“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:2
What makes a person great? Take five seconds and ruminate over that one. If you wanted people to call you a “great” individual, what steps would you take toward that goal? If you wanted to leave your footprint on the world in such a way that for the next hundred years, common people would know your name, how would you accomplish that?
As far as I know, there is no book available which lists a step-by-step plan for this. Sure, you can find plenty of literature dedicated to self-improvement, or to becoming a great leader, or a great spouse, or a great cat-groomer. I’ve yet to find one which lists the key steps, though, to ensuring that you become a great and influential name in world history. Nor have I ever heard of any great individuals in history following some foolproof pattern to that success.
Let’s abandon that progression of thought for a moment (but keep it tucked away off to the side in your brain somewhere).
Now ask yourself a different question: whose name do you think is the most widely known in the world today? Most would probably say Jesus—and would likely be correct. I’ll admit that I’m basing this completely off of my own presuppositions and off of exactly zero factual evidence.
As far as worldwide recognition goes, I’d like to make the case for a man who probably did not immediately come to mind. He tends to find himself overshadowed by some of the more obvious figures in world history. Yet his is a name known—and claimed as forefather—by the two largest religions in our world, and by a third much smaller one: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
I’m talking about a man named Abraham.
Abraham lived some 4,000 years ago, yet his is one of the most well-known around the world in our modern era. My guess is that almost anybody reading this post would be hard-pressed to name anybody else—outside of the Bible—who lived during this time.
But why? Why do so many people know this man who lived so long ago? Abraham was not a great king. He did not own cities or rule empires. There are no archaeological artifacts dedicated to Abraham and his greatness. We don’t even know where he was buried—yes, in a cave, but where exactly? He has no lofty tomb like the Egyptian pharaohs.
So how did he do it? How did Abraham become so great that even today most people would recognize his name?
The answer? Nothing.
Abraham did nothing to make himself great. He read no book, took no class, and devised no steps toward his greatness and the immortality of his name.
Instead, when Abraham was an old man—already seventy-five years old—God visited Abraham. God gave Abraham a message. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
“Pack up and wander around until I tell you to stop” hardly sounds like the recipe for success or greatness. But God has more to tell Abraham. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (12:2). Please notice the subjects and the objects in those first two statements which the LORD speaks to Abraham.
Abraham does not make Abraham a great nation. Abraham does not immortalize Abraham’s name. Rather, it is God himself who accomplishes Abraham’s great nation. It is God himself who immortalizes Abraham’s name in the annals of world history.
“Well, that’s all fine and dandy for Abraham, but what does it have to do with me?” you might be asking. “How does that affect my life today—other than that I know who Abraham is?”
Abraham’s greatness is not about what he does—it’s not even really about everything that God does for him while he is alive.
Don’t misunderstand me. Abraham’s life is incredible and noteworthy. God certainly does accomplish great things for Abraham while the old man still lives. He gives Abraham’s wife Sarah a son, even though she is well past the age of child-bearing. He increases Abraham’s wealth until he is a regular Bill Gates of the ancient middle-eastern world.
But it’s not about that.
Abraham’s lasting greatness is really about the one to whom he is connected—the descendant of his very own line and his own Savior, Jesus.
The LORD in Genesis 12 finishes up his speech to Abraham with these words: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (12:3).
Abraham himself was not the blessing. He was not God’s gift to the world. But through Abraham’s line, through this “great nation” that God would bring forth from Abraham and his wife Sarah, God would bless the entire world.
That blessing is found in Jesus Christ. That blessing is found in God becoming man and living among his own creatures. That blessing is found in his blameless walk as he kept all of his Father’s commands perfectly. That blessing is found as Jesus then hangs on a cross and dies to pay not for his own sins, but for the sins of every other man, woman, and child in the world’s history from beginning to end. That blessing is found at Jesus’ empty tomb, when he rose from the grave and defeated death forever, ensuring that all of his own will also live forever with him.
God made Abraham’s name great. This was not because of anything Abraham did or said or accomplished. This was simply because God decided that his road for humankind’s salvation would run through Abraham.
All Abraham “did” was receive exactly what God promised him. He did not take steps toward greatness. He did not plan his greatness.
It was God who did everything.
But Abraham wasn’t the only person whose name is made great by God.
Yours is, too. In Part Two, we will look a little more at how God gives sinful people notable names. Between now and then, here’s a little homework for you to tackle:
- Read the rest of Abraham’s story in Genesis 12-25. Write down notable moments when God accomplished incredible things for Abraham during his lifetime.
- Examine your own life’s story. What notable things has God accomplished for you? How has God blessed others through you? How might God bless others through you right now in life?
- Say a prayer, thanking God for the wonderful ways he has blessed you. Ask him for the strength and direction to live in such a way as to be a great blessing to everybody in your corner of the world.
May God who lives in your hearts also shine in your lives as you become a blessing to the world around you.