Genesis 12:1-3 “God’s Promises to Abraham”
Redeemer Church Sunday School
Genesis 12:1-3 “God’s Promises to Abraham”
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Bryan E. Walker
Read Genesis 12:1-9
Introduction: Last week we began looking at this key OT passage, the call of Abraham. First we placed this passage in its context within the book of Genesis and within the Abraham narrative. We worked our way down to looking at verse 1 in some detail. This morning I want to attempt to make it through this call and the blessings God promises to Abraham.
First let’s just do a very quick, brief review of the context. After the glorious creation account in Gen. 1-2 we get the fall of man in ch.3 and the following chapters show the descent of man further into sin and then, with the Flood story and the Tower of Babel story, we see God judging man’s sin. We saw the grace of God given to Noah, but with the story of Abraham, the largest and central story in Genesis, we see God’s plan of salvation demonstrated. Abraham’s story, from first to last, points us to Christ.
In looking at vss.1-9 of ch.12 we see 3 parts: 1) God’s call in vss.1-3; 2) Abram’s obedience in vss. 4-5; 3) Abraham going throughout the land and worshiping in vss.6-9. Last week we covered just vs. 1.
The main idea: of this text is that God sovereignly calls Abram and promises to bless him in a 7 part promise. This promise brought about the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, but ultimately it brought about the birth of the Messiah and Savior, Jesus, in whom we have our only hope for salvation from sin and the wrath of God.
I. God’s Call vss.1-3
A. A Call To Leave and a Call to Go to vs.1
1. We saw last week that God had called Abram to leave his family and his country behind; to leave his past. I made the application that when we come to Christ we are called to lay aside our sin in repentance. People these days don’t so much mind adding a little bit of Jesus to their lives, but he always bids us to “repent and believe” or to “take up our cross daily and follow him”. We saw the examples of the fishermen who lay down their nets, forgetting what lays behind and following Jesus.
2. But Abram was also called to go to the land that God would show him. He was not to become some pointless wandering nomad, he had a destination. God had a land he was leading Abram to. You and I have a destination, heaven, the city of God, the New Jerusalem. This world is not our home. Like Abram, we are but sojourners, wayfaring strangers traveling homeward and our home is in Christ alone.
B. God’s Covenant with Abram
1. “I will…” God makes a covenant with Abram- he uses covenantal language, God promises to do something for Abram and commands Abram to do something. This covenant with Abram becomes more solemn in ch. 15 when a sacrifice is made and again in ch. 17 with the sign of the covenant, circumcision, is required. This promise of God to Abram has 7 parts. Notice how many times the phrase “I will” is used- 4 times. This is an unconditional covenant. Knowing the rest of the story we could list the objections of Abraham according to his failures. “Suppose, LORD, that I depart Ur with my family instead of leaving them behind?” And God replies, “I will bless you…” “Suppose that I journey to Haran and then stop for a time with my father in his elderly condition?” “I will bless you!” “Suppose, LORD, that I wander into Egypt during a famine without a clear command from you and there pass my wife off as my sister, allowing Pharaoh to take her into his harem?” “I will bless you!” “Suppose LORD, that I take Hagar as my wife because that is the normal worldly way of accomplishing what I think you want done?” “I will bless you!” “Suppose that I, once again, pass my wife off as my sister to Abimelech?” “I will bless you.”
Folks, God already knows our sins, our rebellions, and our failures, before he covenants with us for our salvation in Christ. This is called GRACE from first to last. Not one of deserves it, not even Abram.
2. The first part of the promise is “I will make of you a great nation.” Keep in mind that Abram is 75 and his wife is barren. This promise requires tremendous faith in any conditions, but with Abram’s fleshly limitations, this is truly huge faith. Abram is a somewhat wealthy herdsman but God is promising to make of him a great nation. Unthinkable. The word used for “nation” is goy. What is meant here is not just a people group, but a Land, a Language, and a Government. That is what makes a nation and that is what is promised to Abram. This promise is fulfilled in a couple of stages. Moses and Joshua led the people to the land and conquest and occupation. With the writing of the Law by Moses the people had a language. And eventually, with the kings, they had a government. The apex of Israel as a nation was with King Solomon. Under his son, Rehoboam the nation is divided, eventually conquered and dispersed or carried away into captivity, but then restored, only to be conquered again, and dispersed again. In 1948 they became a nation again and their Independence Day was this past week on Wednesday. This first part of the promise appears to totally encapsulate the others. This promise is repeated in 18:18; to Ishmael in 17:20; and then again in 21:18 and to Jacob in 46:3. Strangely the greatest parallel is with Moses in Ex.32:10 after the people fall into gross sin and God tells Moses that he will abandon these people and start over with him.
Luther points out “The exploits of the Jewish people do not seem to equal the triumphs of the heathen. The other kingdoms- the Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, and the Roman- are considered to be far greater in power and in wealth. Nevertheless, if you take into consideration the ruler of this people- namely, God, who, as appears in the prophet (Isa.31:9), had His home in Jerusalem and was, as it were, a fellow citizen- the victories and triumphs of all the other kingdoms and peoples will seem paltry…The heathen indeed rank higher in power and wealth, and their exploits strike the eyes and arouse admiration. But these are nothing in comparison…” Luther’s Works, vol 2, Lectures on Genesis Chapters 6-14, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, trans. George V. Schick, Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, 1960 (p.255).
I think the clearest understanding of the spiritual truth in this promise is that all Christians are the spiritual nation that has descended from Abraham’s example of faith. We are the people of God, or, as Peter writes, (1Pet.2:9) “But you are a chosen race a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Our ultimate allegiance should be to Christ, not to our nation. This is a very difficult thing for someone like me to say. Spiritually, we should have more in common with true Believers in Africa or somewhere in Asia that with unbelievers here in America.
3. “And I will bless you…” is the second part of this promise and the Hebrew word is barak, which is a word we should all be familiar with now. Generally it means spiritual and material blessings including wealth, peace and descendants. As I said last week, this word appears 5 times in ch. 1-11 and 5 times in these few verses, therefore, this blessing deliberately points us back to Creation and the blessing God pronounced on the man and woman after creating them in 1:28. God is intent on blessing Abram, and in Christ he is intent on blessing us.
“Count Your Blessings” #644
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly
And you will be singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their land and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven nor your home on high.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small
Do not be discouraged God is over all
Count your many blessings angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
4. “…and make your name great.” In those days a person’s name was more than just what you called them. Names implied character and reputation. To have a great name meant to have a great character that others would remember, respect and desire to emulate. This would be fame for all the right reasons.
It is here that we see the passage look back to the Tower of Babel story because the people of the plain said in 11:4 “let us make a name for ourselves” The LORD is here answering that sinful desire with a blessing upon Abraham.
Abraham’s name was made great in his own day as he became very wealthy and rescued not just his nephew, Lot, but also the king of Sodom in a small war. In history his name was made great as the father of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Three world religions claim him.
God promises to David that he will make his name great in 2Sam.7:9.
For us this blessing is made ours through the blessed name of Jesus. In the name of Christ we have our salvation and all riches and eternal blessings. “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10-11).
5. “…so that you will be a blessing…” This blessing is #4 out of the 7 parts which makes it the center-piece, the focus. Abram is given a blessing so that he will be a blessing. This is an imperative in Hebrew, a command for Abram to be a blessing. Structurally it is linked back to vs. 1 and the command to go. Therefore, what it means is, I command you to go and as you go you will be a blessing. Or, you must go and be a blessing. If he chooses to stay in Ur or Haran, he will not be a blessing.
Application- When we are in God’s will, obeying his Word and walking by faith, we not only experience the joys and blessings of our salvation, but we are also on mission. Our obedience is not merely abstaining from sin and doing church things like worshiping and reading our Bibles and praying. Our leaving and going involves being a blessing to others along the way. We do that by serving them at their point of need and presenting them with the gospel. Simply being a person of excellence in the workplace will be a blessing to those around you and open up opportunities for sharing the gospel. Are you being a blessing to those around you? Are you a blessing to your family? To your church? To the lost people around you?
“Make Me a Channel of Blessing” #564
Is your life a channel of blessing?
Is the love of God flowing through you?
Are you telling the lost of the Savior?
Are you ready his service to do?
Refrain: Make me a channel of blessing today
Make me a channel of blessing, I pray
My life possessing, my service blessing
Make me a channel of blessing today
Is your life a channel of blessing?
Are you burdened for those who are lost?
Have you urged upon those who are straying
The Savior who died on the cross?
Is your life a channel of blessing?
Is it daily telling for him?
Have you spoken the word of salvation
To those who are dying in sin?
6. “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse” We combine the 5th and 6th parts of the blessing as they are a parallelism. Allen P. Ross, Creation&Blessing, Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 1996 writes (p.263) “Note the precise wording….I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse.” This shows us the personal aspect of God’s care for Abram. God will personally bless those who bless Abram. In a way, God’s relationship with others will be based upon how they relate to Abram. The first word for curse means “thinks lightly of” or, “disregards”. In the later half of ch.12 we see that Pharaoh dishonored Abram by taking Sarai into his harem, bringing on disease and barrenness in Egypt. This also points us to Jesus in that God treats us according to how we respond to Jesus. The call is intended for a blessing and “those who bless” seem to outnumber “him who dishonors”. Nonetheless, it is assumed that there will some who dishonor Abram. So too with Christ. There will be those who accept Christ and those who seek to dishonor Him.
I mentioned last week that I believe this is relevant to our international politics of today. Those nations that bless Israel shall be blessed, those nations that turn against Israel will be cursed. Bruce Waltke disagrees with me here, in his book, Genesis: a commentary, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2001. He says, “The promise does not pertain today to unbelieving, ethnic ‘Israel’ (see Rom.9:6-8; Gal.6:15) but to Jesus Christ and his church (see 12:7; 13:16…; Gal.3:16, 26-29; 6:16).” James Montgomery Boice (Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, vol.2, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1985, (pp.20-21) does think this promise to “bless those who bless you” pertains to Israel in some way today, “I believe that at least part of the reason the United States has been blessed is that it has been a haven for persecuted Jews and other minorities..” In this, Boice follows his mentor, Donald Barnhouse, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1970 pp.76-77.
7. “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” James Montgomery Boice points out immediately that this is the second prophecy of Christ, the first being at 3:15 (p.22). This universal blessing will go to all families in several ways. The Jews have been a blessing through the Law. Clearly the Ten Commandments have been a significant blessing to all. When you look in recent times of all the Nobel prizes awarded those of Jewish descent, you realize that they have contributed way out of proportion to their numbers. When you look at the Judeo-Christian worldview that has shaped Western Civ you get a glimpse of the blessings that come from the Jews. But most importantly, as Boice pointed out, the biggest blessing is Christ.
8. It is important to understand that this covenant with Abram does not directly bring about salvation to anyone. It does not directly answer the sin problem of ch.3. That is in Christ alone. It begins redemptive history, but does not accomplish redemption. So while the ultimate goal of this covenant is to bring about the Messiah who will save his people from their sins, in the meanwhile this covenant is designed to correct the problem of ch.11- a false perception of God. The covenant people, the Jews, the descendants of Abram, were to have a relationship with God based on faith, as demonstrated by Abraham, and they were to worship and live their lives according to the Law revealed to Moses at Sinai. They were to be a light to the Gentiles. “The covenant is God’s revelatory program. People cannot enter into a relationship with a God they do not know.” (John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2001 p401).
Conclusion: Do you want the riches of this world, the fame and pleasure that this world can offer? Or do you want to partake of the blessings that are found only in Christ? Read Ephesians 1:3-14.