The book of Genesis is the book of genealogies, the study of the earliest generations. In Genesis 12-25 the patriarch Abraham takes center stage. God’s call on one man—from whom He would make a nation and relate directly with them—complements the scattering of languages in Genesis 11. Through Abraham and his descendants, God would reveal Himself to all peoples (Gen 12:1-3). The international scope of the Abrahamic covenant casts a shadow extending across Scripture’s storyline. In Rev 7:9, John described a multi-national chorus singing God’s praises. John wrote that the leaves of the trees surrounding the river flowing from God’s throne in the New Jerusalem were powerful enough to heal the nations (Rev 22:1-2).
The concept of land introduced in Genesis 12 plays a significant role in God’s redemptive plan. God set forth the land of Canaan as a place where His special people would one day dwell in safety, rest, and obedience—making the other nations jealous for a God like the Lord of Israel (Deut 4:1-8; Josh 21:43-45). The patriarchs took this promise so seriously that Jacob—even at a time of severe famine and when his son Joseph was ruling in the prosperous land of Egypt—was hesitant to leave Canaan (Gen 46:1-7). While the Israelites initially failed to enter the Promised Land, displaying cowardice when provided the opportunity for conquest at the southern edge of Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 13-14; see Psalm 95), they eventually entered the land under Joshua. The construction of Solomon’s massive, ornate temple was intended to signify Israel’s permanence in Canaan (1 Kings 8-9//2 Chronicles 6-7). But it did not last. In time the Lord removed Abraham’s descendants from the land because of their propensity toward idolatry (2 Kings 17, 24)—just as Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 28-30.
The author of Hebrews saw in the scenes of Genesis 12-14 themes and events that helped him explain the days of fulfillment in Jesus, God’s Son.
(1) The promise of land and rest and peace from enemies is enjoyed spiritually through the new covenant and faithfulness to Jesus. The author of Hebrews deduced that under Joshua the people never experienced the rest God intended for them in the land of Canaan—and his audience was in danger of not fully enjoying the promise of rest in Christ, writing: “For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day. A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Heb 4:8-11). For the author of Hebrews, “rest in Christ” was synonymous with the kind of courageous faith Abraham displayed when he responded to God’s call and set out to a place he did not know (Heb 11:8-9). Abraham looked forward by faith to what God had for him (Heb 11:10). Abraham was searched-out by God’s word of promise and was approved for his faithfulness. The author of Hebrews concluded his exhortation about faith and rest in Hebrews 3-4 by noting that God’s word is living and active to judge the thoughts of the heart (Heb 4:12-14).
(2) Jesus’ priesthood in the new covenant is eternal—like that of Melchizedek. The priest who met Abraham in Genesis 14 is referenced in the New Testament only by the author of Hebrews, in chs. 5-7. He used Melchizedek’s priesthood to legitimate Jesus’ priesthood. The record of Melchizedek in Gen 14:17-24 provides no genealogy—so important for the concept of priesthood in Judaism (see 1 Chronicles 6-7; 23-26). If Melchizedek had no genealogy, he must have been an eternal priest, the author of Hebrews deduced. Jesus, too, has an eternal priesthood. And Melchizedek was recognized as a priest even though he was not of the descendants of Levi, preceding them by many generations. So, Jesus—as a descendant of Judah and not Levi—could also serve as a legitimate priest. But in Hebrews, Jesus is more than Melchizedek. Only Jesus is the Son of God who offered Himself to atone for the sins of His people. Access to God comes through Jesus alone.