Genesis 12: Abram, His Call to Land and Motivating Promises

Genesis 1-11 is the foundation upon which all the rest of Scripture is built upon. All the motifs that are developed later throughout the Bible begin here in embryonic form. Likewise, the calling of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 cannot be understood apart from the Primeval History. Let’s take a look at these verses and observe the motifs and the structure. The call begins with a command for Abram to leave the land of his fathers and go to the land which God will show him. This is followed by a series of promises:

God will make him a great nation and bless him
God will make his name great
MIDPOINT —> Be a blessing (imperative of consequence)
All men will receive blessing or curse depending on their relation to Abram
All nations will be blessed, or “bless themselves,” in his name

The call concludes with verses 4-9 where Abram obeys the command to go to the land, comes to Shechem, and there God appears to him and promises this land to his descendents.

The whole idea of land brackets this initial call. In the context of the Primeval History, to be called out of Babylonia (of which Ur was considered a part) and its false tower that counterfeits Eden to a land of God’s provision must be understood theologically; God was calling a man back to Eden. The promises support this fact. That Abraham is to become a nation not only is to seen in contrast to the table of nations in Gen. 10, but that he is the fountainhead, and as such, is a “first man” like Adam and Noah. God will bless him as He blessed creation, but specifically like Adam and Noah who were to multiply throughout the earth. God will make Abram’s name great. This means that he will gain by God’s gift and promise what the Nephilim in Gen. 6:4 and the Babylonians in Gen 11:4 sought by their own might. As the new “first man” and fountainhead of a new humanity, those nations who are receptive to Abram and his God will be blessed, and those who are not will be cursed. We see in the final promise that all nations will one day be blessed through Abram. This promise must be understood in context of the cultural mandate given to both Adam and Noah to fill the earth, and in contrast to Babel’s fear of being “scattered” (Gen. 11:4).

The promise text has two parts to it with a midpoint. The first part has to do with personal promises given to Abram as an individual. God motivates Abram by making promises tailor-made for him in his historical and cultural context. Then there is a phrase often translated “… and you will be a blessing,” but is perhaps better to be understood as an imperative of consequence” (“be a blessing!”). This fits well with the second set of promises that have to do with the world-wide blessing. On the basis of personal promises, Abram is to live out this blessing so that he becomes a channel of blessing to the nations. God summons Abram out of the chaos of fallen humanity armed with a charter of blessing (so W. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, p. 64), the blueprint for the new Holy of Holies in the promised land from which blessing is to spread to the whole world.

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