Post Series on Genesis 12:1-9:
- The Missionary Calling of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3)
- The Missionary Obedience of Abraham (Genesis 12:4-6)
- The Missionary Witness of Abraham (Genesis 12:7-9)
The Fallen (and Falling) Human Race
After Adam and Eve fell into sin in Genesis 3, God dealt directly with the whole human race. He spoke personally to Cain, warning him of his sin, and we read that the reason for the flood is the shocking, ongoing rebellion of the human race even despite the fact that God’s Spirit directly contended with them to urge them to repentance: “My Spirit shall not abide in [or, contend with] man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years” (Gen. 6:3).
But even after the Flood, the new humanity directly descended from Noah and his family still acted corruptly. In pride they began to build the Tower of Babel under God confused their languages and dispersed them across the face of they earth.
At the end of Genesis 11, then, the outlook of the human race is bleak. At every opportunity–after every provision of grace–God’s creatures had rebelled against him, and there was no hint that they would ever change unless God himself intervened to remedy the situation.
And so at just that point, God intervened to call Abram to accomplish nothing short of the redemption of the entire cosmos.
The Missionary Calling of Abraham
In Genesis 12:1-3, we read:
1Now 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. 2And 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. 3I 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.” (Gen. 12:1-3)
Really, YHWH gives Abram only two commands. The first command is primary: “Go”, or, more literally, “Get yourself out.” Where was Abram going? Well, YHWH isn’t terribly precise about that: “Go…to the land that I will show you.” YHWH simply tells Abram to go without specifying exactly where Abram would go.
What is clear is that YHWH is calling Abram out of his father’s house, and particularly from his father’s idolatry. From Joshua, we learn a crucial detail: this call was a call out of idol worship:
2And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Eurphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many….'” (Joshua 24:2-3)
YHWH insisted that Abram make a break with with his past so that YHWH would make him a great nation, blessing him and making his name great. The offer here is more than fame and fortune, for YHWH was offering him a new life to worship and serve the true, living God. This was a call to leave everything so that he could gain God.
At this point, YHWH issues his second command, which reveals the larger purpose behind all that YHWH was commanding and blessing: “so that you will be a blessing.” YHWH intends to bless others–in fact, to bless all the families of the earth–through Abram. This is the reason that YHWH singled out Abram in this way: Abram was to be YHWH’s means of redeeming the human race.
It makes sense, then, that YHWH promised to “bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse,” since Abram was YHWH’s chosen vessel of redemption to the world. From this man, YHWH would indeed raise up a great nation, the nation of Israel. And from that great nation, YHWH would eventually raise up Jesus Christ, according to the flesh.
The Missionary Calling of Christianity
To sum up, the missionary calling of Abraham featured these characteristics:
- YHWH called Abram to leave behind his sinful, idolatrous past in order to worship the true God.
- YHWH called Abram to follow him without providing him all the details in advance.
- YHWH promised to bless Abram with the purpose that Abram would, in turn, be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
While the specific calling of Abraham was unique and unrepeatable in some respects (i.e., as the father of a great nation that would eventually produce Jesus Christ according to the flesh), the general pattern is precisely what Jesus commands believers in the New Testament.
Christ commands that we repent from our sins and believe in his Gospel. He commands that we follow him as disciples, but he never really gives us many details of where he will take us as we follow him. Finally, Christ calls us to himself not for our sake alone, but for the sake of the world, to whom we are sent.
The critical difference for New Testament Christians, though, is that we are the heirs of the great nation whom Abraham has already fathered. Particularly, we are the heirs of the offspring of Abraham, Jesus Christ himself.
And because we are in Christ, we are not the ones doing the redeeming. Rather, we are the families of the earth who have been blessed in Abraham. Our calling is not in any sense to work out redemption for the world, but rather to herald the redemption for the world that Jesus Christ, the offspring of Abraham, has already accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection.
It is to this missionary task that we all, like Abraham, have been sent.