The Bible and the Journey to the Promised but Unknown

March 22, 2013

A Bible overview such as History Channel’s The Bible causes me—as a Presbyterian minister and activist, a sometimes seminary professor, and an ongoing Bible teacher—to ponder the great themes and golden threads that run through the story. My current teaching project “It All Started in the Garden” traces eighteen theological themes introduced in Genesis 1–3 and carries them forward through the Scriptures. Watching The Bible on television and making these repeated journeys from Genesis to Revelation each week have highlighted one particular theme I’d like to reflect upon here: Faith as a Journey to the Promised but Unknown.

  1. God’s initiation takes human beings by surprise. Rarely do we sense that the person God presses into service is expecting the call.  Adam and Eve are created and given the four-fold charge: multiply, subdue the earth, exercise dominion over creation, and till the earth. Noah unexpectedly hears God say, “It’s going to start raining, so get ready.” Abraham is called out in Ur and told to “go to the place that I will show you.” Moses is hiding out where he thinks nobody can find him, until God starts speaking to him in a burning bush. Lowly Mary and Joseph are visited by God’s angel and called to birth and raise the Messiah. The Pharisee enforcer Apostle Paul is blind-sided and called into evangelistic ministry. Among the figures highlighted in the television series, King David is a notable exception, as he was anointed by Samuel to be the new king (following Saul) several years before Saul’s death. And God promised that David’s son Solomon would follow him. So those two had some warning. Otherwise, God calls out those he has chosen for leadership when it’s time, but the reaction is often, “Who, me?”

  2. God gives hints of what is to come, but it is rarely appreciated for its scope at the moment of invitation. Who can fathom in advance the vast purposes of God? And yet, those purposes often drive the small, beginning steps of faith without the knowledge of how big a leap one is actually making. Abraham by faith united with his aged wife, years after the initial promise that he would be the father of a great nation. Joseph sat in an Egyptian prison cell for years before it became clear that he was part of God’s strategy for rescuing the Hebrews. Samuel said yes to God as a boy, and by the end of his life would be prophet of God for two monarchs. God’s plan often starts with a whisper, a thread, or a fragile moment of belief, and develops into something epic.

  3. The invited one has no real idea of what is in store and how hard it will be. And it’s a good thing, too, or no one would say yes. God promises his guidance and his power and provides the way forward. But as Teresa of Avila allegedly told God on a very bad day, “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them!”

  4. God honors his promises, though the time of fulfillment may be much longer than originally anticipated. Back to Abraham, I think I did the math once and it was 27 years or so between Genesis 12:1 and the birth of Isaac. That’s a long time to hold a promise. The Messiah was anticipated for hundreds of years. The fact that we are still waiting for the reformation of the PC(USA) or the Second Coming of Christ after 2000 years should not alarm us in the least. God promised, Jesus is returning, and it will happen. Maranatha!

  5. God empowers obedience to his call, though human beings often do not accept the help and still try to do things according to their own wisdom. This observation is the only way to explain the messes unfolding in the Old Testament. Moses in exasperation (and disobedience) hit a rock to get water from it for the grumbling Israelites, and was disqualified from entering the promised land himself. During the period of the Judges (not Israel’s best hour), the people clamored for a king like their neighbors had. Despite the ideal that they were to follow God as their King, God reassured Samuel that their request could be fulfilled, but that it was going to be hard to maintain. The monarchy was definitely a mixed blessing, as 1 and 2 Kings will tell you. And yet, for those who remained faithful to God, the power to do the impossible was present: waters parted, speeches were given, enemies were defeated, messages were carried, babies were born, fish were caught, and forgiveness was granted.

  6. Faith in God and humility before his throne remain the two great qualifiers for leadership among God’s people. Abraham believed, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Do these things and it will go well for you. Humble yourselves and pray. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Christ must increase, but I must decrease. I am the Lord’s servant; may it be done to me as you have said.

This faith responds to God’s invitation with a blank check, as we in “our” leadership trust God with our unknown future. All we can know for sure is that God is in charge; we are not. God is perfect; we are flawed human beings in need of a Savior. God is completely trustworthy; we are utterly dependent upon him. As biblical history shows us, God mightily used men and women who were willing to travel with an open ticket, who acknowledged their sin, who depended on God for power and wisdom. And those who took matters into their own hands, who jumped the gun, who usurped God’s place, or who turned aside to other gods, experienced the withdrawal of God’s blessing. Which kind of leader do you want to be? “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”



5 Responses to “The Bible and the Journey to the Promised but Unknown”

  1. Bill Young Says:

    Great thoughts, Mary, and so true. Thanks again for your posts.

  2. Thank you, Mary. I so appreciate your posts. Is your curriculum “It all started in the garden” available for purchase?

  3. Gwen Brown Says:

    And I too so appreciate your blog, and would like to purchase your curriculum It all started in the garden when it is ready. Blessings,

  4. Phil Grebe Says:

    Great post. My Friday morning Bible study is going through Hebrews, and we just finished spending some weeks on Hebrews 11, where the writer concludes, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect”. Good stuff!

  5. Sue Bergwall Says:

    Oh how Blessed we are to have the freedom of being able to watch such a wonderful re-inaction of Bible events and teachings of Christ. Our world as it is now is on its way to be a nation of takers, not givers. It only takes less than an hour of watching a news channel to see the path that America is on. For obvious reasons our world denounces those of us that stand up against our sinful world. We are called I think it is homeophobes or we are not able to accept the rights of others to their freedom of choice to get rid of their baby. When did our God given rights to follow Christ and His teachings, instead of following sin become a way of life? I understand we are all sinners, however, we must do our best with His help to follow in His teachings. The last time I read His Word it tells me that being a homosexual person is an abomination unto our Lord, and that they will not enter into the Kingdom of God. Those are not my words, those are words of God. He also tells us that he knew us before we were in our mother’s womb. That all life is precious and life is left up to God to decide who shall live and who shall die. Jesus reminds us that when our world becomes like the days of Noah, He will destroy it by fire. Most believers that I know feel like our days are numbered. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes simultaneous with floods, fathers turning against their sons, men lying with men and women with women. I believe God’s time is just around the corner, with none of us knowing the time, but we should be living as if it were tomorrow. Thank you for such a great topic and we need to pray for the lost that they might find their way to Christ.
    In Christ,
    Sue Bergwall

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