Summary: Our work as God’s people will not be complete, and our covenant with God not fully realized, until blessing has come to all the earth.
“Blessed to Be a Blessing” - Genesis 12:1-4a
The first book of the Bible might well be titled, "Genesis, or the Book of Divine Disappointment." God creates Adam and Eve and gives them everything they could possibly want, except for permission to eat the fruit of one tree. Adam and Eve disobey. After departing Eden, they start a family. Soon, the very first nuclear family explodes into violence, as one brother kills another. The earth becomes more densely populated, but God's dismay only builds. Again and again, human beings disappoint God by pursuing pleasure on the one hand and power on the other. They fail to pursue is what God values, what is good, just, and holy.
Genesis 1-11 details God’s struggle with a repeatedly rebellious, violent, and corrupt humanity. Genesis 12 has been described as a fulcrum, a lynchpin, and a major turning point in the Bible, because God does something that had never been done before by focusing on one particular family among all the families of the earth. Punishing all the earth was an ineffective means of dealing with sin, but now God establishes a special relationship with one family. God's election of the family of Abram and Sarah as a chosen and special vehicle of God's blessing affirms God's continuing commitment to humans and this world in spite of their rebellion, violence and evil. God will not let go of God's creation. Rather than give up and throw in the towel on humanity, God pushes the chips across the table and goes all in with one man.
The text isn’t a reward for Abram’s accomplishments and obedience. It is God giving His promise to one man before he has done anything. God is throwing his lot in with Abram’s. What happens if Abraham doesn’t live up to God’s expectations? What if Abram doesn’t go? What if he and Sarah have no children? God’s reputation is at stake. The future of humanity is at stake.
As God often does, God decides to work through a most unlikely pair: old Abram and Sarah. God intends to bless the world through this family even though Sarah is "barren" and unable to have children. God's selection of a barren husband and wife to be a blessing to others emphasizes that it is first and foremost God's power and initiative that will accomplish God's purposes. God's plan seems doomed to fail from the start, but the same powerful word that created the world out of chaos at the beginning will now create a new hope and a new future.
God also sends Abram to an unlikely place. Dr. Richard Lowery observes, “it is also worth noting that Abraham, with God's guidance, is migrating away from the center of economic, political, and military power in the ancient world to settle in distant lands. Ironically, the blessing of the whole earth will begin not from the center of power and influence, but at the distant margins.”
Abram’s father Terah began this journey away from their homeland in Ur. He had good reason to leave. His youngest son had died. The easiest way to cope with pain is always to run from it, and he did. His middle son settled down with his wife and family, but his oldest son Abram and his wife couldn’t have children. So he left his homeland with his barren son’s family and the grandson that survives the son he lost. We don’t know if Terah was meant to go all the way to Canaan, but the text says that he set out for Canaan. However, he only made it about a two day’s journey and settled in the land that came to be named for the youngest son he had lost, Haran. While we don’t know the details, it suggests that he couldn’t make the journey that his family was destined to make because he was so wrapped up in his loss, his grief, and his pain.