What will God do now? That’s the question swimming in our heads when we get to the end of Genesis chapter 11. In eleven brilliantly constructed chapters the writer of Genesis sums up the human predicament: created to construct communities of faith, justice, generosity and grace as we multiply and fill God’s earth, we instead create communities of faithlessness, injustice, greed and violence. We see this first in the story of Adam and Eve, then in the story of their sons Cain and Abel, then in the story of the great flood. Humanity goes from bad to worse, leading God to wipe all bar one family from the earth and begin again. The creation mandates are renewed and we are filled with hope that this time we might get it right. But no, the very next story is the tower of Babel, revealing we have not learned a thing.
And so we’re left wondering. What will God do? The creatures he designed to bear his image, to shape the world after his character, to rule over the earth and its creatures, prove to be willfully dysfunctional. Will God abort the experiment? Will God punish even more harshly? Will God walk away and leave us to our own devices?
In chapter 12 we get an astonishing answer: God will bless. Starting with one person and his family God will bless them and through them bring blessing to all peoples.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
This promise forms the framework for the rest of the book of Genesis. Where chapters 1-11 covered many generations and thousands of years, Gen 12-50 focuses on just one family, Abraham’s. We hear the story of Abraham, his son Isaac, grandson Jacob and great grandson Joseph. The family proves to be highly dysfunctional – these pages are filled with weak decisions, in-fighting, deception, hatred, envy, betrayals and violence. But despite this God is determined to bless.
And so each chapter does one of three things: restates the promise; shows the promise is threatened; shows the promise fulfilled.
For example, no sooner has Abram received the promise than he finds himself in Egypt where Pharaoh, believing Sarah to be Abram’s sister takes her into his harem. Here Pharaoh’s desire and A ram’s weakness threaten the promise, but God warns Pharaoh and keeps hope alive.
Or take the story of Joseph. A young braggard who repeatedly humiliates his brothers, he becomes a source of blessing to those with whom he comes into contact – first Potiphar and then Pharaoh. Ultimately his rise to the prime ministership of Egypt saves his family from dying during a sustained famine. Had this occurred, the promise to bring blessing through Abram’s descendants would have been ended.
What is God saying to us in this story? I believe there are two important learning.
First, we discover that God’s orientation to us and our world is to bless. Our God is neither an angry God nor indifferent to us. No, Genesis 12-50 reveals a God who cares deeply and is determined to restore us to right relationships with himself, each other and the earth.
Second, we discover that God is at work to weave blessing in us and through us despite our frailties and dysfunction.
Take time to reflect on these two applications of the biblical story line. Which do you need to hear