Great Moments in Bible History
At Last: Mercy, not Judgment
We would have expected something different. It seems like nearly every time God has appeared on the scene so far in our stories it has been for judgment. He pronounced judgment on Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree. He banished Cain after he killed his brother. He destroyed the whole world with a flood in the days of Noah. And He scattered the people who were trying to build the Tower of Babel.
I am not suggesting that God was being mean or vindictive. Given the behavior of the humans God had created, we would have to agree that His judgments were fair. Even today after all God has done for us, the majority of people live like they do not care at all about Him. In fact, it seems like the more God gives to us—money, health, education, sometimes even fame—the less we care about Him. We live selfish lives. We deserve to be judged by God.
So it is a big surprise when God appears on the scene in Genesis 12 and talks not about judgment but about blessing the human race.
As the story begins God tells Abraham to move. He must leave his country and his relatives. Nothing particularly new so far. But then comes the surprise. Abraham has to move not because he is being punished (like Cain) nor because God wants to punish other people and wants to protect him (like Noah). No, God wants Abraham to move so that He can give things to him. “I will make of you a great nation,” God tells him, “and I will bless you, and make your name great” (Genesis 12:2). For the first time in the history of the world God interfered in mercy rather than in judgment.
But when we first read this story we are tempted to ask, “Was God perhaps being unfair? Of all the people on earth at that time, why did God choose just one to bless and to make into a great nation? And when that nation came along wasn’t it unfair to shower blessings on it and to ignore the other nations in the world?” We need to read further. One of the promises God made to Abraham was, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God was not simply choosing one man on whom to shower blessings. He was choosing a man through whom He would bless everyone on earth.
This is not the first time God mentioned such a blessing. He had promised Adam and Eve that someone would come along who would crush the head of the devil (Genesis 3:15). But thousands of years had gone by since He made that statement and nothing had been done about it. Finally, God is doing something about it. He is choosing Abraham as the one through whom that man will come.
Thousands of years more will pass before God finally fulfills the promise He made to Abraham. But when we get over to the New Testament, in the very first verse we read, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” And we see that it was indeed through Abraham that all the families of the earth are blessed.
Not an Easy Path
We saw in the previous article that God chose Abraham to be the one through whom God was going to pour out His grace to the whole world. That sounds like a wonderful privilege — and it certainly was — but it came at a cost. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). God was going to give a land to Abraham’s descendants, but first Abraham had to leave everything behind and go to that land. The list of things he had to leave started with his country and moved on to people he loved—his kindred—and finally to the people he was the closest to—his father’s house. As we read on in the story we learn that Abraham was 75 years old when he moved to that new land. He lived the rest of his life there (100 more years) and died in that land without ever once going back to visit those he had left behind.
Furthermore, the new life he was called to was a lonely one. With very few exceptions the people of that new land did not care about the God Abraham served. So not only did Abraham have to separate himself from the people he had grown up with, he was separate from the people of his new country as well.
Although Abraham was a foreigner who never really got close to the people of his new land, there was one thing he did that the people of that land would have noticed. Every time he moved his tent to a new place (and he moved quite a few times) he would build an altar and worship God. I’m sure the people of the land were well aware that Abraham was a worshipper of God.
The way God dealt with Abraham gives us a pattern for how He deals with all the people He chooses. In every case those people have to give up things for God. They have to be willing to live lonely lives because the majority has never been interested in serving God. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). It is a great honor to be called to serve God. It is available only for those who value it more than anything else.
The Impossible Promise
God promised to make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants. He promised to give them the land that He was going to show to Abraham. But there were two major problems that would seem to make that promise impossible for God to fulfill. Both of those problems are clearly stated in the story.
“At that time the Canaanites were in the land” (Genesis 12:6). This was a big problem. The land God promised to give to Abraham was already occupied. How is God going to give it to Abraham? In a later chapter God will explain how He will deal with that problem.
The second problem was introduced in Genesis 11:30: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” Sarai was Abraham’s wife. She was 65 years old at this time. Since she had not had a child by then, it was clear she never would. How is God going to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation if he cannot even have one child?
When we look at other promises God made in the Bible we discover that such problems were not unusual at all. In fact, it seems like God delights to make promises that appear impossible for Him to fulfill. Sarai is not the last barren woman in the Bible that God made promises to. I count at least four other barren women in the Bible just like Sarai. Each of them went for many years unable to have a child before God gave them one. In each case the child became someone through whom God worked to bring about His ultimate goals for the human race. In fact, it seems like the more difficult it was for the birth to happen, the more special the child became.
The ultimate impossible birth occurs when the angel Gabriel announces to the virgin Mary that she will have a son without any man being involved (Luke 1:26-35). Her son will be the most special of all the sons ever born. He will be the Son of God.