The first 11 chapters of Genesis serve as an introduction to the story of Israel. The people to Genesis was written were keenly interested in Abraham; he was the father of their faith, the founder of their nation. He was the one to whom God’s promise had initially been made. He was the one they wanted to hear about.
But the narrator of Genesis offers them a backstory, and it is in that backstory that we learn a lot about the God who made the promise. He is, as it turns out, the main character of the story. He is the real father of their faith, the real founder of their nation.
And one of the things I am struck with by reading this introduction is how graciously he responds to these humans he has created. From the very beginning, immediately after he creates them, he blesses them. His blessing does not come in response to anything. Adam and Eve haven’t had a chance to do anything yet.
He blesses the animals. He blesses the people. Blessing is his default setting; he is predisposed to bless.
And when the first couple rebels, he comes looking for them — not to punish them but to bless them again. He respects their dignity by not calling out, “Adam, I can see you hiding over there. Come out this instant!” Rather, he asks, “Adam, where are you?” Offering Adam a chance to come into the light on his own.
This God could have said, “Well, you’ve screwed up now. Go and kill some animals and make yourselves some proper clothes.” But he does not. Instead, God himself provides them the clothes they need. He covers their shame.
When Cain kills his brother, again God comes looking and again chooses questions over accusatory statements. When it becomes obvious what Cain has done, God does remove Cain from the community (people who threaten God’s community — particularly with violence — cannot be allowed to remain), but he offers Cain his protection. God will not allow harm to come to Cain, even if Cain is willing to harm others. Another gracious response from this God of the Old Testament.
Sin and evil continue to spread until every though and every intention of every person is only evil all the time. God began to regret his whole plan, and he was very sad about the mess people had made of things. He knew he had to act. No one wants to live in a world like that. So, he hit the reset button by sending a big flood to wash the earth clean. But before he did that, he selected a family through which he would start again.
Sadly, the flood did nothing to change the trajectory of humanity, and before long people were at it again. Only this time they were banding together to do evil. Sin was no longer a solo endeavor.
How would God graciously respond to this new twist in the story?
That is the question we’re left with at the end of the introduction. That is the question the author begins to answer in Genesis 12 — the calling of Abram.