God’s Universal Intent and God’s Particular Election of Abram
The biblical story temporarily narrows with the call of Abram. Genesis 1–11 are the stories of all humanity. They have an international focus. God created the world earth and crafted humans to spread across the globe and serve as God’s visible representative. In God’s creational vision, all people were the people of God. In Genesis 1–11, there is no Israel, but only people and ultimately nations (Genesis 10). The Scriptural story moves from the narrative of all creation to a plot that follows the destiny of a newly called people. It begins with Abram whose family will be the wellspring of a new missional people.
Let’s reflect more on two key aspects of God’s call on Abram: God’s universal intent for creation and God’s particular election.
First, verse 3 “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” is the interpretive key. This clause brings mission to the forefront. God’s purposes are much wider than merely calling Abram and his family to a new life and offering promises to him and his descendants. Rather Genesis 12:1-3 offers a clue that the Bible is ultimately the story of God’s working to bring salvation and wholeness to all creation. God calls Abram for the sake of all people. Abram’s family will serve as God’s agency to bring blessing to all peoples on earth. Just as humanity was crafted for participation in God’s mission at the time of Creation (see Gen 1:26-31), God’s recreated people are born anew to work toward the fulfillment of God’s creational purposes. In other words, Gen 12:1-3 serves as reengagement of humanity’s original mission, but with a twist. If the original mission involved humanity’s care and faithful stewardship over the created work, God has now recalibrated the mission to deal decisively with humanity’s foibles and sins. In the beginning God desired to have women and men, persons created in the imago de, fill the earth and serve as his visible representatives. As we saw, in Gen 11:1-9, God achieved the goal of filling the earth with people, but there was a problem. The lostness of men and women prevented them from manifesting a witness for God. Even worse the lostness of men and women required their redemption. God moves to save a lost humanity by beginning with Abram and his family.
Second, God chose to work through a called people. This raises the issue of particularity. Why didn’t God call multiple persons from all over the planet? The answer is that God’s plan drives to a singular conclusion—the sending of Jesus. The call of Abraham established a beachhead into a lost world into which God would send his Son. The call to be the people of God is a privilege, but it is not a call to a privileged life. God’s people exist for God’s mission. They were called to be the conduits of God’s blessing to the nations. Their calling was to serve rather than to be served. Thus Genesis 12¬–Malachi 4 focus mainly on the potential and pitfalls of living as God’s people in the world. These texts record the forward advance of God people in preparation for the incarnation of the Son. But as we will see, the nations remain part of the story. Sometimes they will serve as adversaries who pose a threat to God’s promises and mission (e.g., Egypt and Philistia); other times we will witness persons born outside of God’s people become core characters in the narrative of redemption (e.g., Rahab and Ruth). So yes in his wisdom God did indeed call one family out of all the families on earth, but he did so for the sake of the many.
Third, the call of Abram involves the creation of a new community. God commands Abram to unplug from his ties to culture, family, and kinship networks of Mesopotamia to strike out anew on his own. As discussed earlier, this is a separation not for privilege but for service/mission. It is also a means of God creating a new community. In Genesis 1, God created humanity last in order of created things (living and non-living). Humanity was crafted to serve as a missional community to reflect God’s character to and for the Creation. In an analogous way, God calls Abram and his family to live and serve as a new humanity. This communal aspect is vital. It is easy for us to view Abram’s call as a solitary one. Our Western individualism makes it easy to think of Abram as a lone hero figure. But from the beginning, Abram is not alone. Abram’s wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, and his many servants accompany Abram on the journey. At the beginning God created humanity for authentic relationships. This continues in the new humanity that God creates. In the popular imagination, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob function as heroic individuals, but at their core, these are family stories. The mission of God always advances through community. It is decisive for us in our day to hear the Scriptural testimony regarding the crucial role that community plays for the advancement of the Gospel.
Any reflections, questions, or critiques?
© 2010 Brian D. Russell