YHWH launches a nation of his own (Genesis 12:1-3)

Now that YHWH has given authority to the nations to rule themselves, how will he ever bring them back to recognize his authority? That’s the question to which Abraham and his family are the answer.

Genesis 1–11 made the point that YHWH established the world (Gen 1-2), investigated the early crimes (Gen 3-4), and took responsibility for his realm spiralling down into violence (Gen 5-6). He cleansed his world (Gen 7-8), and authorized human government (Gen 9). He permitted nations to emerge (Gen 10), but not to rule the whole earth (Gen 11). How will he lead the nations so they willingly return to him?

From the very start, the heavenly ruler always intended to reveal himself through humans. He created us as his image. He therefore chooses a human and commissions his family to image earth’s true sovereign to the nations.

YHWH’s plan is to establish a nation of his own, a nation that shows to the scattered and shattered nations what they are missing, namely the benefits of his sovereign care. YHWH’s nation is to show the other nations who have only human rulers the blessing they lack.

So, the call of Abraham goes like this:

Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV)
1
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. 2 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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The family leaves Ur in Chaldea (11:31) — the same region as Babel, site of the attempt to take God’s authority over the world. YHWH calls Abram to leave behind this land and its people. From Abram, the sovereign plans to establish a new land and a new people (12:1). It is YHWH who will create this nation, for he will be its ruler. Abram will represent the sovereign’s authority, i.e. he will be honoured with a great name (great authority). Since Abram represents the blessing of the divine ruler who provides for his people, Abram will visibly be that blessing (12:2).

When other people recognize Abram as his representative, the sovereign will extend his blessing to them also. When they dishonour Abram, they dishonour the sovereign whom Abram represents, so the sovereign will oppose them so that they come to recognize the authority behind Abram. The goal is that not only the Abrahamic family but all the families of the earth will ultimately receive the blessing of YHWH’s governance (12:3).

Abram’s partnership with YHWH gives him a great name and the authority of the one who rules the earth. These are the very things the Babel-makers desired (11:4).

The whole point of the call of Abraham is not just that the Israelites are blessed but that the nations will be blessed through them. The nations have resisted YHWH’s governance and set up their own rulers. (Once again, this is a very Jewish perspective of the nations.) The Abrahamic nation is to be the divine sovereign’s poster-child so that the nations see what they are missing (i.e. the blessing of divine governance), and willingly submit to his government.

To use an analogy, Australia has a sovereign who lives overseas, so the Governor General represents Queen Elizabeth II. Abram is something like YHWH’s Governor General—the earthly representative of the sovereign whose goal is to bring all nations back under his sovereign rule.

The Abrahamic nation exists as a beacon for the nations (Isaiah 49:6). The biblical narrative is not complete until the peoples come from the east and the west to sit at Abraham’s table (Matt 8:11), until all nations recognize his authority and observe what he commands (Matt 28:20), until the nations obey his appointed ruler (Rom 1:5; 16:26), until people from every nation acknowledge his reign (Rev 5:9-10).

 

What others are saying

The church fathers read the Abram story in continuity with the previous story (Babel) and the subsequent story of the restoration of God’s rule in the Messiah. For example, Jerome, Letter 46.2:

What are God’s first words to Abraham? “Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred unto a land that I will show thee.” The patriarch—the first to receive a promise of Christ—is here told to leave the Chaldees, to leave the city of confusion and its rehoboth or broad places; to leave also the plain of Shinar, where the tower of pride had been raised to heaven.

Some modern scholars do too. Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: Sketches for a Missionary Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 33–34:

The covenant of Noah is not revoked. The promised blessing is, in the end, for all the nations. Abraham, Israel, the tribe of Judah, and the faithful remnant are the chosen bearers of it. Bearers—not exclusive beneficiaries. There lay the constant temptation.

Read Genesis 12:1-3.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Discipleship Trainer • Riverview Church

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