Weekly Bible Reading Reflection (Week 2): Genesis 12

Abraham: Covenant Introduction

Abraham is probably the most important figure in the Old Testament. You could make a case for Moses, but even Moses was raised up because “God remembered his Covenant with Abraham.”[1] Both Paul and James use the life of Abraham to illustrate the (different) points they make in their books. Paul shows how Abraham’s life teaches us that a person is declared righteous before God by faith alone. James shows how Abraham’s life teaches us that the faith which justifies is never alone, but is always accompanied by good works. Paul calls Abraham “the father of us all,”[2] “the man of faith,”[3] and he says that those who have faith in Christ “are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”[4]


This week we finally arrive at the account of Abraham in the book of Genesis, and Abraham’s significance will soon be obvious to us. First, we see how Abraham is a pivotal figure in the same way that Noah was. In ten generations, from Adam to Noah, humanity got so bad that God destroyed the earth, yet he raised up Noah so that his promise made in the Garden in Genesis 3:15 would be fulfilled. In another 10 generations, from Noah to Abraham, humanity has already gone back to worshipping other gods, openly rebelling against the one true God. So God raised up Abraham in order, once again, to keep his promise that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.[5] Then just look at how much space Abraham occupies in the biblical text. Adam is in the biblical narrative for around four chapters. Cain and Abel are there for one chapter. Noah is there for about four chapters. Abraham will be with us for roughly fourteen chapters.


John Scott Redd argues that the account of Abraham “is developed over the course of four major beats: covenant introduction (Gen. 12), covenant ratification (Gen. 15), covenant amendment (Gen. 17), and covenant confirmation (Gen. 22). By understanding these discrete beats and their relationship to each other, we can develop a better understanding of the Abrahamic covenant’s individual elements, how the covenant is received by its later biblical interpreters, as well as its meaning in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[6] So, today we begin the account of Abraham in Genesis 12. We will reach the final confirmation of the covenant with Abraham next Saturday in Genesis 22. Because Abraham is so important to the Bible as a whole, I’d like to take the time to walk through each of these “four beats” as we encounter them.


Covenant Introduction: The Context

As we’ve read through Genesis 4-11, have you noticed how “hands off” God has been? Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen him intervene in judgment in Genesis 4, Genesis 6-7, and Genesis 11. We’ve even seen him making a covenant with Noah in Genesis 8-9. But we’ve not seen God step in and act so as to solve the problem of human sin. The Covenant with Noah was more or less a renewal of the Covenant established in Genesis 3:15. Once the Covenant is made, humanity, in fact Noah in particular, falls back into their old ways. After the Noahic Covenant of Genesis 9, there is exactly one chapter (filled with genealogies) of tranquility before all humanity rebels against God in the tower of Babel. Richard Belcher notes that the call of Abraham comes directly after the account of the tower of Babel. “Babel expressed total confidence in human achievement apart from God. This is the logical end of Genesis 4-11 which is an account of human failure and the continuing problem of sin. The call of Abram is God’s response to the growth of sin because through Abram and his descendants God will bless the nations and restore creation.”[7]


Clearly, left to its own devices, humanity will choose sin. Noah’s descendants, in his own lifetime, were worshipping other gods. The curse of sin was so devastating to humanity that those who were rescued by God himself were still alive, yet their grandchildren and great-grandchildren were sacrificing to idols. From our perspective as Reformed Christians, this makes perfect sense, believe it or not. This is what our doctrine of Total Depravity would expect. As Kevin DeYoung says, “We are born with a warped nature, tainted with an inherent and inherited corruption from conception on…Our fundamental problem is not bad parents, bad schools, bad friends, or bad circumstances. Our fundamental problem is a bad heart.”[8] Adam’s actions in the Garden rendered humanity in need of re-creation. And so, God called Abram.


Covenant Introduction: The Call

The first thing we note in the call is how direct it is. God isn’t asking. He’s commanding.[9] He says, “Go from your country and from your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” There’s no, “Hi, I’m God. I know you think that the idols at the temple in downtown Ur are gods, but let me give you an argument from the design present in nature to show you that actually I created all things…Occam’s razor would clearly indicate that the simplest explanation is always best, so the preponderance of the evidence would lead you to conclude that the greatest probability is that there is one God rather than many…” There is none of that. There is simply God commanding, on his own authority, for Abram to go. Abram didn’t worship this God. Abram had never heard of this God. Yet he believed the Word of God when it came to him. That’s why Hebrews 11:8 says that Abraham obeyed by faith. It’s worth asking ourselves if our faith looks like Abraham’s faith. Faith does not require perfection, but Scripture does teach that faith will produce obedience.


The second thing we notice are the promises attached to Abram’s call. God tells him, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So we have a new nation, set apart as holy to the Lord, through which all creation will be blessed. As John Scott Redd says, “This new family line will become the nexus of the divine blessing in the world, not only for Abram’s descendants but for all who bless them in the world (12:3). The global scope of this blessing echoes the creation mandate to ‘fill the earth’ (1:28; 9:1).”[10] In Galatians 3:7-14, Paul argues that this blessing to the nations is through Jesus Christ. In Genesis 12:2-3, God is promising Abram that the Messiah would come through the nation that God would establish through him. God has just given Abraham the promise of the gospel.


Covenant Introduction: The Education

Genesis 12 closes with God teaching Abram. Abram needed to learn who God is. He had come from a culture of tribal deities, each with their own territories and spheres of sovereignty. So, when God told Abraham to go to Canaan, he went. When he arrived, he worshipped God. And as long as he was in the land of Canaan, there were no issues whatsoever.


But then in Genesis 12:10 a famine causes Abram to sojourn in Egypt. Was Egypt part of this new God’s territory? Abram wasn’t sure. He knew that this new God was sovereign in the land of Canaan, but Egypt was supposed to belong to the Egyptian gods. So Abram took matters into his own hands. He engaged in deceit to protect himself while he was in a place where (he thought) God couldn’t protect him. Redd comments, “To the close reader of these stories, the education of Abram about the nature of the deity whom he has fallen in with becomes apparent. This is no family deity or local god. Common belief would have held that a deity’s jurisdiction would end at the borders of the land where he is worshipped, and such a misconception is on display in the accounts of Abram’s life.”


Of course, God could, and did, protect him. I think it’s very interesting to note how patient God is with Abraham. God called him out of darkness and into marvelous light. God gave him the gospel. God promised him an end to sin, blessing to humanity, ultimately nothing less than the New Heavens and New Earth once the Messiah had done his work, yet Abram didn’t yet fully understand. He believed the Word, but he was still an infant in the faith. So God was patient. God instructed him. And God made him the father of us all who trust in Christ as he did.

[1] Exodus 2:24

[2] Romans 4:16

[3] Galatians 3:9

[4] Galatians 3:29

[5] John Scott Redd, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” in Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives, ed. J. Nicholas Reid Guy Prentiss Waters, and John R. Muether (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 136.

[6] Redd, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” 135-136.

[7] Richard P. Belcher Jr., The Fulfillment of the Promises of God: An Explanation of Covenant Theology (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2020), 61.

[8] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010), 30.

[9] “The sovereign aspect of God’s relationship with Abraham was made quite apparent at the time of the patriarch’s initial call. God did not suggest meekly that if Abraham would depart from his fatherland, he would be blessed. Instead, the word of God came in terms of a solemn charge: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred’ (Gen. 12:1).” O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Philllipsburg: P&R, 1980), 127.

[10] Redd, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” 136.