Friend of the king (Genesis 18:16-21)

Why did God choose Abraham and his family? Were they the only ones to be saved, or what was his election about?

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After enjoying Abraham’s hospitality, the king sends his servants on an errand while he himself stays to discuss matters with his governor. Listen to the delight in his voice as the sovereign talks with his friend:

Genesis 18:17–18 (ESV)
17
The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?

The king had always intended to partner with humans in caring for his creation. In Abraham he finds a human who was willing to leave the power struggles of Shinar to partner with YHWH to plant God’s nation—the great and mighty nation that will restore the blessing of YHWH’s reign to the other nations.

That’s what YHWH’s election of Abraham was about:

Genesis 18:19 (ESV)
19
For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

Election, righteousness, and mission: these are important words in the story of Scripture. If we don’t understand them within the kingdom framework here, we will misunderstand them later.

  1. Election: God’s election of Abraham was for a task. It wasn’t about his individual salvation. If you think God chose the Abrahamic nation to be saved (and therefore assigned the other nations to be damned), you have not understood how his kingdom project works. The election of Abraham is the paradigm from which “election” language in Scripture springs. Abraham was chosen for a task, the task of demonstrating YHWH’s way, so as to restore the nations to the blessing of YHWH’s reign.
  2. Righteousness: Abraham and his descendants were called to walk in YHWH’s way, to do what is right by him, to implement YHWH’s just management for everyone. That was the means by which YHWH’s reign would be restored. The gospel cannot be reduced to a formula about how I get right with God: it calls us to treat each other right and work for justice so that YHWH may bring what he has promised.
  3. Mission: God has a mission—the missio dei. It’s about the restoration of his reign throughout the earth. It’s the goal of the Biblical narrative. He calls us to partner with him in the mission of restoring his reign, his kingdom authority. Like Abraham and his descendants, we have a mission. Missio dei—the mission of God restoring his reign on earth as it is in heaven—that mission defines who we are and what we are doing.

As Abraham accepts his calling and partners with YHWH in his mission, he grows into something more than just God’s servant. He is YHWH’s confidant. YHWH shares his plans with Abraham, including him the way one includes a friend (compare 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8). After all, the kingdom is the relationship between king and people. There is a rich prophetic flow between the king and those who represent him. Ideally, that will be the story of the rest of the Old Testament.

So now that God is legally bound to the partnership (covenant) with Abraham and his descendants, does that mean YHWH is giving up on trying to rule the rebellious nations? The narrator really doesn’t want us to make that mistake. We finally hear why YHWH was visiting this area. He has heard reports of horrific injustice being perpetrated in some of the nearby towns—Sodom and Gomorrah. As sovereign, it’s his responsibility to investigate these claims and take whatever action is necessary (18:20-21).

God enjoys a special relationship with the people who cooperate with him, but that does not abrogate his regal responsibility for all the peoples of the earth. As friends of the king, we can’t just enjoy his company and sing his songs. We must also engage with the injustice that challenges his authority.

 

What others are saying

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 82–83, emphasis original:

Genesis 18:19 is a remarkable text, for it puts together in a single sentence God’s choice of Abraham, God’s moral demand on Abraham’s community, and God’s promise to Abraham (which the immediately preceding verse 18 has spelled out yet again, that “all nations on earth will be blessed through him”). Election, ethics and mission all in one verse—that’s biblical theology for life! …

What then is the mission of God’s people? According to this text, it is to be the community who live by the ethical standards of the ways of God, so that God can fulfill his promise to Abraham and bring about the blessing of the nations. Our ethics and God’s mission are integrally bound together. That is why God chose us in the first place.

Tim Gombis, Divine Election: Summary & Conclusions (blog, 2011), emphasis original:

Israel was God’s chosen people, elect for the purpose of showing God’s love to the world.  The church, made up of Jews and gentiles in Christ, is God’s chosen people, elect for the same purpose.  Divine election, then, shapes the identity and mission of the people of God.  God sets his love upon a particular people from eternity past so that through them God might draw even more people into his love.

Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1998), 50:

It is characteristic of the true prophet that he is privy to the divine secrets (cf. Amos 3:7). When the Lord asks here “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” the question seems to be directed at the two “men” accompanying the Lord, who are presumably members of the divine council (Jer 23:18). The point of the question is whether Abraham is going to enjoy the privilege of access to the divine committee’s deliberations that prophets enjoy.

Read Genesis 18:16-21.

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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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