“Blessed to be a blessing.”
That turn of phrase never actually appears on the pages of Scripture. But it’s an accurate summation of God’s ongoing plan to rescue our broken world. God will bless a particular individual, who will in turn become the conduit of God’s blessings to the rest of humanity.
We learn in Genesis 12 that the particular individual is a 75-year-old senior citizen named Abram, who will one day become known as Abraham. He receives God’s call by means of four lines that can only be described as poetry:
“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.”
What does it mean to be blessed?
In a trivial way we may count ourselves blessed if we find a good parking space in front of the grocery, or if the very brand of cheese we went there to buy is on sale. In the Bible, blessing means something far more profound. Abraham has been chosen by God to receive, unconditionally, the gift of God’s favor for the rest of his life. We might paraphrase it like this: “Abraham, you are the incredibly lucky, lottery-winning person – and now the whole world gets to share in the lottery because of you.”
The promised blessing that Abraham receives has three dimensions.
The first aspect is personal.
Even though Sarah and Abraham have settled into the mindset of their sunset years, God assures them that their future is not retirement, but reassignment. There’s something about growing older that makes many of us suspect that our best days are behind us. But with God, the adventure is always just beginning.
The second aspect of Abraham’s blessing has national implications.
For the first time he hears the news he has waited to hear his whole life: He’s going to become a father. Through his son Isaac and Isaac’s descendants, he will become known as the father of God’s chosen people, the Jews. Through his son Ishmael and Ishmael’s descendants, he will also be celebrated as the father of the Arab nations. All three of the great Western religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – are properly called the Abrahamic faiths.
The third aspect of God’s promise is global in scope.
“All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God singles out this one man, Abraham, through whom a new slice of humanity, known as the Jews, will gradually come into existence – one generation at a time. God will reveal his power, his love, and his holy character to this special group so they can present to the world, as a gift, a two-thousand-year record of what it is like to know him. Best of all, this group will provide the spiritual and genealogical heritage of the future Messiah – Jesus of Nazareth.
Taking all of this into account, the very next verse, Genesis 12:4, is rather amazing. It begins with three little words: “So Abram left.”
For all intents and purposes, this is the end of Abraham’s old life and the beginning of a new one. He is not a nobody with nothing to lose. He is a prosperous merchant who has been living in what scholars assure us was an affluent urban setting. He is successful and secure. But because he trusts God, he starts over.
Abraham now has to do two things. He has to leave, and he has to go.
Leaving means walking away from his old situation. Going means embracing the new situation that is of God’s choosing. Why does the New Testament go out of its way to announce that all people who trust God – including Gentiles – are children of Abraham? It’s because this is the way God has always dealt with those who look to him. By faith, we leave behind an old life we cannot keep in order to gain a new life we cannot lose.
This is not to say that obeying God will be easy for Abraham.
Think about it: At this stage in spiritual history, he has no Bible, no Ten Commandments, no spiritual teachers, and no fellow believers. If he’s feeling mellow around a campfire, he doesn’t even have Kum Ba Yah. God is beginning from scratch with one chosen individual. Abraham was the original spiritual pioneer.
Author and pastor John Ortberg invites us to imagine the conversation that he and Sarah share as they walk slowly toward Palestine with their entourage of servants and livestock.
She asks, “So where exactly are we going?” He answers, “I don’t know, but I’ll know it when I see it. God will tell us when we get there.” Sarah asks, “God who?” “Actually,” says Abraham, “I didn’t catch his last name.” How many times must Sarah have asked, “Where in the world are we?” Abraham is the first husband in history who can truthfully say, while leading a family trip, “God only knows.”
God’s good news is no longer reserved for a particular group of people in a particular part of the world.
Because of Jesus, people everywhere can come to know God’s grace and love.
Which means that we are now the incredibly blessed, lottery-winning people – called to bless the world with the news that through Jesus, everyone can hit the jackpot.