Summary: God starts something big with very small people.
In the first eleven chapters of Genesis, Moses introduces key themes and doctrines forming the parameters of life. This prologue actually ends with chapter eleven, but like any good writer, the end of the preface is a “page-turner,” not suited to ending a series. So today we will move one step into what really is the first chapter of the Bible, so that we get pointed in the correct direction. Let’s read and consider “The Beginning of… Israel” from Genesis 11.10-12.9. Since the first 17 verses are genealogy, I will summarize those and then begin reading at verse 27.
[For Genesis 11.10-26: These are the generations of Shem: he fathered Arpachshad, who fathered Shelah, who fathered Eber, who fathered Peleg, who fathered Reu, who fathered Serug, who fathered Nahor, who fathered Terah, who fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Read Genesis 11.27-12.9. Pray.]
Many scholars consider Percy Bysshe Shelley one of the great English Romantic poets. He wrote in the very early 1800s; one of his more famous pieces is “Ozymandias.”
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the dessert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains, Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
The Bible’s beginning ends like Ozymandias. Our forefathers insist: “I will make a name for myself; I am master of my fate, and the captain of my soul.” But when the camera pulls back from the proud characters proclaiming a new world order, all that is visible is “boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.” The rebellion is complete, but so is the resulting wreck. If this were a tragedy, chapter eleven would end the book.
Instead, God’s preface is more like a back-story. The events most directly relevant to us start in chapter 12, though we cannot really grasp them without understanding Genesis 1-11. The prologue has taught us where we came from and who put us here, the function of male and female, and the basic structure and purpose of the family. We have been introduced to the significant role of government in our lives, and the centrality of the worship of the true and living God. We have discovered how good was creation, and why such terrible evil now trespasses here. We know where the different languages and people groups came from and why we are scattered over the face of the earth. And we understand the cause of our conflicts, both between one another, and between us and God.
Additionally, God has introduced himself, showing us something of his power, judgment, goodness, kindness, law, grace, promises, and mercy.
And so ends our series, “The Beginning of….” But with Babel, the world lies in desperate ruin. No godly people appear, and no signs of holiness or sparks of revival can be seen. Humanism and false religions grip the world. Moses ends the preface with us anxiously asking, “What will happen to mankind?” God’s answer begins in Genesis 12 with Abraham.
Estimates of the population at this time range from 50 million to 500 million, and out of all humanity, God chooses to begin something new with Abram. From his descendants will come Israel; from Israel, the Messiah; from the Messiah, the church, those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Thus, Romans 4.11 says of Abram: “He is the father of all who believe.” This new beginning is critical because the way God deals with Abram is the pattern for how he deals with us. Abram is the type or pattern for every aspect of the life of faith.
Each point of the sermon tells something about God’s people. We could put in that place, Abram, or Israel, or the church. I chose, “God’s People” because that is the New Testament application of the life of Abram. So let us be filled with hope as the father of faith teaches us about redemption.
1. God’s People Are Chosen By Sovereign Election (Genesis 12.1a)
After Babel, we might expect God to look out from heaven and find a godly man, a seeker of the truth, a faithful worshipper. That is not the case. No one seeks God; no one is righteous, no one good. Later, Joshua even explains that Abram’s family were idolaters: “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods” (Joshua 24.2).