God Calls A People
Darrell Johnson, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Vancouver, has said that the Bible is divided into two halves: Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12 – Revelation 22. That may sound like a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is that something changes when we get to Genesis 12.
Genesis 1-11 shows us the endless cycle of sin into which humanity falls after the glorious beginning God invited us to enjoy. By the end of chapter 11 we’ve seen not only that sin is rampant, but that even when the world “starts over” with one “favoured” man (Noah) and his family, humanity is helpless. The disease of sin has worked its way deep into the heart of humanity, and no amount of effort or good will can undo its effects. In Genesis 11 we see the heart of the problem we first saw in Genesis 3: people are not satisfied unless we are the “gods” of our own lives. The building of the city in Babel was about “making our name great” instead of lifting up the name of the Lord (as we find, for example, in Psalm 8 – “O Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth” – and in the Lord’s Prayer – “Hallowed be Thy name). We need to be rescued from the pit we’ve dug for ourselves and in which we are now hopelessly stuck.
Genesis 12 comes as the breaking-in of God’s grace for fallen/broken humanity. God decided to do something wonderful for these creatures who have walked so far away from him. And just so we wouldn’t think that it was our own doing that rescued us, God called an obscure couple from Ur of the Chaldees (modern-day Iraq), an idol-worshiping culture, to be the deliverers of his blessing to the world.
God told Abram, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).
And so begins the story of God’s saving grace. God will act through one “people” to bring rescue for all the people.
God reaffirmed his promise again and again, even when it seemed like the promise would fail. When Abram and Sarah became senior citizens and were still without children, it looked like there was no way they would ever have a family that would be as many in number as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). But God did not fail Abram, and Abram trusted that God would be faithful to his promise (Hebrews 11:8-12). He may have wavered on occasion, but God never wavered. God was able to do what he said. And God brought this faithfulness to life in Abram. (See also Romans 4).
When we think about the story of Abram/Abraham, it reminds us that when we talk about faith we’re best to think less about our own actions (our “believing”) and more about God’s ability to fulfill what he says. When we talk to God, we are talking with someone who is faithful and who keeps his promises. We can trust God, so we can share with him all of our doubts and fears, knowing that he understands and will remain with us.
Slavery, Deliverance, and the Giving of the Law
After several generations, Abraham’s family grew to be quite a large group of people. The family was living in Egypt because of their need for food during a time of famine. But as time went on, the king (or Pharaoh) of Egypt, got nervous about their presence, and made them his slaves. Just as humanity as a whole had needed rescued since the beginning, now the people of Israel needed literal rescue from literal slavery in Egypt. They cried out to God for deliverance, and he heard their prayer s(Exodus 2:23-25).
When God decided to choose a leader to deliver his people, he chose – once again, as we will see this become God’s pattern – not the most likely candidate, but a hot-headed murderer named Moses who thought of himself as a poor public speaker. Was God bothered by Moses’ inadequacies? Of course not, because God would be the one acting through Moses.
God introduced himself to Moses with a personal name. (In our English Bibles, this name – Yahweh or Jehovah – is represented by the word LORD written in all capital letters.) Names are a huge part of our identity. We normally only use first names for people who have a relationship with us. God has shown himself to be very interested in having a personal relationship with humankind. He speaks his name, and addresses us by ours. The God who made the whole world knows our names and wants to talk with us. (Exodus 3)
Through Moses, God led the people out of Egypt. But again, just in case they thought they could manage to rescue themselves, God did the impossible: he parted the waters of the Red Sea so that his people could travel to the other side. (Exodus 14)
After God delivered/saved his people, he gave them the gift of the Law, or Torah. This Law is not to be thought of as a contract by which the people could earn God’s favour. This Law is something that describes the shape of the life of God’s people after he has first called them into relationship with him and saved/delivered them. God’s grace always comes first. Our actions do nothing to save us. But our actions are crucially important as our response to God.
Big Picture: The pattern of slavery and deliverance is one we will se again and again in Scripture, first here, then in the story of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, and finally in our deliverance from slavery to sin. This is one of the key metaphors through which we should understand both our condition and our salvation.