I write study questions for my small group. We just finished our second series in Genesis, which I’m posting here in case you can make use of it. The first series, on the life of Abraham, has also been posted.
The Lives of Isaac and Jacob: Nine Studies
By Tim Stafford
Finding a Wife for Isaac
- In his instructions to his servant, what comes through as Abraham’s priorities for his son Isaac?
- What do you think about the servant’s approach to finding a wife? (vv 12-14) What other approaches might he have taken? What does this approach say about him?
- The servant prays to “Abraham’s God.” (verses 12, 26) What does this imply about his own relationship to God?
- Is there somebody whose God you worship? If so, who, and why is that significant?
- What do we learn about Rebekah from her response to the servant’s request for a drink? What kind of girl is she?
- In your mind, does this story emphasize the miraculous guidance of God? How so?
- In your mind, does this story emphasize the importance of the good, godly character of the servant in finding the right match? If so, how so?
- What admirable qualities does the servant show?
- What role do the gold bracelets and nose ring play? (verses 22, 30)
- There is some question about how soon Rebekah will be released, and she is consulted. (verse 58) What do you think her response says about her?
- Notice the way in which the blessing with which her relatives see off Rebekah (verse 60) echoes God’s promises to Abraham. What does this tell you about God’s plan?
- Do you find Isaac’s and Rebekah’s first meeting romantic? Why or why not?
Jacob and Esau, Act I
- We’ve barely got Isaac married at the age of 40 (v. 20) and immediately Genesis starts in on his two sons, born twenty years later (v. 26). Why the rush?
- Apparently the pregnancy was difficult and Rebekah prayed for understanding. What kind of answer does she get? (v. 23) In what way is this an answer to her question, “What is happening to me?”
- The boys are temperamentally opposites. What would you say is the most likely outcome for that in twin brothers?
- The fact that Jacob liked to stay near the tents—what does that tell you about him? What is it about the tents that he would like? What does he learn around the tents that Esau doesn’t while he’s out hunting?
- The boys are loved by different parents. (v. 28) What is the most likely outcome for that in twin brothers?
- As you read the story of the stew (29-34), what does it show about Esau’s character and personality?
- What does it show about Jacob’s character and personality?
- Do you think Jacob had been planning to offer this bargain, or was it spontaneous? What makes you think so?
- Why does Jacob make his brother swear? (v. 33)
10. Who do you like best, Jacob or Esau? Why?
11. The story is summed up that “Esau despised his birthright,” not “Jacob cheated his brother out of his family position.” Why do you think? Was Esau a greater sinner than Jacob? Why or why not?
12. In our context, what does it mean to “despise your birthright?” Have you ever been tempted to do it? How?
BONUS QUESTION: What is the “red stew” of our times?
Between a Hostile City and a Waterless Wilderness
This chapter doesn’t get preached a lot. It’s very interesting, however, for what it says about the context Isaac lived in. His pilgrimage was insecure and yet he was blessed by God in it.
Biblical criticism notes the parallels in Abraham’s life (12:10-20 when he pretended to the Egyptians that Sarai was his sister; 20:1-18 when he did the same with Abimelech; 21:22-34 when he made a treaty with Abimelech) and suggests that these are 3 variants on one story. That’s plausible, but it’s worth noting that the similarities are there for anybody to see. Whoever put this together was no fool, and didn’t put in three variations without noticing. There are very significant differences in the stories, too, and it’s plausible that this is actually a case of the sins of the father repeating themselves—and then being repeated by the son. That plausibility depends, however, on the possibility that Abimelech and Phicol are family names or court titles that got repeated in different generations. There’s no evidence of that, but there’s no evidence against it either.
Whatever you make of this issue, we are presented with a story that has its own meaning in its own time. Let’s enter into Isaac’s life!
- Famine occurred in Abraham’s, Isaac’s and Jacob’s day, and each time the possibility of going to Egypt came up. What was Egypt’s attraction? Why doesn’t God want Isaac to go there?
- What does God ask of Isaac?
- God plans to bless Isaac on the basis of his relationship with Abraham. (vv 3,5) We usually think of having a personal relationship with God on a one-to-one basis. Should we alter that way of thinking based on this passage? Why should Abraham’s blessing pass to Isaac?
- Have you been blessed because of God’s blessing on someone else? Who, and how?
- Abimelech’s alarm (v. 10) suggests that perhaps he knew of God’s warning in 20:7. Contrast his mindset with Isaac’s. What is Isaac’s main focus?
- Genesis credits God for Isaac’s success in Gerar (v. 12-14) What is the result of this blessing in terms of his relationships? What does this suggest about material blessings?
- Isaac seems to be caught between a hostile city and a waterless wilderness that can’t support his flocks. What does he most need?
- When God appears to him a second time (v. 24) what is God’s message? Why is this important?
- What is Isaac’s response to God’s appearance?
10. When Abimelech and his men rode out from Gerar, what do you think Isaac expected? What do you make of Abimelech’s explanation of his visit? (v. 28)
11. Do non-believers often notice the blessing of the Lord as Abimelech did? Or do you think he was a highly unusual person?
12. List the things that happened to Isaac in Beersheba. What significance does this place have in his life?
13. Looking over this chapter we can see that Isaac has been on a difficult pilgrimage. What has he accomplished with God’s help? How much of it was his doing? What did God provide?
Jacob Gets the Blessing
- It’s important to reflect on the background of these sordid events. Re-read 25:21-34. What had God revealed about the relationship of these twin brothers? (v. 23) What had Esau sworn? (v. 33) How did these facts fit in with Isaac and Rebecca’s desires? (v. 28)
- When Isaac indicated that he would bless Esau (27:4) was he thinking that these previous events didn’t count? What motivates him?
- What motivates Rebekah in her instructions to Jacob? What makes a wife and a mother conceive such a thing?
- Jacob at first objects to Rebekah’s scheme. What is the basis of his objection? (vv 11-12)
- Overall, how would you describe Rebekah’s personality?
- Overall, how does Isaac come off in this exchange with his two sons? Is it really credible that he could be snookered this way? Why or why not?
- Isaac’s blessing of Jacob (28, 29) seems to mix both God’s blessing of Abraham and God’s prediction about Jacob ruling over Esau. Do you think Isaac is trying to undo that prediction? What is his motive?
- What do you think of Isaac’s conviction that he can’t undo his blessing, even if he made it under deception? Is this the power of a spoken word, or does he also have the conviction he has been trying to undo God’s work?
- How would you sum up Esau’s character? What actions or words tell you about him?
10. What do you think of Esau’s third marriage? (28:6-9)
11. Rebekah comes off as the great manipulator, by far the most insightful member of the family. How does she get Jacob to do what she wants? (42-5)) How does she get Isaac to do what she wants? (v. 46)
12. Overall, what is the result of Isaac’s scheme to bless Esau? What is the result of Rebekah’s scheme to gain blessing for Jacob? What does this suggest about human planning? What about God’s planning?
Genesis 28: 10-22
- What do you think was Jacob’s state of mind when he stopped for the night? How many factors can you name that might have weighed on him?
- Considering Jacob’s recent ugly behavior toward his brother and his father, why do you think God appeared to him without even being asked? Why were his words so unstintingly positive, rather than reproachful?
- Is there anything new in God’s promise to Jacob?
- Considering how much of what God says to Jacob is a repeat of what he has undoubtedly heard from his father, what is the value in God reiterating these promises?
- What is the meaning of the “stairway to heaven?”
- Why would this vision seem significant to Jacob?
- What about you? What does the “stairway to heaven” say to you?
- Why and how did Jesus appropriate this imagery in John 1:51?
- Jacob responds with excitement not to God’s promises but to the presence of God and the “gate of heaven.” Does this reaction surprise you? Why or why not?
10. In Jacob’s vow, he emphasizes the promises that have a near-term impact, not those that affect future generations or long-term career. What does this say about Jacob’s mindset at the time?
11. What do you think of Jacob’s vow? Is it appropriate? Can you think of anything he might have said instead?
12. After this passage, it is a long, long time before God seems to be involved in Jacob’s life again. What do you think it means when a person like Jacob has a dramatic encounter with God? What difference do you think it makes?
13. What about you? Are your encounters with God more episodic, or steady? How do they affect you?
14. What do you learn about God from this passage?
Twenty Years Away from Home
- What do you learn about Jacob’s character from his first day in Paddan Aram? (29: 1-14)
- Why does Jacob weep? (verse 11)
- What do you learn about Jacob’s character from his courtship and marriage? (29:14b-30)
- What about Laban? Does he remind you of his sister Rebekah? Why or why not?
- In the competition between Leah and Rachel (29:31-30:24), what do children represent?
- Notice how Leah sees her children as a way to make up for Jacob’s lack of love. (29: 32-35; 30:20). What advice would you give her if she came to you for marriage counseling?
- What role does Jacob play in this competition? What does that tell you about his character?
- What do you think about the role that the servant women played in this competition?
- Do you feel sorry for Dinah? (30:21) Why or why not?
10. The discussion between Laban and Jacob over wages (30:25-43) is “a classic encounter between two schemers, each trying to take advantage of the other.” How does Laban try to get the better of Jacob?
11. How does Jacob try to get the better of Laban?
12. Jacob seems to think that he out-clevers Laban, but with a knowledge of modern genetics we can be pretty sure that Jacob’s theories were wrong. Why do you think Jacob’s flocks grew while Laban’s did not?
13. Jacob finishes his twenty years in Paddan Aram a wealthy man (30:43) with two wives and twelve children (11 sons). Is this a good thing? Why or why not?
14. Where does God appear in all this? What do we learn about him?
15. With which character in this story do you identify?
Good and Bad Partings
The number one question when Jacob left home was whether he would survive. Chapters 29 and 30 answered that question: he has become patriarch of a substantial family, with considerable wealth. Now comes the number two question: will he ever get home again?
- Verses 1-3 summarize how Jacob got the idea of going home. How would you describe the human factors?
- How would you describe the God factors? Were human or God factors more important?
- Jacob had proposed leaving six years before (30:25-28). What is different this time?
- How do you decide to leave? Human factors? God factors?
- Whereas Jacob had previously proposed leaving to Laban, this time he decides to leave secretly. Why? Do you think this was wise?
- Jacob consults Leah and Rachel, making a rather lengthy explanation of why they should leave. (31:4-13) Why does he feel it necessary to defend himself to them?
- From Jacob’s words, and from Laban’s words (31: 28, 43) you sense that these women were more than slaves. What was their social status?
- In Jacob’s explanation to his wives, and in their response, there are human factors and God factors. What are they? Which do you think mattered most?
- Are the God factors sincerely offered by Jacob? By Rachel and Leah?
10. The dramatic story of how Rachel got away with her father’s gods (19, 30-37)—what do you think is the point?
11. What impression do you get of Rachel?
12. After pursuing for seven days, why doesn’t Laban follow through and use superior force to take Jacob back?
13. What is the gist of Jacob’s defense to Laban? (vv 36-42) What are the human factors? What are the God factors?
14. Laban, totally flummoxed by God and man, proposes a covenant. (31:43-44) What are the elements of the covenant? What do they accomplish?
15. In the end Jacob and family are able to part peacefully, rather than leaving behind the ragged edges of getting out of town without notice. What had to happen to create that peace? What aspects of this story apply to your own transitions? (Leaving a job, leaving home, dropping out of a family tradition, changing churches, moving, etc.)
16. Who comes out of this story looking good?
Jacob Meets God and Brother
Read Genesis 32:1-21
- What did it mean to Jacob to see angels as he was on his way?
- Why do you think he named the place “two camps?”
- Jacob’s message to his brother (4-5) used very servile language, “your servant,” and “my lord.” What do you think is going on in Jacob’s mind?
- What made Jacob panic? (verse 7).
- What is the substance of his prayer? (9-12) Is he bargaining? If not, what is his approach?
- What is the substance of his plans as he approaches his brother? How will these protect him?
- Why doesn’t Jacob run? Why does he keep heading toward his brother?
Read Genesis 32:22-32
- Why did Jacob stay behind?
- In this strange encounter, God gave Jacob three new “gifts.” What were they? How was each one to Jacob’s benefit?
10. God names Jacob “struggler with God.” Is there a message for Jacob and for his sons? What do you think it is?
11. Why doesn’t God want Jacob to see him?
12. What was the significance of the limp, that it should be remembered by a tribal ritual? (verse 32)
13. Read Hosea 12:2-4, which summarizes the life of Jacob. What do we gain from this description of strength and weakness? Is this a good model?
Read Genesis 33
14. Esau is a portrait of grace, parallel to the Prodigal Son’s father. (verse 4) How can this be? What is behind it? What lesson can we learn?
15. Jacob not only declines to accompany his brother home, but as soon as he disappears going south, Jacob turns north toward Succoth. How much has Jacob learned about grace?
16. Thinking about difficult relationships, what parts of this story do you identify with? The scary approach? The wrestling with God? The unexpected grace? The drifting back into fear?
Homecoming for Jacob
As we noted in the last study, Jacob’s old deceptiveness sprang up immediately after his brother received him so graciously. (33:4) After promising his brother to follow him on his journey south, Jacob turned northwest to Succoth, where he took time to build a house and some shelters for his livestock. (33:17) Later he went on to Shechem, bought land and established an altar.
Since Dinah was probably about seven years old when Jacob left Laban (see 30:21-24; 31:41) it appears that some years passed before the trouble of chapter 34.
Read Genesis 34
- How would you describe the social relations between Jacob’s family and the people of Shechem?
- Hamor’s son Shechem forced sex on Dinah, but afterwards declared that he loved her and wanted to marry her. What is the best case for accepting Hamor’s offer in verses 9-10?
- What is the case for rejecting it?
- Was there any alternative to the brutal revenge carried out by Jacob’s sons? What else could they have done?
- What was the substance of Jacob’s complaint to his sons? (verse 30) If you were castigating them, what would you add to this?
- If you were in Jacob’s place, how would you answer the sons’ rebuttal? (verse 31)
- Did Jacob bear any responsibility for this awful incident? What, if anything, had he done wrong? (Consider Jacob’s settling down in Shechem, his passive response in verse 5, his non-involvement in the negotiations, and the lack of principle in his response to his sons (verse 30).)
- Why do you think this story is placed in the holy book of Israel? What can we gain from it?
Read Genesis 35
- When God stepped in (35:1) what did he command Jacob to do? Why were these beneficial actions to take? What would they accomplish?
10. Jacob’s instructions to his family (verse 2-4) differ somewhat from what God had asked of him. Why? What do we learn about the religious state of Jacob’s family?
11. Note that despite Israel’s fear of violent reprisals, no defensive actions are mentioned. What kept them safe?
12. Jacob’s return to Bethel rounds out his long, complicated journey to Paddan Aram. He virtually repeats (35: 14-15) the actions he took when he passed through there alone (28:18-19). What has been gained on this round trip?
13. In what ways do you think Jacob has changed on the journey? In what ways has he stayed the same?
14. Has God changed toward Jacob? If not, what are his consistent actions?
15. Have you been on a round trip like Jacob’s? (For example, in leaving a place, a relationship, a job, a school, a church, and later returning.) What did you gain on the journey?
16. Note also that Jacob and Esau were reunited when their father died. (35:29) That, too, ended a round trip. What can we learn about sibling rivalries from their experience?
17. As young men Jacob and Esau vied for primacy in the family and for “the blessing” of the firstborn. These seem to be truly important matters in the thought-world of Genesis, but by the time of Isaac’s funeral, it’s not so clear what difference they made for Jacob and Esau. What do you think was at stake, if anything?
18. What kind of man was Jacob? What in his life do you want to emulate? What avoid?