An event happened this week that nearly all news outlets world-wide are now reporting on. The news outlets are all dissecting the implications of this event looking forward. “What will this mean into the future?” they are all asking. Good question. But an even better question is: “What does this signify looking backwards into the distant past?”
The event in question was the election held on January 22 in Israel. The political Right tied the political Left with 60 seats each in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) leading all observers to ask what this means for the political alliances within that country, the implications of the Israeli relationship with the USA, the implications for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and so on. All the analysts, observers, pundits and bloggers are trying to see what all this means in the near future – since what happens in that tiny country seems to affect almost all of us around the world.
And that fact (that events in tiny modern-day Israel echo around the world) should cause the curious to consider what started the chain of events that has led to this peculiar state-of-affairs. To understand that one needs to go to the opening pages of the book of Genesis in the Bible, where about 4000 years ago a lonely and unimportant individual set out on a never-ending camping trip that resulted in him becoming a household name around the world today. That’s pretty remarkable in-and-of itself, but understanding this tale has implications far beyond seeing historical cause-and-effect. The ‘Book’ says that the pattern of this story will affect the outcome of your eternal destiny and mine. If there is even a remote chance that this is true we had better pay attention.
This ancient man in question is Abraham (also referred to as Abram or Ibrahim). The account in the Bible is so ancient that there is not much external evidence to refute or confirm the events. But there is some. As I mentioned in my video on Biblical external evidence, among the 17000 Ebla Tablets discovered in 1975-6 in Northern Syria, dated as 4200 years old, there is mention of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar as ‘cities of the Plain’, the same names and descriptive phrase used in Genesis 13:2 & Genesis 14:2 – the places where Abraham did his ‘camping’. So we have starting reasons to take this account seriously.
God’s Promise to Abraham
The Biblical account of Abraham starts with God making the following promises to him:
“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.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
…fulfilled in Abraham’s name becoming Great
Most of us today wonder if there is a God and doubt one can know if He really revealed himself through the Biblical record or not. Now before us is a promise, parts of which are verifiable. This account recorded God directly promising Abraham that ‘I will make your name great’. Here we sit in the 21st century and the name of Ibrahim/Abraham/Abram is one of the most globally recognized names in history. This promise has literally, historically, and verifiably come true. The earliest extant copy of Genesis is from the Dead Sea Scrolls which date to 200-100 B.C. This means that this promise has, at the very least, been put down in writing since that time. Yet at that time the person and name of Abraham was not well-known – being known only to the minority of Jews who followed the Torah. So we can see that the fulfillment that has come about only after it was written down, not before. This is not a case of a ‘fulfillment’ being inked after the fact.
… by means of his great nation
What is equally astonishing is that Abraham really did nothing noteworthy in his life – the kind of thing that normally makes one’s name ‘great’. He did not write anything extraordinary (like Homer’s Iliad/Odyssey or the Code of Hammurabi), he did not rule an empire (like the Pharaohs of Egypt), he did not lead an army with impressive military campaigns (like Hannibal or Alexander the Great), nor did he invent anything. He did nothing really except camp out and sire a few bloodlines. If you were a betting man living in his day, you would have put your money on the kings, generals, warriors, or court poets living in his day to become great in history. But their names are all forgotten – while the man who just barely managed to have some sons in the wilderness is a household name around the world. His name is great only because the nation(s) that he sired kept the record of his account – and then individuals and nations that came from him became great. This is exactly how it was promised way back in Genesis 12 (“I will make you into a great nation … I will make your name great”). I can think of no one else in all history so well-known who is so only because of descendants coming from him rather than from great accomplishments in his own life.
…Through the Will of the Promise-Maker
And the people group today which all associate as descending from Abraham – the Jews – never really were the nation with which we typically associate greatness. They did not build great architectural structures like the pyramids of the Egyptians, they did not write philosophy like the Greeks, or administer like the Romans – all of which did so in the context of world-power empires that stretched their extensive borders through extraordinary military power. The Jewish people’s greatness is mostly due to the Law and Book which they birthed, from some remarkable individuals that came from their stock, and that they have survived for these thousands of years as a distinct and somewhat different people group. Their greatness is not really due to anything they did, but rather what was done to and through them. Now look to to the Cause that was going to drive this promise forward. There, in black-and-white, it says repeatedly that “I will …”. The unique way their greatness has played out in history fits once again in a remarkable way to the declaration that it was going to be God that would make this happen rather than some innate ability, conquest or power of this ‘great nation’. The attention paid around the world today to the results of the Israeli elections this week is a case in point. Do you hear of such attention when Hungary, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, or the Central African Republic – all similarly sized countries around the world – take to the polls?
There is nothing innate in history or human events that would cause the unfolding of this ancient promise exactly as it was declared to this ancient man who, because he trusted this promise chose a ‘road less traveled’. Just think how likely it should have been for this promise to fail in some way. But instead it has unfolded, and is continuing to unfold, as it was declared those thousands of years ago. The case is strong indeed that it is solely on the power and authority of the Promise-Maker that it has occurred.
The Trek that still shakes the World
The Bible then records that “So Abram left as the LORD had told him” (v. 4). He set out on a trek, shown on the map, that is still making history.
Blessings to us
But it does not end there since there is something else promised as well. The blessing was not only for Abraham because it also says that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (i.e. through Abraham). This should make you and me sit up and take note. Because you and I are part of ‘all peoples on earth’ – no matter what our religion, ethnic background, where we live, our social status, or what language we speak. The scope of this promise for a blessing includes everybody alive today! How? When? What kind of blessing? This is not clearly stated here but this is the birth of something that is directly pertinent to you and me. Since we know that the first parts of this promise have come true, we can have confidence that this last part directed to us will also come true. We just need the key to unlock it. And we find the key in continuing to follow the journey of Abraham. The key to ‘righteousness’, which so many around the world, like the devotees of the Kumbh Mela festival, are working so hard to obtain, is revealed for all of us in our next post as we continue to follow the account of this remarkable man.