Last week, we saw that Scripture presents Adam as a representative of Israel insofar as the first human’s expulsion from Eden anticipates Israel’s exile. Adam is not the only figure, however, that the writers of Genesis pattern on the future experiences of Israel. Abram, too, foreshadows the future experience of Israel when he enters Egypt and comes back out again; in Abram, we find an early rendition of Israel’s exodus.
After Abram and his family come into Canaan, Scripture notes, “famine was in the land (ויהי רעב בארץ; va’yehi ra’av ba’aretz). Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land (כי כבד הרעב בארץ; ki kaved hara’av ba’aretz)” (Gen 12:10). Just as Abram goes down into Egypt due to severe famine, the Israelites end up in Egypt because of famine: “The sons of Israel (בני ישׂראל; benei Yisrael) came to buy [food in Egypt]… for the famine was in the land (כי היה הרעב בארץ; ki haya hara’av b’eretz) of Canaan” (42:5). Indeed, these are the very “sons of Israel” (בני ישׂראל; benei Yisrael), says Exodus, “who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household” (Exod 1:1). In going down to Egypt because of famine, Abram’s journey points to that of Joseph’s brothers – the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.
When Abram tells Pharaoh that Sarai is his sister, and Pharaoh takes her into his house, “the Lord plagued (נגע; naga) Pharaoh and his house with great plagues (נגעים; negaim)” (Gen 12:17). This scenario is a clear precursor to when God later afflicts Pharaoh with plagues. Speaking of the slaying of the first born of Egypt, God tells Moses, “I will bring one more plague (נגע; nega) upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards, he will send you out” (Exod 11:1). Just as the final plague got Pharaoh to “send out” (שׁלח; shalach) the Israelites in the exodus, Genesis records of Abram that the Pharaoh also “sent him away” (שׁלח; shalach) along with Sarai (Gen 12:20). All the way back in Genesis 12, the writer offers a foretaste of what will happen in Moses’ day; just as Adam anticipates Israel’s Exile, Abram anticipates the nation’s Exodus. Based on the similarities between these events in the lives of Abram and Israel, we can affirm the rabbis’ assertion that “whatever was written about Abraham was [also] written of his children [Israel]” (Genesis Rabbah 40:6).