Week 2 Reading Guide (Chapter 2: God Builds a Nation)

General Resources:

Week 2 Resources:

Introduction

This week we look at Chapter 2 of The Story, which deals with how God starts to build a nation. We’ll look at the early patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and see how God blessed them to be a blessing to others.

If you don’t have The Story book, you can read Genesis chapters 12-13, 15-17, 21-22, 32-33 and 35. (There’s also a little of Romans 4 and Hebrews 11 from the New Testament thrown in, which gives you a clue as to how some of the New Testament writers understood these stories.) Remember, the Story book is easier to understand because it has eliminated chapter and verse numbers and some of the more confusing parts, but it’s exactly the same wording as in the NIV Bible.

Chapter 2 – God Builds a Nation

In chapter 2, we look at the beginnings of the nation God builds for God’s people. It is important to remember that even though God works through and with ordinary (and flawed) people, everything begins with God and God’s promises to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation, to give this nation a land in which to dwell, and to bless all other nations through the nation of Israel.  

We then see how God uses broken people (remember those are the only kind of people God can use – we are all broken), to fulfill God’s unbreakable promises. On a day-to-day basis, God’s people continue to make bad choices that reflect their brokenness and the prevalence of sin in our world. Abraham and Sarah, waiting for years for the child God promised, opt for a workaround to conceive an heir through Sarah’s servant, Hagar. Isaac and Rebekah raise a very dysfunctional family. Jacob perfects the “workaround method” by conniving and cheating his way through life.

But despite their many failures, God’s people also respond in faith. Abraham picks up stakes and travels to a foreign land just because God said to. He gives his relative Lot the choice real estate, having faith God would still bless him. Abraham and Sarah, through laughter and tears, finally see God fulfill God’s promise through the birth of a son, Isaac. And in a dramatic (and today very morally ambivalent) episode, Abraham shows he is willing to go so far as sacrificing his only son, Isaac, just because he trusts God. (This foreshadows the willingness of God to do the same to his own Son.) Despite his many flaws, even Jacob (one of my least favorite biblical “heroes”) takes some significant actions based on his faith in God’s promises.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which are also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

Abraham 


Abraham serves as the example of justification by faith. (Nowadays “faith” is often described as believing certain things to be true – what I call “head knowledge”. But I think  a better definition is “active trust, action based on your trust that something is true.”) How would you define “faith”? What are some acts that demonstrate Abraham’s faith? What demonstrations of faith can you identify in your own life?

The maidservant Hagar fled from Sarah’s harsh treatment. Alone, hurting and in despair, God saw her. But she also saw God, and declared, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Can you remember a time when you have seen God acting in your life when despair and pain were present? How does it make you feel to know that you have been seen by God?

Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac poses a real moral dilemma. If we heard about someone attempting to sacrifice his child nowadays in response to a command from God, that person would be most likely institutionalized. And while many other places in the Old Testament condemn human sacrifice, here God seems to applaud Abraham’s obedience. How do you feel about this story? What lessons can you draw from it? What lessons should we not draw from it? How do you reconcile this story with Jesus’ commands to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies?

Isaac  

How long did Isaac and Rebekah wait for God to give them a child? (See Genesis 25:20 and 25:26)  What have you been praying for that seems to be taking a long time to be fulfilled?  Have you thought of ways to hurry it along? I must admit that I sometimes find it difficult to tell the difference between a situation where I am to wait on the Lord’s timing and a situation where I am being called to act in partnership with God’s timing. I think this is where a good prayer life and looking for God working around you is really helpful. Have you run into any situations like this in your life? What did you do? What did God do?

 Isaac is a great example of a parent with a pretty dysfunctional family. He favors one son, while his wife favors the other. Can you think of examples of dysfunction in your family or among your group of close friends? What can you do to reflect God’s grace in the midst of all that?

Jacob

In the midst of a deep, personal crisis in Jacob’s life, we read about a curious struggle in the wilderness (p. 23). In the end, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel because he struggled with God and man and overcame. (In the ancient world, a name represented the character of a person.) Can you think of a situation in your life that involved “wrestling” with God. If God was to change your name to represent the outcome, what do you suppose it would be?

Jacob said to Esau, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably” (p. 24). Esau showed grace to Jacob, despite Jacob’s poor treatment of Esau. By doing that, Esau demonstrated God’s gracious character. To whom do you need to show grace today?

Jacob is a wonderful example of how God uses flawed people to further God’s big redemptive mission. Jacob is both “faithful” and “flawed,” (which reminds me of Martin Luther’s statement that we are all “saints” and “sinners”). What are some examples of Jacob’s flaws? Where do we see his faithfulness? Where have you seen this same dynamic played out in your own life — faithful and flawed? How have you seen God show up despite your flaws, (and maybe even used your flaws for God’s purposes)?

Overall

What has God asked you to do recently?  What would it cost you to obey?  Consider Abraham’s age when he was called out of Ur, when he was promised a son and when he had Isaac.  What factor does age play in God’s calling?  Do you feel too young or too old, or inadequate in some other way?  Can you talk with God about those feelings to make sure they don’t stop you from doing what you believe God is calling you to do?

Last week we looked at Genesis as a book of “beginnings” or “origins.” Here we see the origin of God’s people of Israel. In the creation of the world, God spoke and it was so. Here in Chapter 2, we see God partnering more closely with humanity. What does that say about God? What are the ways in which God calls you to partner with God today?

What questions came up for you while you were reading this chapter?

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