Being God’s Beloved: Reflections on God’s Love.
Abraham is an important figure in history. He is the father of three faith traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He is held up, in both Old and New Testaments, as a great example of faith. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews, in particular, encourages us to follow Abraham’s example of faithfulness.
We first meet Abraham in Genesis 12, where he encounters God for the first time. This is the calling of Abraham (still, at that stage, named ‘Abram’), when god calls Abraham to leave his home country, indeed to leave his life, and set out to a land that God had chosen for him. God says to him:
“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.”
(Genesis 12: 2-3)
See how the word ‘blessing’ is used five times in these two verses. Once it is about God blessing Abraham, once it is about God blessing other people, once it is about others blessing Abraham and twice it is about Abraham blessings others. This is a real sharing of blessing! ‘Bless’ is, in Hebrew, barak .
In the Ancient Near East (the cultures and groups surrounding the Jewish people during Old Testament times) the concept of ‘blessing’ was almost always from Divine to human – God blessed us, we did not bless God. And for these people and the Jewish people, securing God’s blessing for oneself personally or for one’s nation was paramount. God’s blessing would bring about everything one hoped for: abundant crops, success in battle, fertility, longevity, wealth, power and happiness. The more powerful the god, of course, the more potent the blessing. And a blessing could be passed on to one’s progeny.
We remember, in Genesis 1:22, how God blessed the living creatures. And then in verse 28, he blessed the first humans, saying “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground”. God’s blessing transfers authority and right, status and role. It is almost as if God imparts something of Godself to humanity when blessing us.
It is thus surely clear from this passage in Genesis 12, that God is making a great promise to Abraham. We can see this with the five uses of “I will”. God asserts that God will bless Abraham, by making him into a great nation, by blessing him, by making his name great, by blessing those who bless him and by cursing those who curse him. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If we had to set this to music, we’d use the tune “I’ll stand by you”.
Such promises convey a central message: God loves Abraham. If we had to condense this passage into just a short phrase, wouldn’t that be appropriate? A little while ago my father wrote to me, “I kill da bull for you!” I interpreted that not as a threat against bulls or an expression of pent up aggression. No! It was an expression of love for me – how far he would go to protect and champion me as his son. Similarly, here in Genesis, God perceives what Abraham really longs for (a people, descendants, respect, land) and says, “I love you so much, I will give you these things that your heart desires.” This is, first and foremost, a love poem.
Can you imagine encountering God and hearing God say these things to you? God says, “I love you so much, I will give you these things that your heart desires”. Perhaps these are promises that we can and should claim for ourselves, as children of Abraham. It is God’s promise not only to Abraham as an individual, but also to his children and his children’s children, the ages, down to we who follow in his faithful footsteps.
But lest we get stuck in the wonderfulness of God loving us, let us remember that three of the five uses of blessing are targeted at the nations, not at Abraham – one of these by God and two by Abraham. The blessing that God gives to Abraham is not intended to stop with Abraham. Abraham is not supposed to get fat on God’s blessing. Rather Abraham will be a conduit or a channel of God’s blessing, passing it on to the nations, to “all peoples on earth”.
Some years ago, Scott Wesley Brown wrote a great Gospel song called “Blessed to be a blessing”, which I love to sing. But I think the theology of the title might be a bit problematic. Genesis 12 does not convey the conditional sense that the song title does. God does not say “I will bless you so that you will be a blessing”. Rather, God says “I will bless you and you will be a blessing”. The blessing that Abraham receives is given whole-heartedly and fully to Abraham himself, because God loves him. Period. And in addition, inevitably, people will be blessed because of Abraham.
This is important! God’s blessing of us, God’s love for us, is not conditional. It is given without strings attached, out of God’s overabundance of love. God loves because God loves. And we can receive it without terms and conditions – no small print.
But in addition to this, God’s love is for everyone, not only for us. The well of love from which God draws has no limit, no bottom, no end. God is able to draw infinitely to bless us for eternity with unimaginable love. And God desires that love to reach everyone. And Abraham was that channel of love. After he died, he passed that blessing on to his children, and to their children, and eventually to greatest of the Sons of David, Jesus Christ, who truly became a blessing for all peoples. And Christ commissions us to continue to be a blessing to all nations, passing on the love of God to everyone we encounter.
It is a sad truth, I think, that the Old Testament has more stories about the nations being attacked by the people of God or excluded from the blessing of God than being blessed with the blessing of God. It seems that Israel never quite grasped that they had a commission to bless all people. The notion of being ‘chosen’ and ‘set apart’ went to their heads. The blessing was kept and protected. Like Gollum’s “my precious.”
But repeatedly throughout the pages of the Old Testament, the idea of a blessing to be passed on comes up. We hear is in a different form in Exodus 19:4-6, where God says through Moses, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The first sentence speaks of God’s blessing – God’s liberation of Israel from bondage in Egypt. This great and national blessing is the cornerstone of Jewish theology and spirituality – it is the event in Jewish history that most powerfully demonstrates God’s tremendous love for the nation of Israel. The second sentence stresses their chosen-ness, though here we hear a condition – if you obey me fully and keep my covenant.
But it is the last verse that is most important for us now. God emphasises first that the whole earth belongs to God. The earth is God’s beloved creation, a most cherished object. Nevertheless, God chooses to appoint Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. This echoes yesterday’s reflection on Adam being commissioned to tend and care for God’s beloved garden. It’s the same pattern, but on a larger scale. Just as Adam was hired to love the garden, Israel was hired to love the nations.
Israel is to be a “kingdom of priests”. The term ‘priest’ is not used in many churches these days, but in the Anglican Church we continue to use this term to refer to our minister or pastor. It conveys a sense that this is a person who mediates God to us. This is not to imply that we cannot or do not encounter God directly through Christ Jesus! We each have full access to the presence of God. But it does imply, particularly for those who have not yet encountered God, that the priest’s role is to reveal God to them, to be the embodiment of God for them. So a kingdom of priests would mean that anyone could look at the nation of Israel and see God, experience God’s blessing, know God’s love.
Israel is also to be a “holy nation”. On the one hand, holy here means set apart for God so that the nation is separate and pure, not tainted by the pollution of the world. And it also means set apart for God to do God’s specific work. So, a holy nation will be one that is not so much aloof and standoffish, but one that that is invested in doing God’s work in God’s world. And what is that work? Is the priestly work of revealing, mediating, channelling God’s love, God’s blessing to all people.
Peter picks up this language in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
There is a long history in the Bible of royal priests and holy nations whose job it was to bless the world by revealing God’s love to the world. It starts with Adam, becomes well-defined in Abraham, struggles for centuries with Israel, and climaxes in Jesus Christ.
After Jesus’ ascension, this job is handed to all those who are known and loved and blessed by God. If you have accepted Jesus into your life, then you are known, loved and blessed. And you have a commission, a job. To bless the world, to love those around you, to be the presence of God in a hungry neighbourhood. God says, “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing”.
Meditation for the Day
God loves you, blesses you. Reflect on that today. And reflect also that you will be a blessing to others, will reveal God’s love to others. Today.
Prayer for the Day
Loving God who calls the faithful, bless me in my endeavours today, and inspire me to pass on that blessing to those I encounter, through a generous heart, warm words and helpful hands.
 VanGemeren, W. (Ed.). (1997). New international dictionary of Old Testament theology and exegesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.