The Jewish-Christian view of life is all about inter-relatedness of families and communities, which is why God’s salvation can only come to us through others. It’s a horizontal view of God’s salvation, and that’s what’s happening here in the blessing of Abraham.
In part one (0:00–17:50), Tim and Jon recap the Tower of Babel story and humanity’s attempt to form a monoculture.
This picture of Babylon as a unified, anti-God humanity recycles itself throughout the story of the Bible in the nations of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon again (under King Nebuchadnezzar).
The Table of Nations reveals that the entire human family has common origins. To include all families into his own, God elects Abraham and his family to bless others, a theme throughout Scripture.
Genesis 12:3b And in you all the families of the ground (adamah) will be blessed.
A second theme is introduced into the story of the Bible when Abraham begins to take his election for granted and hurt others.
In part two (17:50–30:00), Tim and Jon discuss the biblical theme of election.
Before Genesis 11-12, God has already elected Adam and Eve to live in the Garden of Eden and Noah to continue the human race after the floow. This design pattern culminates in the story of Jesus, God’s ultimate chosen one.
“We can only understand the biblical view of election if we see it as part of the whole way of understanding the human situation, which is characteristic of the Bible. In contrast to both Eastern and modern Western views, there is no attempt to see the human person as an autonomous individual, so that the human relation with God is the relation of one lone individual to another, lone, individual God. From its beginning, the Bible sees human life in terms of relationships... Human life is mutual relationship: the most fundamental being between man and woman, parents and children, between families, clans, and nations. The Bible speaks of “humanity” in terms of “the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3)... It follows that this mutual relatedness, this dependence upon one another, is not merely part of the journey toward the goal of salvation, but intrinsic to the goal itself… There is, and there can be no, private salvation of humanity, no saving work of God that does not involve us with each other… God’s saving revelation does not come to us straight down from above, so to speak. In order to receive God’s saving revelation we have to open the door to our neighbor whom he sends as his appointed messenger. Not a messenger that we can eventually dispense with once we learn what is needed, but a fellow human image of God with whom we will, together, permanently share our home.” –– adapted from Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 82-83.
While other religious systems promote connecting with the divine individually, the biblical view of salvation always comes through relationship––with God and with others.
Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Jesus taught that we embody God’s will through radical trust in God and by participating in a community of forgiveness, willing to surrender all.
In part three (30:00–40:00), Tim and Jon unpack Genesis 12 and discuss what happens when Abram distrusts God’s promises.
Abram struggles (and often fails) to be God’s partner in blessing the nations. When Abram shows up in the land God leads him to, there’s a famine, and Abram promptly turns around and leaves.
And it came about when he came near to entering Egypt, and he said to Sarai his wife, “Look, please, I know that you are a woman beautiful of sight, and when the Egyptians see you, and they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but you they will keep alive. Please say that you are my sister, so that there will be good to me on account of you, and that I may live on account of you.”
We can hear echoes of Genesis 3 in this story as Abram chooses for himself what is good and neglects God’s promise to protect and bless him, all at his wife’s expense.
And it came about when Abram came into Egypt, and the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And the officials of Pharaohs saw her, and they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into the house of Pharaoh, and he did good to Abram on account of her. There was for him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. And Yahweh plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues on account of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Pharaoh called Abram and he said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.”
Instead of being a vehicle of blessing to Egypt, Abram brings a curse upon the nation––God’s punishment on the innocent Egyptians in defense of Abram. God is not rewarding Abram’s deception; rather, he is honoring the promise he made to him. So Pharaoh sends Abram away with a new accumulation of animals and Egyptian slaves.
In part four (40:00–56:30), Tim and Jon discuss God’s response to Abram and Sarai’s further disbelief and sin.
If the famine represented a challenge to Abram’s belief that the land would be a blessing, Sarai’s infertility poses a similar challenge to the belief that God would fulfill his promise of giving Abraham many descendants.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian slave whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my slave; perhaps I will be built through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan,Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave, and she gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was cursed in her eyes. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be upon you. I gave my slave into your hands, but she saw that she had conceived, I was cursed in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your slave is in your hand; do to her what is good in your eyes.” So Sarai oppressed her, and she fled from her presence.
Abram and Sarai once again repeat the sin of Adam and Eve, and what results is a tragedy. The father of Israel oppresses an Egyptian slave (the inversion of Exodus 1-6), and it is “good in their eyes.”
God’s response is to further commit himself to his promises: Abram and Sarai will become ancestors of many nations––but not through Hagar’s son, Ishmael.
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before me, and be blameless. “I will establish my covenant between me and you. And I will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you. And you will be the father of a multitude (hamon) of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I will make you the father of a multitude (hamon) of nations. I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you… God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between me and you. And every male among you eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your seed. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall my covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
God changes Abram’s name and makes him cut off skin from the part of his body that he and Sarai had just used to abuse their Egyptian slave. Circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, a reminder of both divine judgment and mercy, and a means by which anyone can take on the sign of God’s covenant with his people and enter into the family.
In part five (56:30–end), Tim and Jon explore God’s faithfulness to his own covenant to Abraham (yet again), so that all nations might receive a blessing.
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”
Blessing people through an oppressive scheme is not how God works. So instead of orchestrating his purposes through Ishmael, God promises a miracle child. It’s a plan so impossible by human standards that only God could pull it off.
However, God still has purposes for Ishmael, and he promises to bless him too. God responds to Abraham and Sarah’s bad choices by turning them into good. Here we see an important biblical image of many people being blessed through one chosen leader.
Additional Resources Interested in more? Check out Tim’s full library here.
Show Music “Serendipity feat. The Field Tapes” by Philanthrope “Foggy Road” by Toonorth “Imagination” by Montell Fish “Everything Fades to Blue” by Sleepy Fish “Defender Instrumental” by Tents
Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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