The Separation of Abraham
As a boy, I heard many sermons calling for my church to remain separate from the world. My community valued their identity and desired to make sure the next generation followed the same path. Although I appreciate the willingness to be different, the biblical doctrine of separation from the world was often reduced to a few man-made regulations. However, other Christians refuse to be separate in any tangible ways. Both equally hinder the great commission. This is sad because the biblical concept of separation is dynamic and possesses global implications. God intends to use separation as a means of worldwide blessing. Many ignore the fact that separation is part of the narrative backbone of redemption history. I will explore this problem in a three part series: The Separation of Abraham (Part 1), The Separation of Israel (Part 2), and The Separation of the Church (Part 3).
The Separation of Abraham is the Foundation for Worldwide Blessing
The Bible records the fall of humanity in Genesis 3. From this point forward, the driving question is how God would rescue humanity from sin and bondage to the serpent. The foundation for this rescue mission is the Abrahamic Covenant. God chose to take the son of an idol worshiper and restore blessing to the world by separating him from the world. The Abrahamic covenant reveals God’s design to use separation as a means of worldwide blessing. The covenant had three primary elements:
- God would give Abraham a large family.
- God would give Abraham’s family land.
- God would bring blessing to the world through Abraham’s family.
Many Christians assume they have a thorough understanding of this covenant. However, I will draw attention to an element that is often neglected. Genesis 12:1 says, “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” The first thing God calls Abraham to do is to go from his country. God’s call on Abraham was a separation from the outset. James Boice emphasizes that Abraham’s call “involved a decisive separation from his past.” God’s plan to restore worldwide blessing began with separating Abraham.
Separation is not Isolation
Separation from the world is often painted in a negative light, portrayed as isolationist. This is understandable since the word has an inherently negative connotation. But I think it’s clear that God’s reason for separating Abraham isn’t negative or isolationist in the least. Notice the end of Genesis 12:3, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God commanded Abraham to leave his father’s house so that the families of the world could be blessed. Although God separated Abraham, it wasn’t to make him or his community insular because separation was inextricably linked to mediating blessing to the world.
An outflow of this principle is seen when Abraham intercedes for the city of Sodom. I’ve heard many speculate about Abraham and Lot’s real estate choices, most of which was not helpful. But one thing is clear: Lot decided to live intimately with the residents of Sodom, even though “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” Lot didn’t separate from the idolatrous practices of Sodom. However, God desired that Abraham’s family remain separate so that the world could see His righteousness and justice. Yet, when Abraham discovers God’s plan to judge Sodom, Abraham doesn’t say, “away with those filthy sinners!” Instead he intercedes for Sodom. Although Abraham was separated from the sin of Sodom, he longed to turn God’s wrath away from the city.
I can’t help but notice that many people advocate a model of ministry to the fallen world that emphasizes being like the world in order to reach them. But this is emphatically not the model God used with Abraham. As Jacob Enz argues, “The dual role of Abraham the father of Israel is repeated and developed in the nation. They are to be separated, holy; but they are to be separated so that they can be instrumental in ministering and meditating! Separation, yet identification. Apart, yet deeply involved. That is the divine command, the extremely difficult role of the people of God.” Enz reminds us that this ministry model is the most difficult but it’s worth the fight. In the next article I will explore separation in the story of Israel.
|Timothy Miller currently lives near Sarasota, Florida with his wife Sarah and son Malachi. He enjoys spending time with his family, hunting, woodworking, reading, sports, and traveling. Timothy is passionate about the Bible, truth, and understanding history. His greatest desire is to more intimately know Christ.|
- Joshua 24:2-3, 14
- Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (p. 439). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
- Genesis 13:13
- Genesis 18:19
- Genesis 18:19
- Enz, Jacob J. The Christian and Warfare: the Roots of Pacifism in the Old Testament (p. 46). Herald Press, 1972.