The Abraham narratives run from Gen 12 to the middle of Gen 25 in a series of individual events that are often only vaguely linked to one another by the editors. See, for example, the change between Gen 12:9 and 12:10: “Abraham went on and travelled toward the Negev, and there came a famine in the land.” There is no indication whether the famine began immediately or years later, or even if it was the next incident in order. Below is an outline of the major incidents with the blessings emphasised by being placed to the left in italics:

  • 12:1-9God calls and blesses Abraham and he moves west into Canaan.
  • 12:10-20Abraham risks his blessing in Egypt by giving up Sarah.
  • 13:1-18Abraham and Lot divide their territory and Abraham receives Palestine.
  • 14:1-24Abraham shows himself a hero and blessed in warfare.
  • 15:1-20God renews his promises and makes a covenant with Abraham.
  • 16:1-16Abraham risks the promise of a son by taking Hagar to bear Ishmael.
  • 17:1-27God renews his covenant and promise of a son, but commands Abraham to take on the sign of circumcision.
  • 18:1-15  God renews his promise to give a son to Sarah and Abraham.
  • 18:16-33 Abraham shows his blessing by interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • 19:1-38 Lot proves to be the only faithful person in Sodom: it is destroyed.
  • 20:1-18 Abraham risks the blessing to Sarah with the king of Gerar.
  • 21:1-21 God gives the blessing of a son, Isaac, and sends Ishmael away.
  • 21:22-34  Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech and his people.
  • 22:1-24 Abraham sacrifices Isaac in obedience to God.
  • 23:1-20 Abraham lays claim to possession of the land by buying the cave of Macphelah to bury Sarah and himself.
  • 24:1-67 Abraham arranges a wife for Isaac to continue the blessing.
  • 25:1-18 Abraham’s death and burial; Ishmael’s descendants; the blessing passes to Isaac.

The person of Abraham emerges suddenly and dramatically from the long list of persons in Gen 11 when God addresses him out of nowhere in Gen 12:1: “Go out from your land and your clan and your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” This marks the start of a new development in God’s plan. The worldas a whole is no longer the stage of action, but one small corner of it. The biblical picture of Abraham is told as a journey – Abraham moves through Canaan, stopping at major places in the mountain country, Shechem, Hebron and Beer-sheba, moving down into the southern Negev desert area, travelling even to Egypt.

He appears with a large number of followers and many flocks and herds and he occasionally does trade (Gen 15:2), but we learn very little about any business dealings or even about his relationships with his Canaanite neighbors. The whole story of Abraham is presented to us in a way that stresses two major themes: (1) God made a promise to Abraham which will control all the events narrated in the Pentateuch, but which already begins to unfold in Abraham’s own life-time; (2) God blessed Abraham and made him his specially chosen friend because Abraham was faithful to God.

These two themes are found mixed together throughout the story. They reflect the original outline of the J source but have been expanded by the additions from E and P. (See the separate notes on the Composition of the Pentateuch).