Monday, December 5, 2011

"You shall be the father of a multitude of nations"

I just came across something fascinating today. It's easy to think about Abraham being the father of the Jews, of ethnic Israel. Obviously this the primary reference in passages such as Genesis 15:12-21. But it was always a little more obscure how the New Testament authors could see Abraham as being the "father" of the believing Gentiles.

That is, until, I read Genesis 17 a little more carefully.* "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you" (vv. 4-6). Did you read that? Even in its earliest incarnation, God promised the inclusion of the "nations" into Abraham's blessed offspring.

This is repeated in God's blessing upon Jacob (given through his father Isaac): "God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples" (Gen. 28:3). God likewise later confirms this promise to Jacob, saying, "I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body" (35:11; cf. 48:4). This phrase, "a company [qahal] of nations," could also be translated "an assembly of peoples" or "a church of peoples." Qahal was the Hebrew word for the covenant people of God gathered for worship. In the Septuagint ekklesia is used to translate it, rendered in our English Bibles as "church."

This seems important for two immediate reasons. First, the covenant people of God are a unity both before and after Christ's earthly appearance. There is no division between Israel and the Church. Rather, the Church is the fulfillment and expansion of what Israel was always supposed to become.

Secondly, the claim that the promises of the Abrahamic covenant applied only to a temporal, ethnic, national administration are false. By viewing those among the nations as Abraham's offspring, even from the book of Genesis, the promises given to Abraham must always be seen as also--even ultimately--"spiritual" and eschatological promises awaiting something greater than ethnic Israel's life in Canaan.


*I discovered this while skimming Meredith Kline's book Kingdom Prologue this morning.

No comments: