Genesis 11-25

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Home > The Old Testament > Genesis > Chapters 11c-25a

Subpages: Chapters 11c-19  •  20-25a

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Relationship to Genesis. The relationship of Chapters 11c-25a to the rest of Genesis is discussed at Genesis.

Story. Chapters 11c-25a consist of the Abraham cycle, the second of the four major sections of Genesis. These chapters tell the origin of the Abrahamic Covenant and the story of Abraham's life. The Abraham cycle contains several major sections:

  • Chapter 11c, 19b: Descendants of Terah, including through his grandson Lot. Genealogical information about Terah's descendants.
  • Chapter 12-15: Abraham's interactions with Pharaoh, Lot, and Sodom.
  • Chapter 16: Birth of Ishmael, Hagar flees from Sarah.
  • Chapter 17: Covenant of circumcision. God gives Abraham circumcision as a token of having entered into a covenant with God. Upon complying with this commandment, God promises that Isaac will be born to Sarah.
  • Chapter 18-19a: Destruction of Sodom.
  • Chapter 22b, 25a: Descendants of Terah through Nahor and Abraham. Genealogical information about Terah's descendants.
  • Chapter 20, 21b, 23: Abraham's interactions with king Abimelech and the sons of Heth.
  • Chapter 21a: Birth of Isaac, Hagar cast out by Sarah.
  • Chapter 22a: Abraham offers Isaac in sacrifice. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At the point of raising his knife to slay Isaac, an angel appears and announces that this commandment was a test. God then again renews the Abrahamic Covenant.
  • Chapter 24: Isaac's non-Canaanite wife Rebekah.

Outline. An outline of the complete book of Genesis, including Chapters 11c-25a, is found at Genesis: Outline and page map.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 11c-25a include:

  • Making and renewing the Abrahamic Covenant.
  • Isaac's inheritance of the Abrahamic Covenant.
  • How the faithful interact with the world.
  • Disapproval of the wicked world. God disapproves of Sodom to the point of destroying the city. While Abraham is willing to live alongside Sodom and pleads that it not be destroyed, he nevertheless disapproves to the extent of insisting that his son Isaac marry a Non-Canaanite wife.


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Story themes in the Abraham cycle[edit]

  • The stories in the Abraham cycle can be classified in to five types that generally occur once in the first half of the cycle and again a second time in the second half of the cycle:
  1. Genealogical information regarding the descendants of Terah (Abraham's father);
  2. Stories Abraham's interaction with the outside world, mostly in Canaan;
  3. The births of his sons Ishmael and Isaac and the resulting conflict between his wife Sarah and his concubine Hagar;
  4. Symbolism and renewal of the Abrahamic Covenant in the stories of introducing circumcision and of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac;; and
  5. Stories that disapprove of the Canaanites.
These groupings are very clean in the first half of the Abraham cycle, but less so in the second half.

Terah's genealogy[edit]

  • Genealogical information in the Abraham cycle is not collected into a single list, but is instead scattered in four separate places:
  • In 11:27-31, at the beginning of the Abraham cycle, we are told that Terah had three sons while living in Ur: Abraham, Nahor, and Haran. Haran, in turn, had a son named Lot. We are also told that Terah left Ur and moved northwest along the Tigris-Euphrates to a place called Haran with his family consisting of his son Abraham, his son Nahor, and - because his son Haran had died in Ur - his grandson Lot, the surviving son of Haran.
  • In 19:30-38, we are given genealogical information about the descendants of Terah through his youngest son Haran, and Haran's son Lot, with a story about how Lot's two daughters get him drunk and conceive Terah's two great grandsons Moab and Ammon.
  • In 22:20-24, we are given genealogical information about the descendants of Terah through his middle son Nahor. Nahor remained in Haran with Terah when Abraham and Lot left for Canaan. In Haran, we are told that Nahor had twelve sons, eight through his wife Milcah and four more through his concubine Reumah. We are also told that the youngest of his wife's sons, Bethuel, had a daughter named Rebekah, who will later marry Isaac.
  • In 25:-11, at the conclusion of the Abraham cycle, we are told that, following Sarah's death, Abraham took another wife Keturah through whom he had six more sons. We are told the names of Abraham's grandsons through three of these sons. This is in addition to his son Ishmael through Hagar and his son Isaac through Sarah.

Rejection of the Canaanites[edit]

  • The first half of the Abraham cycle concludes with the lengthy story of the destruction of Sodom (Gen 18-19). The second half ends with the equally lengthy story of Rebekah's marriage to Isaac (Gen 24). Both of these stories can be understood as disapproval or rejection of the Canaanites among whom Abraham lived. It is true that much of the Abraham cycle describes how Abraham actively participated in Canaanite society. Indeed Melchizedek, "the priest of the most high God," lives and functions in this environment. (Gen 14:20). But these two stories indicate that Abraham was not fully assimilated into Canaanite society.
  • In the story of the destruction of Sodom, Lot is warned that he must leave Sodom hastily in order to avoid destruction. This finds echoes in the call to "Go ye out from Babylon." (__). Here God disapproves of these Canaanites to the point of destroying them. As for the rest of the Canaanites, Abraham is told that his descendants will inherit Canaan at a later date because "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." (Gen 15:16). In this story it is God who disapproves of the Canaanites. While Abraham does not defend the Canaanites as righteous, he does plead that they not be destroyed if even ten righteous can be found among them. (18:32). Abraham is thus willing to live alongside the Canaanites, even though God finds the wickedness in Sodom to be so bad that destruction is warranted (for more on this topic of when a society becomes "ripe in iniquity" such as to merit destruction, see the discussion of Hel 13:14).
  • In the story of Isaac and Rebekah, Abraham is insistent that "thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell." (Gen 24:3). This is echoed in Rebekah's concern that Jacob also not marry a local Canaanite wife (__), and in the consistent injunction that Israel not intermarry with foreigners (__). Here it is Abraham who disapproves of the Canaanites. Although Abraham is willing to live alongside the Canaanites, he is not willing to share grandchildren with them.

Abraham's ten trials[edit]

There are 10 trials typically (esp. in Jewish tradition) associated with Abraham's life. Umberto Cassuto (Commentary on Genesis, v. 2, pp. 294-96) suggests the following chiastic structure to these 10 trials:

1. Father-son separation: Abraham departs Haran [12:1-4]
2. Sarai is in danger (from Pharoah in Egypt) but escapes [12:10-13:4]
3. Lot departs [13:5-18]
4. Lot is in jeopardy (captured by kings) then saved by Abraham [14]
5. Hagar leaves but returns and bears Ishmael [16]
6. Sarah is (almost) barren but is promised Isaac [17-18:15]
7. Lot is in jeopardy (in Sodom & Gomorrah) then is saved for Abraham's sake [18:17-19:28]
8. Sarah is in danger (from Abimilech) but escapes [20:1-21:7]
9. Hagar and Ishmael depart [21:8-34]
10. Go to the land of Moriah for a father-son separation [22]

Outline and page map[edit]

This section contains an outline for Genesis 11c-25a. Items in blue or purple text indicate hyperlinked pages that address specific portions of the text. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

The outline below is summarized on this handout and is used here with the King James text

II. Abraham cycle (11c-25a)
• Book 7: "Now these are the generations of Terah [Abraham’s father] ..." (11:27)

First Abraham Sub-Cycle (11c-19)
• Terah's descendants: his three sons Abraham, Nahor, Haran, and Haran's son Lot (11c) (11:27-32)

A. Abraham among the Canaanites: Abrahamic Covenant formed and renewed (12-15)

a. Abraham travels to Canaan, promises of seed, land, favor, and to be a blessing (12:1-9)
b. Abraham sojourns in Egypt (12:10-20)
• Pharaoh is misled and takes Sarah into his house (12:10-16)
• Pharaoh confronts Abraham and sends him away (12:17-20)
b. Abraham and Lot separate to Mamre and Sodom (13:1-13)
• Abraham and Lot return to Bethel (13:1-4)
• Strife between herdsmen, Lot settles in the plain of Jordan (13:5-13)
c. Promises of seed and land (13:14-18)
b. Sodom defeated (14:1-12)
b. Abraham victorious (14:13-24)
• Abraham defeats kings and rescues Lot (14:13-16)
• Abraham blessed by Melchizedek but refuses reward from Sodom (14:17-24)
a. Promises of land and seed (15:1-21)
• promise of seed (15:1-6)
• promise of land (15:7-21)

B. Birth of Ishmael, Hagar flees and returns (16)

  • Hagar conceives and flees from Sarah (16:1-6)
  • Angel tells Hagar to return, promise to Ishmael of seed (16:7-14)
  • birth of Ishmael (16:15-16)

C. Symbolic covenant of circumcision (17)

  • Promises of seed and land, name change to Abraham (17:1-8)
  • Sign of circumcision (17:9-14)
  • Sarah promised Isaac as a covenant son, name change to Sarah (17:15-22)
  • Abraham and household circumcised (17:23-27)

D. Canaanites rejected: God destroys Sodom (18-19a)

  • Abraham and the destruction of Sodom (18:1-33)
  • Abraham entertains visitors (18:1-8)
  • Sarah promised a son (18:9-15)
  • Destruction of Sodom foretold (18:16-22)
  • Abraham pleads for Sodom (18:23-33)
  • Lot and the destruction of Sodom (19:1-38)
  • Lot entertains visitors (19:1-3)
  • Men of Sodom seek to abuse visitors (19:4-11)
  • Visitors warn Lot to flee from destruction of Sodom (19:12-16)
  • Lot pleads to escape to Zoar (19:17-22)
  • Destruction of Sodom (19:23-29)

• Terah's descendants through his 3rd son Haran: Lot's sons Moab and Ammon (19b) (19:30-38)

Second Abraham Sub-Cycle (20-25a)
A'. Abraham among the Canaanites (20, 21b, 23)

  • Abraham moves to Gerar (20:1-18)
  • Abimelech is misled and takes Sarah into his house (20:1-7)
  • Abimelech confronts Abraham (20:8-13)
  • Abimelech and Abraham are reconciled (20:14-18)

B'. Birth of Isaac, Hagar is cast out (Chapter 21a)

  • Birth of Isaac (21:1-8)
  • Ishmael mocks, Sarah seeks to cast out Hagar and Ishmael (21:9-11)
  • God tells Abraham to allow, promise to Ishmael of seed (21:12-13)
  • Angel helps Hagar to find water well (21:14-21)

A'. Abraham among the Canaanites (20, 21b, 23)

  • Peace between Abraham and Abimelech (21:22-34)
  • Treaty of peace with Abimelech for three generations (21:22-24)
  • Strife between herdsmen over water well (21:25-34)

C' Symbolic sacrifice of Isaac, Abrahamic Covenant renewed (22a)

  • Abraham commanded to sacrifice Isaac (22:1-2)
  • Abraham obeys the instruction (22:3-10)
  • Abraham prevented from slaying Isaac (22:11-14)
  • Promises of seed and to be a blessing (22:1-19)

• Terah's descendants through his 2nd son Nahor: twelve sons and Bethuel's daughter Rebekah (22b) (22:20-24)

A'. Abraham among the Canaanites (20, 21b, 23)

  • Abraham purchases tomb for Sarah (23:1-20)
  • Death of Sarah (23:1-2)
  • Abraham purchases a cave for burial (Chapter 23:1-20)
  • Abraham buries Sarah (23:17-20)

D'. Canaanites rejected: Isaac marries Rebekah rather than a bride from Canaan (24)

  • Abraham commissions his servant (24:1-9)
  • The servant's prayer at the well (24:10-14)
  • Rebekah at the well (24:15-28)
  • Laban provides for the servant (24:29-32)
  • The servant's account (24:33-49)
  • Rebekah returns with the servant (24:50-61)
  • Isaac and Rebekah marry (24:62-67)

• Terah's descendants through his 1st son Abraham, and death of Abraham (25a) (25:1-11)

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Subpages: Chapters 11c-19  •  20-25a

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