Abraham

Abraham’s story is not about Abraham. It’s about God demonstrating His power by creating a great nation and bringing blessing the whole world, using only a nondescript 75-year-old and his childless wife.

Anson Kroeker on October 14, 2018
Abraham
October 14, 2018

Abraham

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Series:
Passage: Genesis 12:1-3, 17:1-2, 22:15-18
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Welcome to this morning, everyone. I know that many of you were away last week, so it’s good to see you here again.

As I hope you know, we’re working through a series where we are exploring that the Bible is one story, and that Jesus Christ is the main character of this story, and that we are still a part of this story today.

And so in this first part of the series, which is going to take us up to the beginning of November, we’re going back through the Old Testament and are tracing out the story by following the series of covenants that God made with His people. And so last week we considered the story of Noah. We saw that after Adam and Eve’s sin, people descended into so much violence and sin that God destroyed all of them in a flood. But Noah was righteous and found favour in God’s eyes, and so God spared Noah and made him to be the new father of humanity.

So Noah was really a second Adam, and through Him, God was giving the world a fresh start. But then we saw how Noah majorly let us down. After the flood Noah fell into embarrassing sin, and things just went downhill from there. And what we saw was how important this was in the big story of the Bible, because it showed us that the problem with the world is not out there, but in here. We’re the problem. And the fresh start of the flood did nothing to fix the sinful condition of our hearts—in fact, it only served to highlight it.

And so, after the story of Noah, if we keep reading Genesis, we’ll see a big genealogy which shows how all of the nations of the world descended from Noah and his sons. And then the very next story is the Tower of Babel, where we see humans gathering together to commit the sin of Adam and Eve all over again: disobeying God’s command for them to fill the earth, and challenging God’s place in the universe by trying to reach into the heavens and make a name for themselves. And God responds with another act of judgement, confusing their languages and causing them to spread out and fill the earth.

And at this point in the story, things don’t look good at all. And the only thing giving us hope is the promises of God. God has covenanted with Noah that He will continue to uphold the earth in spite of human sin. So we know that he’s not giving up on us. And God’s promise to Eve is still on the books. We’re still waiting, looking, for that promised offspring to be born and crush the head of the serpent.

And so, with this in mind, if you were reading the book of Genesis, the next thing you’d find after the Tower of Babel episode is another genealogy—a list of who was born from whom—that begins with Noah’s son Shem. But here’s what’s interesting. We’ve already read a general overview of the descendants of Shem and his brothers back in chapter 10. This genealogy is singling out Shem and zooming in on him and recording his offspring in detail. Do you think there is a reason for this? Do you think we’re being told something?

This genealogy tells us that Shem fathered Arpachshad, who fathered Shelah, who fathered Eber, which is where the word Hebrew comes from. And Eber fathered Peleg, who fathered Reu, who fathered Serug, who fathered Nahor, who fathered Terah, who fathered three sons—Abram, Nahor, and Haran (Genesis 11:26).

And then it stops right there. And if we were reading this for the first time, with God’s promises ringing in our heads, then this moment in the genealogy is brimming with drama and anticipation. Because why did it stop there? What’s so special about these people? What’s about to happen? Is the promised one about to arrive?


A New Creation

And so we keep reading, in Genesis 11:27 and following, and we find the words “now these are the generations of,” which show that a new section in Genesis is beginning: “Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot.” And then we get a bit of an introduction to these three brothers and who they married. And that’s about it. There are some details here that are important, but nothing really prepares us for what we read just a few verses down in chapter 12 verse 1:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and 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, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”” (Genesis 12:1–3). 

Where did that come from? What just happened? Who is Abram, and why did God pick him to make these promises to, and what is going on here?

Doesn’t this seem like it just comes out of the clear blue sky? God’s actions here as sudden and unexpected and unexplained… just like His act of creation in Genesis 1:1. Out of the chaos of the dark waters, with no introduction or explanation, God said, “let there be light.” And all of a sudden things are happening.

And the calling of Abraham is not that much different. Out of the chaos of the post-Tower-of-Babel world, with no introduction, God steps in, and using only His word He begins a new work of creation. He tells Abram, “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). That’s the same word that’s used repeatedly in Genesis 1 to describe God’s work of creation.

And so that’s why we’re told almost nothing about Abram up until the point that God called him and makes these promises to him. Because this isn’t about Abram and how he was so special and did great things to cause God to look his way. This is about God, choosing to step in and make something out of nothing. This is about God demonstrating His power by creating a great nation and blessing the whole world using only a nondescript 75-year-old and his childless wife.


A New Adam

So if God is beginning a new work of creation, then this suggests that Abram is kind of like a new Adam. And in fact, that’s exactly what the story suggests to us. We see it in the way that God says to Abram in verse 2, “I will bless you.” When’s the last time we’ve heard that? Noah. And the time before that? Adam and Eve. God is talking to Abram in an Adam-and-Noah kind of a way.

This connection gets even stronger if we look at Genesis 17, which is when God changes his name to Abraham and confirms His promises to him. And in verse 2 (which is in your bulletin), He promises Abraham that He will “multiply you greatly.” And in verse 6 he says, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful.” Do you hear those words, “fruitful” and “multiply”? It’s the exact same language as what God used with Adam and then Noah.

And there’s more, especially as the story moves on, and we see Abram functioning in the roles of prophet, and priest, and king. There are so many pointers in the text that invite us to see Abraham as a new Adam standing at the beginning of a new act of creation. God is beginning another fresh start.


Blessing to the Nations

But this fresh start is going to be different than the fresh start with Noah. Because with Noah, God destroyed everybody else and started right from scratch again. And we know, from His promise to Noah, that He is not going to do that again. We know that God is not going to make Abraham into a great nation so that He can destroy all the other nations. The opposite is true. God is making Abraham into a great nation so that He can bless all of the other nations.

We see that when we read verse 2 and 3 of chapter 12 again. “And I will make of you a great nation, and 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, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:2–3).

God is planning to bring blessing to the whole earth through Abraham. 

And I hope you see that this is a massive turning point in the storyline of the Bible. Because hasn’t the whole sad story up until now been a story of cursing? God’s curse on the earth, the curse on Cain, the curse of the flood, the curse on Ham and Canaan, the judgement on Babel—it’s all been a downhill spiral.

But now God picks a man and says, I will bless you, and through you, the whole earth.

In the biggest story ever told, this is the moment where the tide turns. This is the moment when the curse begins to be pushed back. This is the moment when God  begins His work of reconciling the world to Himself and repairing the damage caused by our sin.


The Land

Let’s keep going, because God’s promises to Abraham aren’t finished yet. God has promised him many offspring, and He’s promised to bless Him. And there’s a further component in God’s promise to Abraham, which is is the promise of land.

We saw a hint of this in 12:1 when God told Abraham to go to the “land” that He would show him. And later on in that chapter, when Abraham arrived in the land, God spoke to him again and said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). And this promise gets repeated and confirmed multiple times to Abraham.

Did you ever wonder where the phrase “Promised Land” came from? It comes from this. God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan.

It’s very significant that God gave that piece of land to Abraham and his descendants. At that point in world history, the land of Canaan was like a bottleneck where all the trade and communication between the superpowers of Egypt in the West and Mesopotamia in the East had to pass through. It was the hub of the world. So it’s an ideal place for Abraham to fulfill the promise of being a blessing to the nations.

Now we can’t get into it fully this morning, but there are clues throughout God’s communication with Abraham and then throughout the rest of Scripture that the promise of land was not limited to the land of Canaan. In other words, God was not saying to Abraham, “your descendants will inhabit this specific piece of land, and nothing more.”

No, the picture we get as we read through the rest of the Bible was that this piece of land was like the Garden of Eden. It was a starting place. But it was not the ending place.

We see that idea develop throughout the Old Testament and especially in the later prophets, who foretold that the Messiah, the offspring of Abraham, would rule over all of the gentile nations—in other words, the whole world.

One of the clearest places we see this in Scripture is Romans 4:13, where the Apostle Paul talks about “the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be”—and listen to this phrase he uses here—“heir of the world” (Romans 4:13). Did you catch that? Paul understood that in the scope of the big story of the Bible, Abraham’s offspring would rule not just over that land, but over the whole world.

This is also what was going on when we read about a young rabbi standing on a mountainside in Galilee looking out over a group of people and saying, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit”—what?—“the earth” (Matthew 5:5).


The Covenant

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s come back to Abraham and the promise from God of blessing and offspring and land. And with what we’ve seen so far in the unfolding story of the Bible, it should not surprise us to see God confirming all of these promises to Abraham in the form of a covenant.

God’s covenant to Abraham came in two distinct stages, and this morning we’re only going to be able to focus on the first stage, the very first time that God made a formal covenant with Abraham, which is in Genesis 15. This isn’t in your bulletin, so I’ll read this for us, beginning in verse 7.

“And he said to him, ‘I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half” (Genesis 15:7-10).

And then in verse 17:  “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates’” (Genesis 15:17–17). 

The scenes in this chapter might seem bizarre to us, but they would have made more sense to the original readers. This is a somewhat familiar covenant-making ceremony. When the parties making the covenant take animals and cut them in half and walk between them, they are essentially saying, “may this happen to me if I break this covenant.”

And so typically, in this kind of a covenant, both parties would walk together between the animal pieces, each signifying that they will uphold their end of the covenant, and if they don’t, they’ll accept the penalty of death.

So it’s really important that Abraham does not walk between the pieces. The only thing that does is a smoking fire pot and a blazing torch, which is a very clear picture of God’s presence—just think of the cloud and fire that lead Israel through the desert. 

God alone passed between the animal pieces. And what this means is that God alone took the responsibility upon Himself for upholding this covenant. God is promising to die if He is not perfectly faithful to the covenant. And God is promising to die if Abraham is not perfectly faithful to the covenant.

Now it’s not until Genesis chapter 17 where God specifically informs Abraham of his obligations in this covenant. And we see this in verse 1 & 2 of this chapter, which are in your bulletin, that those obligations are steep. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly’” (Genesis 17:1–2).

When we look throughout the rest of the Hebrew Scripture, we’ll see that this phrase “walk before me” has the sense of walking before someone as their representative or ambassador.  God is telling Abraham, “represent me to the world.”

So just a side note, this is another connection between Abraham and Adam, who was created to represent God on earth, just like we learned a few weeks ago.

And this is Abraham’s obligations in this covenant. Represent God to the world and be blameless.

Did Abraham do that, perfectly? Abraham was an amazing man of faith. But if we look at his story honestly, we’d realize that he did not represent God well at every point. He was not blameless. He did not uphold his end of the covenant perfectly.

But don’t miss that God did not tell Abraham about his obligations until He had already promised to take the penalty of death upon Himself should Abraham fail to uphold them.

This is amazing. But how is that even possible? How can God die? 

I’m not going to tell you the answer this morning. We’re going to get there in a few weeks. But I think you already know. This ends up at the cross of Calvary.


The Offspring

There’s so much else in the story of Abraham that we could spend time on this morning. We’ve barely mentioned Abraham’s journey of faith, and how he was tested over and over again. We haven’t touched on what is probably one of the most important verses in the Bible, Genesis 15:6, which says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” There’s so much here we could spend time on.

But we’re just going to make one more stop this morning, by jumping ahead to Genesis 22. The events of this chapter takes place almost 40 years after Abraham left Haran. And it’s here that we read about Abraham’s ultimate test of faith, when God asked him to offer up Isaac. And God stopped him at the last minute, having proved that Abraham would trust and obey the Lord even if it meant giving up the most precious thing to him on earth.

And it’s only after these things that God says these words to Abraham, which are in your bulletin: “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice”” (Genesis 22:16–18).

Did you catch that word there? Offspring. God has used that word many times throughout His communication with Abraham to speak in plural—that He will give him many offspring.

But there’s something different here. Starting at the end of verse 17, we read that “your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies.” Not their enemies. His enemies. There’s a shift in the grammar there,  and the word “offspring” is no longer referring to a big group of offspring, but to one particular offspring. One person.

And it is this one person, this one offspring, who is being referred to when verse 18 says that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The promise of blessing to the nations is going to be fully realized not through every offspring of Abraham but through one single offspring of Abraham’s.

This is exactly the point that the Apostle Paul makes in Galatians 3:16, when he says, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring’…”

One offspring.

If we’re tracking with the story, this language should bring us right back to Genesis 3:15, and God’s promise to Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he [singular!] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

We’ve seen that ever since that promise, all of the hope of humanity has been hanging on the hope that this person, this offspring, will come and crush the serpent’s head.

And we’ve seen through the genealogies how the line of promise has been drawn from Adam to Seth to Noah to Shem and finally to Abraham. And now God promises to Abraham that a singular offspring will come from him and will turn back the curse and bring blessing to all the nations of the earth.

It’s not hard to put 2 and 2 together. The offspring that God is promising to Abraham is one and the same as the offspring promised to Eve. The serpent-crusher will be the bringer-of-blessing to all the nations.

And so this is the major way that Abraham’s story links up with the big, unfolding story of Scripture. The promised offspring is going to come though Abraham and fulfill all of God’s promises.


Conclusion

So let’s sum up what we’ve seen this morning. Genesis chapter 12 shows us that out of the blue, out of the wreckage of the Tower of Babel, God stepped in to begin a work of new creation, by choosing a man and turning Him into a great nation. God promised him descendants and a strategic piece of land for those descendants to live.

And then God confirmed all of these promises to Abraham in a covenant, in which God promised to take upon Himself the punishment for Abraham’s failure.

And then we saw how God’s promises to Abraham narrow down to one specific individual, the long-promised offspring, the one that we’ve been waiting for ever since God’s words to Adam and Eve in the garden.

So I hope you see how big the promise with Abraham is. It is the turning point in the story where blessing begins to dominate the storyline and turn back the curse. Every act of redemption and salvation form this moment on will happen in fulfillment of these promises. This is so huge.

And I hope you’re also beginning to see the big picture, and how this whole big story really does have a main character and really is all pointing to someone.

And as we end today, I think it’s okay to give just a little sneak peak at the rest of the story and everything that’s still coming. Because we know who that main character, that offspring is—it’s Christ. And the incredible truth is that if you know Christ and have been saved by Him, then you are an heir of these promises to Abraham.

Galatians 3:14 says that “in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham” have “come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” And verse 29 says, “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

We sang that song as children, “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you.” I don’t know who got the idea to start shaking our arms and legs around after that, and it kind of wrecks things, but the first part is true. If you know Christ, you are one of the offspring that God promised to Abraham.

And this means that you are a part of something so big. You are a part of a covenant almost 4,000 years old. And the promises that God made 4,000 years ago He is still keeping today.

This perspective is really important as we prepare to head out from here and in to the rough and tumble of our daily life. Whatever’s ahead of you this week, whatever struggle or frustration or temptation or sorrow, remember this truth.  Remember how big this promise is. Remember that you are a part of a covenant that has stood for thousands of years. And if God has been faithful to keep His covenant promises for all of those thousands of years, He’s not about to give up on you today.

So we can trust Him and we stand on His promises today. And that’s where we’re going to end this morning. Let’s pray and then sing.

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