Summary: Year A. Second Sunday in Lent Genesis 12: 1-4aFebruary 24, 2002 Title: “God alone has power to bestow blessing and give life.”
Year A. Second Sunday in Lent Genesis 12: 1-4a
12 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. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I 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."
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.
February 24, 2002
Title: “God alone has power to bestow blessing and give life.”
We cannot pin it down to an exact time, but somewhere in the early or mid-second millenium BC a nomadic or semi-nomadic Semite called Abram left his native area of Haran in Upper Mesopotamia and went to present-day Palestine. It would have been a quite unremarkable event, one we would never have even heard of, had it not been for the meaning both Jews and Christians assigned it. To them it was and is a defining moment in the history of the whole human race. It has been passed down to them that Abram did this out of trusting obedience to God who promises him three things: 1) he would father a great nation; 2) he would receive land; and 3) he would be a source of blessing for all peoples.
Chapter twelve in Genesis marks a new stage, the beginning of human redemption. The first eleven chapters have laid out humanity’s rebellion against God and the dire consequences of trying to go through life without God. In chapter five we are given a genealogy from Adam to Noah and in chapters ten and eleven genealogies from Noah to Abram. Abram married Sarah, who was barren. Thus the Scripture wants to say that it all ends in barrenness. Humanity can go on for ages and ages, but it will end in nothing, unless there is divine intervention, grace. Humanity has nowhere else to go. Barrenness- be it war, devastation, destruction- is the way of human history without God. There is no foreseeable future, only hopelessness. Human power, apart from God, cannot create or even invent, a future. Then comes Chapter twelve verse one; the Lord speaks his powerful word directly into this situation of barrenness. It is a word, a promise, about the future, spoken to this family without any hope of a future. It is also a call, a call to change, a call to abandonment of the familiar, a renunciation of what was considered valuable, a call for a dangerous departure from the world of what would be considered by humans as “security.” Yet, it was a call to and a promise of a great future, something Abram did not have and could not achieve; on his own. He did not even know where to look.
In verse one, go to a land that I will show you: We are not told that Abram dreamed of a better land than the one he knew. This is not Abram’s dream, but God’s. He will obey a command without knowing in advance when and where he will have reached God’s intended destination. God will deal with Abram on a “need to know,” basis. He will let him know more details when the time is appropriate in God’s estimation. For now, he is to leave the familiar and set out on an as yet unknown path to an as yet unknown destination and destiny. It is so very hard for many of us to realize that God still does that to us today. That is, God will ask us to do something and we have no way of knowing what the outcome will be.
In verse two, I will make of you a great nation: No details are given, just promises. Abram must take God at his word. Abram, we will learn, cannot have children by Sarah, though he has other wives. At first, the great nation, meaning “innumerable descendants” promise would be no great problem to believe in. Only when he finds that Sarah is supposed to be the mother of one who will carry forward God’s plan does the matter call for “great faith.” There is no evidence, and indeed nature contradicts even the possibility, that Sarah will get pregnant.
I will bless you: The Hebrew barak, “to bless,” means to empower, to enable to succeed, prosper, be fertile, live long, etc. It is the bestowal or conferral of abundant and effective life on someone or even something. Like promise, blessing has a futuristic dimension to it. Since God is the source of life, and therefore blessing, only he can control it and only he can bestow it, either directly, as here, or through an agent. Those not in a right relationship with God cannot bless or be blessed. Thus humanity, at this point, is without blessing, without life, barren. From the time of Adam humanity has been under the curse of death. God demonstrates in this verse that he alone has power to bestow blessing and give life. In the patriarchal narratives, blessing is specifically linked to reproductive powers and the meaning here implies the birth of an heir. The point here also is that God was not asked, by Abram, for his blessing. God took the initiative. God wants to bless. It is in his nature to do so. He does not have to be cajoled. He wishes to give it to all who trust in him.