I have been driving through Memphis a few times a year for the last twenty years. Some years it’s more than that, but there’s never been a year when I didn’t make at least a few trips through the city. Going through Memphis is like traveling through any other large cities—you need a fairly high level of concentration in order to deal with the many lanes of traffic, vehicles swerving in and out of those lanes, road construction, and keeping an eye out for your exit.
In addition to this, Memphis has the distinction of being the truck (18 wheeler) capital of the world. Due to its relatively central location in the Sunbelt region, Target, Nike, FedEx, and lots of other companies have distribution centers in the city. According to the chamber of commerce website, there are over 400 trucking companies. If you’ve driven through Memphis you already know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t you get the picture. You really have to keep your head on a swivel as you’re driving through.
If I’m headed north, as soon as I get out of West Memphis, I get on Highway 64—a predominately two lane road that cuts through east central Arkansas. It takes you through a rural area consisting of rice, soybean, cotton fields, and small towns. You can go for miles without seeing another car. It’s quite a contrast with what you experience in Memphis.
I think that’s something of the effect we’re to feel as we move out of the first eleven chapters of Genesis and into the story of Abraham. The first eleven chapters function as a long, but purposeful introduction. They are busy with the world at large and with a few notable exceptions, their rebellion against God and His ways. All of this culminates at Babel, where once more mankind defies Him and this time (rather than send a flood), God deals with their disobedience by confusing their speech, dispersing the people, and in the process creating unique, distinct groups of people who can no longer easily interact.
And with that we’ve moved out of Memphis and into a smaller-scale world that consists no longer of a single group encompassing everyone, but a multitude of smaller groups. We pick up on one of these groups in the latter part of chapter eleven which focuses on a man named Abram. The writer has taken us from “the whole world” (v. 1) to a single man.
Keeping in mind that Genesis is written for Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, the book functions to remind them of how their nation came into being so they can appreciate the mission God has for them. It was formed in response to mankind’s rejection of God, God’s refusal to jettison them, and His plan to redeem the world through a small nation in the middle of a land bridge between Africa and Asia.
Israel is to be reminded in all of this that though they are the elect, they are not the elite. They did not choose God; He chose them. Their mission is to be a blessing (12:2-3). These are still good things for the people of God to remember today.