The Covenant and the Hebrews

Abraham's Journey from Ur to Canaan

IN THE BEGINNING, the Bible describes God’s creation of the first people; followed their expansion and evolution as these hunters/gatherers an farmers organized themselves into clans, tribes, cities and finally governmental empires.  The Bible narrative centers on and follows a small group of people in Mesopotamia as they evolve, known first as the Hebrews and later as the Israelites.  God singles out one of them, Abraham, makes a covenant with him, and moves him from Ur to Canaan.  We start our story here.

The Israelites traced their ancestry to this one man: the “patriarch Abraham” Isaiah 51:2 and Hebrews 7:4.  It is with Abraham that God made his covenant (Genesis 12:1-3); an agreement between two parties.  God appeared to Abraham, from Ur of the Chaldees, and told him to pack up and move to Canaan, promising to him the land to him for his family and the generations to come.

Canaan is becoming the cross-roads of all economic activity at that time.  By moving the Hebrews there, the Lord moves them from the outskirts and positions them in the center of the action.  However, before he permanently settles in Canaan, Abram goes south to Egypt.


12th century dynasty Egyptian palace

To the south of Canaan was the mighty Egyptian empire.  It had been deteriorating but that was changing.  Under the Old Kingdom Egypt Pharaohs (2420 – 2258 BCE  — Pepi I and II) Egypt had deteriorated into a weakened state with an economy stagnant from excessive taxation to pay for previous building projects and adverse global climatic changes.  In 2150-2135 BCE it fell into the “Egyptian Dark Ages”.  This culminated with the Kingdom splitting North-South from 2136-1986 BCE:,(North) Herakleopolis  and (South) Thebes.  But the kingdom is now showing signs of revival under the Middle Kingdom Pharoahs.  Amenemhat I (1956 – 1911 BCE) begins the 12th Dynasty and begins to reverse Egypt’s fortunes.  He consolidates Egypt, he begins to trade internationally with new business partners and makes alliances with Crete and other Greek lands in the North.  He allies with the Phoenician kings for trade ships.  He invades gold-rich Nubia in the south.  He sends extensive military expeditions North to the Hittite lands and beyond to the lands of the Eastern Black See (called Colchis).  These lands are rich with gold and the legend of Jason’s Golden Fleece is born in these lands.

Statute of Amenemhat I

Statute of Amenemhat I

It is during this Middle Kingdom period (1956 – 1539 BCE) that God moves Abraham into Egypt.  He will, as Moses writes, leave Egypt fabulously rich with silver, gold, camels, donkeys, sheep and servants.  When he leaves Egypt to return to Canaan, his heir Isaac will wander, find a wife and embrace the Covenant’s promises of the land.  His other son Jacob will also marry and become a wealthy sheik whose sons are destined to fulfill God’s promises.  The most prominent of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, will eventually become the Vizier of Egypt.

God chose Abram as he later chose others.  God builds into his covenant testable standards which differed for each person he covenanted with:  obedience (Abraham); faithfulness (Joseph); trust (Isaac & Rebecca); reliance and trust (Moses); perseverance, patience and family.  Humans are imperfect and have tendencies to give up, to waiver and fall back into sin.  Such testing is crucial in all aspects of life.  Would you want plumbing in your house, for example, that had not been tested for proper venting and code compliance?  The code exists to let the plumber and the building owner know what will work and stand up over time.  The Lord builds into his covenant “tests” to keep the relationship on solid ground.  These virtues sum up the expectations placed in the covenant’s success and makes the covenant contingent upon fulfillment of the obligations.  God knows every heart so King David was tested differently than was Job or the apostle Paul.  God has a plan in mind for his chosen people that, with Abram’s obedience, starts to unfold.