This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 34, number 05 (2011). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/
“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; and 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’” (Gen. 12:1–3, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.).
The entire remainder of the Bible after these verses can be viewed as an exposition of God’s fulfillment of the promises contained in this remarkable passage. On this point most Bible scholars agree. What is less unanimous among believers is precisely what those verses actually are predicting.
Promises, Promises. These verses enumerate certain promises made to Abram (a.k.a. Abraham), and comprise what is usually referred to as the “Abrahamic Covenant.” The promises pertain, primarily, to some unspecified “blessing” that would be received by Abram and distributed to all other families of the earth through him. Furthermore, there would be “blessings” on those who “bless” Abraham, and all the families of earth would be blessed “in” him. In many subsequent passages, we find a virtual repetition of these themes, often with the addition of new details—especially the important fact that these promises do not pertain so much to Abraham alone as to his “seed” (Gen. 12:7; 13:15f; 15:5, 18; 17:7ff; 21:12). Many newer translations, unhelpfully, paraphrase the word “seed” with the more interpretive “descendants.”
One popular viewpoint, of relatively modern origins, holds that the Abrahamic promises pertain to the Jewish race as the “seed” of Abraham, and that their ultimate fulfillment awaits the millennial kingdom, after the future return of Christ. Many who hold this view identify the “blessings” due to Abraham and his seed with temporal prosperity, political independence, and, eventually, exaltation to prominence above all the nations. Thus, they have interpreted Genesis 12:3, with its stated obligation to “bless” Abraham, so as to teach that Christians should recognize a special status of national/ethnic Israel, and “bless” them by giving them their unconditional political, economic, and moral support. Some even appear to believe that such an obligation to bless Israel defines one of the leading duties incumbent on Christians living in the last days (which would include the present time).
Who Gets Blessed? In seeking to understand the nature and fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, we face a two-pronged challenge: we must (1) identify the “seed” of Abraham to whom the promises pertain and (2) identify the nature of the “blessing” promised.
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