When God called Abraham to leave his home (in present-day Iraq) and move to Canaan, the Lord gave him a promise: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 NRSV). That was a foundational promise, echoing throughout the scriptures and biblical history. God repeated the promise to Abraham after the human father showed his radical obedience and willingness to offer his son on the altar. Of course, God intervened so that Isaac was not sacrificed, and then pronounced “by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:18 NRSV).
The promise was issued later to Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and then to Abraham’s grandson Jacob (Genesis 28:14). The blessing of God would flow through the line of Abraham’s descendants. However, the blessing was not confined to his family; their family line was a conveyor of blessing to all the families of the earth.
In an ancient world of tribalism, defined lines of insiders and outsiders, fierce and bloody rivalries, honor codes, and vengeful retribution, the idea that God’s blessing would flow through Abraham’s tribe to all the tribes of the world was stunning. It sliced through the established patterns and expectations that God would favor his people exclusively. That foundational promise anticipates a Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News that God’s love is for all the world and for people of every family and tribe.
The promise surfaced again when Peter addressed the Jews at the Jerusalem temple (Acts 3:22-26). He wanted his listeners to understand God’s promise was being fulfilled and they were a part of the fulfillment. And so are we.
Given the outbreaks of tribalism and identity politics in our time, we need this promise as much as ever. Given our natural tendency to think in “us and them” categories, we need a reminder that the blessings of God are intended for all the families of the earth. Given the venomous chants and clashes in Charlottesville, VA, we need to see how God’s blessings are given not only to flow to us—but to flow through us to others, even those very different from ourselves.
Please join me in praying for our nation, for wise and gracious leadership when the chaos of tribalism swells, for deeper and more respectful conversations, for a mutual appreciation of the wounds and anxieties of others, and for a keener awareness that we are “blessed to be a blessing” to all the families of the earth.
In His love,
Dr. Jeffrey A. Hosmer