Mission and Abraham

God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-2 are hugely significant verses in the history of the world, and in the story of the Bible. D.J.A. Clines famously demonstrated how they constituted the unifying theme to the whole Pentateuch (The Theme of the Pentateuch) and, actually, they have a much wider significance than that. Stephen Dempster (Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible) shows how God’s promises to Abraham are developed throughout the Old Testament, and point forward to Jesus Christ. It’s easy (and amazing!) to see the significance of this in terms of Jesus as the fulfilment of the Messianic hope, and see how Abraham’s promises are fulfilled in Romans 4. One aspect of the promise to Abraham I haven’t thought so much about, though, is that of blessing to the nations.

It’ve often found it easy to think that it is only with Jesus and the New Testament that God becomes interested in saving people outside of ethnic Israel. Not so. While Jesus’ death makes the inclusion of both Jew and Gentile in one new people possible (Ephesians 2:11-22), God has always intended to save people from every tongue, tribe and nation. This snippet makes the point perfectly:

…in Genesis 12:1-3 we also see the flowering of world missions. “In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” It is not only that Abraham is blessed, but that he is blessed in order to be a blessing to the nations. Joe Novenson says, “When God made his covenant promises with Abraham, Abraham went from being a guest on this planet, to a host.” Abraham had been a guest here until by grace he had been brought into God’s redemptive plan. Afterward, no longer a guest, it was his role to be a blessing, just as a host is to be a blessing to his guest. Now he is a blessing to all the guests on this planet … Here is Abraham going from being a guest to a host, and now his job is to be a blessing to the nations. This is the foundation of world missions right here. You don’t have to wait until Matthew 28:18-20.

(J. Ligon Duncan, “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament”, in Preaching the Cross, pp.53-54.)

Isn’t that great?


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