By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Two: The Blessing
To serve and to guard
Let's continue a little on the theme of God's promise of blessing for and through Abraham.
We use it so often don't we? The word ‘bless'? As a testimony; 'The Lord blessed the meeting', 'I was really blessed'. Or an exclamation of gratitude; 'Bless the Lord O my soul'. Or a prayer; 'Lord, bless this marriage'. 'God bless America'. Have I ever stopped to ask, 'what do I expect God to do in answer to this prayer?' Someone prayed for me, (by email!), just this morning; 'Lord, Bless my friend Ron...' What am I asking for? If I don't know what I am asking for, how shall I recognise the answer when it comes?
There is principle of Biblical interpretation called The Law of First Mention. It says, and this is my expression of it, that the first time a word or theme is introduced in the Biblical revelation that context will give key elements of the truth which will be developed later in the Bible record. Let's try it out with the first mention of the idea of blessing;
Genesis 1:22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
These two passages reveal that God intended blessing for the whole sentient creation, in earth and sky and sea. We see from Gen 1:22 that to bless someone is not only to speak words, but to speak creative words. God's blessing is that He spoke fruitfulness into the creation and the creation heard and received His blessing. He not only created it with a word, but when it was created He spoke to it. It received not only life, but that life was commanded to flourish. Blessing is not aspiration, it is impartation. First existence, second communion. By communion I mean the creation became a co-worker with God, through the power imparted by His word. Every birth of every creature is the continuation of that blessing. This is a great wonder! When my boys were growing up I put up a poster in their bedroom showing the majesty of the Grand Canyon, written on it were the words ‘to wonder is to begin to understand'. What a wonder our world is. When our minds touch the wonder of the creation, it is a small step for hearts to rise in gratitude and worship.
So the animal creation receives its blessing from God, and as an old friend of mine used to say ‘when God blesses, folks stay blessed:'. It was not a passing excitement but an abiding change. The ‘second blessing' is similar but wider. Mankind too is blessed by God; God speaks fruitfulness into the human race. Its destiny is spoken into it; be fruitful, multiply, fill. These blessings are exactly the same as before but now repeated to this creature into which God breathed ‘the spirit of lives' and who became a living soul. So every baby born is part of that blessing. Don't ever call yourself an unwanted baby; God wanted you. Don't ever call yourself an accident; you are part of God's original commission and gift to the human race. There may have been aspects of the coming together of a man and a woman which were not God's plan; immorality, promiscuity, violence. But the conception was a miracle and a proof of the continuation of our race's blessing. Your conception was a blessing, your birth was a blessing, your life is a blessing; all part of the one original blessing.
The blessing of the race has an extra element which does not appear in the blessing of the animal creation. Subdue the earth, have dominion. Sensitive folk have a problem with this word ‘dominion'; they link it in their minds with tyranny, and words like dominating and domineering. Sin has made it almost impossible for us to get the right feel for this word. Let's see if we get to the sense of it. This phrase subdue the earth, have dominion... has a definition in Genesis 2:15; And Jehovah God taketh the man, and causeth him to rest in the garden of Eden, to serve it, and to keep it. [Youngs Literal Translation] God commissioned Adam ‘to serve and to guard'. (Isn't that the motto of some law enforcement agency?) The KJV and most of the later translations use the word ‘to till', but this is interpretation not translation. The Hebrew word is ‘abad' and is the word that the Hebrew word ‘ebed' - servant derives from. Adam was being given authority to serve and care; his ‘rule' was not to be for his own benefit but for the benefit of those over which he had been given dominion.
This is God's special blessing to the human race. It has God's full authority to serve and to care for God's creation. This is not man's creation and we have no rights over it, but we do have a profound responsibility for it. There is a New Testament passage which captures perfectly the kind of authority that God gives; Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. [Acts 20:28] and another, But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. [Mark 10:42-44] (However did we allow all these Gentile power structures to get into the Church?) In my middle twenties I was inducted as the ‘pastor' of a local church. A good friend defined my role as a shepherd; lead, feed, bleed. Take heed to thyself, lead in pursuing God. Feed the flock. No matter what the cost.
At one time Israel knew this was how God saw things. The Bibles earliest parable is the parable of Jotham. [Judges 9:7-15] Jotham knew that the role of the Olive Tree (an emblem of Israel) was to serve God and man, not to be promoted over the other trees. God's men are never over other men. Alas Israel forgot and pursued God with a prayer to be like the other nations. In came the Gentile power structures and, ultimately, out went the blessing.
So Adam's extra blessing was the imparting of all that he needed to fulfil this role. In Gen 1:28 it sounds like a blessing, in Gen 2:15 it sounds like a command. There is no difference; all God's commands have built-in blessings. Adam, like Abraham later, was hearing God say, 'I will bless thee... be thou a blessing'. Only the blest can become blessings. Paul says 'I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered'. We must have received something, before we have something to give. A man with a rich friend asked, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' [Luke 11:6] This parable is often called the parable of the importunate friend. It should be called the parable of the man who had two friends; one with a need, and the other with the resource.
Abraham was to become the Friend of God. God would have to bring him to a place of personal dependence, where he realised that he ‘had nothing to give'. In his pilgrimage through to that place of obedience and trust he would become God's Friend, and be perfectly placed to be a man with two friends; one, the nations, with an endless need but the Other, God Himself, with a limitless resource. How am I placed?