Genesis 12:1-3: I Will Bless Those Who Bless You

In Genesis 12:1-3 there is a fascinating and immensely important prophecy which merits our attention today. When The Eternal spoke to Abram in Haran, He gave Abram a task as well as a promise that was fulfilled in many ways and that continues to shape behavior. Genesis 12:1-3 reads: “Now the Lord had said to Abram: Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great; you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And because Abram obeyed the charge of Yahweh, he and his descendents were blessed (and continue to be blessed) because of his faith. After all, God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation, but shows mercy to the thousands of generations to those who love Him and keep his commandments (see Exodus 20:5-6, Deuteronomy 5:9-10).

What this means is that Abraham’s faith and obedience had important consequences. There are some parts of this prophecy (which had been conditional upon Abram’s obedience but became locked in once He obeyed the initial command) which have attracted a great deal of attention, but there are other parts that have been less often noted and that I find worthy of commentary. Let us therefore first break this passage down into its smaller parts and explain them, and then look at the parallels and implications of this passage that are less often commented on. For example, I will not comment upon the great nations that come from Abraham as plenty of other people discuss this at length. Nonetheless, the parallels drawn between the treatment of Abraham (and his descendents) by others and the treatment of Christians by others in a similar promise to the early disciples is less often commented on.

First, let us note that God begins with commands and not a lot of information. God tells Abram to leave the comfort of the familiar, and that He will guide Abram to the place where he is to remain, away from the networks of kinship that were so important in that culture and time (and that remain important to this day). Abram had to show that he was reliant upon the Eternal for help and not on humanity, an obligation that remains for believers, who are to avoid the corruption of nepotism while forming a tight bond with the family of faith. Next, God gives Abraham promises that if Abram obeys God will bless him, make him a great nation, and give him a great and honorable name and reputation. But He also promises to make him a blessing. We will have something to say about this. Then, after that, God promises that He will bless them that bless Abram and will curse anyone who curses him, and that all families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham.

The first part of the message to Abraham centers of Abram’s need to walk by faith and not by sight. He was called to leave the familiar and let God guide his footsteps. To his credit (and fortunately for us), Abram did walk faithfully, becoming the father of the faithful and a model to us. It is not by coincidence that the author of Hebrews, in dealing with the Christian walk of faith, focuses so much attention on the example of Abraham as one who dwelt as a sojourner and a pilgrim in tents, not receiving the promised citizenship in the kingdom of heaven during his lifetime, but awaiting the resurrection of the blessed with the rest of us who believe in Him. The country that God promised to Abram was not only the physical land that became Israel and became ruled by Abram’s distant descendents, but also the New Jerusalem that is only open to believers, to enjoy eternal life in the family of God, as opposed to seeking the earthly prerogatives that belong to physical princely families such as that family to which Abram belonged.

The second part of the message states God’s promise to Abram, a promise that has four parts. First, God promises to make the childless Abram into a great nation, a promise that was more than fulfilled as Abram’s descendents have become many great (and often feuding) nations scattered throughout the four corners of the earth. Next, God promises to bless Abram, something that is done many times in the recorded text of Genesis alone (see Genesis 13:14-17, 14:19-20, 15:13-16, 17:1-16, among other examples) as well as in the later blessings of Abraham throughout scripture as a model of faith for believers. After this, God promises to make the name (or reputation) of Abram great. This promises has also been spectacularly fulfilled, as the name of Abraham is great in three world religions worshiped by almost half of the world’s current population. Even four thousand years after his life, the reputation and name of Abram (better known by his later name of Abraham) remains great. But the blessing was not for Abram alone. Not only was Abram blessed by God, but He was also told that he would be a blessing to others. This is the way it is for the righteous in general. To be an honorable person who is fair and honest in one’s dealings, a person of friendliness and ethical conduct is a blessing to others as well.

The third part of the message deals with the judgment on the world based on the presence of Abraham (and, by extension, the faithful and godly in general). God promises that He will bless or curse others based on how they react to Abram as a godly man. Those who bless Abram will show themselves to be godly (and friendly to God) and will be blessed. Those who curse Abram will do so as ungodly and corrupt people, who will be cursed by God. Because the godly serve as a blessing to all of the nations where they live and do business, as a result of their godly behavior and good example, those who hate righteousness because of their own corruption make themselves to be the enemies of God, who will be treated likewise with judgment themselves. This is a rather serious matter that is not often examined.

Let us therefore examine it in somewhat greater detail. Because the action of the godly in a nation leads to the blessings of God on that nation (for a variety of reasons, including God’s direct blessings as well as the “natural” blessings that result from honesty, lower trust barriers, less corruption, and more efficient and just markets), the treatment of the godly leads to direct consequences for nations and institutions. If a company is corrupt and it curses the godly, that company will be cursed by God. If a person has problems because of their corruption and a hatred towards the upright moral behavior of others, that person will be cursed by God for their hatred of the righteous. As someone would behave toward God, so they will behave toward the children of God. What this means is that the treatment of the ungodly toward the righteous and the godly has direct implications on God’s favor toward nations and institutions and people. This is a sobering set of consequences.

It is also something that is not limited to Abraham alone. In fact, on the last night of his life on earth as a human being, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (or Yeshua ben Yahweh, if you prefer) gave the same message to His disciples, and through them, to us, as is written in John 15:18-25: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these thins they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin, but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled in their law, “They hated Me without a cause.'”

Here, in talking about the hostility of the Jews towards Jesus Christ and toward Christians, Jesus Christ makes a point that is applicable far beyond that context and that mirrors the promise of God toward Abram some two thousand years or so before. Those who listened to Christ and followed Him and obeyed His word would also do so with the disciples. Those who hated Jesus Christ and what He stood for would also hate true Christians because they stand for the same things that Jesus Christ stood for. Early in Christianity, there were two different attacks on genuine Christianity, one from the right and one from the left, and it is instructive in order to examine these threats to see why people would hate Jesus Christ while claiming a false love of Him and of His Father.

The Pharisees (and their descendents the Orthodox Jews) as well as the Roman Catholic Church represent the threat to genuine Christianity from the right. For the Pharisees, people could earn salvation through merit by keeping a burdensome set of laws and restrictions that would enable one to fully obey the Torah. One of the aspects of the threat to the right of God’s way is in turning what should be freedom from exploitation into a joyless and harsh duty that ends up supporting corrupt elites who demand the exclusive right to interpret scripture for themselves to suit their own interests, and who mouth pious words while engaging in ungodly and corrupt behavior, including the establishment of corrupt hierarchies. The message of Christ, and its calls for servant leadership and accountability to ordinary commoners for their behavior, is a threat to the interests and desire for power among this group. In this specific instance, Jesus is speaking about the threat of the message of Christianity to the authority of the Pharisees, who were often had influential positions in synagogues, as well as the Sadducees, who were largely corrupt and ungodly leaders within the temple establishment.

But the threat to Christianity, and to the godly, does not come merely from the right. Early in the history of Christianity (and to this day) the threat of libertine gnosticism threatened Christianity from the left with its focus on the private origin of godly communication through widespread prophetic spirit that was free to contradict the written words of scripture, making each person a solitary adherent of God’s ways free from any sort of responsibilities to a larger body of people, and free from obeying any written standard of biblical behavior, as these people believed that their own heart or the spirit (that they assumed was from God) within then would lead them into righteousness without the burden of legalism. Both of these corrupt approaches are alive and well, and both of them are intensely hostile to God’s ways, which require decency and order but also loving service and outgoing concern to others. And those who love the family of God, those obedient to His word, will love Jesus Christ and our Father as well. And those who hate us and persecute us show hatred to our God and of His Christ also.

Therefore, we see that God’s message to Abram has a relevance that extends far beyond his own life as well as beyond the questions of ethnology among Abram’s descendents, though both of these are legitimate concerns that are dealt with very well. The significance for us is that God promises that all nations and peoples will be blessed by believers, by the message and practice of Christianity, by the freeing of people from the bonds of ignorance and oppression, and from slavery to sin and evil. We all have a responsibility to live godly lives and to hold evildoers accountable for their wicked deeds. And those who despise the example of godly conduct that we represent and demonstrate do so not for personal reasons but because they hate our Lord and Master, who sent us to do our job of providing examples of godly living in a world of rebellion and wickedness. Let us remember, therefore, to do our jobs, and to walk in faith as our father Abraham did before us, so that with him we might enter that heavenly city that we are promised as a reward for a life of faithful devotion to the Eternal.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Genesis 12:1-3: I Will Bless Those Who Bless You

  1. Rosalena says:

    I enjoyed this article.
    Have you written anything on the history of the Christian Church

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Rise And Fall Of Civilization | Edge Induced Cohesion

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