Lesson 5 - Promises to the Patriarchs





In Luke 24, we get an amazing story of two apparent followers of Jesus who, on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, decide to take a 7-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Now we know that these two men were very well aware of the claim that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead because scripture says they were talking about what had happened on that day.  The interesting thing about this road trip is the question why they took it all.  Why did they leave?  Why didn’t they want to stay around and see how the events of Easter morning would play out.  Why didn’t they want to find out if, in fact, Jesus really had risen from the dead?  Was it just too much for them to grasp?  Of course that is all interesting to think about; but it is irrelevant regardless because these two men get a surprise of a lifetime when the resurrected Jesus appears to them and starts walking with them on the road.  Even though they did not recognize him at first, Jesus explained to them all the scriptures that pertained to him, especially those about his suffering and death.  Wouldn’t you like to know what Jesus said?  Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear Jesus himself explain how the Old Testament points to his death on a cross?  Oh that we could have heard what he said on that day.

Even though that conversation was not recorded in detail, we can still look at the record we do have – both the Old Testament itself and the many quotations of it in the New Testament to explore this concept for ourselves. The next four lessons in this course will do precisely that, hitting some of the highlights of how the Old Testament points the way to Jesus.   We will take our own trip down the road the to Emmaus.


Adam and Jesus Christ


The Protoevangelium


Provoevangelium is a strange word.  It is a big word used by theologians that means simply the first gospel.  The very first gospel – or good news – was declared by none other than God himself in the Garden of Eden.  It was declared just before Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden forever.  It is found in Genesis 3:15.


15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.


From the prior verse, verse 14, we know that God was speaking here to the serpent, who had deceived Eve into partaking of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  In this “first gospel” we find the tension between good and evil.  We see both the consequence of sin and the promise of redemption.   It is a vague prophesy to be sure, but we know and understand that what God is speaking about is how Jesus’ heel will be bruised – representing his crucifixion and death – and how Satan’s head will be crushed – representing Jesus’ victory through his resurrection.  It is the very first promise of salvation to the very first Patriarch, Adam, and that promise already hints at the need for the savior to suffer.


The First Sacrifice


The Protoevangelium is not the only picture of Christ’s sacrifice we get from the first Patriarch, Adam.   We also see from Adam how the consequences of sin require a sacrifice, which will ultimately be satisfied as a result of the death of Jesus Christ.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they learned that they were naked.  Consequently, they became ashamed of that nakedness.  They attempted to cover their shame by tying together fig leaves.  This attempt at covering their sinfulness, however, was insufficient.  Only God’s actions can overcome man’s failures, and so in Genesis 3:21, God makes clothing for Adam and Even from animal skins.   God had to sacrifice and kill those animals to cover over the nakedness of Adam and Eve.  From that moment forward, the shedding of blood for the remission of sin became a regular part of the history of man.


The Foreshadowing of the New Adam


There is one more picture of Christ that we get from Adam, but we learn of it not from Genesis, but from the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:12-14.


12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:


13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.


14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.


Adam is a foreshadowing or a picture of Christ, but not in a good way.  As Paul explains it in Romans, Adam’s disobedience brings death to all men.  The sin of Adam has been passed down to all men because all men are descendents of Adam.  As a result, we are hopelessly lost in that sinfulness.  None are capable of overcoming the original sin that is within us.

By contrast, Jesus is not a son of Adam.  He is the Son of God.  Unlike all of us, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, having been placed in her womb by the Holy Spirit.  Because of that, he was not burdened by original sin as we are.  Therefore, Jesus is essentially a “New Adam” who could choose obedience rather than death.  He faced all the same temptations that we face, but without sin.   As such, his obedience results in life for all who put their faith in him.



Salvation through the Water


Just as Adam is a picture of Christ, in a small way so is Noah (Genesis 6-8).  When the earth had reached a point of absolute depravity such that God could no longer bear it, he determined to destroy all life.  However, because of the righteousness of one man, Noah, God determined to save mankind through him and his family.  As a result, he ordered Noah to build an ark and to fill it with representatives of all living creatures.  Just as mankind and the whole earth was given a second chance through the obedience of Noah, so we are given a second chance and eternal life through the obedience of Jesus Christ.

By no means, though does Noah’s salvation through the flood waters imply that baptism is a necessary component of salvation.  While Noah’s actions may be a picture of Christ and his salvation, it was after the flood that we see God’s promise of salvation to Noah.  When the floodwaters had receded and Noah had departed the ark, he built an altar and sacrificed one of every clean animal to the Lord.  Genesis 8:21 tells us that the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and as a result he determined that he would never again curse the ground to destroy it by flood.  Although the original curse of the ground would continue, he would never again destroy all life on earth as he did with the flood.  He would allow the earth to continue until the end of time.  He sealed this promise with a rainbow and every time we see that rainbow, we should be reminded of more than just God’s promise not to destroy the earth by flood.  We should also be reminded that it was the pleasing aroma of the blood sacrifice that moved God to this decision.  This is a beautiful picture to us how only the sacrifice of Jesus will ultimately be pleasing to God.  Nothing other than his sacrifice will satisfy the wrath of God. 

Indeed, on two occasions (once at his baptism and again at his transfiguration), God the Father looks down on God the Son and says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  We are reminded of the prophesy in Isaiah 53:10 (which we will look at in more depth in a later lesson in this course), “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.”  Indeed, Next time you see a rainbow, remember that it is a picture of God’s pleasure in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.



Abraham and Christ


There are many aspects of Abraham’s life that point us to Christ. Indeed, Abraham is considered the father of all who have faith in Christ.  He is considered to be the foremost Patriarch of Israel as well as Christianity.  His very name implies this as it means “father of a multitude.”  It all begins, of course, with the Abrahamic Covenant.


The Abrahamic Covenant


God’s covenant with Abraham begins in Genesis 12:1-2, when God calls Abram (later to be renamed Abraham) out of Ur to go into a country that God would show him.  At that time, he promised to make a great nation from him and make his name great.


Genesis 12:1-3

1 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:


2 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:


3 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.


It was an unconditional promise on the part of God.  He was commanding Abram to leave everything and follow him, but the promises were not dependent upon his obedience.  God would make a great nation of him.  God would make his name great.  God would make him a blessing.  The reason he would do so would be because through the nation he would make of Abram, God would bring about the fulfillment of his promise of redemption.  It would be through Abram that all the families of the earth would be blessed because through Abram the Messiah would come.

This would require great faith on the part of Abram.  He would have to leave everything, including the house of his father and go to a new land about which he knew nothing.  He would be doing so in the hopes of his offspring becoming a great nation in that land.  The only problem, of course, was that Abram was without an heir and his wife Sarah was barren.  Despite all of this, Abram – later renamed to Abraham by God – obeyed.

God repeats his promise to Abraham again in Genesis 15.  This time, God specifically promises to give him a son.  After Abraham complains to God that he has no heir but his servant, God says “This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.”  Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham believed this promise of God and that this faith was credited to him as righteousness.  From that simple faith, Abraham became not only the father of the Children of Israel, but the father of all who call on the name of the Lord in faith.  As Paul says in Romans 4:11,


11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also.


That same night, God solidified his covenant with Abraham.  First, he told Abraham to bring a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon.  He instructed Abraham to cut them all in half and separate the halves.  God then put Abraham into a deep sleep.  While he was asleep, he passed between the two halves of the sacrifices, confirming his oath with Abraham.  This act – passing through the two halves of the sacrifice – was an ancient near-east practice by which covenants were sealed.

Abraham’s path was not perfectly smooth.  He stumbled along the way, trying to do things in his own strength.  Most notably, he was impatient with God and had a son, Ishmael, through his wife’s servant-girl.  In the end, however, he was faithful to God’s call on his life and trusted in God’s promises.  As a result, God fulfilled that promise to give him an heir through his barren wife, Sarah.  Isaac became the son of promise.

God repeated his promise to Abraham yet one more time in Genesis 22.  This time, the promise came after God put Abraham to the test.  Abraham was obedient in being willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (see below).  As God repeats his promise this time, however, the gospel is introduced even more clearly, as he adds these words to the covenant in verse 18


And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. [emphasis added]


It would be through his seed that all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  Who is this seed?  It is none other than Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul confirms this in Galatians 3:15.


16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.


In other words, the purpose of God’s covenant with Abraham to make a great nation of him was to ultimately bring about salvation to the world through Jesus Christ.  Through Abraham would come God’s chosen people, the Children of Israel; but through that people would come God’s anointed one, the Messiah; and through the Messiah – Jesus Christ – all the nations of the earth would be blessed.


Abraham’s Obedience


As mentioned above, God honored the obedience of Abraham.  It is precisely that obedience, however, that we get our very first hint as to exactly how far God would go to make a way of salvation for us.  At the beginning of Genesis 22, God tells Abraham to take his one and only Son, Isaac, to a place that God would show him in order to sacrifice his son.   This took great faith on Abraham’s part.  Isaac was a son born of a miracle as a result of a promise.  Isaac was the one through whom God had said he would fulfill his promises to Abraham.  Yet despite knowing that Isaac was the son of promise, he was willing to sacrifice Isaac anyway.

In a way that foreshadows the time in which Jesus would be in the grave – three days – Abraham and Isaac traveled three days to the place where God had shown him.  Many scholars believe that place to be Mount Moriah, where the temple would later be built.  Abraham built an altar and prepared to sacrifice Isaac, but at the last moment the Angel of the Lord prevented him from doing so.  Abraham’s obedience in being willing to sacrifice his one and only son was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that God made for us. 

How could Abraham be willing to do such a seemingly horrible thing?  The idea of child sacrifice is unthinkable to virtually all of us.  How could we even imagine such a morbid concept, much less that God would ask it of us?  How must Abraham have felt when God asked him to do this?  The writer of Hebrews explains it this way in Hebrews 11:19


19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.


Abraham had reached a point in his life where trusting God was second nature.  He no longer tried to do things in his own strength.  He knew that God keeps his promises.  As such, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his one and only son in obedience to God, believing that God would raise him from the dead because God had made a promise to make a great nation through him.

When we think of the absolute horror of sacrificing our children, consider how much more horrific it must have been for God the Father to give his son as a sacrifice for our sinfulness.  This story, therefore, becomes a picture of God’s plan of salvation because God went beyond just being willing to sacrifice his son – he actually did it.  Romans 5:8 says “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  God not only sacrificed his only begotten son, but he actually did raise him from the dead.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 



The Later Patriarchs




God had promised Abraham that through Isaac a great nation would come and through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  Isaac, therefore, became the bearer of that promise after Abraham’s death.  It is of no surprise, therefore, that God confirms his oath to Abraham with his son Isaac.  We find this in Genesis 26:2-5.


2 And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:


3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;


4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;


5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.


Then again in Genesis 26:25 he says, “I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake.” 

Isaac was the bearer of the promise.  It was his responsibility to carry it and pass it down to his heir – but which heir.  Isaac had two children, the twins Esau and Jacob.  Esau was the older and Jacob was the younger and so by birthright Esau was to receive this blessing and promise.  God, however, chose Jacob to be the bearer of the promise, not Esau.

Jacob deceived his brother out of his birthright, purchasing it from him for a bowl of stew.  Likewise, Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, deceived the old and blind Isaac into blessing Jacob rather than Esau.  As dishonest as this may be, we find from it that God can use all things – even less than honorable things – to bring about his purposes.  Even before these two twins were born, God had already determined who would receive the blessing, for as the two wrestled in Rebekah’s womb, God said, “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).




Jacob may have been chosen by God to receive the blessing and be the carrier of the promise, but he was by no means ready to do so.  He was deceitful and a coward, and so God sent him into “exile” for 14 years to work for his uncle, Laban.  God was preparing Jacob for the task of being the father of a nation.  At the beginning of that exile, however, the promise is once again confirmed.  As Jacob was fleeing the wrath of his brother, he fell into a dream.  Genesis 28:12-15 says


12 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.


13 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;


14 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.


15 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.


Even though Jacob was not the first-born son, we see God confirming his covenant with Abraham through Jacob.

At the end of his exile, as he is returning to face Esau, Jacob has an encounter with a man, wresting with him all night long (Genesis 32:22-32).  He begs the man for a blessing and in return the man touches his thigh, leaving him with a limp.  The man then tells Jacob that his name will be changed to Israel.  Jacob recognizes that he had wrestled with none other than God himself.

Later, in Genesis 35, God appears again to Jacob to reconfirm the promise, the blessing, and the name change.  Jacob the deceiver would become Israel, the one who strives with God.


Genesis 35:10-12

10 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.


11 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;


12 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.


From that moment forward, Jacob and his household put away all foreign gods and followed only the God of Abraham and Isaac.




Jacob – that is, Israel – had twelve sons, who became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Although a great nation would ultimately come from these twelve brothers, only one would be the bearer of the promise to bring forth the messiah.  Jacob would be the one to prophesy it.

At the end of his life Jacob, like his fathers before him, set forth to bless his sons.  This occurred after Joseph had risen to power in Egypt and the other 11 sons had joined him to live in Goshen.  First, he blessed the two sons of Joseph, Ephriam and Manasseh.  Then he called his other sons, beginning with the eldest, Reuben, to speak of their fortune.  The first three sons received a very dubious blessing.  However, Judah, the fourth son, received these words from his father in Genesis 49:8-12;


8 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee.


9 Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?


10 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.


11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:


12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.


With this prophesy, Jacob compares Judah to a lion cub, implying strength, magesty, and royalty that has not yet come of age.  In so doing, he foretells that the future King of Israel would come through Judah and that it would not depart from Judah until the coming of the Messiah, who would reign over Israel forever.  The phrase “until Shiloh come” is actually a play on words that can also mean “until it comes to whom it belong” – meaning the Messiah.    And the gathering of the people to him implies the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through him.

This kingship through the lineage of Judah becomes an important qualification for the anointed one and the tribe of Judah becomes forever associated with the strength and royalty of the Lion.  Revelation 5:5 speaks of Jesus as the Lion of Judah:


5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.


Thus, as the Children of Israel enter into their darkest time, slavery in Egypt, they are left with one of their greatest promises – salvation through the line of Judah.




No discussion on the Patriarchs of Israel would be complete without at least mentioning Israel’s last great Patriarch, Joseph.  While there are no promises that God makes to Joseph as he does to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, the story of how God uses Joseph to save his family has striking similarities to how God uses Jesus to save all of us.

We probably all know the story of Joseph.  His brothers sell him into slavery and tell his father he is dead.  He has many trials in Egypt but eventually rises to power as second in command over all Egypt.  During a horrible famine, his family comes to Egypt in search of food.  There is a dramatic reunion and Jacob and the rest of the children of Israel all move and settle in Goshen.

Joseph may not have been the only begotten son of his father, Jacob, but certainly he was his favorite.  Joseph’s coat of many colors and his dreams of his family all bowing down to him made his brothers quite jealous of him.  When his father sent Joseph to his brothers, they rejected him and sold him to slave traders for 20 pieces of silver  - the price of a slave.  This has striking similarities to Jesus, who was sent by the Heavenly Father to his own people, who rejected him.  One of his own 12 disciples even sold him for what was at that time the price of a slave – 30 pieces of silver.

Like Jesus after his crucifixion, Joseph was presumed dead for many years. However, just as Jesus’ act of obedience caused him to be elevated to a position above all others except the Heavenly Father, so Joseph was elevated to a position above all others except the Pharaoh of Egypt.  Finally, just as Jesus’ return from the dead results in salvation for all who believe on him, so Joseph’s return from the apparent dead resulted in salvation for his family.

Joseph’s response to his brothers after the passing of their father, Jacob is one that can be applied to many situations in life.  However, it speaks directly to God’s plan to crush his son, Jesus.  Joseph says in Genesis 50:20, “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.”  What happened to Jesus was certainly meant as evil, but it was God’s plan to save the world.



In conclusion, we must think of the events of Genesis – from the fall of man through the Patriarchs – as God establishing a foundation for the coming of his Messiah and his plan to provide redemption of sins through his sacrifice.  There is no Israel yet and no law yet, but there is a plan in motion.  In the promises that God makes to these Patriarchs, we get a first glimpse of that plan.  Even though those promises appear to be focused on the formation of the nation of Israel and the land that God promised to give them, we still see the beginnings of the importance of sacrifice.  Likewise, we see God’s intentions to bless every nation on the earth, not just this promised new nation.  In the promises to the Patriarchs, we see the seeds of mankind’s redemption.