Genesis 12:1–4 is one of the most foundational passages in all the Bible:
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. So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…”
God’s global promise and command to Abraham was to “Go … and be a blessing.” Abraham needed to heed and obey. Abraham’s obedience to God’s call is certainly one of the most significant aspects of the Genesis 12 passage.
But consider this: Wouldn’t Abraham have understood God’s global promise—along with all the necessary sacrificial obedience—as more than just a command to obey? Wouldn’t Abraham also have understood this as amazing good news for himself?
The central promise to Abraham was, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal 3:8). Let’s emphasize what this would have meant to Abraham … “In you” … in YOU! … “shall all the nations be blessed.” There is immense honor (and therefore good news!) contained in God’s promise-command. That’s what I want to focus on here.
Let’s look at all eight honorific elements of God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3. Consider these astounding rewards:
- God will give Abraham a new land, ensuring a new source of land-based honor. This was to more-than-replace the loss of land upon leaving his “father’s house” and “country.”
- God will make of Abraham “a great nation,” ensuring that Abraham will have an heir with many descendants. This was to ensure that Abraham would never be forgotten, always remembered by his descendents, his lineage, his ‘forever family.’ This was of huge concern (see Gen 15:2).
- God “will bless” Abraham, promising that Abraham will enjoy God’s divine favor. This is God’s choice to freely choose Abraham as one who would share in God’s honor, and without any previous merits earned by Abraham; it was purely by grace.
- God will make Abraham’s “name great,” ensuring Abraham’s renown in the larger community. This shows God’s concern for Abraham’s reputation among his people, his region, and ultimately the whole world.
- God commands Abraham, “you will be a blessing,” promising him that he will acquire the honor of being a patron who will, in turn, bless many others. This shows God’s desire to share the honor of his global mission with people like Abraham.
- God will “bless those who bless” Abraham, ensuring Abraham’s favor in his community. This indicates God’s purpose in expanding his blessing and honor beyond Abraham’s kinship group to others who also bless Abraham.
- God will protect Abraham’s honor: “and him who dishonors you I will curse.” This shows God’s concern for protecting Abraham from the shaming and taunts of others—critical to the maintenance of one’s honor.
- God promises Abraham: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This establishes the magnificent extent of God’s blessing-through-Abraham’s-family, and hence, Abraham’s honor: IT WILL BE GLOBAL and ULTIMATELY KNOWN AMONG ALL KINSHIP GROUPS!
What did all this mean to Abraham? Yes, God required obedience from Abraham. But how can we miss the immense, lasting honor promised by God? How can we miss the staggering hope, the astounding good news this must have been to Abraham—not to mention the good news this represented for “all the families of the earth?”
IN FACT, it was such great good news, that some 2000 years later, the Apostle Paul actually says that “God … preached the gospel”—the good news!—to Abraham when he called Abraham to be a blessing to the nations:
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Gal 3:8)
The Bible says Abraham is the “father” of all followers of Jesus (Rom 4:16, Gal 3:29). Abraham is the forerunner of all who belong to God by grace and faith alone (Rom 4:13–16) through Jesus Christ. So what does this mean for the gospel and for mission?
- It means that God shares his honor with people who join with him in his purpose to bless the nations.
- It means that honor is at the core of blessing, and both honor and blessing are at the crux of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- It follows that if the gospel of Jesus is at the core of God’s Story—then honor and blessing are at the core of God’s revelation—from Genesis to Revelation.
- It means that being the bearer of good news—or that being part of the “family” or kinship group through whom the good news is delivered—is specially honored by God.
- It means that to be a part of God’s global purpose to bless all peoples is itself good news—because it is so saturated with honor and blessing for both giver and recipient.
- It implies that shame may be conquered when God gives to people his honor and blessing as they live on mission and share the gospel of Jesus.
- It means that the work of mobilizing others for the great task of blessing the nations through the gospel of Christ must have at its core both the duty of sacrificial obedience and the rewarding delight of great honor.
What do you think?
This post is partially excerpted from the forthcoming book, THE GLOBAL GOSPEL: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World. If you would like read or review the pre-published manuscript write to Werner Mischke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Christopher Wright summarizes Gen 12:1–3 as “Go … and be a blessing.” See Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 208.