There aren’t many books that are improved by starting to read twelves chapters in. (Please feel free to suggest some that might do, if any occur to you.)
I mention this, because in the last blog, amongst other questions that arose, ‘Why start referring to the Bible at Genesis chapter 12?’ was one that was still lurking, waiting to be asked.
Actually, Chris Wright might be quite irked that I picked up his narrative at this point – because he very carefully starts at the beginning (ie Genesis chap. 1) and works forward from there. When he says ‘Whole Bible theology’ – he means it!
(Although it also has to be said, in considering the whole story*, he first references Jesus words of instruction to his followers to go and make disciples, which is set at the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – 28 chapters into the New Testament)
So what have I missed out? The first 11 chapters of Genesis are big-screen stuff (quite literally in the case of Noah – although many would want to dispute large chunks of Darren Aronofsky’s recent epic film!); The universe comes into being, humanity springs up and falls over, there’s fratricidal murder, ecological catastrophe, animal rescue, drunkenness, sky-scrapers and city-building, the division of the nations…
These stories are the back-drop to Abraham’s story, describing a multi-ethnic region where cities abound, where trade goes alongside war and where immigrants were regarded with suspicion; an area where people thought ‘You know, once, it was all much nicer…’ Sound familiar? The technology may be very different, but the people sound very much the same.
Within this back-drop is the thread of God’s reaching into the picture, indeed the making of the frame – his involvement in the whole business of the material world, his blessings, his judgments and indeed his first covenant promise. (This covenant is notable because it is not made to an individual or a family or even just humans, but with every living creature on the planet. Even cockroaches are recipients of God’s grace and promises!) Many important themes that run through the whole of the Bible have their origin in these chapters (some would argue that all major threads start here).
SO – why start at chapter 12? Mainly because the focus changes from ‘The way things are’ to ‘the story of a people charged with a mission.’ There is a movement from ‘pre-history’ to ‘the story of a tribe.’ The focus closes in on a single place and a single man; Abraham and his encounter with God that starts a whole new ball rolling and the beginning of a new episode in the story of God and humanity.
That story is something that the group of Jesus’ disciples understood as being their story; they were taking it on, making it real in their generation – obeying God to ‘Go – bless – and bless all nations.’ They weren’t starting something new; they were living out, sharing in a new way, the foundational and transformational message of God’s interest in and care for all people and nations.
So the question comes back to us again – is this our story? And how do we share it?
*Chapter 2 ‘People who know the story they are part of’, p 35, Christopher JH Wright, ‘The Mission of God’s People’, Zondervan.