on the day of his death the flood (which his death sends) came.
The intriguing prophecy though is what Jude quoted from the Book of Enoch. This contains unique material on the origins of demons and giants, why some angels fell from heaven, a partial explanation of why the Great Flood was morally necessary, and exposition of the thousand-year reign of the Messiah. While the book of Enoch is generally not considered part of the Canon, the fact Enoch prophesied concerning the End Times, cannot be denied and neither can that strange mix of angels interacting with humankind: “That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown” (6:2-4). While this amazing prophecy qualifies Enoch as a prophet, just as remarkable was that he walked with God throughout his life and was taken by God without dying.
Most people know about Noah’s Ark, the building of which (a long way from any water) did enable 8 people to escape the Great Flood and also preserved the animal species. They may not be surprised at statements like “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations” (6:9) or finding him being referred to as “a preacher of righteousness”, 2Peter 2:5 and, along with Daniel and Job, put up as an example of righteous living (Ezekiel 14:20). The context was straightforward – God was grieved that the world had turned from Him and as a result decided to destroy its inhabitants by sending a flood – “and the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them” (6:7). Jesus, himself declared: “They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all”, Luke 17:27. As for Noah’s faith, we are told: “by faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house”, Hebrews 11:27.
One can only imagine how Noah, having been told to build the Ark, doing what he was told, what this preacher of righteousness said during the decades it took to build the Ark. As far as his prophetic credentials were concerned, these were impeccable, preaching the same message: the actuality of sin that needed to be repented of and judgement if they did not, year after year, but with no response other than ridicule and rejection. After the flood we learn: “and Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (8:20-22). Then he was told to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (9:1), which is what he set out to do. Besides prophetically relaying this message and doing what God said, we read of him correctly prophesying regarding his sons: Ham, Shem and Japheth.
We noted earlier how Part 2 of Genesis began with God calling out Abraham to a land God will show him and give to his descendants, along with the promise of being a great nation and a blessing. Abraham is regarded as the founder of the nation of Israel and father of the faithful. His lineage continued through his son Isaac, even though prior to that he had another son, Ishmael, and that continued through Jacob, even though he had an older twin, Esau. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are known as the three patriarchs (heads of the Jewish line) and God (YHWH) was often referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. While the chapters relating to Abraham concerned how he settled and in the main prospered, under God, in the land God was to give to him, important recurring themes were around having a son, especially given Sarah, his wife, was beyond child-bearing age, and how his faith was exercised and tested.
What makes him particularly interesting is “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God”, James 2:23. His faith was outstanding, not just because he believed things that humanly speaking were impossible, but in demonstrating that we are imputed righteousness though faith and despite a few hiccups remain true to the divine calling. He underwent much trial and tribulation and yet carried on and God prospered him. His faith was tested, notably regarding his heir, who he had to wait an inordinate long time for, which he was later called upon to offer as a sacrifice. He made mistakes such as lying to King Abimelech and sleeping with Sarah’s maid, Hagar. Yet his was a special relationship with God, who often confided in him regarding his intentions, such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in judgment, even allowing Abraham to intercede on their behalf.
Upon his death, the fulfilment of God’s promise seemed a very long way off – the only part of the Promised Land he possessed was a small plot to build the family tomb. An example of his prophetic calling was God telling Abraham precisely what was to happen: “And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (15:13-15). Despite all this, the promise that caused Abraham to venture out in faith, remains one of the most important in Bible history and, arguably, still has not received its final fulfilment. Without knowing it, Abraham was looking far into the future, including to the promised Messiah. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews of His day: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad”, John 8:56.
Given Part 2 of Genesis is dominated by the narratives concerning Abraham and Jacob (with the story of Joseph thrown in), it might be tempting to overlook Isaac. But he was a patriarch too, an essential link in the lineage began with Abraham and ending with Jesus, and would be celebrated as such throughout Jewish history. He communicated directly with God on more than one occasion, something his grandson, Joseph, had not managed in spite of his pivotal role. An intriguing aspect concerning Isaac is of typology. When he enquired of his father before he was about to be sacrificed: “behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (22:7) he was told: “my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (22:7-8). Two thousand years later, God did provide His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. While a lamb was found as a substitute for Isaac, Jesus was obedient and he became that substitutionary sacrifice. It is notable that Isaac was at least willing. Another type, covered in chapter 24, was when Abraham instructed his servant to find a bride for Isaac, reminding us of the Holy Spirit searching for a bride for God’s Son, Jesus.
As for things Isaac accomplished, the one that sticks out is him unstopping wells that had been stopped, and another spiritual application beckons. Isaac’s prophetic credentials is that he held firm to the promise that was given to his father, Abraham, being reassured by God of its fulfilment. When he was effective duped when it appeared he was close to death to passing the birth right onto Jacob over his son Esau, who he wrongly favoured despite God’s will on the matter, it was not expected then Isaac had so many years left in him, yet he was still around when Jacob who had fled as a result (20 years earlier) returned. We are told: “And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years. And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (35:28,29). If nothing else, this final phase of Isaac’s life reminds us of the vagaries and unpredictability of life and, in Isaac’s case, one we can look back in honour.
One of the things that strikes some about Jacob is his unlikeability. Unlike Esau, who might be seen as a man’s man (although caring little of the things of God but rather living for the moment), Jacob was a mummy’s boy, and sneaky with it. His very name means “supplanter” and this he did with respect to trying to steal the birth right, thus incurring the anger of older brother Esau, even though Esau was not to right person to bear the promise God gave to their grandfather, Abraham, and more importantly was not God’s choice. After doing the dirty on Esau, with the complicity of mother, Rebecka, he spent the next 20 years, after having had to flee, being out conned by his uncle Laban. But all through that period, he was being refined and chastened by God to become the very person God wanted him to be. Two key events were to define Jacob’s life. Firstly, there was at Bethel (House of God); secondly, there was at Peniel (Face of God).
And so Jacob came to a place he was to name Bethel, with nothing other than what he carried, running from a brother that had vowed to kill him: “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” (28:12-16)
After finding his uncle Laban, Jacob falls in love with his daughter, Rachel, but ends up, as a result of Laban’s duplicity, having to marry Leah, her older sister, before marrying Rachel, and having to work for Laban 14 years as a price and then a further 6 years for the livestock. He then returns home but not before having to meet his brother, Esau, understandably apprehensive of what might happen. But before the meeting, that as it happened to turn out well, he had two divine encounters: “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim” (32:1,2) and later “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. nd he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed (24:24-28).
There Jacob settles back into the land of promise, bringing up his family, with his story later intertwining with that of Joseph, who was to become the family deliverer. Jacob continues to seek God and God continues to bless and reaffirm his promises: “And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land” (35:9-12).
As he approached his end, Jacob makes two (at least) profound prophetic statements. Firstly, in blessing Joseph’s younger son, Ephraim, ahead of his older brother, Manasseh (48:8-14). Secondly, in prophesying over his own sons, including Judah: “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (49:10) – the significance of which is seen years later. “And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people” (49:33).
Toward the end of the Joseph story, which begins in chapter 37 and dominates the remaining chapters of Genesis, we read: “And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them” (50:19-21). God turning something meant for evil for good pretty much summarizes the main thrust of the story of Joseph and was a welcome response to his still guilt ridden brothers who out of jealousy had sold him into slavery, thinking now father Jacob was dead and buried Joseph, now with the power to do so, would exact his revenge.
It is an unusual and unexpected story with all sorts of twists and turns yet, given Genesis Part 2 to the end of the Old Testament is very much to do with God’s dealing with his specially chosen people, we can reflect that Joseph played an important part in ensuring the continuance of the line and the establishing of a nation. It was Joseph as a dreamer of his own dreams and as an interpreter of the dreams of others, heard from God, that leads us to identify him as a prophet. Those dreams that were recounted were all highly significant insofar these all predicted future events in which Joseph was to play a major and positive role. The first concerned him being given prominence over the rest of the family, the unwise telling of which along with him flaunting his “amazing technicolor dreamcoat”, given to him as a sign of his father’s special favour over that of his brothers that roused their anger and which led to be him being sold by them as a slave and Joseph ending up living in Egypt. But God in accordance with his grand design had great plans for Joseph, who in turn sought to honour Him.
After having been put in charge of the household of an Egyptian official, Joseph found himself in prison after being falsely accused by his master’s wife of trying to rape her. There he managed to correctly interpret the dreams of two fellow inmates, the butler and the baker, and thus gained a reputation as an interpreter of dreams and was later able to interpret that of Pharoah regarding seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. He was elevated to a high position to manage the situation, during which he met his brothers who had come to Egypt for food because of the famine. This led to reconciliation and bringing his father Jacob and his children and grand children to live in Egypt. Having gotten his family to Egypt and under royal protection, he lived out his years in relative peace, ending with one final prediction: “And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” (50:25,26).