Genesis 12:1 – 20
Welcome to the middle of the Bible
The first sermon I ever preached, was on Easter Sunday, 1998. I was an eager young university student, and I had been invited graciously, if a little unwisely, to choose any passage at all to preach on.
I chose Psalm 117. You may know that it’s the shortest chapter of the Bible, just 5 lines long. And so I think I reckoned that I could probably get my head around it well enough, to preach for the first time.
5 lines, how far wrong can you go?
And the congregation were very kind and very gracious, and they even invited be back again!
But there’s something else intriguing about Psalm 117.
Not only is it the shortest chapter in the Bible,
It is also the very middle chapter of the Bible. Now I don’t want you to spend the next 25 minutes trying to count the chapters before and after! This is one of those occasions where you can just take my word for it.
But this chapter, Genesis 12, is also sometimes called the middle chapter of the Bible.
And you think, “hang on, we’re only about 10 pages in, how can this be the middle?” But I don’t mean the middle numerically, but the middle theologically.
That is, in a very real way, the Bible falls into two parts, . The part before chapter 12, and the part from chapter 12 onwards.
This is, arguably the most significant turning point in all of the Bible, and today we’re picking up the story of the Bible, because that’s what the Bible is, one unified story, It’s not a random assortment of stories just gathered together, We’re picking up the story right at the beginning of part 2.
But if we’re going to make sense of Part 2, where God chooses ths one man,
And makes promises,
And puts into motion what we’ll see is a great plan of salvation,
We need to under what’s gone before.
We need to understand the “Why?”
Why is it necessary for God to choose Abram?
Why does God need to make these sorts of promises?
What has happened up to this point, such that God needs to put in place a plan of salvation?, a plan of blessing?
Well, most significantly, as the story in Part 1 progresses, we see humanity, the pinnacle of God’s creation, created for a relationship with God, rejecting God and God’s pattern for life,
Choosing independence from God,
Choosing to live in God’s world without any thought of God,
Humanity choosing to decide for itself, right and wrong, and so spiralling deeper and deeper into evil and corruption which culminates in the breath-taking arrogance and pride of Babel, and the attempt to reach up to the heavens, basically, humanity’s attempt to become god.
God responds and judges sin, a judgment that chapter 11 tells us, affects all mankind, and shows us, just what a sorry state humanity is in, and how badly things go, when people leave God out of the equation.
That’s part one.
That’s the story so far.
And so the entirety of the rest of the Bible, is what happens next, God’s response to his creatures who turn their backs on him, thinking they can do a better job of looking after themselves than God can, but really, screwing things up totally.
God Makes Great Promises
I remember hearing a sermon some years ago, that the preacher started with the statement, “You should be glad I’m not God”!
I don’t remember anything else about the sermon, just the opening line. But I think it was true, and it would be true, here, if we were God, wouldn’t it?
After all of this, constant rebellion against God,
And people trying to carve out their own way without God,
And, let’s face it, we’d have to be pretty naïve to think that when people ignore God, it actually leads to any improvement on things.
I think if I were God, the Bible would end at chapter 11 with something like: “And God gave them what they deserved and wiped them all out. The End”
But since God is not like me, he puts into motion a plan for rescue and blessing for fallen humanity.
So if you have your Bible there, open up to the 2nd half !, Genesis chapter 12,
A great call
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
As far as calls go, this is about as big as they get isn’t it?
Do you see the progression?, The increasing intensity of what is being asked?
Leave your country,
Your father’s household,
And go to the land I will show you.
This is a great call, but it’s met with great faith.
God promises him a land, and the details of possessing it come a bit later on, down in verse 7. But here at the outset, God’s saying go to this land, no map, no GPS. Actually all Abram’s going to get, is that last message your GPS gives you “You have arrived at your destination”!
That’s how he’s going to know what the land is that God’s promising.
And so when we see in verse 4 that Abram did what God had asked, we have to say, it displays an enormous trust in God, doesn’t it? To follow God, now knowing where you’re actually going,
Not really sure what lies around the next corner,
“But I’m trusting that God will be true to his Word.”
Some of you have been in situations like that.
Of course we need to remember that our story, isn’t the turning point in human history,
We don’t sit at the junction between part 1 and part 2 of the story of the Bible,
Abram is unique in his role, and his relationship with God, and his part of God’s plan, we don’t want to read ourselves into his story,
But he is repeatedly held up through the Scriptures as an example of faith, and so even before we get any further into the story, it’s good for us to ask ourselves, “how’s our faith?”
Would we be willing to do the same in response to God’s call?
Is God’s Word enough for you, and we have much more from God, than Abram did, we have God’s Word written down for us in the Scriptures. Everything we need for life and godliness is contained in the Apostles’ message, Peter says in the New Testament, but is that enough, for you to hear, and believe, and obey, or are you hanging out for something more?
And if you’re not a Christian, we’re so pleased you’re here, thanks for joining us!, The question I think this might raise for you, is, “What would it take for you to obey God’s Word?
What would it take for you to be convinced, that God knows enough,
And is sovereign enough,
And is good enough, no matter how great the call he makes on your life?
What do you need to know of God, before you’d be willing to trust like Abram is?
And if you work out what that is, come and tell me, I’d love to talk to you about it!
Sometimes you hear of married couples arguing in the car about how to get to a particular place. So the husband, or let’s just say one of the people, wants to know where we’re going, and “Give me plenty of notice before I need to change lanes or turn the corer!”, all that kind of thing. I’m sure no one here has had those kinds of arguments!
But Abram doesn’t get that kind of advanced destination planning, does he? He has nothing to rely on, other than God’s promise that he will get there, that God will show him, and that ultimately his descendents will possess it.
John Calvin, in the 16th Century, commented that Abram had nothing but the verbum nudum, the naked Word of God! There’s some Latin for you!
Now we might be tempted to think that he was an obvious person for God to call on.
But, we learn, as we read through the story, there is nothing about Abram, to make him appealing to God.
It’s not that God’s looked at the state of the world “Gee, I’m going to have to do something about this situation. Is there anyone who’s sort of, good raw material for me to work with?”
I mean we don’t have to look any further than what we already read this morning! Abraham is the sort of guy who would pass his wife off as his sister, send her away to some other bloke, just to save his own skin!”
What part of that says he’s a good prospect for bringing blessing to all the world?!
Joshua 24 tells us that Abram’s family worshipped idols! They weren’t followers of the true and living God.
Abram didn’t come to God’s attention because he had the right kind of family religious background.
In Isaiah 51, Israel, the nation of Abram’s descendents, are told, “look back into your history, look back to Abram, and remember that there’s nothing in your ancestry that could commend you to God.”
No, God chooses Abram in his grace. It is entirely undeserved. And so in your outline I could have called this section “A Gracious Call”, but “A Great Call” fitted better with what comes next!
But see this is how God always works.
No one is precious to God because of their religious background.
No one is commended by God because of inherent goodness.
If what the Bible says about the blessings of God that can be ours, is true, then the way to receive those blessings is not through our own natural goodness.
God saw Abram,
Saw that there was nothing in him commendable, and God said, “I will save him anyway,
And friends, if you are still clinging to your own goodness,
Your own efforts,
Or your religious heritage or devotion, then you cannot receive the blessings of God that he promises to those he would chose by his grace.
So let’s look at these great, gracious promises, that set the scene for the rest of the Scriptures, and ultimately, for the final bringer of God’s blessings, Jesus Christ.
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
I wonder what stands out for you, as you read those words. The author of Genesis is very deliberate in showing the interplay between God, as the one making the promises, and Abram as the one receiving the promises.
See the emphatic I-s all through there,
Everything that Abram will ever have, and we see already, even by the end of this episode, he acquires sheep and cattle and servants, and all kinds of things, all of it comes from God.
A Great nation
So let’s look at the first promise.
I will make you a great nation.
It is very much a new beginning isn’t it?
Abram’s left his nation,
Left his family, but God is going to make him and his descendents a great nation of their own.
It’s a promise that at the same time, both cuts across and highlight the reality that Abraham is old, but doesn’t have any children.
It’s a promise that seems as implausible, as walking up to a beggar in the street and saying, “you’re going to be a millionaire”.
What possible grounds could you have to promise that?
None. Other than, in this case, God said it would happen.
Depending on who you count, maybe 72 different nations are mentioned in Genesis. But from this moment on, the focus is on this nation, the one that God himself will bring into existence, from one elderly man.
And as the story unfolds through the rest of Scripture, we see a son born,
We see Abram’s family grow into a nation,
We see how God uses this nation for his saving purposes,
How through his relationship with this one nation, we see God working towards undoing the curse that had plagued humanity since the Fall in Genesis 3,
And as well as promising to make Abram a great nation, God also promises to bless Abram personally.
Abram who gave up so much, in obedience to God, will receive so much, from God’s hand.
The blessing word here in the original language describes two things especially, children, and material wealth. But more broadly, to be blessed is for things to go well for you, because of the gracious working of God.
Again, let’s make sure we’re not reading ourselves into the story and thinking that God is promising us children and material wealth! Some of you have all the children you want, I’m sure!
But, clinging to promises that aren’t made to us, that’s a recipe for heartache and disappointment, isn’t it?
If I say to Andy, “Mate after church today, I’m going to give you $50.” Andy thinks, “Great, I want to take Taimi out for lunch, remember the love bank from the other week?, this is all good!
And after church, he gets his $50. He’s happy, Taimi’s happy, everybody’s happy!
But if you, listening in, hear me promise the $50 to Andy, and decide that that promise applies to you,
Then instead of listening to the sermon, you start anticipating, “What am I going to do with my $50?”
Church finishes, you’re standing around expectantly. Eventually I pack up and go home, you still haven’t got the $50 you thought was promised to you, because, in fact, it was never promised to you.
And so now you don’t speak to me,
You think I’m untrustworthy,
Because I didn’t deliver what you thought I promised.
I often hear people laying claim to promises in the Bible, that are in fact promises God never made to them.
Maybe the promise of children, the promise of great material wealth, both on view here .
The promise of healing,
The promise of sort of supernatural, unmistakeable guidance,
An audible voice from God in your ear,
And often, the claiming of these promises is, somehow supposed to be a sign of spiritual maturity, “Look how much faith I have, I’m claiming this promise from God.”
And yet because God, in fact, never made those promises to those people, it can only ever end in disappointment.
And people distrust God, and resent God, because he didn’t deliver what they thought he promised.
If you’re a Christian person, you are enormously blessed, the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1, we’ve received every spiritual blessing.
But we do need to guard against the temptation, perhaps in our greed, perhaps in our failure, at times, to truly trust in God , guard against claiming for ourselves promises that God has never made to us.
A Great name
Second promise, I will make your name great,
If you were with us back in 2010, we finished part 1 of the Bible, in Genesis 11, at the story of the Tower of Babel. Listen to how the motivation for that event is described: Come, let us build ourselves a city,, with a tower that reaches to the heavens,, so that, we may make a name, for ourselves
The very thing that Babel attempted, and which failed so spectacularly because it attempted it entirely without God, That great name is what God will give Abram.
And as we turn the pages of Scripture, we see Abram commended time and time again, he truly is great among the characters of the Bible, and it is his faith for which he’s acclaimed.
What makes Abram great?
Well we know it’s not his family background,
It’s not his religious devotion,
It’s definitely not he way he treats his wife,
But it’s the way he trusts in God’s promises.
Abram would receive by faith, what could never be achieved by self-serving effort.
And what’s more, this promise of being given a great name, is deliberately royal language. Abram is being pictured as a king to whom God will give a great name, in the same kind of way that kings today, sometimes take a new name at their coronation.
So the Queen’s father probably didn’t think that “King Bertie” was a suitable name for the monarch so he became King George the 6th!
There’s a sense here of God saying, “I’m going to give you a new and great name, you’re going to be the first of a royal line, and in fact later on God changes Abram’s name, to Abraham.
And eventually we see Israel’s great king David, cast in the language that’s used of Abraham here.
How does God, and how do people describe how great David is?
They say he’s great like Abram,
They can’t find any greater depiction of greatness!, than to say David is like his ancestor Abram.
And ultimately, the great king who comes from the line of Abram, the fulfillment of the promise to king David that his will be an eternal dynasty, is God’s chosen king, Jesus.
Matthew chapter 1 verse 1, the story of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, God’s chosen king, starts with Abram.
He will be great, because of where by faith, he stands in the unfolding of God’s kingdom.
A Great Blessing
Finally we come to God’s promise of great blessing.
Second half of verse 2, you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
This is the climax of the promises.
God has chosen Abram, to be the conduit, if you like, for God’s blessings to flow to all the people on earth.
I get a lot of spam email, like many of you, I expect.
Mostly offering to solve problems I didn’t even know I had!
But one I got about a hundred times recently, had as the subject, a question: “Are you a person of influence?”
Well if Abram got that email, he could answer with a resounding yes!
Through Abram, blessing would come to every nation on earth!
That’s pretty influential, isn’t it?
But it should make us ask the question, how?
How on earth, can one man, with no children, bless every nation on earth?
Where is the fulfilment?
Well we see partial fulfilments of this promise as the story unfolds in Genesis,
The king of Sodom and his people were rescued by Abram,
He prays for the childless women of Gerar and they’re able to have children,
Joseph, Abram’s great-grandson, saves the Egyptians, and nations across the known world in the midst of a 7-year famine.
The great theme, of the first 5 books of the Bible, is the partial fulfilment of these promises.
So when we read Genesis, we have to ask, “What part of God’s promise is being fulfilled here?
But of course, if you and I were to sit down and read Genesis, which, would be a great thing to do, at some point during this teaching series, it’s 50 chapters, you could do it in a week, but if we read it, we’d get to the end, and we’d be asking “What happened?”
When do these promises get fulfilled? Especially this climactic promise of blessing to all the world?
Sure there’s partial fulfilment! But by the end of Genesis, we’re nowhere near that being fulfilled in any real sense,
So we flip over the page and we start in Exodus,
And OK, we’re a bit further along the line to a great nation, but, well, Abram’s descendents become a whole nation of slaves, and they’re under the thumb of the Egyptians, and so not really in a position to be a blessing to all peoples on earth!
So we keep going, maybe Leviticus, or Numbers,
Perhaps Deuteronomy is where it happens, or maybe when we get to King David, a thousand or so years later,
But no matter where we turn in the Old Testament, we will find this promise unfulfilled, incomplete.
Because none of the human characters we meet in those pages, can be a blessing to all people on earth, even together, the combined power of that humanity, cannot be a blessing to all people
Can’t deal with the great need faced by all people,
Can’t undo the curse of sin that plagues humanity.
Martin Luther, the German pastor and theologian of the Reformation, said that these words in verse 3, should be written in golden letters, and be announced in the languages of all people, for who else has dispensed this blessing among all nations, except the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.
See the ultimate fulfilment of this promise, is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
At the cost of his own life, Jesus secures reconciliation with God, the ultimate blessing for people who are living as God’s enemies, living in God’s world with no thought of God, or his pattern for life.
Little wonder then, that 2000 years after Abram, the Apostle Paul could write to Christians in Galatia, and say The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles, literally the nations, by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
Did you get that? Genesis 12 verse 3 announces the gospel in advance!
What is the gospel? That all people on earth can be blessed through one man, Jesus Christ.
See God’s promises don’t fail.
The fact that Genesis closes with Abram’s family numbering only 120, isn’t a sign that God’s promises don’t come true.
We just need to make sure we have a big enough picture of what God is doing.
These days, you know, everyone seems to have a mobile phone with a camera, and so no matter where you are, someone’s always taking photos,
There’s even photos of last week’s 11 AM Kids’ Talk on Facebook!
But when I want to take photos of things on my phone, I find the view isn’t big enough to capture everything I need.
I can’t just keep further back to get the whole picture.
And that can be our problem when it comes to reading the promises of God in the Scriptures,
If our field of view is too small, we’ll miss what God is doing.
If we’re looking for a nation and a king, we’ll miss the saviour God provides,
If we’re looking for wealth and camels and sheep, we’ll miss the redemption God offers,
If we’re looking for blessing on our terms, we’ll miss the God who gives himself.
If you don’t think God’s promises come true, perhaps your picture of how God works is too small.
Just as the fact that Abram didn’t see God’s promises fulfilled doesn’t mean those promises failed.
I was thinking this week of the lullaby, Hush little baby. I’m sure you know it. It dawned on me that the whole song is premised on promises not coming true,
On hopes and expectations being dashed! Some lullaby, really!!
Hush, little baby, don't say a word
Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird
BUT, if that mockingbird won't sing
Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring turns brass, presumably due to some metallurgical reaction as-yet unknown to science, Papa's gonna buy you a looking glass,
And so on and so on, as expectations are dashed and hopes are crushed, until Papa finally says, You'll still be the sweetest little baby in town!
That is, “If I can’t deliver on any of this stuff that I’ve promised you, at least you’ll still have what you had, before I started making rash promises!”
Call me a cynic!
Say I’m reading too much into it, but that lullaby is a litany of promises, and get-out clauses, for when the promises fail!
But that’s not the promises of Genesis 12.
Everything about God's plan for creation and his blessings being known to the ends of the earth, depends on these promises being fulfilled
And where what God promises, God fulfils.
Funnily enough, Psalm 117, the other middle of the Bible, is actually about the same thing as Genesis 12.
There is one God, for all people on earth,
Whose promises can be trusted,
And whose goodness and love and blessing, are for all people, everywhere.
Father Abraham had many sons, Did you sing that as a child?
Many sons had Father Abraham,
Well not yet he didn’t!
But he was willing to trust in the Word of God, And live in obedience,
Knowing that God’s promises come true.