From the interconnected mirror stories of humanity’s half-measure attempts to shortcut their way to the purposes of God, Genesis 12 shows God doing a radically new thing with the failing Creation. From among the whole earth, now filled with corrupt societies not doing a very good job of caring for God’s Creation, God singles out one particular family, a new human pair, to be a channel of the original Edenic blessing. God’s promise of land to Abraham tangibly exemplifies this blessing. The command to Adam and Eve becomes a promise to Abraham and Sarah. A new method of grace is established to get the human project back on track.
Though the land is the primary object of promise, this is a two-stage process. God’s provision of land to the Israelites functions as an advanced sign of the ultimate purpose, which is the extension of the Garden of Eden throughout the whole world, to all humanity, in the New Creation.
Abraham’s response to this promise is instructive. The passage states that it was ‘reckoned to him as Righteousness.’ Often, readers interpret this phrase along the lines of Abraham’s faithfulness. In reality, Abraham is rarely a prime example of faithfulness. To reckon something as ‘righteousness’ in the ancient world means to declare its proper ordering. This statement clarifies God’s promise of the land is part of and a sign of the rightly ordered Creation.
The covenantal promise in Chapter 15 comes with twin guarantees of offspring and oppression. How should we reconcile that? How would Abraham have reconciled that? God seems to indicate everything will be taken care of, but the people must go through a time of darkness. Crucially, God’s presence will remain with the people during this time.
Question: What ways can you reconcile the positive and negative aspects of God’s promise to Abraham and the Israelites? What can the paradox in this promise teach us about the character of God? How does this paradox show up in your own life?
Practice Prompt: Spend time in prayer, reflecting on God’s covenant as an extension from Eden to the New Creation.