For the week of November 5, 2022 / 11 Heshvan 5783
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16
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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.” (Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-3)
I remember where I was when the importance of this passage first hit me. It was the summer of 1980. I had been a believer for almost four years and was in the first few months of marriage. My wife and I were with some friends of ours, attending a special lecture by renowned Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. in Toronto. Kaiser was emphasizing God’s promise-plan as the central theme of Scripture, a teaching that has been core to his life’s work. Through the years I have come to be leery about supposed interpretive keys as if there are elements of God’s written Word upon which everything else hangs. We need to be careful not to allow our deductions from Scripture, however legitimate they may be, to become the lens through which we view the whole Bible. Since the Bible is God’s only authoritative, inspired written revelation of himself and life, we must always compare our personal conclusions with the Bible itself.
This is easier said than done. The Bible is surprisingly cohesive for a collection of such a wide variety of writings by a great many authors over a long period of time. The vast number of recurring themes and common concerns along with innumerable allusions to past events, plus the foreshadowing and prediction of future events (many of those fulfilled within its own pages), begs for it to be reduced to neatly defined categories. Yet, the Bible itself isn’t written that way. A categorical approach can easily obscure the depth and detail of Scripture, including the nuance and ambiguity that is not only part of its charm, but often provides the gateway to its depth of meaning.
With that caution in mind, it is hard to deny that God’s promise of restoration isn’t a driving force throughout Scripture, beginning in the Garden, when God pronounces eventual doom upon the serpent (see Bereshit/Genesis 3:15). I remember Dr. Kaiser saying in 1980 that Genesis 12 was the true beginning of the biblical story, while the first eleven chapters of Genesis functioned as an introduction. Whether this was God’s intent or not, we cannot say for sure, but I understand what Kaiser was saying. Genesis chapters one through eleven set the stage for the outworking of God’s plans and purposes. Human beings having been created by God as stewards of the creation under his rule, rebelled against his word, resulting in the curse – the broken state of affairs we all have been born into ever since. From the time of their rebellion, God determined to restore all things, while life on Planet Earth went from bad to worse. The flood demonstrates God’s determined commitment to his creation project, while Babel reflects the ongoing depraved state of humankind.
Against this backdrop, God calls Avram (English: Abram), whose name was later changed to Avraham (English: Abraham) a childless, elderly man, to leave family and the familiar to journey to an unknown environment. If he would do so, through his descendants, God’s blessing would come to the whole world, thus alleviating the curse. This is the story of the Bible.
The Bible’s story is the development of Avraham’s descendants, the people of Israel. It is how God worked in and through them to bless the whole world. It was to them that God revealed himself and his ways, while demonstrating humanity’s inability to resolve our broken, cursed state on our own. It would take God himself in the person of the greatest Jewish king, the Messiah, to defeat evil in all its forms, reconciling people to himself.
I believe it was from Kaiser that summer day in 1980 that I first heard the connection between the call of Avram and Paul’s words, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you’” (Galatians 3:8; NASB). By calling God’s promise to Avram, the gospel, the good news, we are to understand that the proclamation of Messiah’s rule over the earth is the vehicle by which blessing comes to the nations. It’s when we trust in the Messiah Yeshua that the power of the curse is removed from our lives and equips us to be instruments of blessing in the footsteps of Avram.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.