The Biblical narrative opens with humanity as the beloved climax of a good creation. But having chosen to write their own story instead of submitting to God’s intent, the storyline takes a sharp and painful turn. Yet for all the bad news we see in the first part of Genesis–the lies, the murder, the bloodshed, the sensuality, the rebellion– there is a marvelous note of hope ringing forth, clear, strong and vigorous, in Genesis 12.
As the curtain rises and this next ‘act’ in the Biblical story begins, we see God on center stage. We see God acting graciously, decisively, lovingly, purposefully and redemptively. This is the beginning of the long story of God’s formation of one nation through whom he would bless all nations. Against the background of sin and rebellion God is at work for his good purposes of redemption and reconciliation. As we read from Genesis 12 right through to the end of the Hebrew Bible, we see how he invites Abram to trust him, he works in Sarah to produce a child, he preserves Joseph in the midst of staggering odds, he grows and nurtures and shapes the children of Abraham into a holy nation. Throughout the remainder of our Hebrew Bible God is at work—true to his word–to lead and shepherd this people.
God gives them instruction in the Law, indicts them through his Prophets, and nourishes their souls with poetry and wisdom. Indeed, the full range of the literature in our Old Testament is oriented to shaping Israel into a people through whom and in whom God would work his gracious redemptive plan. Throughout this part of the Biblical story God invites his people Israel to holiness, to faithfulness, to rest, to be a light to the nations, to be a place of God’s presence. Sometimes they respond in faith and pursue God’s goals for them; often, seeking their own way, they do not. The same could be said for us. This is one reason why these scriptures, this part of the Biblical story, is so useful for us. It is useful because it teaches us about God and his ways, it is useful to guide us in the way of holiness, in its stories we read our story. Above all it is essential for us, for it leads to God’s supreme act of redemption: the Word incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.