1. The patriarchs and their families prosper because of divine blessing and presence.
First, notice how the patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, and their families prosper because of the divine blessing or the divine presence. Isaac and Rebekah only had children because God answered Isaac’s prayer (25:21). Isaac grew rich because God blessed him (26:12). Jacob triumphed over Laban because of God’s help to him. Even Laban notes how God had blessed him because of Jacob (30:27, 29). Jacob states explicitly that “if God, the God of my father, the God of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac had not been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed” (31:42). After returning to Bethel, the place where he started his pilgrimage, Jacob confesses, “He [God] has been with me in the way wherever I have gone” (35:3). Jacob later refers to God as “my Shepherd all my life until this day” (48:15). Joseph advances in Potiphar’s house, does so again in prison, and eventually is promoted to second in Egypt because God is with him (39:2-3, 21, 23; 41:38). The patriarchs’ advantage in seeing them safely through varied and repeated trials was that Yahweh was their God and He was with them.
2. The descendants of Abraham grow into the twelve tribes of Israel.
Second, the descendants of Abraham grow in Genesis 25-50 into the twelve tribes of Israel, the familial structure that will characterize them for all of human history and even into eternity. (Jesus chose twelve disciples based on the pattern of the twelve tribes of Israel, the 144,000 in Revelation are based on the number twelve, and the new Jerusalem has twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed upon them.) God sovereignly overrules a conniving father in law, who gives Jacob the daughter that Jacob did not want to marry, the quarrelsome atmosphere of polygamy, and the frustration of child barrenness to bring these twelve tribes into existence. We can all be thankful that God is greater and bigger than our foibles and life’s “in spite of’s” (in spite of Laban, in spite of Rachel’s barrenness, etc.).
3. The land of Egypt takes a prominent place in the storyline of the Bible.
Third, the land of Egypt becomes prominent in the biblical storyline. We typically think of Egypt in a bad light, remembering how they enslaved Israel for centuries, chased them to the Red Sea, and attacked them on several occasions later in their history. In Genesis 25-50, however, Egypt is a kind of sanctuary for the fledgling tribes of Israel. As Israel migrates to Egypt, the best of all the land of Egypt is at their disposal (45:18; 47:6, 11). While Isaac was forbidden to journey to Egypt in a time of famine, Jacob receives God’s blessing to settle in the land of Egypt. In addition, the Egyptians particularly disliked shepherds, which just happened to be the chief occupation of the patriarchs (43:32; 46:34). Their animosity to the children of Israel was a blessing in disguise. It allowed them to live on their own in the land of Goshen and lessened the danger of integration into the Egyptian way of life. By moving to Egypt, Israel was escaping integration into Canaanite culture. Clues here and there in Genesis 25-50 suggest how easily Israel could have been entrapped by and even was entangled with the Canaanites. Jacob’s family could have very easily been absorbed into the city of Shechem (Gen. 34). Judah, for a period of decades, drifted away from his family, settled near a Canaanite from Adullam, married a Canaanite, and took a Canaanite woman as a wife for his son Er (Gen. 38). Simeon had a son by a Canaanite woman (46:10). Egypt became a sanctuary in which Israel’s twelve tribes could grow into a multitude with a clear ethnic and spiritual entity.
4. Judah emerges as a leader among the sons of Jacob.
Finally, the later portion of Genesis 25-50 records the emergence of Judah as a leader among the twelve sons of Jacob. Because Joseph is so much in the spotlight in chapters 37-50, we sometimes miss what is happening to Judah. Failing to see his prominence and character arc is unfortunate because the tribe of Judah has direct links to our Messiah, Jesus Christ. “Our Lord,” the author of Hebrews affirms, “sprang from Judah” (7:14). Judah’s first actions are unflattering: he is the brother who comes up with the idea of selling Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders (Gen. 37:26). But it gets even worse in Genesis 38, where he is becoming increasingly Canaanitish in his ways. His sons are so evil that God kills two of them. His daughter in law, Tamar, knows that her father in law will most likely not pass up an available prostitute (38:13-16). Thankfully, Genesis 38 also seems to record Judah’s turning point: when he confesses that Tamar has been more righteous than himself (v. 26). From there, Judah moves only upward. He of all the brothers convinces his father to allow Benjamin to accompany them back to Egypt (43:3). Judah is the brother who pleads with Joseph to release Benjamin and even offers to become a slave in Benjamin’s place (44:18-34). (An offer made unknowingly to the very brother that he had sold into slavery.) And Judah is the brother that Jacob his father sends ahead to prepare for their arrival in Egypt (46:28). Judah is the leader of his brethren (see 44:14), even though he is not the oldest. What’s more, Judah becomes the tribe designated to be the ruling tribe and the tribe through whom the Messianic King would spring. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a ruler from between his feet, until He comes to whom it [the scepter] belongs, and to Him the peoples shall render obedience” (49:10).