The Chosen People
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Many years passed since the time of Adam and Eve. What men had once known about God had been forgotten by most. They worshipped false gods or perhaps none at all. They had forgotten about God's promise to send a Savior. In order to keep knowledge and love of the true God among men, God chose a special group of people who would have faith in him and receive his special care and attention. This chosen group would be the channel through which God would prepare the world for the promised Messiah. It would be these people who would keep alive God's promise to free the human race from sin and lead it to salvation. God chose Abraham to be the father of this chosen people.
Few people in history have had faith like that of Abraham. When God asked him to leave his hometown of Ur, Abraham took his wife, Sarah, and did so at once. He settled in the unfamiliar land of Canaan simply because God told him to. He believed God's promise that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars, despite the fact that Sarah was too old to have children. God rewarded Abraham's faith with the birth of a son, Isaac.
Then God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. It must have been a terrible decision for Abraham to make. On the one hand, Abraham loved and trusted God. On the other hand, the thought of killing his little boy must have been almost more than Abraham could bear. And he must have wondered what God meant, promising him numerous descendants, then asking him to put an end to the only descendant he had. Yet Abraham chose to act in obedience to God's command, still having faith and believing that somehow his descendants would be numerous. God sent an angel to stop Abraham at the last minute, and let him know how pleased God was:
"I swear by myself," declares the Lord, "that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing-all this because you obeyed my command." (Gen 22:16-18).
Isaac grew up; he married Rebecca, and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was considered the eldest because he was born slightly before Jacob. He was Isaac's favorite-strong and athletic. Jacob was loved best by Rebecca. He was gentle and home loving. Rebecca had received from God a prophecy that Jacob, although the younger of the two, would be greater than Esau. "And the older shall serve the younger." (Gen 25:23).
As the two grew up, the prophecy certainly seemed to be coming true. One day, Esau came home after a long hunting trip, weak with hunger, Jacob was cooking a stew. "You must give me something to eat, Jacob," he said, "I'm starving." "Not unless you promise to give me your rights and inheritance as first-born", said Jacob. Esau agreed. Later, Jacob obtained from his father a special blessing that was really meant for Esau. Esau was furious and threatened to kill his brother. Rebecca told Jacob to leave home until Esau's anger passed.
During his time away from home, Jacob married and was blessed with twelve sons. From these twelve sons descended the twelve tribes of Israel. (God later changed Jacob's name to Israel. That is why the chosen people were known as the Israelites.) One of the twelve, Joseph, was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers. But God brought good out of the brothers' sin. He used Joseph to save his family from famine.
As you may recall, Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler, predicting that seven years of good harvest would be followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of storing enough grain during the good years to fee the people when the bad years came. When the years of famine arrived, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt. They were happily reunited with their long lost brother, who forgave them all. Jacob and all his sons settled in Egypt and raised their families. God's promise to Abraham was carried out in Isaac, Jacob and Jacob's twelve sons. God's chosen people, the people who would prepared the world for salvation, were becoming numerous indeed.
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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