Torah Portion for week 3: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Lech Lecha (Go forth, yourself!)
The Torah portion before us is of utmost importance – it clarifies the purpose and calling of Israel, a topic of epic significance for understanding God’s plan for all of humanity, for all eternity. We’ll look at the first four verses of Genesis 12 which detail God’s call to Abram. But first, in order to appreciate Genesis 12, we must follow the course of the human condition in Genesis 1-11 as background.
Scripture begins in Genesis 1-2 where we see the human condition as things are supposed to be. Adam and Eve are in perfect fellowship with God, one another, and creation. In Genesis 3 sin enters, and the human condition is corrupted; the results are separation from God, struggles in human relationships, and the need to toil for survival. In the following chapters it gets worse! Genesis 4 tells of the first murder; Genesis 6-9, the flood. The human condition gets so corrupt that God sends the flood to destroy humanity, and only eight survive – the righteous Noah and his family. We would expect things to get better after that, but things get bad again.
The negative anti-climax is found in Genesis 11, where all the peoples of the earth gather for an unholy purpose: “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves’” (Gen 11:4, emphasis added). The people in Babel express what so many people have said ever since, “We don’t want to give an account to our Creator. We want to get the glory ourselves.” God responds by directly interfering in human history and mixing the languages of the people.
Note that until this point all the peoples of the earth speak the same language. With new languages come new barriers between humans – separate languages create separate people groups and separate nations! So at the end of Genesis 11, the human condition is worse than ever – separated from God, separated from creation, and separated into people groups. For the first time since creation, there are nations. At this point, God’s plan for the salvation of humanity seems unattainable. But God is the God of the impossible, and in this new reality of separate nations, God creates his nation – to bring hope to all other nations. That is the context in which God calls Abram and creates Israel.
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. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)
Against human logic, God chooses a 75-year-old man who has a barren wife and an idolatrous father to be his chosen vessel. As is the case with all of us, God chooses an unworthy vessel for his purposes.
God appears to Abram and tells him to leave everything he knows, and follow him. Where? God does not specify at this point, he only says “to the land which I will show you.” God makes three foundational promises to Abram. (1) He promises a seed, “I will make you a great nation” – childless Abram will become a father of a great family, and indeed a multitude of nations. (2) He promises a land, “the land that I will show you.” (3) He promises blessing; this most significant point of God’s promise has two aspects. First, divine protection: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse” – this promise is the only reason the Jewish people exist today. Second, blessings to all nations: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This is the essence of God’s calling of Abraham, and through him, the nation of Israel: to bring the knowledge and blessing of God to all humanity. Through Israel the world received the Holy Scriptures – the written word of God – and ultimately, the Messiah Yeshua – the living word of God, who, clothed in flesh and blood, fulfilled the Law so that every person who believes in him can come to God cleansed from sin and free!