Abram’s Election

Genesis never says that Yahweh “chose” Abram. In some English translations, Genesis 18:19 speaks directly of Abram’s election, but the Hebrew verb is yada’, “know.”

Nehemiah 9:7, though, does use “chose” with reference to Abram, the one “chosen” and therefore “brought out” from Ur and given the name Abraham. We know from Acts 7:2 the form this election took: God appeared in glory to Abram while he was still in Haran and called him to go to a land that he was going to show.

These texts summarize the narrative of Genesis 11-12. Abram moves with his father Terah from Ur to Haran. His father is still alive when Abram is called further, out of his father’s house (11:26, 32; 12:4). Election means separation not only from the hometown of Ur, but from his father’s house. To be chosen is to be separated, in particular from ties of blood and soil. To be chosen is to be impelled away from the past toward an as-yet undisclosed future.

In choosing Abram, Yahweh chooses also his seed. As Deuteronomy emphasizes again and again, Yahweh loves the fathers, and therefore chooses their seed after them. Because of his electing love for the fathers, He brings their seed from Egypt and made them His special people among the nations (Deuteronomy 4:37; 7:7).

At the end of the toledoth of Adam, we learn that in a world full of violence, a world that Yahweh intends to destroy, Yahweh favors Noah (Genesis 6:8). In the next verse, at the beginning of the Noah toledoth, we learn that Noah is righteous, blameless like Job, a man who walks with and obeys God. We might say that Yahweh’s favor comes first, but that may be pressing the point. It seems that Yahweh sets favor on Noah because he stands out in his generation, perfect/mature among his contemporaries

In any case, nothing similar is said of Abram. He is called from Ur, from among the idols, and nothing is said about Abe’s faithfulness or his righteousness. When we finally do read of Abram’s righteousness (Genesis 15:7), we’re told that his righteousness depends on his trust n Yahweh’s promises.

The election of Israel in Abram is, in short, an election of sovereign grace. Israel is chosen purely because God sets His love on Abram and He loves the children for the sake of the father.

Yahweh’s electing call to Abram is accompanied by a set of promises, the promises of land, seed, blessing to the nations. God elects Abram not only for the present, and not only for the security of Abram. Yahweh elects Abram for his posterity and to achieve some project in the world.

In part, the promises are responses to the events of Babel. The nations sought to make a name for themselves, but Yahweh gives Abram a name. The men of Babel want to gather all the nations, but the families of earth will instead be blessed in Abram. Abram is God’s answer to the scattering of nations at Babel.

But the promises associated with Abram’s election reach back further, to the beginning of Genesis. During the early history of man, Yahweh faces the rebellion from Adam and Eve, murder by Cain, evil imagination and intermarriage with the sons of God, totalitarianism and tyranny at Babel. Now He’s beginning to undo all of that, to restore man to God and brother to brother, and to bring His Spirit to the nations. The call of Abram initiates that creation-renovation project.

As Christopher Seitz has put it, Israel’s election is not simply a privilege for Israel. Its aims are bigger: The chosen people is “the means by which sinful creation receives the blessing originally intended for it, for all nations and people.” Yahweh elects Israel for mission: “Blessing will come through election, and mission – God’s word of blessing to the nations – will be the means by which God uses Israel to accomplish this.” Abram’s election catches up Abram and His seed in this project.

Abram is Yahweh’s answer to Babel. Abram is also Yahweh’s answer to Adam.

We arrive at the same conclusion through another route. Abram is a new Noah, a point underscored by terminology shared by the flood narrative and the Abrahamic narrative. Noah is blessed and told to be fruitful and multiply (like Adam; 9:1, 7). Yahweh promises to make Abram fruitful (17:6) and to make him multiply (17:2; 22:17), so that he will become a great nations (12:2).

Noah is a new Adam, and Abram is a new Noah. Therefore, Abram is a new Adam, the “third” Adam in Genesis.

Noah restarts the human race after the whole human race has been wiped out. Abram is yet another restart for the human race, the beginning of a renewal of humanity and creation, within a rebellious humanity that continues.

Noah had the advantage of a clean slate. There’s no clean slate for Abram. Yahweh initiates a movement that will lead to incarnation. He doesn’t wipe out all flesh. He enters into flesh, lodging His promise and the fortunes of humanity in the aging flesh of Abram.

Aging flesh, and unimpressive. Abram’s ancestors are not the great men who make a name for themselves at Babel. His ancestors have nothing at all – no cultural achievements, no cities, no arts. We know nothing of his ancestors but names and dates.

But the chronology of Genesis is tied up with Abram’s ancestors and descendants. They are the carriers of time. Abram’s line has nothing – nothing but time, nothing but the future. That is the meaning of Abram’s election.

The mere fact of Abram’s existence as a chosen one is gospel. That Yahweh, the Holy One who created heaven and earth, reaches into a human history of corruption and chaos to choose Abram so that He can bless all the families of the earth: That is the best possible news.

The election of Abram’s seed isn’t dependent on Israel’s obedience to her commission. Election has “ontological” not merely ethical weight. Elect is what Israel is, whether or not she acts as a chosen nation should.

Yahweh keeps His promise to Noah not to flood the earth again. But if, in the aftermath of Babel, Yahweh doesn’t destroy creation, He also doesn’t just leave it be. The election of Abram demonstrates His commitment to restore creation, to bring it to fulfillment, regardless of the obstacles that human beings throw up against Him. The choice of Abram is Yahweh’s equivalent of “Aslan is on the move.” He hasn’t yet appeared; He’s not yet taken care of things. But the election of Abram means that it’s only a matter of time.

By choosing Abram, Yahweh is declaring His commitment to the world. Election is not only about Abram and Israel, but preeminently about God. It is, as Barth saw, His free self-determination to by God in this particular way for this particular people.

To say God the Creator elects is to say that God is free, free to choose, free to love, free to be God for us. To say that God is the God of eternal election is to say that He determined from the beginning to accomplish His ends for the world, determined from the beginning to sum up all things in His Son, determined from the beginning that He would pursue this aim with undeterred determination. Election ensures that Jesus is the Victor and the Victory of God.

(Much of this is inspired by Suzanne McDonald’s Re-Imaging Election.)


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