Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Multiplying Imago Dei in the Abrahamic Covenant

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:6-7).

God is consistent with his message. He keeps repeating his special command to human beings in creative ways. First God spoke to Adam and Eve directly to multiply the Imago Dei (Genesis 1:26-28). Then God spoke to Noah and his family after the destruction of the evil image and the saving of the Imago Dei (Genesis 9:1 and 7). Hundreds of years after that, God again commanded the multiplication of Imago Dei through a very creative way.

God began his creative communication through calling Abram: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Then God promised Abram: “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. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3). God began fulfilling his promise to Abram by changing his name to Abraham and his wife’s name to Sarah. Then God gave Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac, through an impossible situation. Sarah was barren and old, but at 90 she gave birth to Isaac. This is clearly God’s doing. No humans are able to do this.

God established his covenant with Abraham and Sarah. The sign of the covenant was circumcision. “Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you” (Genesis 17:9-11). So God made a distinction between Abraham’s descendants and the rest of the world. Through Abraham God created a nation, a people distinct from the rest of the world. Through Abraham God kept and multiplied the Imago Dei.

After the death of Abraham and Sarah, God continued his covenant with Abraham to Isaac. The same promise that God said to Abraham that he would be a great nation. “The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do no go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees, and my laws” (Genesis 26:2-5). Then God was with Isaac, keeping him and protecting him.

God then continued his covenant to Jacob, Isaac’s son. “There above it stood the Lord, and he said:I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15). God said this when Jacob was leaving Canaan running away from Esau. Then when Jacob came back to Canaan, God blessed him and changed his name to Israel (Genesis 32:27-28).

Then when Jacob was afraid to go to Egypt, God appeared to him saying: “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there” (Genesis 46:3). Jacob was afraid because he knew that God once spoke to Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved and mistreated by a foreign country in a foreign land for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13-16). So God had to assure Jacob of his promise. Through Jacob, God brought forth the twelve tribes of Israel and eventually God made Israel into a great nation in Egypt.

God promised Abraham and Sarah, who were barren and old, to make them able to multiply. The multiplication that God ordered to all humans through Adam and Eve was now initiated by God himself because Abraham and Sarah were incapable of multiplying on their own. Important for us to remember is that in the time of Noah, people multiplied but they did not multiply Imago Dei, so God had to wipe out mankind from the face of the earth. God saved Noah, who was obviously the remnant of Imago Dei. Now in the time of Abraham, God had an initiative to create a people who would bear the image of God and be a blessing to others. In a way, Abraham and Sarah was the remnant of Noah, Imago Dei, but they were incapable to multiply. So God had to intervene. The impossible situation that Abraham and Sarah faced emphasized the hands of God in this saga. Obviously, God’s command must be accomplished, and when his remnant couldn’t, God’s love and compassion took charge. God did the impossible through Abraham and Sarah.

The changing of names of all three generations showed that they belonged to God himself. The names of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:5 and 15), the name of Isaac (Genesis 17:19), and the name of Israel (Genesis 32:28). They became the descendants of Adam and Eve, and thus of God. They are the remnant of the Imago Dei.

In Egypt, God blessed Israel so they were fruitful, multiplied greatly and be exceedingly numerous, and filled the land. This is the formula of God’s command to Adam and Eve and Noah: “to be fruitful, increase in number, and fill the earth.” Israel did just what was commanded. Therefore, God’s special blessing rests with Israel, who is the remnant of Imago Dei.

Through a creative way, God continued his command of multiplying Imago Dei. It is obvious that God did not order the multiplication of other image. God ordered only the multiplication of Imago Dei. God went through a great deal to get his message across and to get his plan done through impossible situations. The preservation of the remnant of Imago Dei is at the heart of God’s plan. In the days of Noah, God saved the remnant and through him he repeated his command to multiply Imago Dei. Through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God preserved and miraculously multiplied the remnant into a great nation with numerous people.

Therefore, make no mistake that God does not order humans to multiply just for the sake of multiplication. This multiplication is not merely for the biological multiplication so the earth will be filled with many people. God is concerned with what kind of people that would inhabit the land. For the world belongs to God and thus his rules must be obeyed. With the incident in Noah’s time, God showed clearly that none should be left alive who don’t follow God’s command. Every human being born in God’s land bears a certain responsibility to follow God’s law, just like every child born in our house must follow our rule. When people multiply but they don’t follow God’s law, they are as good as dead in God’s eyes. So multiplying cannot just be seen as biological reproduction. The multiplication of human beings must take into account the education of Imago Dei. Multiplying Imago Dei as God’s command to all humans stands and cannot be negotiated. The will of God himself will see its completion as was shown through his work in Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.

* The Business of Christian Education XXIV

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