2.1 How to Misunderstand Abram
The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 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" (Gen 12:1-3).
After 10 generations of divine silence, God spoke. As in the past, so again, He picked one man and his wife. First Adam and Eve, then Noah and his wife, now Abram and Sarai. It is incredible, this historic pattern, in which God winnows all the nations of mankind and selects one, then surveys all the families in that nation and chooses one, then looks at all the households in that family and picks just one. He lets all the rest of humanity go into insignificance while He begins a work in this one family, a work that will not bear fruit for many generations to come. Yet the paradox is that despite this narrowing of divine action, all of humanity will eventually be impacted. God is not in a hurry to reach the masses, but He will touch them at last.
This divine pattern of choosing one man to work through is a theme throughout Scripture. We will see it in His choice of Moses as deliverer, Gideon as judge, David as king, Jesus as Messiah, Paul as apostle. The idea that God is at work everywhere in the world at all times and potentially in everyone is a pleasant notion, but derives more from pantheistic pipedreams than Biblical faith. The Bible bears witness of a God who is extremely focused and very specific, and His work goes on apart from the "historically significant" kingdoms of the day. Egypt, Babylon, Rome are merely the backdrop for His own agenda, and have no central role to play in the meaning of history.
This must be emphasized especially to the student of history. When the educated person brings his learning to bear on Scripture, he will be hard put to adopt a Biblical mindset. He must leave behind the clash of empires, the growth of trade routes, the adoption of bronze and iron technologies, and face the fact that the central concern of Genesis is the problem of an old man who has no son. To put it even more emphatically, it is to recognize that God's whole plan for mankind is wrapped up in the provision of this son, and then to wonder why, after all the trouble taken to cause this son to be born, God demands him back again.
The Bible cannot be understood, and the plan of God in history cannot be discerned, without this violent wrenching of the well-trained mind. God's scale of values is far different from those we have been taught in the university. And just as the racist interpreters of the 19th Century manhandled and perverted the Scriptures about curses, we too run the same risk of injecting our minds, our understandings, our culture, into the Bible's alien worldview.
Indeed, this is the usual fate of those who seek to advance a particular racial agenda by appealing to Biblical example. The results are inevitably a misunderstanding of the Scriptures in its own time and a betrayal of the divine purpose in our own.