The Faithful Blessing of the Faithless
We live in a world in which many, including preachers, will tell you that you need to seek blessings for yourself. How else will you have the very best life? So they encourage you to strive for those ends. But the truth is that all of that effort is not only wrong, but also completely unnecessary. This is because God, in his way and in his timing, is already doggedly determined to bless his people, no matter what… and often in spite of them.
This is nothing new. It began in the Garden of Eden, right after Adam and Eve sinned. Even as he disciplined them, God also promised that a descendant would come and crush the serpent, undoing sin and death. From them on, the book of Genesis is about God blessing his people, whether they are faithful or not. In fact, this process becomes a predictable pattern that can be seen over and over. Here is how it goes. Step 1: God promises a blessing. Step 2: People try to grab the blessing on their own. Step 3: God gives the blessing anyway.
Here are three examples of what I mean:
The Tower of Babel
When Adam and Eve sinned, the connection between God and people – between heaven and earth – was broken. Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden and could not enjoy the presence of God in the same way anymore. Yet, as I mentioned above, God promised to undo this through a descendant who would come.
Instead of waiting for the Lord, however, all the people decided to try to bridge that gap themselves. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name” (Gen. 11:4). You know this tower, of course, as the tower of Babel. When I was a kid, I always thought this meant that they were trying to build a tall building to somehow literally get into heaven. But really, it was a building made to connect people with deities. It was a pagan way of trying to undo what had happened in the Garden. Moreover, look at the terrible motive! They did it, not for God’s glory, but to make a name for themselves.
In response, God thwarted their efforts. This was an act of grace, so that they did not become united in terrible evil. Later, God promised Abraham that his descendant would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:3). That descendant was Jesus. On the cross, he defeated sin and death and reconnected people with God. That offer is freely given to all who will believe in him – for all of us who have acted just like the people at Babel in one way or another.
Abraham, Sarah and Isaac
This one is very straightforward. God promised Abraham and Sarah a child. Although Abraham believed at first, they grew tired of waiting (in their defense, it was a LONG time to wait). Sarah hatched a plan for Abraham to have a child with Hagar (Gen. 16). They got Ishmael, but they also got a lot of relational pain and other problems. Nonetheless, God fulfilled his promise by giving Abraham and Sarah their own child, Isaac. He was the child through whom the promised Messiah would come. And simply because God abundantly overflows with blessing, he also made Ishmael a great nation and included him in the covenant (Gen. 17:20, 23).
Jacob and Esau
God promised that Jacob would inherit the blessing (Gen. 25:23). Jacob didn’t trust God to give it to him, so he followed his mother’s scheme to deceive his father and steal it. He got it, but he also had to leave his family. Later, in a classic comeuppance, he was deceived into taking the wrong wife. Nonetheless, God did everything necessary to secure the blessing for Jacob. He protected him from Laban, the uncle who did not have his best interests in mind. He brought him back home. He changed Esau’s heart, so that he welcomed Jacob and forgave him. He protected him from enemies. He saved their entire family from starvation during a famine. And he spared the lives of Joseph and Benjamin, so that Jacob’s twelve sons could be the start of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus is the descendant from the tribe of Judah, the one through whom all blessing ultimately comes.
So there you have it: a predictable pattern. The whole thing is almost embarrassing to read. It’s hard to swallow that we humans are often unwilling to believe the promises of our God who has never shown us anything other than grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and tremendous blessing. But I know it is often true of me, and I am guessing that you struggle with it, too.
However, seeing how God treats his people in their moments of unbelief is actually what gives me greater faith in his promises. These stories of his faithfulness to bless - no matter what - strengthen me. As the Spirit shows me what God is like, I am able to skip step two of this process because I trust him. And I love him so much more.
In the light of these stories from Genesis, remember this. To you and to me, God has given the blessing of Jesus. And in him, you have the blessing of forgiveness. In him, you have the blessing that he will set you free from your evil ways (Acts 3:26). In him, you have the blessing of eternal life. In him, you have the blessing of God’s unfailing love. In him, you have the blessing of adoption as sons. In him, you have the blessing that everything is yours. And he will relentlessly fulfill his promise to bless, even when we try grab the fullness ourselves before the time has come. Let’s skip step two together today.