We humans have needed welfare since the start.
Reaction to Paradise. God created a paradise for our first parents, tacked a “Do Not Touch” sign on one tree, and they surrendered to the Satan-serpent, ate forbidden fruit, and got tossed from Eden. Adam and Eve gave birth to two sons; one murdered the other. Humans multiplied; so did their evil. The LORD regretted creating them, destroyed them all (except righteous Noah and his family) with a ferocious flood. But flood waters didn’t wash away sin-nature. As humans multiplied again, so did moral corruption. This time evil united to build a tower for its own fame; the LORD shattered and scattered them throughout the earth.
“Welfare” according to Webster is “the condition of health, prosperity and happiness.” Humans, intent on welfare their way, provoked God’s wrath repeatedly. We’ve needed welfare from the start.
A Stunning Promise. What came next was startling. Centuries passed. People groups spread. Then the LORD spoke this stunning promise to a man named Abram: “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Blessed?
“Blessed” means “to be granted happiness, health or prosperity” (The World English Dictionary). “Welfare” and “blessed” then are virtual synonyms. When the LORD promised “blessing” to all the families of the earth” he was promising welfare for the world– just what the world desperately needed.
A little about Abram. 2000 B.C. Abram’s father, Terah, a descendent of Shem, one of Noah’s sons (Genesis 11:10-26), was an idol-worshiper (Joshua 24:2). Terah’s family lived in the city of Ur, a cultural center on the northwest corner of the Persian Gulf (today’s Iraq).
For reasons not explained, God appeared to one of Terah’s sons–Abram–with this message: “Go out from your land and from you kindred and go into the land that I will show you” (Acts 7:2,3). Consequently, “Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran (Abram’s brother who had died). . . and Sarai his daughter-in-law . . . and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran (a caravan-route city about 600 miles to the northwest) they settled there . . . and Terah died” (Genesis 11:31,32).
Some time later the LORD again spoke to Abram: ” Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
Without details, the Scripture then says, “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him . . . And Abram took Sarai his wife . . . and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:4,5). How could Abram move again only on the basis of what he heard? Faith. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance” (Hebrews 11:8). We’re told that so we might be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit [God’s] promises” (Hebrews 6:12). We’re told that so we might walk by faith, not by sight. We’re told that so we might trust the promises of God whom we can’t see and don’t hear. Seems risky. Almost foolish. Philip Yancey says, “Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
The Most Head-Scratching Wonder. But the most head-scratching wonder of this narrative isn’t Abram’s faith. The most head-scratching wonder of this narrative is God’s mercy. Since he created Eden paradise for Adam and Eve, God had been disbelieved, disobeyed, discarded and dismissed by humans. For the sake of his own name and the preservation of his creation, God had to expel, drown and scatter evil mankind. Civilization may have culturally progressed, but humans morally regressed. Yet the Lord made Abram this stunningly merciful promise: ” . . . in you all the families of the earth will be given happiness, health and prosperity.”
Welfare for the world. A glimpse of God’s heart. He’s not out to hurt or destroy. Not bent on causing pain and suffering, despite the troubles we all endure. He’s not indifferent to disasters. He wants people from among all peoples on earth to be happy, healthy and prosperous. He’s not a harsh judge (though our sin before his holiness requires judgment). He’s not a senile white-haired grandfather (though often he works in ways that seem senseless). “The LORD [is] the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). Here two thousand years before the offspring of Abraham (Jesus, the Christ) came to fulfill this wonderful promise (Galatians 3:16), we catch a glimpse of God’s merciful welfare for the world.
These days statistics show Americans increasingly depend on welfare from Washington. Do we realize that the ultimate welfare on which we all must depend is from the compassionate, gracious, slow-to-anger, abounding-in-love, faithful God who offers welfare to the world through the offspring of Abraham? And this welfare comes, not by signing up, but by bowing down in faith.