Welcome to Week 3 of our devotional series on those common Christian beliefs that have been overlooked or misunderstood. Today, we’re looking at Genesis 12 and God’s call to Abram (“Abraham”). What does it mean to say that God calls some people but apparently not others? Is the good news (“gospel”) only good to a select few? Did Jesus come to save the whole world, like John 3:16 suggests, or only some of it? Let’s take a look…
God of All the Earth! You are the Creator and Lord of every person, every thing, and every atom. Teach us the fullness of what that means today. Amen.
Genesis 12:1-4 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 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 the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Revelation 22:1-2 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
“The Love of God” — Lyrics and music by Frederick Lehman; additional lyrics by Mercy Me; Performed by Mercy Me (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell
The guilty pair, bowed down with care
God gave His Son to win
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song
Tomorrow is junior high camp at Camp Kirkwood. It’s a great place — huge inflatables on the lake, rows of corn hole, basketball and volleyball courts, hiking trails along creek beds, even a canopy ropes course high up in the trees. Our theme tomorrow is going to be identity, which is a hot topic nowadays, especially among teenagers. “Who am I? Where do I belong? What am I to become?” These are the sorts of questions we’re going to be throwing around. Talk about digging deep, right? And yet, I think the hardest question is going to be: “How do we pick the teams for Capture the Flag?”
I wish I could tell you I was always the first person to be picked when I was in junior high. Despite being relatively athletic, I’ve always been that short, skinny kid, a combination which rarely inspires awesomeness on the football field. So, I remember what it was like not to be “the chosen one,” that guy who got picked first for every game at recess. And yet, I felt even worse for the poor soul next to me who always got picked last. At least I wasn’t him. It felt terrible not to be wanted first; I couldn’t imagine what it was like not to being wanted at all.
Isn’t it strange, then, to think that the Bible plays such games of partiality, if not favoritism? Genesis 12 begins with God calling one man and only one man. Why him? Why not one of the literally millions of others out there? The closest we get to any explanation is a genealogy: God chose Abram because he was a descendant of Noah’s son, Shem (Gen 11:10-26). After all, it’s not like Abram was that great of a guy in the first place. He literally lied twice about Sarah being his wife in order to save his own skin, and he did so almost directly in response to God’s promises (12:10-20; 20:1-18). It is true that Abram (later “Abraham”) is famous for his faith, which God “credited to him as righteousness” (15:6), but if the Apostle Paul is right, then this is more a statement about God’s unmerited grace and mercy than it is anything about Abraham’s inherent worthiness. So, why did God choose him to be the father of God’s one and only chosen people? Why show such arbitrary favoritism?
The answer seems to lie more in what God planned to do through Abram rather than in what made him so great in the first place. In other words, it wasn’t really about Abram at all; it was about God’s ultimate plan. Look back at verses 2-4 of Genesis 12. God says to Abram,
“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 the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Now, why does God bless Abram? So that he can then turn around and bless everyone else. God chooses one particular individual, not to single that person out for special treatment or because he’s somehow better than everyone else, but to have him be the means by which God chooses and blesses all the other nations, too, each and every family on earth.
Modern Judaism describes this “particular to universal” trajectory in the Bible as tikkun olam, or “the repair of the world.” It’s the idea that God chose Abram and then Israel and the Jewish people not to stand over and above the world but to stand with it and for it, with the intention that one day all the world would be healed and holy. At first blush, this seems to be in stark contrast to New Testament books like the Book of Revelation, which speak of God and the people of God violently conquering their enemies. But pay close attention to the end of the Book of Revelation, and you’ll see that it actually tells quite a different story — something much more akin to tikkun olam and Genesis 12. God is working to choose and to bless all the people of the earth, not just a select few.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”Revelation 22:1-2
When God chose Abram, then, it wasn’t the beginning of some exclusive club. It was the exact opposite. God chose Abram to throw the doors to the Kingdom wide open. And nothing, thank goodness, could be more unlike picking teams in junior high.
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — you have so lovingly and amazingly called all us to be one people of many nations. Help us to realize this on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.