The Yahwist Narrative
The Yahwist narrative is thought of as a selection from the storehouse of Israel’s stories and traditions, arranged and interpreted to express a particular communication concerning Israel in the Yahwist’s time. In Martin Noth’s identification, it stretches from creation (Gen 2:4b—3:24) to the prophecies of Balaam and beyond. It includes stories of the whole human race (Genesis 2–11), stories of Israel’s ancestors (Genesis 12–50), and stories of Israel’s constitutive generation, led by Moses (Exodus and Numbers). The Yahwist’s purpose in assembling this rich and varied material was to proclaim that Israel was the LORD’S chosen mediator to bring salvation and blessing to the troubled humanity described in Genesis 2–11. Genesis 12:1–3, in which this divine purpose is first proclaimed as blessing for Abraham and for “all the families of the earth,” is a pivotal text in the Yahwist narrative. It looks forward to the story of Israel as the blessed nation and source of blessing. At the same time, it looks back to the story of humanity in need of blessing.
The stories of Israel’s ancestors tell of patriarchs and matriarchs who are fragile bearers of the divine blessing. They often seek to take matters into their own hands, and they are often involved in conflicts that threaten the welfare and future of the family. Yet through all this very human story, the subtle but powerful purpose of the LORD is at work to bring blessing. The JacobEsau conflict reaches resolution. The near disastrous conflict between Joseph and his brothers is resolved, and the narrative concludes with the family together in Egypt, rapidly growing into a great and powerful nation. The promise of descendants is being fulfilled.
The story of Israel in Egypt reveals the LORD’S loyalty to the promises and a divine power that can fulfill the promises against the most powerful opposition. When the very existence of Israel is threatened by the might of Egypt, the LORD intervenes through the agency of Moses. Israel is led out of Egypt to freedom, and the pursuing oppressor is finally destroyed in the deliverance at the sea. The unique relationship between Israel and the LORD is then sealed in the covenant at Sinai. With the LORD as their God, Israel sets out across the wilderness for the land. Their arrival and settlement in the land would mark the fulfillment of the promise of land to the ancestors.
The journey to the land reveals again the fragility of the bearers of blessing. The fragility of the ancestors was their human weakness: the temptation of individuals to take matters into their own hands rather than trust in the LORD, the attempt by members of a family to dominate others, the tendency to fall into conflict. The fragility of Israel is far more dangerous and dam-