Abraham’s Life as a Type

I’m considering the possibility that the life of Abraham as recounted in Genesis contains a typological prophecy of the history of Israel; that is, that the events in Abraham’s life broadly anticipate events in Israel’s history. This kind of pattern is seen in the case of Moses, for instance, because what Moses goes though in Exodus 1-2 is pretty much the same as what he leads Israel through later on. Similarly, the pattern of Paul’s missionary journeys and trials in Acts is a copy of Jesus’ preaching tours and trials in Luke.

What follows is speculative and tentative, but it is worth sharing, if only to provoke some readers to investigate the possibility further.

In Genesis 12, Abram enters the land, lives there for a while, is driven by a famine to Egypt, and is attacked in Egypt. The Egyptians are plagued and Abraham is driven out with much spoil. This anticipates the history of Israel from Abraham through Joshua.

In Genesis 13, the strife between Lot and Abram perhaps foreshadows the period of the Judges, with the reference to Sodom’s evil in 13:13 anticipating Judges chapter 19.

The word “king” occurs 41 times in Genesis, with 27 of them in Genesis 14. We can hardly fail to see the kingdom emphasis here. Abram’s military prowess shows that he is equal to these kings, and thus this passage hints toward the kingdom period of Israel’s history. We also have here the first mention of the city Jerusalem.

Up to this point, the promise to Abram has been in terms of land and ministry (12:1-3; 13:14-17). This fits nicely with the period up to David. Now in chapter 15 the promise of a son is added explicitly, linking perhaps with the Davidic covenant, which also focuses on the messianic son (2 Samuel 7). Moreover, the land promise is reiterated in expanded terms: Originally it was all the land Abram could see and traverse (13:14-18); now it embraces all the territory from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, and it was only in Solomon’s days that all this territory came under Israel’s hegemony.

The birth, circumcision, and later expulsion of Ishmael (Genesis 16, 17 & 21) are closely typological of Israel’s history, foreshadowing the birth and sacrifice of Isaac, the giving of the Law, the coming of Jesus, and the expulsion of old Israel in the Apostolic era (see “Call Me Ishmael” in Biblical Horizons 117-118). The Ishmael events are a “type within a type” in terms of the larger typology we are considering here.

We can pick up the “main” story with chapter 17, and notice again a link with the Davidic promise, in that God says kings will come from Abram and that an everlasting covenant is made with his son and his descendants, language that recurs in 2 Samuel 7.

Since the destruction of Sodom (chs. 18-19) is linked with the destruction of Jerusalem in the New Testament, we can link it with the first destruction of Jerusalem at the end of the Kingdom period. At that point, Israel moved into Gentile territory, in the Exile, and continued to live in the Gentile Oikumene during the Restoration era. She was to pray for these Gentiles, and would be blessed when God blessed the Gentiles. All of this is anticipated in Genesis 20.

Accordingly, the birth of Isaac (ch. 21) corresponds to the coming of Jesus. Jesus’ birth heralds the fullness of the gospel to the Gentiles, “life from the dead” for the wombs of all humanity. The sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, then, links with the cross.

The death of Sarah, the old bride, anticipates the death of Israel with the coming of the gospel (ch. 23). Abraham’s unnamed servant, sent to obtain a bride for Isaac in Genesis 24, anticipates the sending of the Spirit to form and secure a new bride for Son.

In summary:

Genesis 12:1-10, Patriarchal era

Genesis 12:11 – 13:18, Mosaic era

Genesis 14 – 19, Kingdom era

Genesis 20, Exile and Restoration era

Genesis 21 – 24, Jesus and Apostolic era

It does appear, then, that Abraham as the father of Israel experiences a life that typologically anticipates the course of Israel’s history as a whole. These parallels are real enough to invite further study and reflection.

James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This post was originally found in Biblical Horizons.

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