The calling of Abraham in Genesis 12 is an important turning point in the narrative of scripture. Sin has distorted God’s good creation and from Genesis 3-11 the chaos of sin continues to mount. The main question becomes, how will God respond to sin. The answer comes in the call of Abraham in chapter 12. God calls Abraham to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house and go to the land that God will show him. In return for Abraham’s faithfulness, God promises multiple blessings: to make his name great and give him great descendants, to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and to bless all families on earth through Abraham. Abraham shows great faith in God, believing in faith that God’s promises will come true. Abraham’s faith is credited as righteousness and becomes a sign that Paul will later use to talk about being saved by faith. Abraham’s story will proceed with God making similar promises to Abraham later, as well as to Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4-5; 28:14).
Blessing appears to be the key word in these texts – a word that not only describes the life of Abraham but his descendants as well. God uses the word bless or blessing five times in the first three verses of Abraham’s call. In Genesis 3-11 the word curse appears five different times in response to sin. Each of these times that the word curse has been used, it has meant a loss of freedom and a separation from God. Sin has had damaging consequences. Yet in Abraham God is going to reverse the effects of sin; from the curse. Instead of a curse, God is going to bless. In and through Abraham, God is working to reverse the effects of sin. And Abraham is invited into this life. God is going to bless the rest of the world through Abraham and his family, but also Abraham is called to take an active role in God’s mission, joining God in God’s mission to be a blessing. There are times when Abraham is more faithful in this calling than others, but still Abraham is invited to join God’s mission
Because blessing is such an important word in Genesis 12 its important to think through what blessing might mean. Richard Bauckman in his book Bible and Mission states, “Blessing in the Bible refers to God’s characteristically generous and abundant giving of all good to his creatures and his continual renewal of the abundance of created life. Blessing is God’s provision for human flourishing. But it is also relational: to be blessed by God is not only to know God’s good gifts but to know God himself in his generous giving.” In this sense, blessing is what allows good life to happen. This truth is visible in the covenant blessings and curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. If Israel will obey God, God will bless them and life will function in the most ideal ways possible. Blessing is a gift from God to make life better.
Up to this point in Genesis, blessing has always been tied to God’s act of creation. In Genesis 1, God blesses on the fifth, sixth, and seventh days as ways of helping life flourish. It is God’s way of saying I have created you now live into all that you were made to be. Later, in Genesis 9:1, as Noah comes off the ark, God blesses Noah and repeats the same command to Noah that was given to humanity in chapter 1: be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Again, the idea of blessing is tied to the act of creation; God is trying to propel the creation into abundant life. In chapter 12, blessing gets tied to redemption. Blessing is still designed to have abundant life, or the greatest life imaginable, but it is also a way of being restored to relationship with God. Through Abraham, God is hoping that the entire world will find abundant life and will flourish, but that ultimate flourishing can only be found in a restored relationship with the Creator. Redemption leads to new creation.
Blessing has become an important word in churches today as Christians consider their calling to their neighbors. Just like Abraham, the church is called to be a blessing to others. Often this idea of blessing is then translated into service projects that a church can perform for others. While service projects are always nice, the idea of being a blessing is not just about doing good things for others; Abraham is not just called to make life better for others, but to help point them back to life with God. Being a blessing is not just helping your neighbor mow the lawn or giving school supplies to children, although these are great acts. Blessing is helping those we come into contact with lead abundant life. Blessing is enabling others to obtain their full potential. Blessing is inviting others to share in what God has done for you. Jesus once said that he has come that others may have life; and have it abundantly. Our calling is the same. We are called to be a blessing to others. To do whatever we can to help them experience abundant life. To participate with God in blessing the nations. This may not be a simple answer, but we must find ways to creatively point others to abundant life in God. To help others find what is most important.