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Lent 2A 1st Reading

Genesis 12:1-4a

Danny Quanstrom

You may think that these three and a half verses are merely supplemental to this week’s other lections. Perhaps that was in the minds of those who assembled these passages, but despite the brevity of this passage, it stands on it’s own merit. One may be prone to treat this passage as background in order to preach from Romans 4:1-5, 13-17. This passage IS background for Romans 4, but is itself worth exploring and preaching.

The beginning of Genesis 12 serves as a fulcrum between the first 11 chapters and all those remaining. One cannot understand what happens in 12 without the firs 11 chapters. Prior to this chapter we see one calamity after another. God’s creation was good but, as we read last week, was thwarted as sin entered this world. Then Cain killed Abel. Then there was so much wickedness in the world God sent a flood, sparing only a few. Then all of humanity who spoke with in one tongue tried to preserve themselves with a great city and tower. God then scattered all of humanity.

This brief, if grim, history of Genesis forms our understanding of what is happening here and what is to happen later in the text. Prior this this chapter we see reactionary relationship between God and humanity. Humanity does something terrible and God reacts with punishment. God’s interactions with humanity are external: banishment from the garden, destruction of the earth, scattering of humanity. Even God’s covenant with Noah was external: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Gen. 9:11)

The text makes a dramatic shift at chapter 12. We see that God is no longer working outside of humanity but will be working within it!

With increasing intimacy the LORD tells Abram to leave all that he’s known; first his country, then his clan, and, finally, his own household. These circles get smaller and smaller. The next verse parallels these. The LORD will make of Abram a great nation (country). The LORD will bless him; that is, will give him many descendants. A new clan will be formed. And the LORD will make Abram’s name great. It won’t be Abram’s father’s (Terah) name that will be great. It will be Abram’s.

Before moving on we need to make a note about the greatness of Abram’s name. First, the Hebrew root גָדֹל (Gadol) is used twice here; once for the “great” nation that will be established and again for Abram’s “great” name. Gadol is an important Hebrew word with a wide range of meaning. It can simply mean “big” as in the fish that swallowed Jonah (Gadol is VERY present in Jonah), it can mean “older” as in Leah being the older sister of Rachel (Genesis 29). But then other times, as in our passage, it indicates greatness; exaltation, importance, or magnificence. When we consider passages like Romans 4, we see that Abram’s name was truly made great.

But this greatness of Abram’s name spoken of in chapter 12 is also a foreshadowing of the new name that Abram will receive. The LORD is telling Abram that he will receive a new name and that his new name will be greater than his current name. We all know that Abram receives a new name in Genesis 17, but the change that is made is incredibly significant. Abram and Sarai will become Abraham and Sarah.