I may have shared here before about my preoccupation with the idea of purpose. Things ought to be done for a reason. I’m always the guy asking, “why?” Why are we doing this; what do we hope to achieve; what is the purpose for this or that. Things ought to have a purpose and then they ought to achieve that purpose. I feel pretty strongly about that.
I was thinking of all that as I read the well known story in Genesis 18 of Abraham’s visit from three strangers. As part of that visit, we have the picture of the angels going down to Sodom and Gomorrah and bringing God’s judgment on that place for their extreme wickedness. We know those stories pretty well, don’t we?
What caught my attention was just one verse I the middle of that section. In Genesis 18, verse 19 deals with the issue of purpose. God is speaking of the coming destruction of those godless cities, and he begins to reflect on the need to share what He’s going to do with Abraham. Because of His purpose for Abraham and his descendents, God says, I ought to fill him in on what’s going on.
God says, “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
Twice in this verse we have the Hebrew word “ma‛an” which is used over 270 times in the Old Testament, and is translated as here in the ESV as “so that.” It is a word of purpose. It has the idea of “on account of” of “in order that” or “to the end of.” Things are done for a reason when this word is used. And it appears twice in this one verse, which tells me that purpose is at the center of this. So, what does this tell us about purpose?
I think it tells us, obviously, that God Sets Aside His People. This is the action itself. This is what is being done that the other two phrases will show a purpose for. The verse begins, for I have chosen him. Literally, I have known him; but it’s indicative of a special and intimate knowledge. The idea is, I have set him aside.
God is a choosing God. He chooses Abraham out of all the others in the world. He chooses to build His people through Abraham’s son Isaac, and not his other son Ishmael. He then chooses the conniving Jacob instead of his older twin Esau. We’re not sure exactly why, but we simply see God setting aside a people for Himself.
God has chosen a people, set them aside for Himself and His promises. And Paul says in both Romans and Galatians that you and I have become part of that promise through faith in Christ. We, too, then are a people chosen by God.
Peter says in 1Peter 2:9 - “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…” God is still in the business of setting aside His people. But it’s not just about being set aside. Here’s the “why” question. God has set aside His people, but He did it for a reason, didn’t He?
God Sets Aside His People for a Purpose. “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” This is the reason. So that Abraham will himself be obedient and will teach his family to do the same.
In the wake of Father’s Day, we ought to remind ourselves that God has placed the family at the center of His plan’s for the world. God set aside Abraham to be the father of His people. And part of the purpose in being set aside was so that Abraham would be faithful in leading his family; his children and their children after them; to be obedient to the Lord, to be faithful to God and His Word. But ultimately, there is even another purpose behind that.
God Sets Aside His People for HIS Purpose. Abraham has been set aside; he is set aside for the purpose of directing his family… “so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
The ultimate reason, the ultimate purpose for God’s setting aside His people is for His own purpose and His own glory. So that He can fulfill all the promises He has given. The promise to call out a people to Himself, the promise to guide and protect that people, the promise to bless the nations through that people, the promise to bring salvation through that people, the promise to bring that people into an eternity with God where we will worship and serve Him forever.
God’s purpose to glorify Himself is at the center of everything He does. The most famous Psalm of all, Psalm 23 includes the phrase: “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” Why does He restore me and lead me? For His glory. For His name’s sake. Likewise Psalm 79 says, “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake!"
John echoes the same thought in his first letter. 1 John 2:12 says, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.” And 1Peter 2:9 says – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, (so) that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We are chosen, set aside, saved for His purpose; to glorify Christ; to proclaim His excellencies.
Viktor Frankl once said that “Clinics are crowded with people suffering from a new kind of neurosis, a sense of total and ultimate meaninglessness of life.” I believe that more people are like me than they want to admit. We all want to identify the purpose of things. We want to know the why. We want to have a reason for things.
God reminds us in His word that He has chosen us for a reason. We do have a purpose. We are called to teach His word to our children and their children, so that His name will be glorified in our families, our churches and our nation.
I’m writing this simply because I want to challenge myself, and you, to be faithful to the purpose for which God has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light; to live our lives individually, as families, and as a family of families in the church for His praise and His glory.