So far we’ve seen how, in the beginning, God created a world which was the ideal home for Adam and Eve and all their descendants to live in. The world was full of good things for them to enjoy and the Garden of Eden, in particular, was filled with trees and plants which were pleasing to the eye and good for food. They had it all and God had been good to them.
But, even though the Lord had been good to them, they still disobeyed him. They listened to the Tempter and they ate the forbidden fruit. And God’s good world was spoiled. And we saw how God announced that there would therefore be trouble in the home. Husbands and wives would fight against one another and having a family would be difficult and painful. And there would be trouble at work. Work would be hard and difficult and frustrating. So, there would still be families. And there would still be work. But family life and work life was spoiled like everything else in the world. And at the end of a hard and difficult life, there would be death. Death will come to all.
And we saw how sin, and the misery that accompanies it, spread throughout the world. So, Cain killed his brother, Abel. And then there was Lamech who took several wives for himself instead of only one. And the same Lamech boasted about murdering a young man. And though, in those days, people lived long lives, nevertheless the list of Adam’s descendants in chapter 5 reminded us that all of them died. There’s sin and there’s misery throughout the world. And in chapter 6 we read how God was sorry that he ever made us because he saw that every inclination of the thoughts of our hearts was only evil all the time. Every inclination. Only evil. All the time. So, God was determined to wash the world clean with a flood and to start over again. And that’s what he did in the days of Noah. Every living thing died in the flood apart from Noah and his family and all the animals with them in the ark.
But, after the flood, things were no better than they were before. Noah and his sons soon showed that they too were sinners. And then we had the story of the Tower of Babel in chapter 11 and the people who wanted to be like God. Do you remember? They wanted to climb up to heaven by building a tower. And instead of praising the Lord who made them, and glorifying his name, they wanted to make a name for themselves so they their name would be known around the world.
But we saw last week that chapter 11 finishes with the list of the sons of Japheth. And do you remember how this family tree ran from Japheth to Terah to Abram. And from Genesis 12 right through the rest of the book of Genesis, and right through the rest of the Old Testament, the focus is on Abram and his descendants, because Abram and his descendants make up the visible church in the Old Testament, the people of God. Men like Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Joshua and Samuel and David and Solomon. And women like Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel and Miriam and Rahab and Ruth and Esther. All these people we read about in the Old Testament were part of God’s people and they were members of the visible church in those days. And then, on the very first page of the New Testament, Matthew shows us from out of the line of Abram’s descendants there came the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.
So, in a sense, Genesis 12 marks the beginning of the rest of the Bible which focusses on Abram and his descendants after him and especially on Jesus Christ. And it all begins here in Genesis 12 which we’re going to begin to study this evening.
So, look how this chapter begins. Listen again to verse 1:
The Lord said to Abram, Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
Now, there are several points I could make here. One is that this verse discloses to us the grace of God, or his kindness to sinners. And the reason I say that is because, if you look up Joshua 24 when you get home, Joshua reveals that when God called Abram, Abram’s father and his household were worshipping other gods. In other words, when God called Abram, Abram was worshipping false gods and idols. But God, who is gracious and kind, did not treat Abram as his sins deserved. Instead of condemning Abram for his idolatry, God called him to come into the Promised Land.
And isn’t that what the Lord does for all of us? Though we’re sinners, he does not treat us as our sins deserve. He’s kind towards us and patient towards us. And he calls us to leave our sins behind and to turn to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and peace with God. And he promises to bring his believing people to the Promised Land of Eternal Life. So, we see here God’s grace towards sinners.
But we also see something of the costliness of God’s call. When God called Abram, he made it clear to him that he was going to have to give up many things which were dear to him. Look again at verse 1. God said to him:
Abram, leave your country: the place where you grew up and the place which is familiar to you.
He said to him:
Abram, leave your people: the people you know and the people who are familiar to you. Leave your friends behind.
He said to him:
Abram, leave your father’s household: the people you love; your own family. You’ve got to leave them as well.
And perhaps some of us know something of the cost of responding to God’s call, because those who respond to God’s call to repent and to believe the good news have to give up our familiar habits which we now see are sinful; and sometimes we need to give up friendships which might not be helpful; and we have to give up our time and our energy and our money, perhaps, because as servants of Jesus Christ we’re commanded to love and serve the people around us. So, we’re reminded here of the costliness of God’s call upon our lives.
However, the thing I really want to emphasise here is God’s initiative. I’ve already said that Genesis 12 marks the beginning of the rest of the Bible. From Abram and Sarah there came their son, Isaac. And from Isaac and Rebecca there came their son, Jacob. And from Jacob there came the Twelve Tribes of Israel. And the rest of the Old Testament is about the people of Israel and all the things that happened to them. And from the people of Israel, there came Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world. All of that starts here in Genesis 12. And Genesis 12 starts with God taking the initiative and calling Abram to go to the Promised Land. Back in chapter 11, the people in Babel took the initiative. They wanted to climb up to heaven by building a tower for themselves. But do you remember the irony of verse 5? They wanted to climb up to heaven, but the Lord, who is so far above us, had to bend down in order to see what they were doing. He is so great, and so might, so transcendent, so far above us, that it’s as if he’s a giant, bending down to look at an ant. They wanted to climb up to heaven. But they would never have succeeded because the Lord is far, far above us. And anyway, God has something far, far, far better in mind for his believing people. Instead of us, having to climb up to God, he had a plan to bring us up to him. And it involved sending his Son down into the world to bring us to God.
And in Genesis 12, God was setting his plan into operation by taking the initiative and calling Abram. All our efforts to reach God will fail. All our attempts to climb up to God by things we do will fail. But how wonderful, because instead us having to climb up to God, he had a plan to raise us up to heaven by his Son. And in Genesis 12, he took the initiative and he set his plan in motion by calling Abram.
And so we ought always to give thanks to God and to praise his name for his kindness towards us and for planning and preparing our salvation. If our salvation was something we had planned, or if it was something we accomplished ourselves, then there would be no reason to thank God. But since he’s the one who took the initiative and since he’s the one who has worked it all out on our behalf, then we have every reason to thank him and to praise him.
So, that’s the first main point today: God took the initiative and called Abram. The second main point is to consider God’s promises to Abram. And we’re looking at verses 1, 2 and 3 here. We’re looking at verse 1 because implicit in God’s command to Abram to leave his country is the promise to give him a land for himself. He’s not only going to show him a land; he’s going to give him a land. And if you glance down to verse 7, you’ll see that God makes explicit what was only implied in verse 1. In verse 7, the Lord said to him:
To your offspring I will give this land.
So, God was promising to give him a land. But then in verses 2 and 3 there are seven other things which God promised Abram, though we can summarise them into two main groups. First of all, God was promising to bless Abram. And secondly, he was promising to make Abram a blessing to others.
And so, God was going to bless Abram by making him into a great nation and by making his name great. In other words, he would have many descendants so that a whole nation would come from him. And his name would be great: everyone would know of him.
And God would making him a blessing to others because all peoples on the earth will be blessed through him.
Now, there are two ways in which these promises which God made to Abram were fulfilled. They are fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way. And they are fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way.
They are fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way, because, as I’ve already said, the nation of Israel was descended from Abraham. And if you think of the nation of Israel under David and Solomon in particular, you’ll know that it was a truly great nation. Think of how people from all over the world heard about Solomon’s wisdom and the greatness of his kingdom. And do you remember how the Queen of Sheba came to see him? And she was overwhelmed by all that she saw. She said:
I did not believe the things I heard about you until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me. In wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.
She was amazed because Solomon was a great king and his kingdom had become great. In other words, God kept his promise to Abram by ensuring that a great nation came from him.
And, of course, God gave the nation of Israel the land of Canaan to be their very own. So, in the days of Joshua he helped them take over the land from the Canaanites. And in the days of David, he helped them to defeat all their enemies so that there was peace in the land. And for generations afterwards, they enjoyed living on this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And even after they sinned and were sent into exile, the Lord promised to bring them back to the Promised Land.
God kept his promise to Abram by making him into a great nation. And God kept his promise to Abram by giving them the land to be their own. And all those who blessed them, and treated them well, were blessed by God. And all those who hated them, and were their enemies, were destroyed by God. God kept his promise to Abram in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way.
But he also kept his promise to Abram in a spiritual, greater and eternal way. You see, God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12 to make him into a great nation points forward to the extension of Christ’s church throughout the world. Today, every believer is one of Abram’s spiritual descendants and he has become the spiritual father of all who believe in Jesus Christ.
And God’s promise in Genesis 12 to give Abram a land points forward to the Promised Land of Eternal Life where all of God’s believing people will live for ever and ever.
The promise of descendants points forward to the church. And the promise of a land points forward to eternal life in the presence of God.
And what about God’s promise that all the peoples of the world will be blessed though Abram? Well, God was referring here to the gospel of Jesus Christ, because the Lord Jesus Christ was descended from Abraham. And all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ receive the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life. In other words, they are blessed by God through faith in Jesus Christ.
And so, God’s promise to Abram is fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way.
How can I say that? What warrant do I have to say these things? Well, first of all, we have the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:7 where Paul teaches us that those who believe are children of Abraham. And then in Galatians 3:29, he tells us that if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed. In other words, if you belong to Christ through faith — if you believe in him — then you are one of Abraham’s descendants. When God promised to make Abram into a great nation he was referring — in one sense — to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. But he was also referring to all who believe the good news of Jesus Christ.
Next, we have the words of the writer to the Hebrews about Abram in Hebrews 11. In that chapter he makes clear that Abram was looking beyond the Promised Land of Canaan to the Promised Land of Heaven. Listen to what we read there. First of all, in verses 9 and 10:
By faith [Abram] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents…. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Yes, he lived in the Promised Land, but he was looking beyond the land of Canaan to something better. He was looking forward to taking possession of heaven. And then, listen to verse 16, where the writer says:
they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one.
So, when God promised to give Abram a land, he was referring — in one sense — to the land of Israel in the Old Testament; but he was also referring to heaven and to that place where all of God’s believing people will enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever and ever. In Genesis 12, God was referring to the land of Canaan in the Old Testament. But he was also referring to something far, far better than the land of Canaan. He was talking about heaven.
And was God really announcing the coming of the Lord Jesus and salvation in his name when he made his promises to Abram in Genesis 12? Well, listen again to Paul in Galatians 3:8. He wrote:
The Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’
Paul is saying that when God said, ‘All nations will be blessed through you’ he was announcing the good news that God would give salvation to all who believe in the Saviour Jesus Christ.
So, we should understand these promises in two ways. They were fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way in the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and in the land of Canaan. But they are fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way in the church of Jesus Christ and in the promise of eternal life in heaven for all who believe.
And here is God, announcing these things to Abraham here in Genesis 12 which should teach us that it was always God’s intention to send his Son into the world to be our Saviour. From the very beginning, he was planning and preparing our salvation.
Promise replaces Command
Well, the final thing to say today is this: God’s promises to Abram in this chapter bear striking similarities to the commands he gave to Adam and Noah.
What do I mean? Well, after God created men and women in Genesis 1, we read that he blessed them and said to them:
Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth and subdue it.
So, he blessed them and issued them with a command: Increase in number and fill the earth.
Then, after the flood had receded, we read that God blessed Noah. And he said to him in 9:1:
Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.
Do you see? He issued the same command to Noah as he issued to Adam. To Adam and to Noah, God commanded:
Be fruitful and fill the earth with your descendants.
And, of course — and I mentioned this at the time — God made us in his own image. And so, when God commanded Adam to increase in number and fill the earth, he wanted Adam to fill the earth with people who would bear the image of God and who would reflect his glory on the earth. He wanted Adam to fill the earth with men and women and boys and girls who love the Lord and who trust him and who want to obey him.
But Adam wasn’t able to do that, because he sinned against the Lord. And all of his descendants after him were like him in that they too were sinners.
And Noah wasn’t able to do that, because he too sinned against the Lord. And all of his descendants after him were like him in that they too were sinners. Just think of the people of Babel who loved their own name instead of loving the name of the Lord.
God commanded Adam to fill the earth with people who would love the name of the Lord and who wanted to glorify him. God commanded Noah to do the same. Both Adam and Noah failed.
So what was God going to do? Well, this time he chose Abram. But he didn’t command Abram to increase in number and fill the earth. Instead, he made a promise to Abram. He said to Abram:
I promise that I’m going to make you into a great nation. Lots and lots of descendants will come from you. You’ll have so many descendants, they won’t be able to be counted. And they will fill the earth.
God promised Abram that he was going to do for him what Adam and Noah were commanded to do, but which they couldn’t do.
So, has God done what he has promised? Well, the answer is Yes. And he has kept his promise to Abraham in two ways, like before. So, first of all, from out of Abraham came the Twelve Tribes of Israel who formed the visible church in the Old Testament. And the people of Israel loved the Lord and they worshipped him and they praised his name. And even when they were sent into exile, many of them continued to obey the Lord and they brought glory and honour to his name by the way they lived. Just think of Daniel who refused to pray to the king and how he risked his life in the lion’s den because of his faithful obedience to the Lord. Think of his three friends — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — who refused to bow dow before the golden statue and who also risked their lives in the fiery furnace because of their faithful obedience to the Lord. Think of Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, who were also faithful to the Lord in the court of the king of Persia. Here were descendants of Abram who loved the Lord and who sought to glorify his name throughout the world.
But, once again, God has kept his promise in a spiritual, greater and eternal way, because, now, through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, men and women and boys and girls are being converted to faith in Jesus Christ. He therefore pardons their sins. And he accepts them into his family. And he fills them with his Spirit. And what is his Spirit doing? The Holy Spirit is renewing his people in the image of God. He’s working in our lives, to help us to resist sin and temptation and he’s making us more and more willing and able to do God’s will and to keep his commandments.
And this is happening all around the world, wherever the gospel is being preached, so that the world is being filled with those who are being renewed in the image of God: people who love the Lord, and trust in him, and who want to obey him and bring glory and honour to him.
God commanded Adam to fill the earth with such people. But Adam failed. He commanded Noah to do the same. But Noah failed. And then, in Genesis 12, God made a promise to Abram. He said to Abram: I will do it and I will do it through you and one of your descendants. And then, when the time was right, God sent his Son into the world, who was descended from Abraham according to his human nature, and he lived for us and he died for us so that we can have peace with God. And from his throne in heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ has sent his Spirit into our lives to renew us in the image of God so that now the earth is being filled with those who love the Lord and want to glorify his name. And what has started now, in this life, will be completed when Christ the Saviour returns and all of God’s believing people will fill heaven and together we will praise and magnify the Lord for ever and ever.
Do you ever watch that programme Grand Designs on TV? It’s about people who are building new homes for themselves. But they’re not ordinary homes; they’re spectacular homes. And so, in the course of the programme we’re shown all the problems and difficulties they face to bring to completion their plans for their dream home.
Well, sometimes the families who are featured on the show live on site. You know, they’ve had to sell their old house in order to finance the building of the new house. And the entire family is squeezed into this small caravan, while they wait for their real home to be built.
Well, that’s what we see in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, we’ve got the people of God, living in the land of Israel. But it’s not their true home. It’s not their real home. It was never intended to be their true home. When God brought Abram to the Promised Land of Canaan, Abram understood that the land of Israel was only temporary. It was provisional. God had something far greater in mind for Abram. And he had something far greater in mind for us who believe. He was planning to create a church which would fill the earth and would be filled with those who love the Lord Jesus, and want to glorify him. And he was planning to create a church which would one day fill heaven. He planned it. And as we read through the Bible, from Genesis 12 to the book of Revelation, we see how God was putting his plan into action.
Well, this should give us great confidence as we go around the district to tell people about Jesus Christ. It should give us great confidence because the outcome is in the hands of the Lord. He has promised to fill the earth and to fill heaven with men and women and boys and girls who believe in Jesus Christ. He has promised it. And he will therefore do it. And so, we should go out and tell people about Jesus Christ, trusting in him to keep his promise to Abram of a great nation in a great place, worshipping and adoring a great God.