I write questions for my home Bible study group, and I post these just in case someone else can make use of them. Feel free to copy and use as you’d like. This 8-week series is on the life of Abraham.
Life of Abraham
Study Questions by Tim Stafford
Read chapters 12 to 14.
Chapter 12 of Genesis represents an abrupt break. Up until this point, Genesis has been preoccupied with global issues, most of them heartbreaking. God made the world very good, but in no time violence and evil take over. God’s responses are mainly punitive—a massive flood, a breakdown in language. There seems to be no hope of redeeming his beautiful creation. But here, God narrows his focus to one solitary individual. The world is forgotten. Abraham and God occupy the stage.
1. 12:1-3 What does God ask of Abram?
2. What does God promise to Abram?
3. 12:10-20 Is this a story about what a coward Abram is, or what a lucky duck he is?
4. Chapter 13 Why did Abram and Lot separate? What motivated Abram, and what motivated Lot?
5. How did God respond?
6. 13:18 Living out in the desert, Abram’s only “buildings” were tents and altars. Reflect on the different purpose and permanence of the two.
7. How often did Abram encounter God, and in what ways? (12:1, 7, 8, 17; 13:4, 14, 18; 14:19, 22) What did he know about God?
8. Chapter 14 What do you learn about Abram’s situation from the details of this chapter? Why does he fight?
9. 14:17-24 Why does Abraham honor Melchizedek, who offers bread and wine and a blessing, while refusing to take anything from the king of Sodom?
10. Note the contrast between Abram’s getting rich from the Egyptians (12:16, 20; 13:2) and his refusal to get rich courtesy of Sodom. What is the difference?
11. What would you say is the main drive of Abram’s life in these chapters? How does it relate to God’s promise in 12:1-3? Do you see any signs of growth?
Read Genesis 15
1. What is the content of Abraham’s vision in 15:1? What is he to do? What does God promise to do?
2. Suppose you had such a vision. How do you think you would respond? (Or, if you have had such a vision, how did you respond?)
3. How does Abraham respond? Is his response admirable? Why or why not?
4. How does God answer his complaint?
5. What does verse 6 mean in context? Why is it quoted in the New Testament?
6. How does verse 7 follow? Why doesn’t Abraham believe?
7. How does God respond to Abraham’s doubts?
8. How do you read verse 16?
9. What do you learn from this chapter about Abraham’s social location?
10. To what degree and in what way did God answer Abraham’s doubts?
11. What about us? What promises do we find hard to believe?
12. How does God answer our doubts?
Read Genesis 16
1. What are Sarai’s goals and priorities? What kind of outcome do you think she is looking for when she proposes that Abram sleep with Hagar?
2. What kind of person do you think Sarai is?
3. What are Abraham’s goals and priorities?
4. Would you say Abraham is weak? Why or why not?
5. What is Hagar’s social situation?
6. Why did she despise Sarai after getting pregnant?
7. Why does Sarai hold Abraham responsible?
8. Does Abraham take responsibility? If not, why not?
9. What is the underlying purpose in the question the angel poses to Hagar? (v. 8)
10. How would you describe Hagar’s answer?
11. How does the angel respond to her? Do you think this is helpful to her, or punitive?
12. What is the significance of Hagar giving God a name? What has happened to her?
13. What do you think of this name? What did it mean to Hagar? How does it speak to you?
14. If an angel asked you the question he asked Hagar, how would you answer?
Read Genesis 17
This chapter carries on from chapter 15. There God made specific promises in terms of land and offspring, and these promises were ratified in a strange religious ceremony/experience. Chapter 16 reads like an interlude, in which we see the characters of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar as they attempt to work out their own salvation and (more or less without looking for him) discover God’s character. In chapter 17 we return to God’s promises and God appears to Abram again—at least 14 years after the last time.
1. How do you imagine God’s appearance to Abram? Why did Abram fall on his face?
2. Verses 1-8 include many promises to Abram. Which ones repeat something
3. God has said before? Which ones offer something new?
4. What is the overall significance of listing these “benefits?”
5. Verses 9-14 turn to Abraham’s response. In Chapter 15 he was only to believe and to participate in the ceremony. Now we see that more is required. Of all the things that God could demand of Abraham, why circumcision?
6. Why do you think God chose a sign that applied to men only?
7. Why were slaves included?
8. Why circumcise at eight days, when the more common practice is to circumcise at puberty as part of a coming of age ritual?
9. Why no moral demands? What is circumcision that the Ten Commandments is not?
10. Regarding verses 15-16, why does God want to bless Sarah? What has she done to deserve this?
11. Verse 18 records Abraham’s only words in this chapter. What do they say about him?
12. How does God respond to Abraham’s laughter and his question? What do you learn about God and his plans?
13. Why do you think Isaac got his name? Who is laughing?
14. How do you imagine the scene in verses 23-27? What do you learn about Abraham?
15. If you were one of the slaves who got circumcised that day, what would you think?
16. When you think of your own life plans and the way God treats you, what does this chapter say to you?
Read Genesis 18-19
Until now we have seen very little deep evil in Abraham’s world. We saw Abraham’s cowardly behavior in Egypt, the violent raid against Lot (and the rescue operation), and Sarai and Hagar’s battle for privilege. These show plenty of evidence of human weakness, but the evils seem petty (though they can do great harm). In fact, there seems to be a paired weakness in the story. Abraham, the man chosen for the world’s redemption, seems too puny for the task; but the world also doesn’t seem to be dying for redemption. Its sins hardly seem worth God’s worrying about.
In these chapters, we begin to get a larger portrait of good and evil.
1. Why do you think so much is made of his hospitality to the three strangers? (18:1-8)
2. In explaining his relationship to Abraham (18:16-19), what does God emphasize? What does he intend to do for Abraham, and what does he want from him? And what does this have to do with whether he should tell Abraham about Sodom?
3. What does Abraham’s dialogue with God (18:20-33) reveal about Abraham? About God? About their relationship?
4. Why does the author of Genesis include the brief vignette in 19:27-28?
5. Why did the Lord ask Abraham where his wife Sarah was? (18:9)
6. Everything God tells Sarah in 18:9-15 closely parallels what God had recently told Abraham in 17:15-22. Do you think Abraham had not told Sarah, or had she failed to believe what he told her? What is God’s purpose in coming back to share the same information again?
7. What is the point of the laughter in both these accounts?
8. Why did Lot insist so strenuously on bringing the visitors home? (19:1-3) What does he know about Sodom?
9. Based on this passage, what do you think the “sin of Sodom” was?
10. Can a city really be so bad that it lacks even ten decent people?
11. As a man sitting in the city’s gate, Lot appears to be a prominent citizen of the town. His going out to face the mob (verse 6) suggests either that he had courage or that he thought people wouldn’t attack him personally. Considering verse 9, what do you think was the true state of his relationship?
12. What does his offer of his daughters (verse 8) tell you about Lot?
13. Why do his sons-in-law think he is joking? (verse 14) What does this suggest about Lot?
14. Overall, what idea do you get of Lot? Why the epilogue in verses 30-38?
Regarding the world:
15. What sense do you get from this passage of the wickedness of the world? Is it widespread?
16. What is God doing about the wickedness of the world, and what kind of instruments does he have at his disposal?
Read Genesis 20, 21
1. These two chapters begin and end with Abraham and Sarah’s interactions with Abimelech. What do we learn about Abraham’s social situation? What problems does he face? What assets does he bring?
2. Twice in the last year (17:21; 18:10) God has told Abraham and Sarah that they will have a son within the year. Given that this is the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promise, why would Abraham move into Abimelech’s territory and tell him that Sarah was his sister (20:2), practically inviting him to take her for a wife?
3. What picture do you get of Abimelech from his dream dialogue with God? (Verses 3-7)
4. What three questions does Abimilech demand of Abraham? (verses 9,10) What do they tell us about Abimelech?
5. What three answers does Abraham give? (verses 11-13) Do any of them stand up?
6. What picture do you get of Abraham from his dialogue with Abimelech?
7. At the time Isaac was weaned (verse 8) he was perhaps about three and Ishmael would have been in his mid-teens. What would cause Ishmael to make fun of Isaac?
8. Why would it bother Sarah so?
9. Why did Abraham let Ishmael go? Is this an act of faith or an act of weakness? What makes you think so?
10. Verse 20 asserts that God was with Ishmael as he grew up. In what way? What is the difference between Isaac’s place before God and Ishmael’s?
11. Perhaps fifteen years before, Hagar had run off into the wilderness, and God had sent her back. Why do you think God is now content for her to leave?
12. When Abimelech and Abraham meet again (verse 22 and following) Abimelech asks Abraham to swear to keep the peace, Abraham lodges a complaint, and the two men end up signing a treaty. Why is all this necessary and important? What does it say about Abraham’s position in society?
13. If you had wandered into Abraham’s camp and heard of these events, where do you think you would have seen God at work? How visible was God’s activity? What were the telltale signs?
14. How about today? Is God’s work visible? What are the telltale signs?
Read Genesis 22
People have been staring into this text for thousands of years. It’s really pretty simple, and yet we keep staring. It’s worth taking time to soak in the details and so follow Abraham’s experience closely. Then we need to ask: what does this say about Abraham, what does it say about God, and what does it say to us?
1. In verse one, why does God call Abraham’s name? Why does Abraham respond “here I am”? Why is this verse necessary? (Notice that the same call and response is repeated in verse 11.)
2. In verse 2 God says to take “your only son, Isaac, whom you love.” Actually, Abraham had another son, whom he also loved. Why does God say this?
3. Abraham obeys first thing in the morning. How quickly would you have responded?
4. One feature of this story is that God takes Abraham to a new place of sacrifice, even though Abraham had already built altars to him in several other locations. Why do you think this new place is indicated?
5. In verse 8, do you think Abraham is hoping for some kind of divine alternative to sacrificing Isaac?
6. “Now I know,” God says in verse 12. What does he know? How does he know it? What difference does it make?
7. The mountain place is called “The Lord Will Provide,” according to verse 14, and it quotes a significant saying relating to the Temple Mount. (“On the mountain of the Lord” ) What is the deeper meaning of this saying? How does it apply to us?
8. In verse 15 God takes an oath, on the basis of Abraham’s obedience. Is there anything new in what he promises?
9. What do you think God is doing in this whole scene? Is he testing Abraham for his own benefit, or for Abraham’s?
10. Think about what we have seen of Abraham so far. Is there anything new revealed about him here? What do we learn?
11. What do we learn about God? Is something new revealed?
12. Does God test you? If so, how? Why do you think he does it?
13. Do you think this chapter shows God in the way he typically relates to his chosen people? Or do you think this is a one-time-only event that can never be repeated? Why do you think so?
Read Genesis 23:1-24:10, Genesis 25:1-18
We come to the deaths of both Sarah and Abraham. The focus is on Abraham’s preparing for the future, establishing a toehold in the Promised Land and planning for his son Isaac’s marriage. Abraham is not looking back, but we can, reflecting on what Abraham and Sarah accomplished in their long lives.
1. From Abraham’s interactions with the Hittite elders in Hebron, what do you gather about Abraham’s social status? Practically speaking, what does it mean to be an “alien and a stranger?” (23:4)
2. What do you think is Abraham’s motive in wanting to buy land for Sarah’s burial? What is the alternative?
3. What do you make of the elaborate courtesy shown by Ephron and Abraham? Is this genuine mutual appreciation, or a bargaining tactic?
4. Note Genesis 50:24,25, where Joseph asks his offspring to promise to carry his bones back to this cave in the Promised Land. According to Exodus 13:19 and Joshua 24:32 that is exactly what happened hundreds of years later in Moses’ time. What is the significance of burial in Palestine for these Israelites?
5. Abraham next focuses on Isaac’s marriage. Why did he send his servant all the way back to Mesopotamia to his brother’s family? What was the alternative?
6. What is Abraham’s most urgent concern in what he says to his servant? Why?
7. What hints do you get about Abraham’s relationship to God from this passage?
8. In chapter 25 we learn more about Abraham’s extensive (and complicated) family. Notice that Ishmael came around for the burial, even though he didn’t inherit (verse 9), and that Isaac chose to live at the same place where Hagar first met God. Why do you think Isaac is singled out for inheritance and protection? What makes him special?
9. At the end of Abraham’s long life, what has he accomplished?
10. What forces make Abraham’s legacy vulnerable?
11. Given that God has made very large promises to Abraham, do you think he died satisfied? How do you think he envisioned the future for his family?
12. How do Abraham’s accomplishments compare with yours?
13. How do Abraham’s hopes compare with yours?