The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: Part 2

Genesis 12:1-9 – God's promise to and purpose for Abraham

"All peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Genesis 12:3


Last week you focussed on Genesis 1, the story of Creation. This vast universe in which we live, in all its beauty, intricacy and variety, was made by God and displays his power, wisdom and goodness.

To use words sung so inimitably by Lois Armstrong:

I see trees of green

Red roses too

I see them bloom

For me and you

And I think to myself

What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue

And clouds of white

The bright blessed day

The dark sacred night

And I think to myself

What a wonderful world

Can anybody really believe that all of this is just an accident, the product of chance and of time?

Well this week we are leaping forward to Genesis 12 and, in particular, God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

What has happened in between Genesis 1 and Genesis 12? The answer is, rather a lot. Let me take you on a whistle stop tour of the first 12 chapters of Genesis.

Genesis 3-11

At the end of Genesis 1 we read that God declared all he had made was good; indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). We also read that God blessed the human beings he had created in his image and gave them the task of ministering God's blessing to all creation (Genesis 1:28).

So what went wrong that God now has to say that Abraham will be the source of blessing to all peoples on earth?

I am sure that you remember the story. In Genesis 3 we read of how the human beings whom God had made were not content to live under God's rule, even though God had made them a beautiful world to give in and given them all that they could possibly need. They were made to image God, to reflect his character and glory, but that was not enough for them. Tempted by Satan, they wanted to dethrone God. They were determined to be gods to themselves, living just as they wanted and satisfying their own desires and being answerable to no-one. And so sin entered our world.

And things soon went from bad to worse. In a fit of envious anger, Cain murdered his brother Abel and before long we read that, "the wickedness of the human race had become [great] on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5). God decided to wipe the slate clean and start again. He destroyed the human beings that he had created with a great flood, and along with them he destroyed the majority of the created world. He would start afresh with Noah and his family and with the animals that had been saved with him on his big ship.

When the flood subsided and dry ground again appeared, God blessed Noah and his family. They were to start afresh in bringing the blessing of God to all that he had made.

But Noah's new start quickly degenerates into the same old story with Noah's drunkenness, his curse upon his own son, Ham, and then in the concerted rebellion of human beings against God at Babel. They are determined to be god's to themselves, becoming a united and powerful people and making a great name for themselves.

God confounded their plans by confusing their language and scattering them across the face of the earth.

That's Genesis 11, and is the background to Genesis 12

Genesis 12 – another new start

In the story of Abraham we see that God intends to make another new beginning to his purpose to bring blessing to all that he has made. From the nations and peoples scattered at Babel, God calls one man to trust him, follow him and obey him. That man is Abram, who, for the sake of simplicity, I am going to call by his God-given name, Abraham.

To Abraham God made these promises:

‘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.’ (Genesis 12:2-3)

Notice the way in which God's promise to Abraham is in direct response to all that has happened at Babel. Those conspiring together at Babel wanted to make themselves a great nation but end up being scattered. God promises that through this one man from the scattered people of the earth he will make a great nation.

The people at Babel were determined to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4) but God promises to make Abraham's name great.

Through the rebellion at Babel, humanity becomes many peoples, set one against another, competing with and fighting against one another. Through Abraham God declares that all peoples will be blessed – united under the blessing of God.

What a tremendous promise.

But how can one man make a difference?

Well, of course, the answer is that he cannot. But he is not going to remain just one man. God is going to make him into a great nation. It took a bit of time and a lot of trusting in the God who had made him this promise but in due time Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac. And some years later, Isaac had two sons, one of whom was called Jacob. And Jacob, renamed as Israel after he had wrestled all night with God, had twelve sons, the Children of Israel. And in due course these twelve sons became the fathers of tribes which made up the great nation of Israel.

And this great nation was heir to the promise "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you." The Israelites were a people called to bring the knowledge and blessing of God to all the peoples of the earth. They were called to be a priestly nation – a people who ministered God to the world and who brought the world to God.

How did they measure up to this calling? The answer is that they failed miserably. The Apostle Paul sums up God's verdict on his own nation. Quoting Isaiah 52 and Ezekiel 36, he writes in Romans 2:24, "God’s name is blasphemed among the nations because of you."

Can one man ever make a difference?

To answer this I want to direct you again to the Apostle Paul, and this time to Galatians 3:16 where Paul writes, "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ."  

Paul's point is this; the promises that God made to Abraham were not for him alone but were made to him and his descendants, or "seed". Paul then takes the word "seed", points out that it is a singular noun (more of that in a bit), and says it refers to one particular person, namely, to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one in whom all that God promised to Abraham finds its fulfilment. Jesus is the one in whom and through whom all of the blessings of God flow to the world.

And, just to help you remember, here is a three point sermonette within my sermon with three points beginning with the letter R:

Jesus Removes the curse upon us due to sin. As Paul says he became a curse for us – he endured the judgment we deserve.

Jesus Reconciles us to God. In him we are adopted into God's family, become children of God, embraced by the unbreakable love the Father has for the Son.

Through Jesus' resurrection from the dead we are Raised to new life; we are a new creation.

All of God's promises receive God's "yes and amen" in Jesus. He is the one source of all of the blessings of God.

The purpose of God to bless the world

We have seen God's promise and purpose to bless the whole world through Abraham and his seed – through the Lord Jesus Christ.

But Paul knows that the word "seed" is what we term a collective noun. He knows that the singular can also refer to a plurality of seed. So he says later in Galatians 3, "In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:26).

Did you hear that. Every one of you here this morning, trusting in Christ, is an heir to these promises made to Abraham. You also are Abraham's seed – children of Abraham to whom these promises belong. And this means that God promises and purposes to bless all people on earth through you!

This is your calling in Christ, to bring blessing to the world. How are you going to get on with your God-given task? May the risen Saviour help us to be a blessing to all whom we meet.

Peter Misselbrook     Quaker's Road, 9/6/2024