The Gospel to Abraham

The Platform of Missions

God’s purposes continue in the post-diluvian period in the multiplication and distribution of man upon the earth (cf. Gen 9:1). Meanwhile, against the backdrop of Babel, a story of idolatry and proud ambition that ends in a curse, God stoops to call Abraham and Sarah, in dispensing his blessing in the way of faith and obedience so as to affect the whole earth and all nations.
Acts 17:26 says of the postdiluvian period: “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” Meanwhile, God reserved a special place for Israel: “When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel” (Deut 32:8).
Table 1: Parallelism between post-lapsarian and post-diluvian periods

Protoevangelium Noahic Covenant
Defection of Cain Defection of Ham
Prowess of Lamech Prowess of Nimrod
Violence of Earth Pride of Men
Flood Babel

In Genesis 10,  we have a sweeping, genealogical view of the whole period, including the effects of the next chapter: “lands,” “tongue,” “families,” “nations.”

  1. Japhet: coastland of the Gentiles (v. 5)
  2. Ham: culminating in Nimrod and the Canaanites (9-11, 18-19)
  3. Shem: father of Eber, patronymic[footnote]A name derived from the name of a father or ancestor.
    In this case, Eber is considered to be in the etymology of “hebrew”.[/footnote] of Hebrew people, Peleg, and culminating in Abram (Gen 11:10-19)

Vos notes the missional function of this table:

The idea embodied in the table is that, while for the proximate future the Shemites will constitute the race of redemption, yet the other nations are by no means permanently dismissed from the field of Sacred History. Their names are registered to express the principle that in the fullness of time the divine interposition meant to return to them again, and to re-enclose them in the sacred circle. (see Acts 2:8-10).

The Abrahamic covenant delineates the ground, language, and focus of God’s dealings in redemptive history. On this foundation, we find certain important structures forming, ranging from call to faith to sacrifice to blessing to preservation. Each of these will reoccur in some shape during the Mosaic period, but their formulation here is wondrously simple and remarkably proximate to the realities of the gospel dispensation, that Paul can speak so naturally – “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Gal 3:8).

The Anti-Mission: Proud Politics

Genesis 10 and Genesis 11 give a complementary perspective. In the building of the tower of Babel, we see in stark relief, man’s escalating ambition (Gen 11:1-9). There is the quest for unity, divinity, and that through materiality. In chapter 10, we see the forces at work behind the project. Calvin’s analysis is helpful (Commentary on Genesis 10):

Now Moses says, that Nimrod, as if forgetting that he was a man, took possession of a higher post of honor. Noah was at that time yet living, and was certainly great and venerable in the eyes of all. There were also other excellent men; but such was their moderation, that they cultivated equality with their inferiors, who yielded them a spontaneous rather than a forced reverence. The ambition of Nimrod disturbed and broke through the boundaries of this reverence. Moreover, since it sufficiently appears that, in this sentence of Moses, the tyrant is branded with an eternal mark of infamy, we may hence conclude, how highly pleasing to God is a mild administration of affairs among men. And truly, whosoever remembers that he is a man, will gladly cultivate the society of others. With respect to the meaning of the terms, ציד, (tsaid) properly signifies “hunting”, as the Hebrew grammarians state; yet it is often taken for food. But whether Moses says that he was robust in hunting, or in violently seizing upon prey; he metaphorically intimates that he was a furious man, and approximated to beasts rather than to men. The expression, “Before the Lord,” seems to me to declare that Nimrod attempted to raise himself above the order of men; just as proud men become transported by a vain self-confidence, that they may look down as from the clouds upon others.


God’s Mission: The Gospel

The juxtaposition of these two narratives shows the infinite difference between man’s way to “God” and God’s way for man.

Table 2: Contrasts between Genesis 11 and Genesis 12

Genesis 11:1-9 Genesis 12:1-4
People move together and stays together God calls Abraham away
People make their own plans God makes plans and calls
People build God shews
People seek connection with heaven God calls
People seek after name God makes name great
People attempts to avoid dispersion God gives blessing throughout families of the earth

The Abrahamic period supplied the foundation on which the house of God would be built. It provides the language so important to the NT – call, faith, promise, blessing, seed, Israel, curse, bondage, justification, provision. It gathers and preserves a nation, while retaining an eye towards the nations. It delineates a land. It focuses on blessing. If we had to jump from the post-diluvian period straight to the NT, the gospel of Jesus Christ may have appeared as ethereal. In Abraham it is given a meaningful context, a rich language, and a sublime focus. If we skipped from the post-diluvian straight to the Mosaic period, the strictures and structures might well have seemed to derail the mother-promise[footnote]The “mother promise” refers to the promise God made to Adam in Gen. 3:15 “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.[/footnote]. All this conjecture aside, however, the Abrahamic period is absolutely fundamental. In the words of Owen:

As God now intended to set up a new phase of the Church through a visible separation from the world and its involvement in false religion and corruption, so He laid the foundation in the demonstration of faith, obedience, and holiness of those called into it, and, through it, into the promises of the coming Messiah himself” (365)

Abraham was an idolater (Josh 24:2) when God’s glory revealed itself to Him (Acts 7:2).  Owen writes:

Clearly, the call of Abraham arose from the powerful and heart-rending operations of the Holy Spirit and was accompanied by an oracle or external word, for this man was at that time so compassed about with gross darkness, exposed to such great temptations, and all of the pressure which must have existed within such close knit communities and families; and further, he was faced with the terrors of a journey into the unknown. Thus destitute of all human resources, he at one showed himself to be of such a patient and generous spirit that without hesitation he submitted in all holy obedience to the demands of God.

Like Adam and Noah before him, Abraham was a covenanter. God came to him and promised him a seven-fold promise:

  1. I will make of you a great nation
  2. I will bless you
  3. I will make your name great
  4. You will be a blessing
  5. I will bless them that bless you
  6. I will curse him that curses you
  7. In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed

This Abrahamic covenant is described prominently on four occasions:

1) initially (Gen. 12:1-3);

2) soteriologically (Gen. 15:1-16);

3) sacramentally (Gen. 17:1-27);

4) climactically (Gen. 22:15-19).

The three elements that reoccur in each instance are land, seed, and blessing. The covenant is a plan – promise in which God sovereignly and graciously reveals His glory for, with, and in His people.

  • The land represents the inheritance of the covenant.
  • The seed represents the future of the covenant.
  • The blessing represents the function of the covenant.

The SEED is ultimately the center of the covenant. The seed holds it all together. Christ is everything (Gal. 3:16).
The way in which this blessing comes into focus is through the revelation of the divine glory in a powerful and effectual call; the granting, appropriating, and fulfilling of the promise as the object and strength of faith, all in a way in which the grace of divine love in election in manifest (Josh 24:2). The call included both the renewal of the whole man by regeneration of heart and life to godliness, and an external separation by solemn vow to worship and serve the true God alone.