Reading Genesis 11:10-12:9
This is the account of Shem: The author of Genesis is leading us into the future by following the line of one of Noah’s sons. As readers, we get to time travel by leaping from one first born son to another. And as we fast-forward to the good part, a pattern becomes evident: people are living shorter and shorter lives. It’s not an over-night kind of change, it takes generations to even feel a difference but it is happening. The effects of the flood are being felt long after those who lived through it are gone.
This is the account of Terah. The time machine comes to a grinding halt. We step out and look around. Where are we? We are given more detail about this particular family. We learn about more than just a son, we learn about daughter-in-laws and nephews. Interesting. Obviously these family ties have some significance to the author of Genesis.
The view narrows further and the reader is led to focus on Abram. Yahweh says to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go 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 people’s on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:1-3)
That, my friends, is Hebrew poetry. Culturally, we like to rhyme words, they liked to rhyme ideas. Good thing too because poetry is famously difficult to translate into other languages and to attempt to do that while rhyming? Forget about it! Either way, the rhythm and the rhyme of poetry make it memorable and elevated over regular old prose.
I have three little letters written next to these verses in my Bible: HDT. They stand for Heavy Duty Theology. It’s a quirk I picked up from one of my favorite professors in college. His Bible was beautiful, it was a reflection of the hours of intensive study this man had poured into knowing God better. He used colored pencils to mark up his Bible and different colors would stand for different things and sometimes he would even illustrate something from the page so that he would instantly be reminded of its message without having to read the words. I wanted to have a Bible that looked just like his.
He marked this (and other spots throughout the Bible) with HDT because Genesis 12 is different. The poetry as God speaks is a break in the story, a moment when the writer chose to stop and make something beautiful and elevated. This decision to do things differently, to switch from just telling a story to recording God’s words with care and beauty reveals that the author intended for his readers to pause, to reflect, for this section to earn a special interest from us. In other words, this bit of poetry is important, it is telling us something we need to know.
I am often in a hurry, and one day as I sat down to “study” my Bible I flipped through, page by page and just looked for the indentation that marked poetry as different and wrote HDT next to it. It put me one step closer to my goal of having a Bible just like Ray Lubeck’s but it did nothing to increase my relationship with God. I marked things as important with no context. The funny thing is, I wasn’t wrong, I have gone back to those passages and actually looked at them, studied them and they were important. I just didn’t understand why they were important as I was flagging them, I was working with a very shallow understanding of God’s Word.
What comes after the poetry in Genesis 12 is a rare thing-obedience. Abram and his family, this special family that has been so suddenly forced into our focus, travel exactly where Yahweh told them to go. As they traveled, they worshiped, they built altars, they left their mark on the land that belonged to someone else.
The Bible spends a great deal of time talking about Abram and his family. They are the Biblical equivalent of the Kardashians: even people who try to avoid the drama somehow know the juiciest parts of their stories. Every major event, every birth, every death, very sordid detail is on display for all of humanity to study, to emulate, and to condemn.
We are often in a hurry as we sit down to “study” Abram. We talk about his name change and his baby mammas, we discuss his travels and his lies, we follow the family line as Abram has sons and those sons have sons. But we do not often take the time to really see what began in Genesis 12.
Unprovoked, Yahweh stepped into history and in one way or another spoke to a man, just a dude - no one special - and made him a promise that changed the world irrevocably. Abram is promised a nation. That means babies. Lots of babies, and more than that, it means babies that live, that grow up, that prosper enough to have babies of their own. It means culture and land and government. It means a legacy far, far beyond anything Abram could have rightfully day-dreamed about on his most ambitious day.
Abram was promised protection. He was promised that the people around him who helped him would find themselves better off for it and the people who hurt him would find themselves punished. This promise seems to extend beyond Abram’s person, it looks like it applies to his babies, to his nation, to his legacy, his name.
“All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you”. That is the part of the promise that Abram’s descendants found the easiest to ignore, to skip past, to dismiss. The many sons that came later liked to talk about how they were blessed, how they were a great nation, how they were chosen and protected, but they never really got the hang of talking about blessing the rest of the earth. They had a shallow understanding of Yahweh’s promise, of his plan.
Genesis 12 is the birth of a family that grows and evolves and fails and repents and falters and eventually passes on its qualities to the church. Genesis 12 has that same poetry, that same universe altering act of God speaking as Genesis 1 where mankind is created and formed and given life. In only a couple of chapters, and a few handfuls of generations Yahweh is working to undo the effects of sin. He used the flood to reset the earth, to make it better suited for a people who knew evil and with this promise Yahweh is resetting mankind. He is marking one family as set apart. He is beginning the work of bringing his messiah, his promised savior into the world. That is not a fact we want to rush over. God’s plan for redemption is not a detail to be overlooked. But we often treat it that way because it is not an over-night kind of change. It takes generations to feel a difference but it is happening.