Genesis 11:27−12:20

March 2nd, 2015| Topic: aBeLOG, Genesis | 0

Genesis 11:27−12:20

God’s blessings are fulfilled through obedience that sacrifices and that relinquishes human contrivances in favor of an unshakeable trust in God.

Primeval history (Genesis 1–11) leads to patriarchal history (Genesis 12–50). The former ends on a rather depressing note: mankind seems prone to sin, and sin only seems to worsen with each generation. After the Tower of Babel episode, it seemed to have all gone irremediably awry.

But at the outset of his story, Abram is promised blessing and, in some fashion, his blessings will redound to all families of the earth. At long last, the initial creation blessing was now going to be channeled to all peoples through this one man, Abram, and his line. The Abrahamic cycle is bounded at its beginning and towards its end with God’s first and final recorded revelations to Abram, respectively, announcing blessings upon all the earth through the patriarch (12:3 and 22:18).

Nonetheless, 11:27–32 raises fears about the curse coming into play: there is early death, there is barrenness, and there is a migration that stops short of its goal. Besides, the preceding genealogy in 11:10–32 is the only section in Genesis 1–11 where the name of God does not appear—an ominous omission. On his own, man will get nowhere!

But now, the first time since God’s utterance of judgment and sentence at the Tower of Babel episode, he speaks (12:1). The increasing specification of what Abram must leave—country, relatives, father’s house—must have had an immediate impact: this obedience was going to be costly. Relational and socioeconomic ties were all to be severed. God was asking for “faith-full” obedience from Abram, at great cost to himself and all his. Yet, the benefits also would be considerable, both to the patriarch and to his descendants, and even to the rest of the world.

Essentially, the promise is threefold: land, seed, and blessing to Abram and to the nations through him.
It is through this one man, Abram, that God’s intended blessing for the nations would be accomplished. Abram is called to be a blessing (12:2c); while his acquisition of blessing is passive, his response is not; he is mandated to transmit, actively, that blessing that he has received. It appears then that God makes a conditional promise to Abram, requiring an obedient response (12:1–3). At the point of obedience (the meeting of God’s condition), the promise was confirmed by God (12:7). Later, this promise was transformed into a covenant (15:7–21), the conditions for which were subsequently enumerated (17:1–2, 9–14; 18:18–19), confirming it. Upon Abraham’s passing the final test of his faith and obedience, the covenant becomes ratified by God with an oath (22:15–18; 26:5).

Quite strikingly, after the tripartite promise—regarding land, seed, and blessing—Abraham proceeds to give lie to all three facets of the divine word. He takes Lot, assuming his nephew will be his heir (the seed promise disbelieved, 12:5), he decamps from Canaan to Egypt immediately, as soon as a famine hits (the land promise dismissed, 12:10) and, by his deception of Pharaoh in service of his self-preservation, brings about plagues upon Egypt (the blessing promise disregarded, 12:11–20). Strange obedience, indeed, “a hedging pragmatism,” as one scholar asserted, “not blind faith.”

Abram’s lack of faith in God’s ability to provide and his exertions to take charge of his own security were gross misjudgments. Without relying upon God totally, he would neither be blessed, nor would he become a blessing to others. The promise of blessing disregarded. All because of a lack of faith.

[For more detail on this passage see the appropriate section of Genesis: A Theological Commentary for Preachers.] 

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