Genesis 12:1-12:9 The Call of Abraham
Last week, I attended the Biologos conference (their website, biologos.org has been regularly referred to thus far). I’m sworn to online secrecy about the exact participants there, but two of my heros had an incredible jam session on Tuesday night that I’m still smiling about. In addition, one of the regularly quoted authors in this series was there and was super humble and kind. (I may have had an awkward, “omg. YOUR BOOK IS SO HELPFUL. YOU ARE A WONDERFUL PERSON AND I LOVE YOU” moment with him. This was pretty much an accurate summary of most of my interactions at the conference. I noted that the bad thing about having kindle books is that you can’t really get the authors to sign them. Someone suggested getting a paint pen to have people sign my kindle, but I lacked the foresight for that one.) Anyways, he let me call him by his first name and pepper him with random questions (the answers to which may appear in this series at some point). Woo hoo!
a. Genre Transition
Genesis 12 marks the approximate place where Genesis transitions from a series of ancient histories (or creation myths) into a more clear narrative history about particular individuals. While Genesis 1-11 seem to be answering questions about creation (how we were created? what is our role in creation? why is there evil in the world? why did God send a great flood? how did languages come about?), Genesis 12 begins telling us the story of Abraham, the Jewish patriarch.
b. Did Abraham travel with or without his father?
Again, Genesis 12 is an awkward place to transition. We’re introduced to Abram in chapter 11, and 11:31-32 seems to indicate that Terah, Abram’s father intends to go to Canaan as well, but settles in Haran instead (11:31-32). The Jewish Study Bible notes:
The idea that Abram began his trek to Canaan with his father contradicts the impression one receives from 12.1, wherein Abram leaves his “father’s house” to go to an unnamed land that turns out, of course, to be Canaan (cf. 15.7). Source critics solve the problem by assigning vv. 31-32 to P, but the account of Abram’s leaving his “father’s house” for Canaan to J. The more traditional approach would be to speak of two stages to Abram’s trek, the first from Ur to Haran with Terah, the second from Haran to Canaan without him.
c. Background of Ur
In How to Read Genesis, Tremper Longman explains:
To hear the name Ur in the ancient Near East would have the same effect as hearing New York City, London, Tokyo or some other major center of civilization… In other words, Ur is a city difficult to leave. On the other hand, God speaks of “the land that I will show you.” Though initially unspecified, it soon becomes clear that that land is Canaan, now known as Israel or Palestine. Compared to Ur, Canaan was a rough area… Thus Abraham’s decision to leave to leave cosmopolitan Ur involved a great deal of trust.
Abraham’s primary motivation is this intense call and promise from God, and it is a testament to his faithfulness that he obeys God even though the promises seem quite unbelievable.
a. Echos of Genesis 1-2
Nick Nowalk, during his Aletheia Institute class (which meet Sundays at 9:30 in the Cambridge YMCA and you should totally attend!), explained that the calling in Genesis 12:1-3 is Abraham’s main job description: “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 him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In other words, the call to Abraham is one to ensure that Abraham will be a blessing to all the families of the earth. In Genesis 1-2, we saw that the purpose of mankind is to be kings, ruling over God’s good creation, and priests, blessing God’s creation. The call of Abraham repeats such themes, suggesting that Abraham is a priestly figure. Abraham is to be the mediating figure through whom God blesses the rest of the world, and God’s presence is with him. This call applies as well to the children of Abraham – the Israelites who are to carry on this role of blessing creation.
b. Future Promise
Bruce Waltke notes in his commentary on Genesis:
The call of God to Abraham is the sneak preview for the rest of the Bible. It is a story of God bringing salvation to all tribes and nations through this holy nation, administered at first by the Mosaic covenant and then by the Lord Jesus Christ through the new covenant. Teh elements of Abraham’s call are reaffirmed to Abraham (12:7, 15:5-21, 17:4-8, 18:18-19, 22:17-18), to Isaac (26:24), to Jacob (28:13-15, 35:11-12, 46:3), to Judah (49:8-12), to Moses (Ex. 3:6-8; Deut 34:4), and to the ten tribes of Israel (Deut. 33). They are reaffirmed by Joseph (Gen. 50:24), by Peter to the Jews (Acts 3:25), and by Paul to the Gentiles (Gal. 3:8). The expansion of the promise of 12:1-3 from individual to national to universal salvation is the essential movement of Scripture. The Bible is a missionary guide: concerned with bringing salvation to all the families of the earth. Abraham as a blessing bearer of salvation is an anticipation of the blessing-bearing Christ. When Christ ascends into heaven, he extends his pierced hands, hands that blessed infants and gave sight to the blind, to bless his church (Luke 24:50-53).
There is so much more that one could cover here, but I’m unfortunately out of time.