1. Critical Views of the Historicity of the Patriarchs
Quite a number of modern works in the areas of biblical history, commentaries on Genesis, and of Old Testament theology raise serious questions on the historicity of the Bible characters, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Denials of their existence or of the historical character of the Genesis narratives are the result of the authors' views of the origin of the Pentateuch. In no case is any historical evidence given which denies or disproves the historicity of these characters. These views ignore the positive evidence found in the Book of Genesis together with numerous references given throughout the Old and New Testaments which add their witness to the lives of these patriarchs. Through whatever process the Pentateuch came into its present form, there is no escape from believing that the writers sought to represent these men as historical persons together with the family stories associated with each. The integrity of all those who shared in the writing of the Pentateuch is deeply involved at this point. The reader is invited to study the appended scriptural references in this footnote.  How some scholars can reject or ignore all this evidence is difficult to understand. Were the authors of the Pentateuch and such Bible characters as Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Hezekiah, Ezra, Isaiah, Micah, Matthew, Luke, Jesus, Peter, Stephen, Paul, the author of Hebrews, and James so uncritical as to interpret the Genesis stories as actual history? The characteristic which underlies all biblical history, whether of the Old Testament or the New, is that it "is the record of that series of events which form the basis for the religion of the Bible." 
It is essential that we become aware of the issues involved in the rejection of the historical character of the patriarchs. The definition of biblical history just given clearly points up the issue involved. In a word it is this: Is the religion of the Bible grounded in historical fact or in mere folklore or myth? Biblical history is unique in this that it presents the record of the supernatural, whether we are reading of the tall of Abraham, the dividing of the Red Sea in the time of Moses, the falling of fire from heaven to consume Elijah's sacrifice, Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the virgin birth of Christ, the raising of Lazarus, or our Lord's resurrection.
In all of these we are dealing with supernatural events which occurred in history as recorded in several books of the Bible. The structure of the Bible is that of history and not of folklore. Biblical history arose in the same fashion as all other history arose. Added to this is the full recognition given to the characteristic that history includes the supernatural acts of God. The writers attested the historicity of these supernatural acts. The greatest of all history was the resurrection of our Lord. Paul put the evidence in this fashion: "He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me" (1 Cor. 15:5-
8). This sort of approach to giving proof of an event of the past is absolutely trustworthy. Paul knew that he was giving attestation to the miracle of miracles of biblical history. This same viewpoint attaches to all biblical history. Justification for giving all this biblical data rests on the supreme importance of the fact under consideration. On this ground then I shall proceed, having full confidence in the historical character of the narratives dealing with the patriarchs.
2. God's Encounters with Abraham
a. The Call
The call of Abraham brings us again to the element of election. God manifested the election of Abraham by way of a direct call. The author of Genesis wrote, "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth will bless themselves'" (Gen. 12:1-3). Both Stephen and the author of Hebrews gave their attestation to this direct call (Acts 7:2-4; Heb. 11:8). Stephen added the idea that the God of glory appeared to Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran. It was in this appearance that God gave the command to Abraham. The author of Hebrews noted the fact of Abraham's obedience on receiving the call. It involved a special mission of Abraham and his posterity in the world. The threefold promise made to Abraham included possession of the land of Canaan, numerous posterity, and through his descendants the blessing of all the families of the earth. Certainly this call led to a great promise in Abraham's life.
The author of Hebrews also pointed to the faith aspect of Abraham's call. Abraham believed God and on the basis of this faith, he obeyed. The faith aspect obtained larger significance in the fact that while Abraham was only a sojourner in the land of promise he looked forward "to the city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God." In other words, Abraham's faith reached beyond the inheritance of the land of Canaan to that great spiritual possession of the city built by God.
God's call of Abraham anticipated election as a continuing operation among the chosen people of God. Paul touched on this point when he wrote of the great spiritual blessings which came to Israel (Rom. 9:4-13): "To them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ." He continued, "Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but 'Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.'" He showed that the promise was continued through Isaac and through Jacob. The principle that operated through all this was "that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call." Paul carried the thought a bit further with reference to the people of Israel by writing, "At the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace" (Rom. 11:5, 6). By comparing these two quotations it becomes evident that there is a close relationship between election and grace. Thus while Paul unfolded the idea of election among the descendants of Abraham and by so doing showed that election was operating through patriarchal history, this election was not an evidence of unconditional predestination but rather of God's unlimited grace.
The election of Abraham emphasized another element, namely, universalism. All the families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham. God was separating Abraham from the rest of mankind in order that through his descendants blessings should come to all mankind. The incident of Melchizedek's blessing Abraham set forth this truth in a somewhat veiled form. This Melchizedek was the king of Salem and priest of God Most High. This great king-priest who did not belong to the chosen family but stood in the Genesis account as the last representative of mankind outside the Semitic line who still worshiped God Most High - this Melchizedek seemed to grasp the specialized mission of Abraham and his descendants. On this account he said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand" (Gen. 14:19, 20). In recognition of Melchizedek's greatness Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.
Centuries later David gave profound meaning to this incident when with reference to the coming Messiah he wrote "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek'" (Ps. 110:4). By this language he described the coming King-Priest, the Messiah, as being a Priest after the order of Melchizedek. From the standpoint of the Genesis narrative, no record appears of the beginning of his priestly service, nor of its termination. This became typical of the great King-Priest to come who would in all reality be a Priest forever. It would appear from this psalm that Melchizedek saw in one of Abraham's descendants the One who would be a Priest forever.
It remained for the author of Hebrews to confirm this idea. He showed that the Lord Jesus Christ is this Priest after the order of Melchizedek. We might have expected that Jesus would be a Priest after the order of Aaron. But a priesthood of a superior character was needed. Melchizedek, in type, represented a superior priesthood to that of Aaron's. Jesus, the Son of God, alone could qualify as an eternal Priest. On this account, just as Melchizedek ministered to mankind in general in his day, from Abraham's seed One should come who would minister to all mankind as an eternal Priest. The call of Abraham led to the universalism of Christ's eternal Priesthood (Heb. 5:6-10; 7:1-19).
b. The Promise
The threefold promise made to Abraham calls for additional attention. There was mounting significance to each promise. To receive the land of Canaan was indeed a great promise. History shows that this land was strategically located as the pathway of the nations from Asia to Africa. The people in controlling this narrow strip of land occupied a most strategic position. The promise of numerous posterity was still more significant in view of Abraham's having no prospect of any children. The fulfillment of this promise required a miracle. The third promise carried still greater significance. It was bound up with the idea of all families of the earth being blessed through his seed. God did not disclose the nature of this blessing but we would gather that it would come from the Lord and would be spiritual in character.
The precise meaning of the third promise presents a problem involving a point of Hebrew syntax. The verb translated will bless themselves (RSV) occurs five times in the Genesis narratives. In three of these (12:3; 18:18; 28:14) the Niphal stem occurs. This usually has a passive sense but it may also be reflexive. In the others (22:18; 26:4) the Hithpael stem is found. This carries a reflexive sense only. The Septuagint translated all of these cases as passive. The two New Testament quotations (Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8) also give the passive form to this verb. Among the English translations the KJV and the ASV translate all five as passive. It would seem to me that since the Septuagint and the New Testament quotations translate the verb as passive, the sense of the verb is properly understood as passive. There is nevertheless no serious difference of meaning between the reflexive sense and the passive sense. Understood as the passive, the promise meant that God would bless all nations through Abraham. The reflexive sense would carry the idea that all nations would appropriate the blessings coming through Abraham. The passive idea came to fulfillment in all nations being blessed through Jesus Christ. There is also the reflexive sense shown in the need of all peoples receiving and appropriating by faith the salvation offered by Christ.
This third promise took on a distinctive meaning in the Lord's later disclosures to Abraham.  Most explicit are the words, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (22:18, ASV). Paul laid hold of this distinctive promise when he wrote, "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, 'And to offsprings,' referring to many; but, referring to one, 'And to your spring,' which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). This Messianic reference of the singular noun zerah, translated seed, offspring, or descendant, shows Paul's profound insight as to the meaning of Scripture. In the hands of some scholars this interpretation is merely a piece of "Rabbinical invention." But this is an unwarranted criticism; it lacks the spiritual insight possessed by Paul as to the meaning of the entire narrative. Frequently New Testament writers make clear hidden truths found in Old Testament predictions.
Careful study of the nature of the unfolding of divine revelation will show that Paul's interpretation is in harmony with the several narratives which refer to God's promise to Abraham. Romans 9:6-13 may be regarded as an enlargement of the truth given in Galatians 3:16. In the Romans context, seed had reference to Isaac alone and not to Ishmael, to Jacob and not to Jacob and Esau. Thus through the unfolding history as disclosed in the several genealogies of the Bible, the seed of Abraham definitely pointed to Christ. This became most explicitly clear in Matthew's genealogy. The seed of Abraham found its fulfillment in Christ, and through Him the blessing came to Abraham's true descendants, as expressed by Paul, "If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3:29).
c. The Covenant
God's covenant with Abraham disclosed a larger and more significant meaning than it possessed for Noah. This is entirely what we should expect. As the Lord instituted the covenant with Noah, so He also instituted the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:7-21). This gave the covenant-relation unique significance by establishing the Lord's authoritative relation with Abraham. The patriarch came to recognize that he was drawn into a most sacred relationship with God. The heart of the encounter of the Lord with Abraham became clear in the fellowship established between them. It had its foundation in the grace of God as manifested in the promise. Later writers expressed this relationship in terms of Abraham's being the "Friend of God." 
The covenant made with Abraham had its basis in a very significant sacrifice (Gen. 15:7-17). In comparison with the sacrifices instituted by Moses we gather that since it was a bloody sacrifice it involved the idea of expiation. It does not appear, however, that expiation lay at the center of this bloody sacrifice. Since no special use was made of the blood, we may conclude that the significance of the sacrifice lay in the other acts of the transaction. The cutting of the animals in two and of laying each half over against the other, followed by the smoking firepot and flaming torch passing between these pieces, would lead to the meaning of the sacrifice. From Jeremiah 34:18-20, as well as similar sacrifices of other peoples, we gather that both parties entering into a covenant relationship would pass between the divided pieces of the sacrifice. By so doing they were bringing upon themselves the curse of having their bodies divided if they broke the covenant. The unique difference found in this case lay in the fact that Abraham did not pass between the pieces. Only the smoking firepot and flaming torch which symbolized God's part in the covenant passed between the pieces. As in a later time, "The appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (Ex. 24:17).  It may be that the one-sidedness of this act of covenant institution shows that it was not a pact but a promise. God made the promise and bound Himself to keep it. While Abraham made the sacrifice, he did not as such become a party to the covenant. He was the receiver of the promise. When the Lord made the promise to Abraham that his descendants should be as numerous as the stars of the heavens, Abraham "believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). This makes still clearer the "promise" nature of the covenant and of Abraham's faith relationship to it. The writer of Genesis had the insight to add that God reckoned this faith to Abraham as righteousness. Paul picked up this statement and used it as the chief structural foundation for his letters to the Galatians and to the Romans.  In other words, Paul found in this whole transaction the heart of the gospel.
This covenant promise given to Abraham carried with it a strong ethical requirement. The Lord said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless" (Gen. 17:1). Through these words the patriarch learned that his manner of life would need to be conformed to God's nature. We observed that Noah was a righteous man and blameless in his generation. And now God commanded Abraham to walk before Him in the same manner of life. As Abraham looked about to other peoples of his time, he undoubtedly was aware of man's sinfulness. Now God bade him lead a blameless life, a life free from moral defect, a perfect life.
One more very significant part of the transaction calls for study. It was the institution of the rite of circumcision. In the record of its institution (17:9-14) circumcision became the sign of an individual's share in the covenant, as well as his obedience to it. This was not a new ceremony. It had been practiced by the people of Egypt, Ethiopia, Phoenicia,. and Arabia. For reasons unknown to us it was not practiced by the people of Babylonia, Assyria, and Philistia. The absence of an account of the origin of circumcision presents some problems in our study. Some scholars conclude that the Lord instituted circumcision not as something new but as a ceremony already existing - but gave it a new significance. It is conceivable that at an earlier time God may have given some unrecorded commands with reference to circumcision as well as to sacrifices in general, which were perpetuated by the various peoples in more or less deteriorated forms. As I have already emphasized, instead of the people of God borrowing from other nations the various forms of polytheistic worship and of giving them a true monotheistic pattern, it is more in accord with the history of religion and with the Bible to believe that all religions outside of the religion of the Hebrew nation represent deteriorations and degradations of the true religion.
The Genesis record does not give any explanation of the meaning of circumcision. It seems evident that both in Israel and outside of Israel circumcision was an act designed for removing physical uncleanness and did not have a religious significance. We have here the instance of an act which in time obtained great spiritual significance. Moses felt himself unqualified to speak to Pharaoh because he regarded himself as a man of uncircumcised lips. The Lord speaking through Moses referred to the uncircumcised heart of Israel which required heart humbling and making of amends. Moses also spoke of the necessity of circumcising the heart and of no longer being stubborn. Looking to a future time Moses wrote, The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live."
In these several cases  it becomes clear that circumcision symbolized the removal of moral uncleanness. It stood for a spiritual cleansing. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel attached the same spiritual meaning to this rite.  Paul brought circumcision into clear focus when he concluded a discussion with the words, "real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal" (Rom. 2:25-29). In speaking of Abraham he placed circumcision in relation to Abraham's faith and to his being accounted righteous. Paul wrote, "He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised" (Rom. 4:11, 12). 
With this spiritual significance of circumcision understood it is proper to inquire what significance attaches to its being performed on male infants on the eighth day. Since it was required and not optional, we may gather that whatever significance attached to the act had to do with all mankind. Since the act was performed so early in infancy it would suggest that spiritual uncleanness traces back to earliest infancy. Since circumcision had to do with the male organ of generation, we may have here the suggestion that man in his very nature is sinful. He does not become sinful in the process of development. Rather, it is the case of the uncleanness and sinfulness of the whole human race. It is a truth developed by Paul in Romans 5:12-21, where he said, "Death spread to all men."
d. The Tests
According to Hebrews 11:17 the Lord tested Abraham on a number of occasions. Always the faith of the patriarch shone forth in all clearness. The recorded instances of these tests had their beginning already in Ur of the Chaldeans. Stephen gave witness to this when he said, "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, 'Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you'" (Acts 7:2, 3). For Abraham to leave the fertile land of Ur and to go into a land which God would show him was an exceedingly severe test of faith. Whether or not God had given the threefold promise to Abraham in Ur, had little bearing on the severity of the test, which centered in leaving his fatherland, being completely detached from his kindred, and going to a land unknown to him. The famine in the land of Canaan which made it necessary for Abraham to go to Egypt intensified this test of faith. He may have thought, "Of what value is a land in which famines occur?"
The test took on new dimensions when Abraham and Sarah were kept childless beyond the time of natural childbirth. Yet the promise centered in a child to be born to them. While Sarah's suggestion that Abraham take Hagar as a wife and in this way become the father of a child has the appearance of a lack of faith on the part of Sarah and Abraham, it may be that Abraham did not have a full comprehension of the specific nature of the promise. At any rate there is no recorded rebuke to Abraham for taking this step. The entire incident serves to show the severity of the test.
God's tests of Abraham reached their climax in the command to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. The fervent trust of Abraham in God stands forth in the entire narrative, especially so at the point where Isaac made inquiry about the lamb for the burnt offering. Abraham proceeded to carry out God's command literally to the moment when he took the knife to slay Isaac. At this point the angel of the Lord intervened and spared Abraham from slaying his own son for a burnt offering.
We are not aware of how Abraham understood the idea of a burnt offering. If we may again project backward from the time of Moses the significance of a burnt offering, we may conclude that it symbolized for Abraham the consecration, the setting apart of Isaac wholly unto the Lord. The command was of such a character that Abraham would no longer have Isaac with him as a son. On this point the author of Hebrews expressed the clear meaning of this entire incident when he wrote, "He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back" (Heb. 11:19). Such a test is unparalleled in human history.
All these tests served to show that Abraham's life was a school of faith. Through these tests his faith became stronger, was deeply enriched, and revealed for all time the real character of a godly man's trust in God. In a word, his faith in God was a trust in God's omnipotence. Let us take a closer look at this 'omnipotence of God and Abraham's response of faith.
3. Supernatural Power of God and Abraham's Response of Faith
a The Lord Revealed as God Almighty
"The Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, 'I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless' "(Gen. 17:1). With these words the Lord revealed to Abraham a most significant aspect of His nature, The Lord is God Almighty. The meaning of the Hebrew expression El Shaddai (God Almighty) presents some problems. The trend of thinking among scholars leads to the explanation of Shaddai as, "The Mountain One. Edmond Jacob, following Albright, feels that this explanation may be regarded as established.  On the other hand, von Rad says, "The meaning of the name El Shaddai has not yet been explained satisfactorily."  On this point Vriezen says, "The use of El to denote God is a feature of the patriarchal period; it emphasizes the greatness and sublimity of God, which emphasis is found even more strongly in El Shaddai. . . . Sometimes God is referred to by periphrasis; as such may be regarded the names: . . . Shaddai (perhaps 'the Mountain,' a widespread Semitic word for God, denoting the stability of the Divine; cf. the image of God as a Rock in the Old Testament)." 
The Septuagint translators varied in the translation of El Shaddai. Throughout the Pentateuch the Greek word Theos (God) is used to translate Shaddai. This suggests that the translators looked at the word Shaddai as an intensifier of the word "God." Throughout the Book of Job the Greek word Pantokrator (Almighty) is used to translate Shaddai. From this it appears that the English translation, God Almighty, expresses accurately the thought of the Hebrew. If this conclusion is correct, we may then say that God by this statement made the claim that He was omnipotent. The gods of the people of the land of Canaan were speechless and accordingly could make no such claim. Abraham's God revealed Himself by way of an appearance or manifestation and spoke to him the words, "I am God Almighty." The frequent use of this expression for "God" throughout the Bible indicates the profound meaning which the people of God attached to it.
b. Abraham's Response of Faith
At the close of one of the incidents in which the Lord spoke to Abraham, He gave the promise that the patriarch's descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. The writer concluded, "And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). This statement in its setting at once arrests the reader's attention. It expressed Abraham's response of faith to God's most extraordinary promise. In the first place, this statement placed the matter of faith in a religious context. It indicated that when Abraham believed the Lord, He accounted Abraham as righteous. Abraham stood before God as a righteous man not on the basis of his own good works but on the gracious acceptance of Abraham by reason of his faith. In a very striking manner Paul picked up the same words and used them to show how all believers gain right standing with God. This faith relationship of Abraham to the Lord lay at the very center of Abraham's religious experience. It showed that the promise rested on the grace of God. 
In the second place, this statement contains in a nutshell the ingredients of Abraham's faith.  First, Abraham's faith was a belief in the trustworthiness of God. Through the several revelations of the Lord, Abraham had come to realize that God was worthy of his trust. Through these several encounters with God the relationship of Abraham and God had become an intimate, personal one. Second, Abraham's believing the Lord was an act of trust. The literal rendering of heemin (believed) as it is connected with be (in) construed with Yahweh (Lord) carries the idea of Abraham's developing confidence in the Lord. He proved constant in his faith. He was relying upon the Lord as the One who is true and stable or as von Rad put it, "as fixing oneself on Yahweh." 
Third, Abraham's believing the Lord was distinctive in that it was a trust in the omnipotent One. Paul gave a measure of this kind of trust when he wrote concerning Abraham, "In hope he believed against hope" (Rom. 4:18) and a bit farther on, "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised" (vv. 20, 21). The author of Hebrews pointed up this matter still more sharply when he wrote, "He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back" (Heb. 11:19). This aspect of faith in God occurs repeatedly in biblical history. Reflect on Moses' words to the people of Israel at the Red Sea where he said, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord" (Ex. 14:13). Or witness Elijah on Mt. Cannel in the presence of all the prophets of Baal when in response to his prayer to God the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering. Then again listen to Daniel as he related to Nebuchadnezzar his dream and expounded it or as he interpreted to Belshazzar the handwriting upon the wall. All these reveal God as the Omnipotent One.
Fourth, this faith had its counterpart in Abraham's submission, humility, and obedience in the presence of the Lord. This became apparent on occasions when God was speaking to Abraham that he fell on his face (Gen. 17:3). The same spirit is apparent in Abraham's conversation with the three men who came to his tent door to reassure him of his having a son. Also witness the intercession of Abraham for Sodom. This incident revealed the genuine humility of being able to trust that the Judge of all the earth would do right (Gen. 18:22-33). James grasped the obedience counterpart to trust when he wrote, "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works" (Jas. 2:22).
Fifth, the faith of Abraham involved a friendship such as is possible alone through absolute trust in God. Three times in Holy Writ Abraham was called the friend of God.  The title, "Friend of God," expressed in most meaningful language the experiential relationship between Abraham and the Lord. As a case in point, when God was entering into a covenant relationship with Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15, "The dividing of the animals and the walking of God (alone) between the pieces literally signifies that God invokes upon Himself the fate of dismemberment in case He should not keep faith with Abraham.  For some reason the English rendering friend does not give the literal translation of either the Hebrew (ahab) or the Septuagint (agapao). In the Old Testament occurrences of friend Abraham was God's beloved one. As some scholars point out, the idea of reciprocity found in the word friend is not contained in the word beloved, yet uniformly English translations use the word friend. Probing into this matter a bit we may conclude that for Abraham to be God's beloved involved the reciprocal response on the part of Abraham. Thus to be the Friend of God Abraham regarded the Lord as his Beloved. This is the nature of Abraham's friendship as giving meaning to his trust in God.
Sixth, Abraham's faith laid hold of the spiritual nature of the Lord's promises. Jesus spoke of this ingredient when He said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (Jn. 8:56). The author of the Hebrews described Abraham's leaving his own land and sojourning in the land of promise as in a foreign land and living in tents, "For he looked forward to the city, which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:8-10). These words tell us not only that Abraham's faith laid hold of the idea of a permanent dwelling in Canaan, but also that his faith grasped the ultimate realization of this promise of his future eternal abode in heaven.
Seventh, Abraham's faith rose above a belief in the existence of many gods. His trust in God excluded the existence of other gods; it possessed the unique character of a trust which is possible alone in a thoroughgoing monotheism. This characteristic of his faith becomes all the more apparent as it stands in contrast with the polytheistic concept held by other peoples in his time.  The experiential relations of Abraham to the Lord have meaning alone in his belief that the Lord was the one and only true God.
In the third place, note the ethical aspect of Abraham's faith in God. The manner of life of the people of God as it stood in contrast with the wickedness of mankind became evident in the lives of Enoch and Noah. Both of these men "walked with God." It was said of Noah that he "was a righteous man, blameless in his generation." Now the Lord encountered Abraham and said, "Walk before me, and be blameless" (Gen. 17:1). Moffatt gives the sense very effectively in his translation, "Live ever mindful of my presence, and so be blameless." With this command the Lord made clear to Abraham that to be a sharer in a covenant relationship with Him made specific requirements upon the patriarch's manner of life. He should seek to satisfy a righteous and holy God by a life that bore likeness to his God. This likeness was expressed in the word "blameless." The Hebrew word tamim, translated blameless, was the word commonly used to describe the physical perfection required in animals for sacrifice. They were to be without blemish. This was a very fitting word to be given a moral connotation as was frequently done in the Old Testament. Note the instance of Moses speaking to Israel, "You shall be blameless before the Lord your God" (Deut. 18:13). This word carries the sense of perfect, faultless, undefiled, upright, sincere, and sound. It was a very appropriate word for capturing a total view of a godly man's manner of life.
Having already given attention to the meaning of circumcision, we may note here only that this rite also contributed to Abraham's grasp of the ethical character of his faith in God. His comprehension of a blameless walk before God may have led him to see in the rite of circumcision a symbol of the inner cleansing of the heart. The Lord knew the inner nature of Abraham's life according to which he would charge his children "to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice" (Gen. 18:19). The ethical character of Abraham's faith in God comes vividly to the forefront in his intercession for Sodom. Abraham's faith could accept only an affirmative reply to his question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right" (Gen. 18:22-33)?
4. Forms of Revelation During the Patriarchal Period
The author of Hebrews grasped the significance of the fact that God spoke to the fathers "in many and various ways." It is this phenomenon that became evident in God's revelation to Abraham. The different forms or modes of revelation became increasingly important, especially as they related both to the fact of divine revelation and to its content.
Varying modes of revelation do not point to different levels in the fact of divine revelation. The different modes of revelation, as Dr. Warfield wrote, "occur side by side, God is speaking, on the same level. No discrimination is drawn between them in point of worthiness as modes of revelation, and much less in point of purity in the revelations communicated through them." After commenting on the different forms of revelation Warfield continued, "The fundamental fact in all revelation is that it is from God. This is what gives unity to the whole process of revelation, given though it may be in divers portions and in divers manners and distributed though it may be through the ages in accordance with the mere will of God, or as it may have suited His developing purpose. 
a. Spoken Words of the Lord 
Speaking is the most direct form of divine revelation. Presumably the spoken word was audible. We need not attempt to say, however, whether or not God's words were always audible. It is essential, nevertheless, to hold that the Lord's speech to man was objective and intelligible, just as we think of human speech between persons. The intimacy of this form of revelation becomes very apparent in the Lord's conversation with Aaron and Miriam in regard to their complaint against Moses. The Lord said, "Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in dark speech; and he beholds the form of the Lord" (Num. 12:6-8).
b. Appearance of the Lord 
The passive form (Piel) of the verb translated appear, gives the sense, lets himself be seen. This is the beginning of the Lord's manifestations to man, often called theophanies. Through these appearances of the Lord the word spoken obtained greater effectiveness. It resembled very closely the speech of man to man. It would seem that the appearances of the Lord possessed another significance. They who experienced these manifestations of the Lord may have seen in them a reflection of God's dwelling with man in the Garden of Eden. Their transient nature may have reminded them of man's sin, which brought to a close the glorious Edenic experiences. Further, these epiphanies may have led these Old Testament saints to look forward and to anticipate the restoration of God's permanent dwelling with man. This possible hope brings into proper perspective the abiding glory of the Lord which filled the tabernacle.
Observe also that in response to an appearance of the Lord the witness of the appearance built an altar.  This indicated "a consciousness that the place had in some sense become the seat of God's presence. The patriarchs returned to these places, to call upon the name of God."  Witness the cases of Abraham and of Jacob, both of whom returned to Bethel where each had built an altar to the Lord.  We gain the impression that these appearances of the Lord were confined to definite places and, with the exception of the altar built by Noah, they were all located in the land of promise.
C Visions 
The Hebrew words chazon and marah, including their derivatives, lie back of the biblical word "vision," the former carrying the sense of seeing a vision and the latter the idea of seeing or observing. The noun forms found in these passages as well as in later Old Testament Scriptures are uniformly translated vision. As used in the Old Testament, "vision means an ecstatic experience in which new knowledge is revealed through something seen."  In the incidents before us, especially in that one involving Abram, the vision was given for the purpose of guiding him in an immediate situation. While the details of the vision (Gen. 15) present some real problems for explanation, it may be most consistent with the narrative to interpret the entire scene as one vision. For my present purpose it suffices to say that Abram had an ecstatic experience in which he saw the Lord and the Lord spoke to him. The word spoken had to do with the future of Abraham and his descendants. A four-hundred-year oppression at the hands of another nation lay before them but God would fulfill His covenant of giving to his descendants the land of Canaan. It is clear that the vision form of revelation was well adapted to God's communications with His people. The Lord revealed Himself clearly and effectively through visions and speech.
d. Dreams 
This form of revelation calls for special attention in view of certain circumstances or spiritual standing of the people who received it. On one side were individuals who did not belong to the people of God, such as Abimelech, Laban, the butler, the baker, Pharaoh, and in later times Nebuchadnezzar, while on the other side were those who were spiritually immature such as Joseph and those who were out of touch with God such as Jacob. In contrast with the preceding forms of revelation, the dream is an experience in which the consciousness of the individual is more or less detached from his personality. The individual does not share in the revelation. His mind is only the receptacle of the message. God is in direct encounter with the individual and has complete control of all that takes place. This fact does not lower in any way the revelation character of the dream, but serves to show that the revealing God chooses the mode of revelation best fitted for the occasion.
e.The Angel of the Lord 
The most significant form of divine revelation in the Old Testament was that through the angel of the Lord. This angel was carefully distinguished from other angels. This is not to ignore a question of philology in which the Septuagint, following the Hebrew, does not use the article with the word "angel" in most of these references. A careful study of all of these references will show that a translation, "an angel of the Lord," to use the words of J. N. Schofield, is "grammatically inadmissible."  In all these instances reference was made to a particular angel, who sustained an extraordinary relationship to God.
The angel of the Lord was a visible manifestation of God. While he acted and talked as the Lord, yet he was clearly distinguished from the Lord. Herein is a profound mystery but the frequency and clarity of the language identifying the angel as God and yet as being distinct from God is beyond all question. In the presence of this profound truth there are reasons for believing that in the angel of the Lord we have the beginning of the unfolding of the profoundest mystery of all Holy Writ. It is the disclosure of the truth that the one and only God is so constituted that while He dwells in the heavens above He is able to manifest Himself in person to His people. It would be going too far to say that the witnesses to the appearances of the angel of the Lord understood them to be what later revelation made clear in the incarnation and in the triune existence of God. A real purpose of this form of disclosure is to be found in God's desire to come close to His people in a definitely personal encounter for the purpose of giving assurance to His people of His concern for and His presence with them. While the angel acted and talked as the Lord, they understood that above and distinct from the angel of the Lord was the invisible God. It is important to note that this form of divine revelation obtained still greater significance in the time of Moses.
5. Revelation in the Era of Jacob
a. Continuing Principle of Election
At the very beginning of the life of Jacob the principle of election arose in very clear perspective. The Lord told Rebecca that she would become the mother of twins and that the elder would serve the younger. No reason was given for this prediction. It remained for the outworking of this prediction to disclose its meaning. The first step toward its fulfillment took place when Esau sold his birthright to Jacob. It is difficult for us to understand the reckless disposal of the birthright by Esau. Perhaps Esau had little confidence in the promises given to his grandfather and repeated to his father. Jacob, on the other hand, appears to have believed in these promises and sought the opportunity of bargaining for the birthright. When Esau showed no confidence in its meaning, Jacob cruelly supplanted his brother. This act cast the die and paved the way for Jacob's obtaining Isaac's blessing at the suggestion and trickery of his mother. Thus the covenant blessing came to Jacob even through the deception and dishonesty of both Rebecca and Jacob.
At first thought a difficult ethical problem centers in these two transactions. Briefly stated, the question arises, How could the holy and righteous God bestow His covenant blessing upon one who so ruthlessly and dishonestly robbed his brother? I believe that the remainder of Jacob's life gives the answer to this problem. On one hand Jacob suffered bitter remorse when he received at the hands of his father-in-law, Laban, the same kind of treatment he himself had given to Esau. As we shall note presently, Jacob's experiences at Bethel and Peniel revealed very clearly a genuine spiritual change and renewal on the part of Jacob. Truly his life history is the story of a transformed life. He had seen God face to face and through the mercy of God his life was preserved.
Returning to the principle of election as it continued to operate in the life of Jacob, let us probe again into Paul's profound exposition of this principle as found in Romans 9. In the history of the patriarchs God's purpose of election was a continuing experience. It was "not because of works but because of his call" (v. 11). This principle lay back of the Lord's words to Rebecca, "the elder will serve the younger." On the surface Paul appears to complicate the problem by basing the principle involved on the words, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." The problem is resolved when we understand more clearly the meaning of the words "love" and "hate." God's love for Jacob was the covenant love expressed in the promise to Abraham. So great, so distinctive, was this covenant love that God's relation to Esau, who had rejected this covenant relationship, appeared as an attitude of hatred. Let us note again that Paul placed the idea of grace as the equivalent of election. God's election is the expression of God's love.
b. Elements of Revelation in the Life of Jacob
Three closely interwoven aspects present themselves in a study of the life of this patriarch. First is the spiritual experience of Jacob manifested in the transformation in his life from that of a supplanter (Jacob) to that of one who lets God rule (Israel). Second is the element of divine providence working in Jacob's life. Third is the element of divine revelation given during his life.
Isaac's parting words to Jacob as he left for Paddan-aram are quite significant. Said the patriarch, "God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your descendants with you, that you may take possession of the land on your sojournings which God gave to Abraham" (Gen. 28:3, 4)! This parting blessing undoubtedly served as a tremendous challenge to Jacob's faith. He could look to his grandfather's God, God Almighty, for blessings comparable to those received by his grandfather. He could anticipate his descendants becoming a company of peoples. The land of his sojournings would become the land of his possession. In brief, Jacob and his descendants had become heirs of the threefold promise given to Abraham.
On the way to Haran, as he lay down for sleep, he experienced a dream-vision of utmost significance. The ladder set up on the earth and reaching to heaven with angels of God ascending and descending upon it undoubtedly possessed great meaning for Jacob. Was he to understand by this dream that the messengers of God were carrying his inmost soul needs to the very presence of God and were returning to earth with the gracious response of God to his spiritual needs? At least Jacob could see that there was a bridge of communication between earth and heaven. Wherever he would go the God of heaven was near at hand. God was attending to his needs. Very significantly the words from heaven took the form, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac" (Gen. 28:13). The use of the word "Lord" suggested the overwhelming meaning attached to the God who made the covenant with Abraham. The Lord, the God Almighty, who made the covenant promise was now addressing Jacob. The promises given to Abraham were now bestowed on Jacob. In addition the Lord assured Jacob that He would be with him and in due time bring him back to the land of promise.
The words of Jesus to Nathanael may help us to understand better the meaning of Jacob's experience of wonder and amazement. When Nathanael marveled at Jesus' supernatural knowledge, Jesus replied,
"You shall see greater things than these You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (Jn. 1:50, 51). With these words Jesus was saying that He Himself is the ladder extending from earth to heaven and that the angels, messengers of God, would through our Lord be carrying man's needs and burdens to God and returning to man with the blessings made possible through the Son of man. For Jacob as well, there was a mediator between man and God. Through this revelation the Lord sought to show Jacob that the spiritual needs of his life could be supplied through the ascending and descending angels of God. Implicit in Jacob's experience was an inner consciousness of his having wronged his brother. This experience gave evidence of an intense conflict in his soul, a conflict which was bound to increase and would not be resolved until he would be reconciled with his brother Esau.
Jacob's response to this revelation voiced something of a God-consciousness on the part of Jacob but his words still seemed to be cast in the mold of a bargainer. Whether or not Jacob was still showing a bargainer's attitude, he was making a deep commitment to God. In effect it was this: If God would fulfill all of His promises and bring him again to his father's house in peace, then the Lord would be his God. He would then place his trust in all the promises bound up in the covenant made by the Lord with Abraham (Gen. 28:20, 21).
Jacob's years at Haran were filled with experiences that showed the grace of God working to lead him to a full consciousness of his own sinfulness. He found in Laban his double as a cheater. While there was little outward response of a change in Jacob's heart, it would appear that Jacob was coming to realize that his sin was finding him out. Evidence of an awakening consciousness of spiritual need stands out in Jacob's words, "I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness which thou hast shown to thy servant" (Gen. 32:10). Jacob knew only too well that this return to his father's house according to the Lord's command would bring him face to face with Esau. On learning that Esau was coming to meet him, Jacob did not know what this would involve. Perhaps Esau could be appeased but perhaps not. The inner struggle took the form of an outward encounter with a man who wrestled with him the entire night. Not until the man touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh and put it out of joint was he able to overcome him. At daybreak the man sought to leave Jacob but the latter replied, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." The meaning of this struggle becomes clearer when we observe that the man blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel, a name which carried the meaning, "You have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." The impact of this incident upon Jacob found expression in his calling the place Peniel. By this name he indicated its meaning for him, as he further said, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved" (Gen.
A number of problems arise at this point. The first has to do with the question whether this was an external experience for Jacob, or whether it is a "myth." If it is to be regarded as a "myth," the story would indicate only an inner struggle on the part of Jacob. Some students would reduce it to a mere story which possesses no spiritual meaning. I believe that the manner in which this incident is presented shows that the author of Genesis sought to present a very significant objective experience for Jacob. If we accept the historical character of the story, another problem arises: Was this all night wrestling an evidence of Jacob's continued struggle against God or does the entire incident show the intense inward struggle of Jacob to gain peace with God? The latter view seems to be the more consistent of the two. If this is correct, we would interpret the outward wrestling as symbolic of the inward struggle through which Jacob, like the prodigal son, finally came to himself. The change of name from Jacob to Israel would be evidence of the spiritual transformation of Jacob through the power of God which occurred when Jacob sought the blessing from the Lord. It is this element that makes the story of Jacob so significant as a type of the spiritual transformation which takes place in the lives of all Christians in the conversion experience. Hosea's meditation on this incident is most instructive. "In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with him - the Lord the God of hosts, the Lord is his name: So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God" (Hos. 12:3-6). Hosea saw in the life experience of Jacob, a picture of man returning to God, of holding fast to love and justice, and of waiting continually for God.
On Jacob's return to Bethel at the command of God he built an altar and called the place El-bethel. On this occasion God appeared to Jacob again, which appearance may well serve as the climax of Jacob's experiences with God. In this appearance God repeated His announcement of the change of Jacob's name to that of Israel. God also reaffirmed the promises to Jacob, first given to Abraham and later to Isaac. It was God Almighty who spoke thus to Israel. In response to this revelation Jacob set up a pillar of stone and poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. This was an act of consecration of the altar to God, of setting it apart as being most holy (Ex. 30:22-29).
In this manner he expressed the fullness and completeness of his devotion to God Almighty. It was very fitting for the author of Hebrews to place Jacob's name among the heroes of faith, saying, "By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff." (Heb. 11:21).
c. Joseph, a Model of Moral Integrity and an Agent of Divine Providence
For the purposes of biblical theology the life of Joseph presents two very closely entwined topics for study: first, that of Joseph's nobility of character, and second, the workings of God's providence in his life. The manner of life of the people of God in this early period of biblical history has already been observed. Thus Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham exhibited righteousness, blamelessness, and faith of the highest order. The life of Jacob revealed the saving grace of God which ultimately changed his life. The life of the people of God, what it should be and how it should be achieved, very naturally becomes a major inquiry in a study of the unfolding revelation of God. On this account the "Princely character of Joseph"  stands out as one of the noblest recorded in all biblical history.
To begin, the simple boyhood faith of Joseph, the dreamer, stood in sharp contrast to the hatred and jealousy of his brothers. After being sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, it was not long until his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands" (Gen. 39:3). Tempted by Potiphar's wife to commit grievous sin, Joseph showed his consciousness of the wickedness of this sin and also his integrity of character by refusing to yield to it. He answered Potiphar's wife, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God" (Gen. 39:9)? When Potiphar put Joseph in prison, "The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison" (Gen. 39:21). This uprightness of character was such that God could entrust to him the interpretation of the dreams of the butler, the baker, and Pharaoh. In a humble manner Joseph told Pharaoh that it is God who shows the meaning of dreams. After he had interpreted Pharaoh's dreams Joseph showed his understanding of the purposes of God by telling Pharaoh, "The thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass" (Gen. 41:32).
Joseph's treatment of his brothers when they came to Egypt for food does not cast a shadow over his integrity. He was putting his brothers under test in order to ascertain their attitude toward their great sin committed against him. If he had yielded to a spirit of vengeance, he would never have supplied them food. His forgiving spirit is unquestionably shown when he said, "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God" (Gen. 45:7, 8). Commenting on the life of Joseph, Melvin Grove Kyle wrote, "His nobility of character, his purity of heart and life, his magnanimity as a ruler and brother make him, more than any other of the Old Testament characters, an illustration of that type of man which Christ was to give to the world in perfection. Joseph is not in the list of persons distinctly referred to in Scripture as types of Christ . . . but none more fully illustrates the life and work of the Saviour; He wrought salvation for those who betrayed and rejected him, he went down into humiliation as the way to his exaltation, he forgave those who, at least in spirit, put him to death, and to him as to the Saviour, all must come for relief or perish." 
Commenting on the significant details of Joseph's life, Kyle drew attention to their meaning when he wrote, "All these constitute one of the most majestic, God-like movements of Providence revealed to us in the Word of God, or evident anywhere in history. The same Providence that presided over the boy-prince in his father's house came again to the slave-prince in the Egyptian prison. The interpretation of the dreams of the chief butler and the chief baker of Pharaoh (Gen. 40:1-41:24) brought him at last through much delay and selfish forgetfulness to the notice of the king, and another dream in which the same cunning hand of Providence is plainly seen (Chap. 41) is the means of bringing Joseph to stand in the royal presence. The stuff that dreams are made of interests scarcely less than the Providence that was super-intending over them. . . . The Providence that had shaped and guided the whole course of Joseph from the Palestinian home was consummated when, with the words, 'Inasmuch as thou art a man in whom is the spirit of God,' Pharaoh lifted up the Bedouin slave to be again the Bedouin prince and made him the prime." 
For Additional Reading and Reference:Heinisch-Heidt, Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 8-12.
Foot Notes1. Ex. 3:6, 15, 16; 6:2-4; Deut. 6:10; Josh. 24:2-4; 1 Kings 18:36; 2 Kings 13:23; 2 Chron. 30:6; Neb. 9:7; Ps. 105:6-9; Is. 29:22, 23; 51:2; Jer. 33:26; Ezek. 33;24; Mic. 7:20; Mt. 1:1.2; 8:11; Lk. 3:34; Jn. 8:33-58; Acts 3:13, 25; 7:2-10; 13:26; Rom. 4; Heb. 6:13-18; Jas. 2:21-23; and I Pet. 3:6
This is chapter 2 of Chester K. Lehman's Biblical Theology: Old Testament. Published by Leland M. Haines by arrangement with Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. 15683 . Copyright © 1971 by Herald Press. All rights reserved. Third printing, 1997.
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