Then the Lord lays out the benefits. If Abram is obedient, the Lord will make Abram into a great nation. How? He wife is barren, remember? The Lord will bless him and make his name great so Abram will be a blessing. How? He is leaving his family and support behind, remember? The Lord will protect him by blessing those who bless him and cursing those who curse him. How can Abram be sure? Is there something he can sign? Can he get these promises in writing?
Then comes the last one, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 2 Many Bibles have a footnote after this promise, because it can be translated a completely different way. It can also be accurately translated, “by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” Many of us might be uncomfortable with this other translation, but I would like to dwell in the discomfort for a while. Many probably ask, “How can anyone bless themselves?” Yet, this last benefit God provides Abram is what ties the other six together. What the Lord means by saying, “by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves,” is Abram, if he is obedient, will become the standard of blessing for the world. It is similar to saying, “You can dunk like LeBron James,” or, “You can make money like Bill Gates.” To be obedient to the Lord, even when God’s call makes absolutely no sense, is to be blessed like Abram.
There is another reason I like this alternate translation. I like it because it puts all the focus on God’s call and how Abram will answer. Whereas, the normal translation places the focus on God’s mission. There is nothing wrong with God’s mission, but whenever God’s mission gets separated from a sense of calling, then it quickly becomes “my mission” not “God’s mission.” And when everything becomes about “my mission,” then we are back in Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel, trying to make a name for ourselves instead of living to glorify God. God’s mission is important, but there is never any future or any mission until we first respond in obedience to God’s audacious call.
I think too many pastors have forgot about their calling, because in our consumer-based society, they have turned their calling into a career. This often happens in subtle ways we do not realize. We start off our ministry because of a call, and we get trained, ordained, and enter into ministry with the best of intentions. Yet, little by little the responsibilities of “running a church” get our focus off of our true vocation. Without realizing it we look over budget reports and listen to the financial gurus of the day more than sitting quietly with an open Bible waiting for God to speak His will for us and our people. Without realizing it we spend a lot more time strategizing how to get more people and staying up to date on the latest evangelism products than we do praying for our church, community, and world. Without realizing it we spend more time complaining about how our people are hindering us from doing the ministry we want to do instead of loving our people and spending time with them in the ordinary aspects of their lives pointing them to where God is at work. And, I think this last one is the most important, because we complain about our people not because they are hindering God’s work but because they are hindering the work we want to do. Said in another way, they are getting in the way of us making a name for ourselves.
I am not saying budget planning and outreach are not important, but when these activities begin to overshadow what we were truly called to do as pastors (listening to the Word of God, praying, visiting), and when our disposition is one of complaint rather than gratitude, then it might be time to reorder our lives. It might be time to go back to the call, and follow the path from that call to find where we got off track from following God to following our own ambition. It might be time to answer the audacious call of God once again, which will probably mean we will have to leave all those things behind that guarantee our survival, security, and future to trust solely in the God who calls. Everything hangs in balance in Genesis 12:3. What will Abram do? Then we get to verse 4, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” Will you?
1Genesis 12:1 (New Revised Standard Version).
2Genesis 12:3b (New Revised Standard Version).
Dr. Andy Ingram is pastor at Inglewood Church of the Nazarene in Nashville TN.