Scripture: Genesis 12:1-9
The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
those who curse you I will curse;
all the families of the earth
will be blessed because of you.”
4 Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. 8 From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshipped in the Lord’s name. 9 Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went.
Theme- God’s answer to the problem of sin is to get personal.
- Abram was not leaving his ancestral homeland, nor did he completely shed his father’s house in leaving what does this say about God’s command to “Go”?
- How should we interpret the phrase “all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you” in verse 3?
- Is there significance to the fact that God originally tells Abram to “go” to the land and it is only after he is there that God tells Abram that he will be given the land?
- What is the function of the altars in verses 7 & 8 and why would he leave them to journey to the desert region in the south that was often the border of Israel?
Related texts: Isaiah 51:1-3, Acts 7:1-53, Romans 4:13-25, Galatians 3:8, Hebrews 11:8
God’s initial comments to Abram can be broken down into seven clauses.
God says Abram will become a goy (nation) usually this word refers to gentiles (those outside Israel) while Israel is referred to as a people or family, while here the outsiders are the families.
Abram does not speak to God in this passage but quietly follows God’s prompting. Even when we are told that Abram worshipped (lit: called on the name of the Lord) that doesn’t necessitate speaking.
“Those who curse you I will curse” lit “those who harm you, will be banned.” That is the act of harming Abram will result in the person/group being denied God’s grace. This curse is directly tied to Abram’s position as a powerless alien in the land of Canaan.
The blessing is three tiered first to Abram, then to those who bless Abram, then to all families.
For more background check out my video here
The first eleven chapters of Genesis can be disheartening because the stories appear to show humanity’s repeated sinful behavior and God’s responses to that sin can be difficult for us to understand. Finally, at the transition to chapter 12 we see God becoming proactive by confronting sin before it happens. Growing up this was a very familiar passage to me, and I was taught to see myself as part of Abram’s family, Christians after all have been taught that we are adoptive members in this family and covenant. But as I approach this story this week, I have been thinking the phrase “the scandal of particularity”. I put myself into the shoes of a Canaanite at the time of Abram and my first question is “Why would God not simply speak to me like that, why is my blessing dependent on how I treat this foreigner?” Further I recognize that my thinking in the past has centered on, “Of course God did this it’s a great approach and everyone is blessed because of Abram and his family.” It should not surprise anyone that my viewpoint has impacted how I understand the rightness of God’s work. This is the issue of sin from chapter 3, defining right and wrong by how it impacts me. When I view God’s words as the insider who is the blessing, I see God’s actions as right and good, but when I look as the outsider I am left questioning. And what that proves is my natural tendency is still not to view right and wrong from God’s perspective, it shows me I still have a sinful nature. But when I stop to consider what God is asking from each side I can begin to understand the goodness of God’s reasoning.
God is placing Abram in a very difficult situation, telling him to distance himself from everyone who can help and support him. In a world where kinship was everything, God was asking Abram to give up all the kin he could depend on and venture to a place where only God could provide for and protect him. Yes, he will be great and prosperous but only because of his dependence on God and only on God’s terms, not because of who he is or his work. Abram must give up everything to follow God including those he cares about. As for the people established in Canaan, they might not hear from God directly but all they must do to receive the blessing is be kind to a stranger. Presumably God will give these Canaanites a similar to that of Abraham simply by showing him kindness and hospitality. The tradeoff is that God speaks more to Abram and appears to be closer to Abram, but has asked him to do the harder thing. Meanwhile the people of Canaan have a less difficult task but also do not seem to be initially as close to God. Abram is being led to a new land where God intends that he will become a nation, this is a political word and one not often associated with God’s covenant people. The message seems to be that God is going to establish Abram and his line as a nation of people who will hear from God and respond to God, but it is important that they are a nation because unlike a clan or family, others can willingly attach themselves to Abram. It is the Canaanites who are described with family language, these families in showing mercy and help to Abram will be able to unite themselves with Abram and join in the nation God is creating.
I think it is also important to notice that this is the beginning of God’s relationship with Abram, these verses in some ways represent the immature. God is here telling Abram how everything is to begin not the goal. We know that God wanted more from Abram and will make further covenants with Abram and visit him on multiple occasions, but I also think God had plans for incorporating the Canaanites more fully into the nation Abram was building. Sometimes we get hung up on “God’s chosen” and forget that part of Abram’s call was to provide blessing to everyone he encountered and to help incorporate them into this people God was building. Yes, Abram was called to be a “Father” to nations and produce them from his family, but being part of the people of God also means to bear the responsibility of being a blessing to others and incorporating them into the people also.
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