“Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1-3…6 — The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you….” Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 22:17a — (The Lord to Abraham) “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”
Romans 4:16 — Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring– not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
Romans 4:23-24 — The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
Arabs and Jews have been having a major disagreement about who has a right to live on a narrow strip of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Ever since 1948 when the United Nations set aside that land for the Jews, many Arabs have been attempting to eliminate the Jews from that part of the globe. The Palestinians say, “You can’t just give them that land. We were here first; long before 1948.” But the Jews say, “No, we were here first. In fact, God gave this land to our ancestor Abram, later called Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago.” They point Genesis chapter 12:1-3 where God himself said to Abraham, “Go to the land that I will show you,” and God led him to the land that is now Israel. But Arabs say, “Not so fast. Abraham is our ancestor too. We are descended from his other son, Ishmael, who also got a piece of land way back then (Genesis 17:19-21).” And then many Christians (not all) say, “You are both wrong. God’s promise to Abraham no longer has anything at all to do with property rights, but now has to do with something much bigger. God’s promise was extended to all the people of the world through Abraham’s descendant Jesus Christ, who was the fulfillment of what was promised in verse three where it says, ‘all the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.'”
Three of the five great religions of the world trace their ancestry back to this man Abraham and the call of God to him in Genesis 12. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe in one God, the God who called Abraham to leave his country and his people and his father’s household and go to a new land. After that, there are many significant differences between those religions, the most important having to do with what each says about Jesus Christ, “The way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). But all three start here, with this story, and the one God, who calls the one man, Abram.
I cannot here even begin to deal with this whole story and all it means. And, I will not get into the question of who has the divine right to the land. That, after all, is more of a Jewish and Muslim concern. Christians are not very interested in that, because we read the story of Abraham through the lens of the New Testament. Paul said in Galatians 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant,” and, “those who have faith are the children of Abraham and are blessed along with him.” The descendants of Abraham are now spiritual descendants and not by nationality, said Paul (himself a Jew). And Jesus himself renewed and revised the promise made to Abraham. In Genesis 12:3 God said to Abraham, “All the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.” In Matthew 28 Jesus said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and I will be with you always, to the very end to the age.” Christians aren’t as interested in deciding the short term questions on the inheritance of these property rights in the Holy Land. We are more interested in Jesus and his promise of the inheritance of eternal life in heaven for all who hear and believe the Gospel.
There is a clear progression in the call of God to Abraham in Genesis 12. It begins with a specific call of God to one man to leave his homeland and move to a new place. Then the Lord begins talking about blessing other people– first, a whole nation that would descend from Abraham, and then, how that blessing would be extended to the whole world. Even way back then it seems to be about much more than property rights. This is not only a call to a new land, but primarily a call to a new faith– faith in a promise that Christians believe was fulfilled Jesus Christ.
Ever since the day that God called Abraham, that call to faith has been reaching outward around the world and down through the generations. In the 8th century it reached my ancestors in what is now Germany. Forty-five years ago it reached my friend Adamou in the middle of Africa, one of Abraham’s descendants, now ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky.’ (continued…)
Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us. Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord. Amen.
–Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45