On Monday we began looking at the question why did Jesus live? (You need to begin with that post for all this to make sense.) To do this, we’re telling Israel’s story to see where Jesus fits in. Yesterday, we saw how we were created to be God’s image-bearers, at one with God, each other, and creation. But because we wanted to be our own gods, we rebelled against this set-up – and are now suffering the consequences: out of fellowship with God, at odds with one another, and in a struggle with creation. Yet all is not lost. Because today, we see God begin his plan to put things right.
Footnote: some of the material over these few days follows Scot McKnight’s outline of Israel’s story, from his book The Blue Parakeet.
Let’s start with one
In Genesis 12, God chooses one person to bless. Not because he likes playing favourites, but so that through him the whole world might benefit:Gen 12:1-3 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
So how’s this supposed to work? Imagine a school teacher at the end of a long day, with an unruly class. Sick of yelling over the noise to get everyone’s attention, the teacher spots one student who’s behaving themselves, and gives them an early mark. The student next to them notices, and starts behaving – and they get a reward, too. Until, little by little, the class settles down as they notice the benefits of behaving the way the teacher intends. (I come from a family of teachers. I know that the likelihood of this working is pretty slim, but just go with it for the purposes of the illustration.)
God chooses Abram, and makes himself known to him. Abram follows God, and becomes an example of life lived the way God intended. The ideal is that Abram would become Abraham – the father of a whole nation who’d be this living, breathing advertisement for the benefits that come from living under God’s rule (rather than going it alone). So that little by little, Abraham would become the father of many nations, as the peoples around would start to notice God bless Abraham’s people, and want to get in on the action. That was the plan. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
To do this, God makes an unconditional covenant with Abram; all Abram did was believe that God could and would do this, and God treated that as righteousness.Gen 15:6-7 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
Israel’s defining story
This next phase then plays out from Genesis to Samuel. Abraham’s descendants become the nation of Israel. God looks after them as his special people, rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, bringing them across the Red Sea, and leads them through the desert, feeding them miraculously with manna from heaven and water from the rock. (Remember this part of the story for much later.)
This period becomes Israel’s defining story: they are the nation which is favoured by Yahweh, the one true God, the one who brought them out of Egypt. Israel regularly “rehearses” this defining story in their worship. (See, for example, Psalm 78.)
God then fulfils his promise by bringing them into the land he swore to Abraham he would give them: a land of abundant provision, in which they would be safe and prosper, as long as they didn’t repeat Adam and Eve’s error and try to be their own gods. As long as they submitted to God’s loving rule.
And part of that was ridding the land of its idolatrous inhabitants. (Although this seems pretty hard on Canaanites, they were into things like child sacrifice and sacred prostitution – for God’s plan to work, Israel needed to get rid of the last trace of that godless way of life.) Unfortunately, this is precisely the point at which Israel failed:Judges 2:20-22 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their ancestors did.”
Again, God’s people chose to disobey God, so again, God gave them over to the consequences. Which meant they ended up getting sucked into idolatry over and over again. Until by the end of the book of Judges:Judges 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
So to sum up God’s rescue plan thus far: God’s original image-bearers have rebelled, but God has acted in mercy to choose for himself a people who will be his image-bearers. God will again exercise his rule over his people – and through them “the nations” of the world. As Scot McKnight puts it, this was God’s “Plan A” to fix his world. Or as Graeme Goldsworthy puts it, “God’s people in God’s land under God’s rule” (Gospel and Kingdom, p.53). Or as Tom Wright says, “One God; one people of God; one future for God’s world” (Paul in Fresh Perspectives, p.84).
But as we’ve seen, by the end of Judges, Israel has blown it. They’re not acting as God’s people, God’s image bearers. They’re getting sidetracked by other gods. And they’re living under their own rule, not God’s, so the whole “blessed to be a blessing” idea has pretty much gone out the window.
It’s time for Plan B. (Which we’ll get to tomorrow.)
To think about
How are you living in God’s place under God’s rule? And how is that working out as an “advertising strategy” for life the way God intended it to be lived? (Or to put it another way: what’s it like being a child of Abraham?)