7. God Calls Abram from the Nations and for the Nations

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Introduction

As we have surveyed the history of redemption we have taken care to note how the fall explains why, in light of God’s good creation, Israel experienced 400 years of death and slavery. We have seen how it reinforced their solidarity with Adam and the whole of humanity. As we began our study of redemption we saw that we are not without hope, what was lost will be restored and relationships will be reconciled. Yet as we ended with God confusing man’s language at the Tower of Babel and dispersing humanity over the face of the earth. While this was an act of grace it still leaves us with many unanswered questions and raises new ones. With Moses writing the Pentateuch sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death Israel must certainly be wondering about their origins both generally as a people and specifically as God’s people.

I. The Abrahamic Covenant in Context

After the account of Babel Genesis 11 records the generations of Noah’s son Shem, after which the text focuses upon his descendant Terah by recording his genealogy as well.

Would someone read Genesis 11:27-32 for us?

With that the story of Abram, soon to be Abraham, comes to the people of Israel not with pomp and circumstance, he is not lavishly described, he is simply a son a Terah who settled with his father in Haran.

II. The Abrahamic Covenant

Like Noah before him and the people of God after him there is nothing that would hint at Abram’s meriting God’s favor and yet God, in His grace, speaks to Abram and establishes a covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-22; 18; and 22:1-18). Prior to looking at the content of the covenant we need to look at its ratification to discern whether it is a conditional or unconditional covenant.

Will someone please read Genesis 15:7-19?

In this ceremony “God signifies that if he does not keep his promise, he will be torn limb from limb like these animals (cf. Jeremiah 34:18-20).”[48] The Abrahamic Covenant “emphasizes most strongly, both in word and act, the absolute monergism of the divine power in accomplishing the things promised.”[49] This covenant is in no way synergistic like we saw described in conditional bilateral covenants where two parties enter into an agreement. Rather the Abrahamic Covenant is clearly a unilateral covenant, or unconditional covenant. Which we defined as “an arrangement imposed by a superior on subordinates . . . It usually designates an agreement made to or for, not with, the subordinate, depicting a legally binding promise which one party makes toward another.”[50] God is entering into a covenant for Abram, his descendants, and as we will soon see for the nations as well.

Would someone please read Genesis 12:1-9? In this text there are four specific promises that are made to Abram. What are they?

  • Offspring/Seed: “I will make of you a great nation.”
  • Personal Blessing: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.”
  • Blessing to the Nations: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
  • Land: “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Now let us take each one of these and examine them in detail. What is the significance of this promised offspring or seed? Why is it significant that God promises to make a great nation of Abram?

The immediate significance is that it answers the question Israel’s origin. This narrative explains “to the infant nation how they have a place within Yahweh’s magnificent plan to renew earth and its peoples and to effect a glorious recreation and fulfillment of his original intentions.”[51] This reaffirms God’s command to Adam and later to Noah to be fruitful and multiply as well.

What is the significance of the personal blessing?

While God’s blessing can be seen throughout the life of Abram this is important in that it also signifies God’s presence and His protection.[52] Another important point to note is that God’s blessing is further elaborated with the purpose clause “so that you will be a blessing.” God intends to bless Abram but even more He intends to bless others through him.

Building off of our discussion on personal blessing what is significant about God blessing the nations through Abram?

This has clear eschatological implications, which will be noted later, but this expresses God’s continued commitment to the whole of His creation. God is not abandoning the nations for the sake of Israel. He is not blessing Israel at the expense of the nations. He is blessing Israel for the sake of the nations.

What about the promise of land?

This points us both back towards creation where God dwelled with man in Eden and forward to a place where God will be present among His people.

III. The Abrahamic Covenant as Eschatology

“At Babel mankind sought to build a temple, rising to the heavens, to unite all people. Instead, God scattered the peoples. In the midst of this hopeless confusion, however, he was at work singling out the family that would bring redemption to the earth.”[53] The Abrahamic Covenant gives specificity to our eschatological expectation that was not previously present. The offspring/seed of Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpent and overcome the curse will be a descendant of Abraham and it is by through His victory that the nations will ultimately be blessed.

Conclusion

Abram like Adam and Noah before him did nothing to merit God’s grace. He was wholly undeserving of any blessing bestowed upon him, just as we are, God is gracious. In his gracious blessing of Abram He also made him a blessing to the nations, while we see this ultimately fulfilled in Christ it is a task which has been handed to us as well.

In what ways can we “be a blessing” and see the nations blessed?

[48]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 56.

[49]Vos, Biblical Theology, 94.

[50]Ibid., 176.

[51]VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 115.

[52]Ibid., 106-7.

[53]Ibid., 127.

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