Seven bestowals of honor—when God called Abraham

Seven bestowals of honor

The Call of Abraham is found in Genesis 12:1–3. If we understand that blessing is an important way of bestowing honor in an honor-shame culture, then I contend that inside of this Call are seven bestowals of honor promised by God to Abraham.

First, let’s look at the verses:

1  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.

2  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.

3  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.”

What Abram did in response to God’s call was a tremendous risk, and constituted a huge counter-cultural act of boldness. Why? Because it violated the traditional way that men accrued and preserved their honor: kinship, land, and livestock. Despite this great risk, consider these seven honor-laden rewards that Abram (who became “Abraham”) would receive by believing God’s promise and acting in obedience:

  1. “to the land that I will show you”—God was promising Abraham that, although he was to leave the honor of his father’s land, Abraham would gain the honor of another land. This was made plain in later revelations from God that this “promised land” was to be the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:18–21, Gen. 17:8).
  2. “I will make of you a great nation”—this was God’s promise that, although Abraham had no son, had no heir, and therefore had none of the highly-prized honor that comes by having a son to carry on his name—Abraham would nevertheless, according to God’s promise, be the father of a great nation. Further promises from God revealed that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). God also said, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you” (Gen. 17:6). God’s promise to honor Abraham in this way is of inestimable value.
  3. “I will bless you”—this is God’s bestowal of divine favor on the man Abraham. In the economy of honor and shame, to be blessed by God Almighty (Gen. 17:1) constituted an enormous accrual of ascribed honor.
  4. “I will make your name great”—this was God’s promise that Abraham would gain a public reputation of great honor. Abraham would become a man of renown and glory in the “public square.”
  5. “so that you will be a blessing”—this is God’s promise that Abraham would become a benefactor. A man can only be a benefactor of blessing if he himself is a man of means; he must first himself be a person of wealth and honor if he is to be a means of blessing to others. God’s promise that Abram would “be a blessing” is another promise of honor.
  6. “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse”—this is God’s promise to pay close attention to the social, public dimension of Abraham’s relations. As blessing is to honor, so also is cursing to dishonor; this is a vivid acknowledgment by God of the public nature of honor and shame. God is guaranteeing that He will not allow Abraham to be shamed by his enemies. Again, this is an extremely valuable bestowal of honor from God to Abram.
  7. “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”—this is God’s way of explaining the extent of the honor which is to accrue to Abram’s account. God promises that Abram’s honor will not be limited to his own family, local community or region. God promises that Abraham will ultimately have the weighty influence that extends to all the families of the earth—a global significance, global renown.

Again, from the cultural perspective of honor and shame, God told Abram to abandon the traditional source of honor (in that culture it was a truly unthinkable act; this was a huge risk) … in exchange for the honor that God himself was able to give.

God is establishing a prototype in Abraham. He is demonstrating that people who follow God exchange their traditional source of honor for honor that comes from one eternal source—God himself. This honor cannot be revoked or lost; the honor is embedded in God Himself, and revealed in His blessings.

Consider the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22—in which Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son. This represents the climax of a lifestyle of risk which Abraham lives out by faith in covenantal relationship with God—and which, in the end, is commensurate with the immense honor, inexpressible in value, granted him by God.

Would Abraham have taken such enormous risks had it not been for the utterly astounding set of promises made by God that Abraham would gain immeasurable honor from both God Himself and from the nations?

“Top-line, bottom-line” or “Glorious honor from top to bottom”?

The Call of Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3 is sometimes seen through the lens known as “top-line, bottom-line.” Proponents of this “top-line, bottom-line” view say that God gives to us his blessings (top-line); therefore, believers have an obligation, a responsibility, a duty—to share those blessings with the nations (bottom-line). We are blessed to be a blessing, as the popular missions song goes.

While the Call of Abraham covenant may be seen in this light (for, indeed, we do have an awesome responsibility!) I wonder whether this may be primarily a Western cultural reading of the passage. Could it be that the seven-fold bestowal of honor to Abraham suggests that there is no “top-line, bottom line” separation in the way that Abraham would have received and understood the promise? Could it be that every aspect of the covenant, including the responsibility to bless others—was an expression of great honor bestowed by God upon Abraham, and therefore an enormous, glorious delight?

I contend that from top to bottom, from beginning to end of the passage of Genesis 12:1–3, for Abraham to be included in God’s global purpose was an astounding honor. God’s promise/command that Abram would “be a blessing” is not just a delegation of duty; it is another facet of the magnificent diamond of honor by which Abraham would himself (through his descendants) become a most-honored benefactor to the nations. This is an extension of the divine patronage that originates in Almighty God himself—the ultimate Patron—for whose glory the universe was made.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29 ESV). We are Abraham’s offspring as followers of Christ! It follows that, in the spirit of God’s promise to Abraham, we as Great Commission Christians should embrace the sacrificial responsibility—as well as the eternal magnificent honor—of declaring his glory to the nations.

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  1. [...] The story of Abraham is a story of a wealthy man who is called by God to leave the very source of honor...

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