Monday, May 01, 2006

Genesis 12:2 — A proper biblical exegesis

And I [God] will make of you [Abram] a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.(Gen. 12:2 — ESV)

This verse is used as the theme verse of the mission trip project organized by Singapore Campus Crusade for Christ Student ministry that I am going from the 24th May to the 18th June. From this verse, the slogan 'Blessed to be a blesing' is derived, which is used to tell us that we are blessed so that we can bless others through this Gen12ii mission project.

In this missive, I would just like to exegete the verse in its context, and to see how exactly is this verse to be applied in missions, and of course specifically in the mission trip which I am about to embark on.

Let's look at the context of this verse first:

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:1-3 — ESV)

We can see that the verse Gen. 12:2 is found in the context of the calling of Abraham out of the pagan city of Haran (Gen. 11:32) into the promised land of Canaan. The context is the Abrahamic Covenant where God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation (v. 1), and that he would be blessed so that he would be a blessing (v. 2), and that whosoever blesses him would be blessed, and whosoever dishonors him would be cursed (v. 3), and that the world (all families of the earth) shall be blessed through him.

In the immediate context, of course, the Abrahamic Covenant applies to Abraham and his physical descendents, the Jews. It is limited to the descendents of Jacob only, because the Lord restricted it to Isaac (Gen. 17:19, 21), though the Lord seperately promises great blessings to the descendents of Ishmael (Gen. 17:20), and restricted it further to Jacob, through Esau forsooking his birthright (Gen. 25:29-34) and the tricking of Isaac into passing the Covenant blesing to Jacob (Gen. 27). Though Jacob seems to obtained it via deceitfulness, God is in sovereignly in control and it could be seen that God was the one who orchestrated the whole thing, so that His purposes according to election might continue (Rom. 9:11), as He shows that he intended the Covenant to be passed on to Jacob and not Esau by restablishing it with Jacob at Bethel (Gen. 35:9-12).

This Abrahamic Covenant is thus fulfiled in a sense with the establishment of Israel as a country under the Jews during the time of Joshua, the judges and the kings after them.

Under the unveiling of the new dispensation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Abrahamic Covenant is expanded to include Christians who are the spiritual heirs of the promises of God in Christ. Therefore, the Abrahamic Covenant includes us Christians, though since we are the spiritual heirs of Abraham by faith (Rom. 4:13-25), we thus inherit the spiritual aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant whereas Christian Jews (aka Messianic Jews) would inherit both aspects of the Covenant. By this, I mean that we Christians do not inherit the land promise that is included in the Abrahamic Covenant and thus do not have a special physical promised land nor expect that we are to physically sire kings and nations. This physical aspect of the promise is only given to the Jews, the physical descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The Abrahamic Covenant is therefore for us Christians a spiritual mandate to be a blessing to others. However, what does this mean and who does it apply to?

First of all, let us go through the passage again and sees how it should be applied for us Christians:

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:1-3 — ESV)

Thus, for us Christians, being the spiritual heirs of Abraham by faith, we inherit the blessings of Christ which is the Gospel of Christ. We have been blessed by the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross as a substitutionary atonement for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21), so that by grace alone we are saved by faith alone apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9). Thus, we are to be a blessing in the same manner as we are blessed; we are to bless others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ which leads to this precious salvation, which is a blessing to the entire earth among those who are saved by it.

Now, to the usage of the slogan 'Blessed to be a blessing', as we have seen from the exegete of Gen. 12:2 from its context in the Abrahamic Covenant in the Scriptures, we can see that it can only be legitimately applied for us in the sense of sharing and preaching of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the blessing we are to impart. To use it for any other purposes other than this (i.e. Properity 'gospel' with its materialistic emphasis of blessing by wealth) is wrong exegetically. It cannot even be used in the case of spiritual gifts and talents, at least not while using the verse Gen. 12:2 as a proof-text, though it is true that we are blessed with spiritual gifts and talents to edify the Body of Christ. Therefore, in the context of missions, the slogan and the verse is to be used to emphasize the primary important duty of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is a blessing to those who will believe.

Something which I would like to caution against is our somewhat skewed view on blessings which we may bring to this passage. From what I have seen so far in modern-day pseudo-Evangelicalism, blessing is commonly seen as a positive thing in which people would not suffer hardship and God would not pronounced judgement on infividuals and nations. However, this notion of blessing is flawed and unbiblical. In fact, one just needs to read the prophets in th Old Testament to see what blessings could possibly mean to individuals and nations. Granted, blessing refer to a positive thing for the people of God, but it could also mean severe judgment on the unregenerate sinners and wicked nations. In the upcoming Global Day of Prayer which I have exposed to be compromised in my previous two missives here and here, my friend Chen Wenxian and I have shown how the verses Is. 66:18 and Hab. 2:14 have been misquoted and misapplied. These two verses are classic examples of how blessing and the glory of God is being misunderstood, as they show forth the fact that blessing can also mean the righteous judgment of God on the unbelievers. Even for the people of God, blessing can mean being disciplined by God (Ps. 94:12, Prov. 3:12, Heb. 12:6,10 , Rev. 3:19) for judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). In fact, to demolish the ridiculous, unbiblical idea that blessing means material propsperity, peace and/or good will of others, one just have to look at the Beautitudes in Mt. 5:2-11 to see what blessing possibly entails, as spoken from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

13 comments:

Paul M. Kingery said...

Dear Daniel, While I applaud your work and your site, I must disagree with your statement that the land promise was not to modern Christians. We are scattered, among the tares, but are soon to be cut down and collected into the barn, into the promised land between the Nile and Euphrates Rivers. I have been studying and writing about the Land of Canaan with regard to the Christian future. Are you interested in topics about the apocalypse, end times, the end of the world, eschatology, last days, the horsemen of the apocalypse, the beast, prophesy, prophesies, revelation, 666, bible prophesy, prophets, Canaan, Canaan's land, Land of Canaan, or the Christian future? If so you may enjoy reading " Land of Canaan." This is a free online book. The Link is http://landofcanaan.info/book.php
Let me know what you think.

Thanks,

Paul M. Kingery, PhD

ddd said...

Well Paul,

I would read the book when I have the neccessary time to commit to do so. Eschatology is rather low on my priority list at the moment and I would readily admit that I am not well-read on the subject. I am thus open to opposing views on this issue, though I do believe that IF your view is correct, it must flow out of your exegesis of other verses in the Bible and NOT from the Abrahamic Covenant.

God bless,
Daniel Chew.

Vincent Chia said...

Sorry Daniel, I take issue with your paragraph: "Under the unveiling of the new dispensation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Abrahamic Covenant is expanded to include Christians who are the spiritual heirs of the promises of God in Christ. ... By this, I mean that we Christians do not inherit the land promise that is included in the Abrahamic Covenant and thus do not have a special physical promised land nor expect that we are to physically sire kings and nations. This physical aspect of the promise is only given to the Jews, the physical descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

This distinction between Israel and the Church epitomizes the Dispensational understanding of Scripture. But I am sure you are not a Dispensationalist. Hey, why not I recommend you a nice short book by Palmer Robertson - "The Israel of God"? Get it from Amazon. See you in church!

ddd said...

Hello Vincent,

I am not a dispensationalist, and I definitely take issue with how they divide the Word of God and the people of God. However, that said, treating Israel and the Church of Jesus Christ as two dissimilar entities is not, as you say, an epitome of Dispensationalism. What epitomizes Dispensationalism is NOT treating Israel and the Church of Jesus Christ as disimilar entities, but treating them as entirely non-overlapping entities in Scripture and in history, of course discounting the few Jewish Christians in the 'Church Age'. (That is to say, while Israel exists as the peple of God, the Church did not exist. While the Church came into being in the 'Church Age', Israel was suspended from being the peple of God until after the rapture, when God continues his plan with Israel.) In fact, as I would prove it, it is a factual reality.

First of all, I did not mention in this missive of mine whether the Israel mentioned here refers only to the Jews before the time of Jesus' incarnation or whether it extends to the present-day Jews and/or the modern state of Israel. I did not take any position on this issue, though I did reveal my sympathies, as I am not conversant enough yet on this area to confidently tackle it. Therefore, the Israel mentioned here could possibly be referring only to the Jews before the time of Jesus' incarnation. If such were the case, then according to the traditional Reformation understanding of Scripture, Israel would indeed be a seperate entity from the Church of Jesus Christ (understood to be the NT Church and beyond), since Israel DID indeed inherit the land promise and received the promised land whereas we Christians do not inherit such a land promise.

Secondly, regardless of whatever side of the issue we are one, the nouns "Israel" and "Church" do refer to seperate entities as they are present in the world. As such, Israel could refer to someting which is NOT of the Church, and vice versa. Thus, this distinction is factual and is not an epitome of Dispensationalism.

Anyway, from this missive of mine, I think I did hint of the Israelogy that I tentatively subscribe to. I currently tentatively subscribe to revivalist postmillenial Israelogy, as mentioned in Iain H. Murray's book The Puritan Hope. I thus see the Covenants made to Israel as being extended to Gentiles in the Church, with the Jews still having the Covenants (instead of the traditional understanding of the Covenants being transferred to the Church alone). Of course, I would also maintain that as long as they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are under Covenant curses. Nevertheless, this does not negate the fact that they still have the Covenants with them.

Vincent Chia said...

Hi Daniel

Just a short note from me:

You wrote: "However, that said, treating Israel and the Church of Jesus Christ as two dissimilar entities is not, as you say, an epitome of Dispensationalism. What epitomizes Dispensationalism is NOT treating Israel and the Church of Jesus Christ as disimilar entities, but treating them as entirely non-overlapping entities in Scripture and in history, of course discounting the few Jewish Christians in the 'Church Age'."

I have to say that you are very wrong. Read the primer on Dispensationalism by Charles Ryrie – “Dispensationalism.” Study the Dispensationalists' definition of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is not defined by the “entirely non-overlapping” dispensations within the schema of biblical history. It is defined by its sine qua non as described by Ryrie, Walvoord and other Dispensationalists in DTS. My question to you is: What is the sine qua non of dispensationalism as defined by the dispensationalist?

Jenson's Blog said...
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ddd said...

Ouch....

Eh, can I make a disclaimer here? :P I am not an expert on Eschatology nor on the topic of Israel and the Church, at least at this moment. What I have written is what I find in the Bible and my interpretation of what it says. If certain parts are vague, it's because I do not know how to make it clearer. I similarly eschew Dispensationalism and anti-Semitic Replacement Theology. That's all I would say for now.

Jenson's Blog said...
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ddd said...

Nah, it's ok.

I haven't exactly read any proper theological books on the issue yet, unless you count the 'Left Behind' series as an exposition of Dispensationalist doctrines? :P I do read quite a few articles on the Internet here and there, enough for me to know some of the key points in the different systems. If it would help, I also do know that people who hold to the traditional Covenantal theology don't exactly like the term 'replacement theology', and sometimes strawmen abound when one side critiques the other.

Oh, and at the moment, I am not studying the issue, as I have the Emreging church movement, the Seeker-sensitive, purpose driven movement, and perhaps soon the Charismatic movement in my sights. I can foresee that this would take up a lot of time and energy already. Perhaps I would read more into this issue at another time.

Jenson's Blog said...
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ddd said...

Eh... perhaps our categorzations of what is or is not important are different? I would think that soteriology and our view on the Bible take precedence over eschatology, don't you think so? Of course, I do know that Dispensationalism does serious damage to Bible hermeneutics, but then most Christians do not 'deconstruct' Scripture as how Dispensationalism demands it to be done. So, ya, one thing at a time... =)

Jenson's Blog said...
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ddd said...

Hmmm...

I would take note of the recommandation. I do have a lot of books waiting to be read, so would be only able to start reading new books later. I do agree with you about UK having better acces to good books. I bought quite a lot of books in Tabernacle bookstore before I went back, though due to airplane check-in luggage weight constraint...