I often stare up towards the summit of a mountain wondering about the path and what challenges lay in wait for the unexpecting hiker. At other times I look back from a summit with the satisfaction of seeing the birds eye view of where I had come. This fresh perspective makes all the difference! Many will know that if the conditions are right, I love the feeling of being able to look down and enjoy seeing a wide panorama.
“Vision is the ability to close your eyes and imagine a future that not yet exist. It is the ability to see beyond the mess that may be in front of you, to abstract away from it, to clean it up and see a (hopefully better) future that does not yet exist.“Sanjiva Weerawarana
Vision is one of the buzz words of our time. Visionary leaders are able to look beyond the troubles of the immediate to that a future that is not yet realised. As we think today about the nations, our focus falls on the character of Abram/Abraham who is given a tremendous insight into how God is going to bless all nations. It is not so much that he is a man of vision but that God shares His vision of the future with him. Significantly God shares with Abraham how he (and subsequent generations) would play a part in His unfolding plan and Abraham responds in faith.
1. The birth of the nations
The first reference to the nations in the Bible comes in the Table of nations (Genesis 10) which details how Noah’s sons spread out and became nations after the flood. Genesis 11 tells us that at that time there was a unity of speech and language. All sounds great, but because of this, there was soon an attempt to build a tower up to the Heavens in order to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). What God said next is quite extraordinary; namely that as a result, humanity was confused in language and scattered all over the earth…the birth of the nations.
6 The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ 8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the cityGenesis 11:6-8
In the Bible the Greek word ethnos is translated as nations, people or pagans and essentially describes groupings of people that are living or associate with one another. It is used very positively to describe the people of God and negatively to describe the surrounding pagan nations. Over the centuries the nations have changed significantly – sometimes this has meant amalgamating nations together while at other times there has been a quest for independence and nations been broken down into smaller groups. The make up of the nations continues to be in flux.
2. Understanding blessing
It is on the back of what happened at the tower of Babel that we meet Abram who was the son of Terah. We are told quite early on, that his wife Sarai was childless and unable to conceive (11:31). Terah took his family and set out to travel to the land of Canaan, but they ended up settling Harran on route. It was there in Harran that God appeared to Abram, and called him to leave his country, people and household, and go to the land that God would show him. The land of Canaan. When God met Abram at Harran He made some very significant promises to him:
2 ‘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.Genesis 12:2-3
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
The first thing you notice here are the words bless and blessing which occur five times in these two verses. These are incredible words as God says that He will bless Abram. In this context blessing refers to the bestowing of God’s favour or gift. It is about fruitfulness, multiplication and tasting God’s abundance. God says that He will make his name great and make him into a great nation. Wow that is really quite a big deal! This one man, who did not and apparently could not have children was going to become a great nation. Truly this would be an incredible blessing but it must also have seemed a particularly unlikely one for Abram. God repeats this promise in Genesis 15 and likens his offspring to the immeasurable stars in the sky. Despite the improbability of this we are told that Abram believed God. It was not all plain sailing for Abram’s faith but still we are told that “he believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (15:6).
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.’ 5 He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ 6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.Genesis 15:4-6
2. Blessed to be a blessing
Not only was God going to bless Abram, but God also said that he would be a blessing. Moreover God goes on to say that all peoples (all nations) on earth would be blessed through him. It is an emphatic promise which is repeated five times in Genesis (12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4 & 28:14) reinforcing its importance. The idea of being blessed to be a blessing is a strong theme that runs through scripture and it is the essence of the gospel being worked out in and through our lives. We can bless others because God has first blessed us. The outworking of God’s grace to us should overflow into the lives of the people around us. Listen to the words of Psalm 67 which also makes this point by encouraging us to seek the blessing of God so that we might in turn be able to share that blessing with others. In doing so the Psalmist says we will make the salvation of God known among the nations and the ends of the earth will fear God.
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us – 2 so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. 6 The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us… 7 May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.Psalm 67:1-2 & 7
3. Experiencing Blessing
In subsequent chapters God tells Abram and Sarai that they would be the mother and father of many nations (17:3-4, 15-16) and that Kings of peoples would come from them. To reinforce this, Abram is to be renamed Abraham (17:5), which means Father of many according to the NIV footnote. In time, God gave Abraham the son that He had promised (Isaac) and the promises are again reiterated to him (22:16-18), to his son Jacob (28:14) and again to further generations after them. Abraham’s experience of the blessing of God was only the beginning, for God’s promises were to be fulfilled over thousands of years in and through his descendants.
In the New Testament Jesus talks at length with the Pharisees in John 8 about who are the children of Abraham. They claimed to be the descendants of Abraham and in a sense that was of course correct. Jesus however redefines Abraham’s children as those who “do what Abraham did” (8:39). They however, were plotting to kill him and Jesus pointed out that their “father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (8:56). Paul also had a similar perspective when he writes in Galatians 3. Quoting the words, “All nations will be blessed through you” Paul says that the gospel was announced in advance to Abraham. Its a really significant verse that helps us appreciate that God’s promise to bless and make a blessing continues to be worked out in and through our own lives.
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.Galatians 3:7-9
The blessing that God promised to Abraham continues to be poured out into our lives as God blesses us as part of His heart and vision to see the nations blessed and made to be a blessing to others. In Galatians 3:14, Paul makes this very point before making clear that in Christ there is no division. If we are in Christ, we are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.
14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit…28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.Galatians 3:14 & 28-29
What a joy it is to be a part of God’s big story of how He is working to save the whole world. We are woven into God’s promises first given thousands of years ago to Abraham. These were promises to bless us, to shower on us His love, His grace, His forgiveness and make a way for us to know Him, be made right with Him and be His children. From a personal point of view it is now nearly 28 years since God rescued me and it is such a delight to know His love and presence in my life. It is also a real privilege to be involved in drawing others into this blessing as we “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9b). God has blessed us with so much, not least our five amazing children, provision of jobs, good health, a great place to live and all that God has been teaching us over these past few years.
Can I encourage you to also think about how you can be a blessing to others out of all that God has blessed you with even in these more challenging coronavirus impacted days. This is the kind of a vision that can take a life and make it a blessing to people coming from all nations all over the world. This is the vision that God calls us to be a part of…
See other posts in this series