The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24: 7-9, ESV)
Our Parsha this week finishes the story of Abraham. Sarah passes, Isaac finds Rebekah, and finally Abraham also passes. I know that I am not the only person who loves the story of Abraham. What a rich and crazy life that man lived. The great patriarch, seemingly at random, received a promise from God that Abraham would be a great nation, blessed, that his name would be great, and all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him. And truly, that is what happened. The two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, are both Abrahamic faiths. Further, both of those religions were heavily influenced by Judaism, the original Abrahamic faith. But why did God choose Abraham? There doesn’t seem to be any empirical reason to choose him. If you read the story Abraham doesn’t necessarily appear to be anything beyond an ordinary man in an extraordinary story. He has all the traits of the common person, faith, doubt, impatience, dishonesty, loyalty, hospitality, violence and compassion. Does willingness to kill your son count as ordinary? Well, in his day it did. And Sarah is the same way. The lady who laughs at God was so prone to her own shame that she tried to have the promise child through her servant. Later, she became angry and jealous toward Hagar even to the point of allowing Hagar to die. We read that these are common people. What makes them so great? Nothing. God chose them and all their children because God loved them.
Now the concept of being chosen was common during Jesus’ day. In fact, there was an idea that if you were a Jew you were automatically closer to God or good with God based on your birth and a little bit of Torah obedience. That idea was called covenantal nomism. Consider what the movement of John the Baptist was addressing in Matthew chapter 3 when he said not to brag about having Abraham as father and that God can raise up sons of Abraham from stones. The Baptist’s statement is a critique of boasting in your genes and a hint that God is up to something. The Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, spends most his ministry fleshing out that God is up to something idea and it’s all based on the Messiah. In Ephesians we read,
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:4-9, ESV)
Did you catch that? God’s love is so great and mercy is so rich that even when we were dead in our transgressions Messiah made us alive! Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said, “The day you were born is the day God decided that the world could not exist without you.” God loves us and it is such good news! Like Abraham and his family, we have been chosen because of God’s “great love for us”. God chose Abraham to receive much more than just a promise but Abraham responded in kind to that promise; that is his legacy. At times, he didn’t trust in or act faithfully to God’s plan and we find ourselves in similar life circumstances. But our unfaithfulness doesn’t stop God. Nope. God achieves God’s purposes. Through the Messiah’s faithfulness, God expressed kindness to us and gave us the gift of salvation. This is how God works. In God’s great love for us, God does something wild and unexpected and we are given a choice in how to respond. Like Abraham chose to be faithful after receiving the grace of God, we too must choose to be faithful after receiving the grace of God.
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2: 17-20, ESV)