Abraham’s sojourning in Egypt, and indeed his entire story, is a purposeful foreshadowing of Israel’s later experience, just as God separating light from darkness in the creation story foreshadows his separation of the Israelites from the Egyptians, becoming light to one and darkness to the other, as he liberated Israel from Egyptian bondage.
Genesis is just as much a story of the origins of Israel under the rule of YHWH as anything else. The creation story, the separation of the faithful from the nations, the Abraham story, including his sojourn in Egypt and return to the land of promise, and finally the recapitulation of this cycle in the story of Jacob, Joseph, the brothers, and the Exodus, all point to this aim of the Torah’s grand narrative. God was creating a people for himself to bless the world through his grace and creative power, within and through their vicissitudes and their struggles.
This was ancient storytelling whose purpose was not to give strict chronological accounts of the past, but to help the Hebrews and Israel to make sense of their present. To give them a firm grounding in their relationship to God as a people…who they were, and what their present calling and purpose was to be as the people of God in the world. It was rooted in the story of their deep past. This was the purpose of the Genesis story and the story of Abraham.
This story embraces us as followers of Jesus. The calling to bless the world, first promised and given to Abraham, and seen later in a people descending from him, reaches its climax in Jesus, Israel’s messiah. He is the true seed of Abraham called to bless the world. It is through him that God’s promises to Abraham and the calling of Israel to bless all peoples reaches its ultimate fruition. And, all who align with Jesus in faith, regardless of ethnicity, racial, or religious backgrounds, are the fulfilled Israel, who are grounded in their relationship to God, and find their identity, calling, and purpose as God’s people in this world through Jesus and the power of his Spirit.
The constant moralizing of the sabbath school quarterly, as well as the fundamentalist tendency to try to read Genesis as literal history or in terms of modern science, misses the Pentateuch as story/narrative, and its big sweep. It downplays or altogether misses the powerful beauty of how the story of Jesus and our own calling in him is truly rooted in the story of Abraham and Israel to bless and restore the world. It is in this grand narrative that we, as people of faith, can not only see God and his purposes, but also locate ourselves, our place, and our purpose.