The beginning of God’s world redemption project is Genesis – not the Gospels. Of course, the Gospels are the crux of God’s redemptive work in history, but to begin there would be akin to skipping the first two thirds of a novel or movie. Paul says in Romans 5:6, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (NIV). Then again in Galatians 4:4, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son.” And in Ephesians 1:9–10, “[God] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” The New Testament emphasizes and builds upon God’s redemptive work He began in Genesis 3. God has not ceased His work in the redemption of humanity (John 5:17, Acts 17:26–27) and the incarnation came after much work had already been accomplished.
One of the first characters God set up to bring redemption to the world was Abram, later called Abraham. To most, Abraham is a familiar name but not much more. However, for the apostles and Jesus, Abraham was the first prominent leader of the redemptive movement. The location of Abraham’s introduction into the Genesis narrative is crucial to comprehending this. It comes after a long sequence of events where humanity seems to be on an unstoppable downward spiral: from Adam and Eve, to Cain and Abel, to the Flood, followed by the Tower of Babel. It’s at this moment that Abraham arrives and God calls him in Genesis 12:2–3;
“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.”
It is clear that Abraham was going to be God’s primary agent for the reconstruction of the world. Through Abraham and his lineage, God would restore the blessing that the curse of Genesis 3 had removed. But why Abraham?
The Character of Abraham
There are several clues about Abraham’s character in Genesis. The first clue is that he married a barren woman and had not taken another bride. In a patriarchal society, this would have been social suicide. Yet, that is exactly what Abraham did. The second clue we see is that Abraham was crazy enough to trust God in any circumstance, whether it was the promised son through an old and barren wife, the mark of circumcision, the charge to sacrifice his only son, or the call to leave his extended family and his entire way of life behind to go to some unknown land. This was the type of trust God had asked of His creation in Genesis 3, but Adam and Eve had failed in the midst of a perfect creation. To find Abraham trusting a god whom he may have had no (or little) knowledge of in the midst of an imperfect creation is striking.
But there was still more to this man. We find in Abraham the tenacity to protect those who need protecting (Genesis 14), the humbleness to give the choice land to someone else (Genesis 13), the lack of greed to hold on to the spoils of war (Genesis 14), the humility to bow before those who should bow to him (Genesis 23), and the generosity to cook a huge banquet and serve strangers at a moment’s notice, even after being circumcised (Genesis 18). Yes, he screwed up a couple of times, but he always came back to living the type of life the Lord was looking for. These are all reasons why God chose Abraham.
Perhaps, though, the best explanation of why God chose him comes in Genesis 18. Abraham had just finished serving a large meal for some strangers who had arrived unannounced. The biblical text is not clear about whether he knew who they were or not, but, as the story progresses, it becomes clear to Abraham – and to the reader – that one of the strangers is “the Lord” (Genesis 18:13–14). After the meal was complete and the three visitors were preparing to leave, the Lord said something in Genesis 18:17–19 that is essential for understanding Abraham and why he was chosen:
Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
The “what I am about to do” refers to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Lord was considering keeping that from Abraham. Why? For the very reason He had chosen him. Abraham was chosen to bless the world by teaching his descendants to do what is right and just. The high calling placed on Abraham and his family was to restore the blessing to all nations that was lost in the curse of Genesis 3. His mission was one of restoring righteousness and justice.
Apparently the Lord assumed that Abraham “doing what is right and just” would incite Abraham to oppose the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And he did exactly that. In the following verses, we see a side of Abraham we haven’t seen before. He challenges God directly, telling Him, “far be it from you to do such a thing. … Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). He goes on to barter with God, attempting to save the city.
God knew the same reason He had chosen Abraham would also be the same reason Abraham would oppose Him. That is precisely what God wanted. When we look through Genesis, we find a God who waits until the last possible moment to destroy and when He does He does so with sorrow (Genesis 6:5–6). We also find humans destroying other humans, starting with Cain. God needed a family who would stop the cycle of attacking each other and start trusting a God who would take care of vengeance, if it had to come to that. This is why God states, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Romans 12:19). The first place we see this idea is in the end of the Genesis narrative when Joseph chose not to take revenge on his brothers but trusts instead in God (Genesis 50:19). God needs us to fight for the lives of each other; He will deal with the wrath.
More Than Cattle
This lesson will be repeated with Moses when God threatens to wipe out the people and start over with Moses (Exodus 32:10). However, Moses pushes back and God relents. God was shaping Moses into the type of leader that would fight for people. This same lesson Jonah rejects when he had deemed the people of Nineveh as unworthy of saving. He had more pity for a plant than he had for the vile Ninevites. The book ends with these words from the Lord to Jonah, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11). All people are worth saving.
God expects His people to fight for those who don’t deserve it. As He sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17), so we are now sent into the world (John 20:21). Too often, however, Christians are not known for their saving of the world but for their condemnation of it. The people God calls are the people that try to save Sodom. May we be the descendants of Abraham who fight for the righteous and the wicked, who are willing to stand up for people who aren’t “worth it,” and who bow before those who are lesser than us. May we be those who are generous, who are gentle, and who will do what is right and just so that all nations might be blessed. May we fight for people and not against them. May we stop condemning the world and start saving it. May we save Sodom.