First Mennonite Church
February 7, 2021
Blessed to Become a Blessing
Beginning in chapter 12, the book of Genesis narrows its focus. The book begins with the creation story, which, of course, encompasses the entire universe, from the farthest galaxy to the tiniest crawling critter on earth. Chapter 11 closes by showing the extent of sin and the sinful nature of the human race. God’s purpose for creating Adam and Eve—the human race, as his crown creation, failed to give God the glory and to honor the image of God engraved in them.
Chapter 12, therefore, becomes the turning point. Through Abraham and Sarah the Lord God would begin a new project. Out of all people, God turned to Abram. God called and made promises to Abram, simultaneously. It is important to note that the call demanded three increasing degrees of detachment on the part of Abram, but God also made three corollary promises to Abram. This is important to take notice of.
In the last verses of chapter 11, we find Abram, Sarai, and Lot in the land of Haran. There, God commanded Abram 1) “Go from your country, 2) from your people, 3) from your father’s household, to a land that I will show you.” God’s command to leave increased in intensity and depth of the detachment Abram had to do. Haran was home to Abram. Abram was not only familiar with the culture, but most likely had also become acculturated to Haran’s pace of life and had fully acquired the know-hows to make a living in that city. Implicit in leaving the locale was that Abram would also have to leave behind neighbors, familiar faces, comfort, and to abandon all the connections he had forged along his years of living in Haran. Abram had to leave everything that was familiar to him. But the toughest detachment yet, was that Abram had to leave his father’s household. We with our Western understanding of family might not readily grasp the implication of his command. The father’s household, the bet’ab, was not only a place, but also an identity marker to those who belong to it. The father’s household was where a clan’s resources were, where sustenance, security, and identity were found. Members of the household were identified by the title, “So and so,” of the house of a patriarch. Therefore, for Abram to leave his father’s household meant that he would need to abandon his source of sustenance. Therefore, if a drought or other natural calamity were to befall him, he would have no source of provision for himself and his immediate family. Leaving his father’s household meant that if Abram would come under attack from robbers or enemies, he would not have the clan’s defense. It meant that all the resources for farming, the tools for building, and the security of the clan would not be available to him. But most of all, to abandon his father’s household meant that Abram would become a “nobody” and a stranger to the world, because he would have no connections to identify him.
Through these three levels of detachment, Abram was called to rely entirely on the one who was calling him. It was a call to trust the Lord God entirely the moment he gave the first step out of Haran. The New Testament writer of the Letter to the Hebrews captures it beautifully: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:8–9).
Abram traded the known for the unknown, the familiar for all that was strange, and security for helplessness. However, the call to leave everything was matched with three main promises, each with an extended or “bonus” promise.
These three main promises and their extending promises were dependent on Abram’s obedience to the call. And here they are:
- I will make you into a great nation,
Bonus promise: and I will bless you;
- I will make your name great,
Bonus promise: and you will be a blessing.
- I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
Bonus promise: and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
The promise of a great nation to Abram, should, in the first place, begin by his and Sarai’s having children, which unfortunately they did not have a single one. Abram and Sarai might have not had the knowledge of about the biology of the human reproduction as we have today, but they certainly knew that their childbearing years were long past. They knew, what we call in our vernacular, that they were no longer “spring chicken” anymore. Again, as the New Testament author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “They were good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12). But, despite of that, Abram believed that God had the power to perform what He had promised, as Paul would say in Romans. Abram believed in the God who “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17, 21). That is to say, Abraham moved beyond his fear of powerlessness to faith that God could, quite literally, make something out of nothing. After a few false starts and stumblings, Isaac, the son of promise, was born.
Abraham became great in the land. His reputation, as a God-fearing man and as a man of great wealth, always preceded him everywhere he went. Abraham’s descendants grew in numbers, but the greatest reach of the blessing of Abraham came through Jesus.
I should note here that roughly about half of the world’s population claims Abraham as one of their spiritual ancestors. Jews, Muslim and Christian see Abraham as major figure in the religious beliefs.
But besides the main promises given to Abram, the corollary or “bonus” blessings, if you will, to these main promises are very important for us to take notice of. The first is that God would bless Abram. There is ample examples of how God blessed Abraham throughout his journey. Despite putting his wife, Sarah, in danger, God protected her and everything worked out well for the couple. Despite Lot’s choosing the best grazing land, Abraham’s livestock was prolific and plentiful. Despite the many times famine came upon where Abraham or his descendant were living in, God provided them and their households with food.
The second bonus promise is: you will be a blessing. Abraham did become a blessing, maybe even more so after his lifetime. Paul interprets this promise when he writes to the Galatians: Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9). We are heirs of the blessing God promised Abraham. Therefore, the promise that all the families on the earth will be blessed in Abraham was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus.
The story of Abram, who later God changed his name to Abraham, is a story of a journey of faith. The promised blessings only became a reality when Abraham walked in obedient faith. God went by fulfilling his promises as Abraham went about walking in faith. Abraham not only enjoyed the blessings, but he also became a blessing to the world.
Genesis 12, verses one to nine is the God’s call to those who are children of Abraham even today. The Christian life is a journey of faith, in which we have been called to leave behind all that is known; to relinquish all our comforts and securities, to follow God with closed eyes. The journey may be long, sometimes much longer than one may have thought. It is a journey with many ups and downs, many joys and sorrows. But it is journey filled with many, many promises — the most important being the promise of God’s presence to show us the way.
As a congregation, as are many others this time around, we are at a juncture. Covid-19 has forced us to leave behind many things that were familiar to us. I know time will come, and I hope it comes soon, that we will be able to gather in this sanctuary once again. However, what it is we should leave behind for good? Will we cherish the joy of being able to be in the company of our fellow brethren? Will we rejoice in the grace of God for surviving the pandemic and dedicate our lives to the service of the Lord with steadfastness? Or will we go back to the old patterns of taking for granted the opportunity of gathering before the Lord?
Abraham was promised many blessings and was also given the privilege to become a blessing to all the families on earth. His obedience to God was rewarded. God blessed Abraham. But God also made Abraham a blessing to the world. How is our obedience to God’s call? In what ways have we enjoyed the blessings of the Lord? And equally important, how are we a blessing to our world?
Let us ask the Lord every day to help us to stay on the journey of faith. The promise will be fulfill as we move forward towards where the Lord is sending us. We will also become a blessing to others in the measure, that is, to the extent we keep moving forward towards the place where God is sending us to. God’s bonus promises clearly apply to Abraham’s children, which are you and me.
I will bless you and you will become a blessing and in you, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.
Let me close with the words of the apostle Peter:
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1Peter 3:8-9) Amen!