[Re]Deeming – How Genesis 12 Fits

The following is what I tried to say on Sunday.

As we start moving through Genesis we are starting to notice some parallels between themes that are present in the book that are important to note as we go further. The first 11 chapters, or the “pre-history” in Genesis, that we have read so far has given us a good picture of what God and humanity are up to. Chapter 12 is a major turning point in Genesis, when God steps in and picks someone who is going to participate with him in what he is trying to do within creation a little more directly. So my point today won’t be to explain Genesis 12 necessarily, but to show how Genesis 12 fits perfectly in what has happened in the previous 11 chapters and everything that comes after it.

We start in Genesis 1 and it starts with God making the first move. He creates the world and everything in it and then creates man with a job to do. So he creates and gives a responsibility to the creation to act and to be a certain type of creation. So the first mandate of all creation is:

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground-everything that has the breath of life in it-I give every green plant for food.

Then we move through Cain and Abel story and work our way to the flood. We start to get the impression that maybe this whole creation bit isn’t working out just like God planned. After all, the first story after God blesses creation is humans reversing it. Humans are supposed to be filling the earth and Cain goes and does the opposite and kills his brother. The earth eventually gets so evil that God sends a massive flood, saves a few people and wants to start all over again. We then get to chapter 6 which starts with the narrator telling us how upset God is.

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth-men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air-for I am grieved that I have made them.”
Gen 6:5-8

We all know the story. Noah and his family get on the boat with a bunch of dirty animals, floods come and everyone else drowns around them; it’s a perfect Sunday school story. So now let’s jump to the end of the story. Keep now in mind the last verses we just read. Noah and his family get off the boat. They are tired, probably smell like crap and Noah builds an altar to God and God seems to love it. Notice the language that is used.

The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though [an] every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
Gen 8:21

This isn’t just some simple statement when you remember what we just read. God changes his mind even though humans haven’t changed at all. In both circumstances we see that every inclination in the hearts of man are evil, there is no change in humans. Yet, now there is a change in God’s heart. While seeing the evil, instead of resolving to destroy humanity like he does in chapter 6 he decides to preserve them in the midst of their evil. We’ve talked already how the flood has parallels with creation in that the flood almost acts like a de-creation and then God starts the creation process all over again. So now we expect some sort of mandate/covenant like in Genesis 6 that we just read. What do you know, here it is.
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man.
As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you-the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you-every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Gen 9:1-11

So these blessings/mandates are getting a little more complicated now. God puts a few stipulations on this mandate and is saying a bit more than before.

“Moreover, Genesis 1:26-28 to which the divine promise and command given to Noah in chapter 9 refer, embodies a divine purpose to be accomplished by humankind and the world. This would suggest that the covenant with Noah incorporates not only the fallen state of humankind of Genesis 3 but also the divine plan for humankind and the world of Genesis 1-2.”
William Dumbrell

In Genesis 9, God is doing more than simply telling humans what to do. He is also saying what he is going to do and starting to reveal bits and pieces of his plan. Let’s continue on through Genesis.
So the story starts up and all over again and what happens? We find out that all men have one speech/language and instead of spreading and filling the earth they settle in one area. So God comes down and scatters them all over the earth. Really, He just did for them what he asked them to do in the first place. Then we move into Genesis 11 which is basically a list of genealogies; when people are born and when people die. This genealogy serves a lot of purposes and we usually skip over it because it’s not an interesting story, or at least I do. I think however this genealogy sets us up to realize how important Genesis 12 really is. In Genesis 11 we have instances of father’s dying before their sons and wives being barren. This chapter basically says that humans are unable to fully do what God has given for them to do; be fruitful and multiply. God tells them to be fruitful and spread out and chapter 11 ends with people dying and a wife being barren; an unfortunate opposite and undoing of what we are hoping for.
We also should note the break between the history of humankind and the move into talking into the history of Israel. This reminds the Israelites that God did not create Israel out of the dust like Adam, rather Israel has the same background and history as the neighbours and everyone else. Their story stems from the same story as everyone else. The story of Israel starts with a story of hopelessness [barrenness and death]. Every time that bareness is talked about in the Bible it can be an accurate metaphor for hopelessness. With this in mind we are introduced to a new character and move into Israel’s story and into some unchartered territory for us thus far, Genesis 12.
Even though Genesis 12 is now moving on into Israel’s history, it is still very much connected to the first 11 chapters. Right away, without giving any clarification to Abram’s character or not we see that God spoke to him. This is unlike when we first hear about Noah and find out that he had favour in God’s eyes. All we know is that God started talking, and then we get some of the most important verses in the entire bible. The rest of the Hebrew Bible sits on these verses. Let’s read them.

Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Gen 12:1-3

What do you think this blessing means?
How is this connected to the stories in the first eleven chapters?

Some Points for the Discussion (Make sure the come up)

  • If you read through the rest of the Hebrew Bible, let alone the rest of the Genesis with these verses in mind you would be reading a vastly different book than you grew up with in Sunday School. God is trying to bless his creation and he is using Abraham to do it. He wants to take him and bless him, so that he can bless others. Now there are some translating problems in this little section. Where it says “and you will be a blessing”(v.2) is actually an imperative in the Hebrew which should be read more like “be a blessing!” Abram is not simply being informed that he will become a blessing, but is commanded to be a blessing. Also, the following lines should be interpreted as the consequence of this line. In other words the promise of Abraham being a blessing, becoming a great nation and everything else depends on that he is a blessing first. (Genesis, Laurence Turner, Pg. 64)
  • Gen 12 is a direct attack on what was happening in Babel. In Babel, they were trying to build a city on their own terms and make their name great. In Genesis 12, God is building the nation and God is making the name great. If the rest of the world (Babel) wants to enjoy blessing, they now find it through Abram not through their own contraptions.
  • The word blessing in Genesis 12 shows up five times in these three verses. As opposed to the word curse which shows up in the five times in the first eleven chapters.
  • The rest of the Hebrew Bible is the story of Israel and God and their interactions. And their mandate, is to be a blessing to all the nations. If we know anything about the Story of Israel we know that again, like the stories in Gen 1-11, it never happened. Israel rages wars, supplies weapons, abuses women, had forced slavery…just like any other nation. The entire Old Testament is yet a large scale story just like the ones we have read thus far. God blesses, God gives a job to do, humans can’t do it and in fact they end up doing the exact opposite of their calling. What we need to keep in mind though is that in all the other stories though we see God stepping in and somehow resolving the issue. With Adam and Eve he steps in and makes them clothes and warns them of the new steps in their lives. With Cain, he protects him and let’s no one hurt him or kill him. With Noah he decides to stop destroying and start preserving and tries to point them in a certain direction. With the tower of Babel, he does for them what he asked them to do, spread among all the earth. So we look at Abram’s promise and that gives us some idea of what to expect in his story. I would argue that the rest of the Old Testament is this struggle to become the nation of people that God wanted and mandated in Genesis 12 and they can’t do it. They can never get it done. So how does God resolve this issue? How is God going to save the day on this one?
    He decides to handle it himself like with the Tower of Babel. He sends himself down to earth to do the very thing that God expected from Israel. Jesus was sent to do the job that the nation of Israel couldn’t do; to be a blessing. Through Jesus’ life, God accomplishes what he set out to accomplish through Israel, while at the same time accomplishing it through Israel because Jesus came from an Israelite line. This is why the New Testament is important, because without it there is no resolve to the promise in Genesis 12 to Abraham. God keeps his covenant because it is still through Israel (Jesus) that the nations are blessed.

    The entire point of Genesis 1-11 is to set us up for Genesis 12 and beyond. It is a history of the world that eventually narrows us down to a single nation, which then eventually narrows us down to a single individual. Think of it as a funnel. It starts wide and goes thinner and thinner until out the end Jesus is there as the accumulation of the entire Hebrew Bible. The point of the funnel is to show how God has been at work all along to bring about his end goal in blessing all the people on the earth like his original intent. We talked last month about being out of order and how humanity is not how it’s supposed to be. But all along we see that God has been at work putting things back into order and through the scriptures we get to see it at work. Think about the parallels in Adam’s story to Israel’s.

    “Israel was created, as was Adam, outside the divine space to be occupied-Israel outside of Canaan and Adam outside of the garden. Both Israel and Adam were placed in divine space; Israel in Canaan and Adam in Eden. Israel was given, as was Adam, law by which the divine space could be retained. Israel transgressed the law as did Adam. Israel was expelled, as was Adam, from the divine space. Clearly the creation account indicates to Israel the nature and purpose of her special status and role, which once belonged to the man.”
    William Dumbrell

    It only makes us think about the parallels between Israel and Jesus. If you are ever interested in knowing more about that, read the book of Matthew and follow the life of Jesus and watch how close it reflect the nation of Israel. Days in the desert, baptism, where he is geographically, you will be amazed. I only tell you this to show you how God has been up to the same thing all this time. God is trying to bring redemption to humankind and he wants to use humans in the process.
    So we just covered a lot of history, but we are still 2000 years behind. So Jesus comes and now what? Well without retelling the gospels, we know that he was here and now he’s gone again. But once again, God leaves us with a mandate, a command if you will. This mandate, like all the others is to keep us working within the order of God. In other words, we should know by now that God is already up to something, and these mandates are not something that he is just making up on the spot. Rather, he is telling us what he is up to and invites us to participate in it.

    All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
    Matt 28

    He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
    Luke 24

    Some scholars believe that Genesis 12 could easily be substituted as the Great Commission. They think its God doing the same thing, trying to accomplish the same purpose. Either way, we do know now that when God speaks to us and gives us a job it is the creator of the world telling us what is coming next and inviting us to participate with him in making it happen. So we, as the body of Christ, are now participating with God to bring order to his creation. Loving God, loving people and being a blessing to all the people of the earth.

    So while we read Genesis 12 and beyond, we need to keep in mind that God is up to something. Genesis 12 should be at the very front of our minds when we read the rest of Genesis and the Bible so we can understand what the point of all this is. God is redeeming creation and invites us to participate in the redemption of all creation. Remember this when Joseph is hired to feed the nations. Remember it when Jacob is obsessed with being blessed. Remember it when Abraham goes to sacrifice Isaac. Remember it beyond Genesis too; when God frees Israel, and remember it when Israel goes to war. Remember it when Israel wants a king and remember it when Israel uses forced slavery. Remember it in the New Testament also when Jesus says he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Remember it when Jesus says to love our neighbours and enemies and during the sermon on the mount. Remember it now in light of our mandate to make disciples and to live in the Kingdom of God.

    5 thoughts on “[Re]Deeming – How Genesis 12 Fits”

    1. Thanks for this Nathan, enjoyed reading your thoughts on Genesis, particularly as I have to lead a group tomorrow night on the conclusion to the prologue.

      Have you noticed how chp 11 ends with the story of a man moving from Ur to the promised land, moving in a westerly direction. Up to this point in the story, all movements have been easterly. Adam & Eve banished east of Eden. Cain wandering east. The builders are moving east as well.

      It seems east is symbolic of the direction away from God. West is the journey of return.

    2. yes, that’s awesome, way to point that out…we did all last month on the idea that things are ‘out of order’ and we spent an entire week on the east and west imagery in genesis…so its great that you noticed that cause it’s those little things that i never used to catch at all.

    3. One more thing. The building of cities. Cain, Nimrod and the Babel mob all seek to build cities as escape from wandering, or launch pads for empire, or to hide from diversity. Cities get bad press.

      But one of the descriptions of the promised land, alongside the more favoured one of milk and honey, is that it is filled with large and flourishing cities that they did not build.

      I think that the text makes a distinction between cities built and cities received. The way to healthy life in the city is to receive it as a gift from God. And of course one of the first things God tells them is to establish cities of refuge, as opposed to building their own, as Cain did.

      So much…so much.

      enjoying the blog nathan, thanks

    4. that’s great insight.

      i did notice that cain was cursed to a life of wandering and then the next story is him building a city, but i didn’t pick up on all the stuff you posted there glenn, that’s great!! thanks a lot!

    5. Wow. This really brought me full circle in a new way. Great post. Keep it up. BTW it’s totally OK to mix photos in w/ posts. All things art mesh well. Beautiful things art, theology, poetry, conversation….

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