Everything I ever needed to know about the Kingdom of God, I learned from flannelgraph
The Kingdom of God has not disappeared quite as completely, as I supposed. Fragments of its meaning have been instilled in my consciousness from my youngest days, where I learned about the Bible from flannelgraph: that wonderful, colorful, soft, clingy stuff that my Bible teachers often used as a visual aid.
Noah’s rainbow symbolized my first important impression of the Kingdom. It demonstrated that, in responding to man’s efforts to use violence to control other men and to become gods themselves, God will not also choose the path of violence – simply undoing creation and destroying us all.
But it is in a second story from Genesis where God’s intentions for the Kingdom are, for the first time, fully put into play.
I’m guessing that most of us know the story about Abraham and God’s promise to make Abraham great, which came on the tail-end of his obedience in offering Issac as a sacrifice. It was a “classic” in children’s Bible classes during my day. As he looked up into the sky, Abraham was given this promise:
I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.
Do you notice how odd this sounds? “Take possession of the cities” doesn’t seem to fit well with “all nations on earth will be blessed.” If you come and take my city (or country, or even my house), I’m not likely to feel too “blessed.” And I doubt that the Caananites would later feel this way.
Yet these promises will walk hand in hand in the story of scripture. While Abraham’s descendants would, in fact “take possession” of cities, the ultimate reality that they will bring to the world will not be death and conquest, but the blessings of God himself.
The God who cursed the earth because of our rebellion, the God who was yet to employ military conquest to accomplish his ends in the closer future, will also – in the end – be a God who blesses all people.
I am amazed at how, even in the earliest History of God’s people, the story was laid out so clearly: Israel will grow. Israel will conquer. Israel will be blessed. But in the end, Israel will offer to the entire world a means by which it can again find the favor of Jehovah, as he begins to reign again in his creation.
In a world in utter rebellion, God’s Kingdom – a Kingdom that will ultimately bless rather than destroy – was now more than a dream. It was a promise.