The Big Story #2: God's People
“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
God chose Abram. You might know him better as Abraham. After all as Abram’s relationship developed with God, his name changed from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude), can you guess why? God’s promises and covenants came into full swing with Abraham. Whilst he and his wife were old and way past what would be considered child-bearing age, God insisted their descendants would outnumber the stars of the sky, they would bear a son, and their descendants would inherit a land He would show them.
Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob was called Israel and fathered the twelve patriarchs of the tribes of Israel (Jacob, Jacob and sons…yes that Jacob!). Space forbids me to go into the intriguing detail of the covenants made between God and Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17) and how Abraham’s faith was put to the ultimate test in a story that foreshadows the sacrifice of another father’s son (Genesis 22 cf. John 3:16).
We have to understand that it was Abraham and his family (down and down the generations) that God chose to fulfil his purposes for His creation. Not that He gave up on all that He created, on the contrary God told Abram “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). But this would ultimately only find its resolution and completion towards the end of our big Bible narrative and Jesus has a great deal to do with that. Whilst this story is cosmic, it is also intimate, as God relates to His chosen people, the Jewish people, the Israelites.
We can only understand the Old Testament when we understand it is not only the Christian Old Testament but the Hebrew Bible. It is the story of Israel, the story of Judaism, not a story that Christianity started with a blank canvas in the 1st Century AD. Without exception the laws, commands, promises and prophecies were first and foremost for the people of Israel, and whilst much of it was only brought to fulfilment through the person of Jesus Christ, we cannot pick laws, commands, promises and prophecies as we wish, without considering that context. Believe it or not Abraham and Moses weren’t Christians! I mean Jesus hadn’t even come on the scene yet, we’ll come to that in part 5 of our story! Even the New Testament makes better sense once we realise its authors and key actors were walking a tightrope between continuity with ancient Judaism and discontinuity due the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The story of Jacob and sons, most famously told on stage in ‘Joseph and the amazing technicolour dream coat’, tells us how Abraham’s descendants made it to Egypt and if the book of Exodus doesn’t cut it, perhaps Dreamworks’ ‘The Prince of Egypt’ might tell us how they left.
It is hard to overstate how the exodus from slavery in Egypt deeply shaped the identity and perspective of the Hebrew people. Again God, through His chosen person (Moses), redeemed and saved His chosen people. The Passover and all its symbolism made a significant impression on Israel’s relationship with their God as year after year it was remembered and celebrated, how God redeemed them from slavery, saved them from their enemies and led them to the Promised Land. This story is a remarkable true illustration and pattern of what God has done for us in Jesus. It’s no coincidence that the climax of Jesus’ ministry came at the Passover festival and his last supper with his disciples involved a retelling of this story relating it to God’s purposes in his imminent crucifixion.
God would save his people, it would involve the shedding of innocent blood, the blood of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. Through it there would be freedom, forgiveness, salvation and life.
As the people of Israel entered their new life out of Egypt, they held onto the promises God made to their great, great…etc. grandfather Abraham. And through Moses, God revealed his will for how he wanted his people to live, he gave the law (Exodus 20 onwards). This law not only told his people how to function as a healthy God-honouring society, but how to worship in a God-honouring way. Interestingly, we would most likely be uncomfortable with some of the ways worship was conducted in ancient Israel (too much blood – eeek!), the book of Leviticus gives us a good introduction to that, but nevertheless these sacrifices of ancient Israel show us a shadow of a greater sacrifice to come (Hebrews 10).
And so the people of Israel made their way; after a pretty extravagant scenic route through the desert, 40 years later they made it to the Promised Land. Not under the leadership of Moses but his successor Joshua they conquered and started their new chapter as a nation in the land promised to them.