Missional Hermeneutic – Old Testament 1

We’re going to dive back into the look at missional hermeneutics. Again, we’re reading the Bible through the lens of the missio Dei (mission of God). This mission informs all Scripture and is the purpose of the creation of the People of God.

Today, we’ll look at the creation of the People of God, when God called Abraham in Genesis 12.The story of God’s work in the world does not begin with Genesis 12. From the beginning of creation, God clearly cares for the whole of the created order (Kaiser 15). The stories found within the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis are, indeed, stories of and for the world. Yet, it is through the promises to Abram and his people that Yahweh will make right all of the wrongs of Genesis 1-11. It is through Abram and Sarai that the curse of the Fall and the folly of the tower of Babel will be redeemed (“The Christian and Other Religions” 5).

While the promise of land receives most of the attention in this passage, the land is not the central purpose of the promise. In fact, it appears that 12:1 simply establishes a locale for the fulfillment of 12:2-3 (Okoye 45). It is also interesting to note that there was no specific location given for Abram to settle.

The seven Hebrew clauses of 12:2-3, then, hold the meat of the promise. In these seven clauses, the writer of Genesis uses a form of ךרב (bless) five times (Kim 74). Clearly, God intends blessing to be the dominant theme of the pericope. However, looking closely at who is giving blessing and who is receiving blessing allows us to glean important information. Yahweh is clearly the subject of the action in the passage. It is Yahweh’s prerogative to bless Abraham, those who bless Abraham, and “all the families of the earth” through Abraham. Yahweh is the principle actor in the passage. This business of blessing belongs to Yahweh.

Still, the passage begins with an imperative from Yahweh to Abram. While the blessing belongs to God, Abram’s response and obedience is important. The promise appears to be a series of three interdependent actions. The first is the imperative for Abram to “go.” The second is Yahweh’s blessing toward Abram. The third action is the blessings (and curses) for others. The connectedness of these actions points to their interdependence. Failure at any point threatens the entire thread, showing an “implied conditionality” (The Mission of God 206). This is, in fact, the basis of covenant.

As we look deeper into the second action (12:2), we see that even the promises toward Abram include expectation of response. Four clauses make up the second action. The first three clauses include imperfect verbs. Another imperative drives the final clause. Therefore, the first three clauses show what Yahweh will do for Abram. The promises are for “a great nation,” for Yahweh to “bless” Abram, and “to make [Abram’s] name great.” When Abram completes the imperative to “go” (12:1), all of these promises will be accomplished.

In the final clause of 12:2, the verb הכרב היהו is presented in the imperative. Christopher J. H. Wright translates the clause simply as “And be a blessing.” He suggests that this second imperative within 12:1-3 begins a new group of clauses, so that the imperatives “go” and “be a blessing” become the focal point of the passage (The Mission of God 200-201). Most Bible translations and other scholars, however, suggest a different translation. The imperative in 12:2 follows a cohortative verb. In that situation, Hebrew rules would favor a translation of הכרב היהו as an intention rather than a direct imperative (Kim 80). Therefore, the NRSV contains this translation, “so that you will be a blessing.”

Whether taken as a direct imperative, as Wright suggests, or as an intention, there is no sense that Abram has a passive role in this promise. First, Yahweh tells him to “go” (12:1). Then, Yahweh states an expectation that Abram would “be a blessing” (12:2). These two imperatives form an expectation for Abraham and his people. The great Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12 includes God presenting expectations of Abraham on two fronts. On the one hand, Yahweh expects Abram to be obedient to Yahweh’s direction. On the other hand, Yahweh expects actions and attitudes from Abraham that will make Abraham a blessing. Further, there is a suggestion that the latter will be accomplished through the former, implying conditionality.

Looking at God’s covenant with Abraham from a mission perspective, then, three observations arise. First, the mission belongs to God. Yahweh desired blessings for all nations. Yahweh chose Abram and Sarai. Yahweh approached Abram. Yahweh initiated the covenant. A second observation is that the role of Abraham and his people is to follow the direction of Yahweh. Finally, Genesis 12 clearly communicates that Yahweh did not regard other nations to be threats or opponents to him or his people. Instead, Yahweh desired blessing for all nations. Or, as Wright says, “The election of Israel, therefore, does not imply the rejection of the rest of humanity, but is set in close context with the prospect and promise of blessing for the nations through Israel” (“The Christian and Other Religions” 5).

Not only was this the purpose of Abraham in times before written history, it is the pupose of the God’s people in the 21st century.