Genesis 12:2
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
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(2, 3) Thou shalt be a blessing.—More correctly, Be thou a blessing. The promises made to Abram are partly personal and partly universal, embracing the whole world. In return for all that he abandons he is to become the founder of a powerful nation, who will honour his name, and teach the inheritors of their spiritual privileges to share in their veneration for him. But in the command to “be” or “become a blessing,” we reach a higher level, and it is the glory of Abram’s faith that it was not selfish, and in return for his consenting to lead the life of a stranger, he was to be the means of procuring religious privileges, not only for his own descendants, but also “for all families of the earth” (Heb., of the groundthe adâmâh). Not for the earth as the material universe, but solely in its connection with man. Wherever man makes his home upon it, there, through Abram, spiritual blessings will be offered him.

I will bless . . . —These words indicate relations mysteriously close between Jehovah and Abram, whereby the friends and enemies of the one become so equally to the other. But in the second clause our version has not noticed an essential difference between the verbs used. They occur together again in Exodus 22:28, and are there more correctly rendered by “revile” and “curse.” The one word signifies to treat lightly and contemptuously, the other to pronounce a curse, usually in a judicial manner. We might, therefore, translate, “I will curse—pass a sentence of rejection upon—him that speaketh lightly of, or revileth thee.”

In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.—Some authorities translate, “shall bless themselves;” but there is a different conjugation to express this meaning, and no reason exists for forcing it upon the text. Henceforward Abram and the nation sprung from him were to be the intermediaries between God and mankind, and accordingly revelation was virtually confined to them. But though the knowledge of God’s will was to be given through them, it was for the benefit of all the families of every race and kindred distributed throughout the habitable world, the adâmâh (Romans 3:29; Romans 10:12, &c).

Genesis 12:2. I will make of thee a great nation — When God took him from his own people, he promised to make him the head of another people. This promise was both a great relief to Abram’s burden, for he had now no child, and a great trial to Abram’s faith, for his wife had been long barren; so that if he believe, it must be against hope, and his faith must build purely upon that power which “can out of stones raise up children unto Abraham.” I will bless thee — Either particularly with the blessing of fruitfulness, as he had blessed Adam and Noah; or in general, I will bless thee with all manner of blessings, both of the upper and nether springs: leave thy father’s house, and I will give thee a father’s blessing, better than that of thy progenitors. I will make thy name great — By deserting his country he lost his name there. Care not for that, says God, but trust me, and I will make thee a greater name than ever thou couldst have had there. Thou shalt be a blessing — Thy testimony for God, thy example, thy prayers, and power with God, thy wisdom and prudence, thy peaceable and benevolent disposition and conduct, shall make thee a blessing in all places where thou shalt sojourn. I will bless them that bless thee, &c. — I will be a friend to thy friends, and an enemy to thy enemies; thus making, as it were, a kind of league, offensive and defensive, with Abram. Abram heartily espoused God’s cause, and here God promises to interest himself m his behalf.

12:1-3 God made choice of Abram, and singled him out from among his fellow-idolaters, that he might reserve a people for himself, among whom his true worship might be maintained till the coming of Christ. From henceforward Abram and his seed are almost the only subject of the history in the Bible. Abram was tried whether he loved God better than all, and whether he could willingly leave all to go with God. His kindred and his father's house were a constant temptation to him, he could not continue among them without danger of being infected by them. Those who leave their sins, and turn to God, will be unspeakable gainers by the change. The command God gave to Abram, is much the same with the gospel call, for natural affection must give way to Divine grace. Sin, and all the occasions of it, must be forsaken; particularly bad company. Here are many great and precious promises. All God's precepts are attended with promises to the obedient. 1. I will make of thee a great nation. When God took Abram from his own people, he promised to make him the head of another people. 2. I will bless thee. Obedient believers shall be sure to inherit the blessing. 3. I will make thy name great. The name of obedient believers shall certainly be made great. 4. Thou shalt be a blessing. Good men are the blessings of their country. 5. I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee. God will take care that none are losers, by any service done for his people. 6. In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Jesus Christ is the great blessing of the world, the greatest that ever the world possessed. All the true blessedness the world is now, or ever shall be possessed of, is owing to Abram and his posterity. Through them we have a Bible, a Saviour, and a gospel. They are the stock on which the Christian church is grafted.The promise corresponds to the command. If he is to lose much by his exile, he will also gain in the end. The promise contains a lower and higher blessing. The lower blessing has three parts: "First, I will make of thee a great nation." This will compensate for the loss of his country. The nation to which he had hitherto belonged was fast sinking into polytheism and idolatry. To escape from it and its defiling influence was itself a benefit; but to be made himself the head of a chosen nation was a double blessing. Secondly, "And bless thee." The place of his birth and kindred was the scene of all his past earthly joys. But the Lord will make up the loss to him in a purer and safer scene of temporal prosperity. Thirdly, "And make thy name great." This was to compensate him for his father's house. He was to be the patriarch of a new house, on account of which he would be known and venerated all over the world.

The higher blessing is expressed in these remarkable terms: "And be thou a blessing." He is to be not merely a subject of blessing, but a medium of blessing to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive. And the Lord here confers on Abram the delightful prerogative of dispensing good to others. The next verse expands this higher element of the divine promise. "I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee." Here the Lord identifies the cause of Abram with his own, and declares him to be essentially connected with the weal or woe of all who come into contact with him. "And blessed in thee shall be all the families of the ground." The ground was cursed for the sake of Adam, who fell by transgression. But now shall the ground again participate in the blessing. "In thee." In Abram is this blessing laid up as a treasure hid in a field to be realized in due time. "All the families" of mankind shall ultimately enter into the enjoyment of this unbounded blessing.

Thus, when the Lord saw fit to select a man to preserve vital piety on the earth and be the head of a race suited to be the depository of a revelation of mercy, he at the same time designed that this step should be the means of effectually recalling the sin-enthralled world to the knowledge and love of himself. The race was twice already since the fall put upon its probation - once under the promise of victory to the seed of the woman, and again under the covenant with Noah. In each of these cases, notwithstanding the growing light of revelation and accumulating evidence of the divine forbearance, the race had apostatised from the God of mercy, with lamentably few known exceptions. Yet, undeterred by the gathering tokens of this second apostasy, and after reiterated practical demonstration to all people of the debasing, demoralizing effect of sin, the Lord, with calm determination of purpose, sets about another step in the great process of removing the curse of sin, dispensing the blessing of pardon, and eventually drawing all the nations to accept of his mercy. The special call of Abram contemplates the calling of the Gentiles as its final issue, and is therefore to be regarded as one link in a series of wonderful events by which the legal obstacles to the divine mercy are to be taken out of the way, and the Spirit of the Lord is to prevail with still more and more of men to return to God.

It is sometimes inadvertently said that the Old Testament is narrow and exclusive, while the New Testament is broad and catholic in its spirit. This is a mistake. The Old and New Testaments are of one mind on this matter. Many are called, and few chosen. This is the common doctrine of the New as well as of the Old. They are both equally catholic in proclaiming the gospel to all. The covenant with Adam and with Noah is still valid and sure to all who return to God; and the call of Abram is expressly said to be a means of extending blessing to all the families of man. The New Testament does not aim at anything more than this; it merely hails the approaching accomplishment of the same gracious end. They both concur also in limiting salvation to the few who repent and believe the gospel. Even when Abram was called there were a few who still trusted in the God of mercy. According to the chronology of the Masoretic text, Heber was still alive, Melkizedec was contemporary with Abram, Job was probably later, and many other now unknown witnesses for God were doubtless to be found, down to the time of the exodus, outside the chosen family. God marks the first symptoms of decaying piety. He does not wait until it has died out before he calls Abram. He proceeds in a leisurely, deliberate manner with his eternal purpose of mercy, and hence, a single heir of promise suffices for three generations, until the set time comes for the chosen family and the chosen nation. Universalism, then, in the sense of the offer of mercy to man, is the rule of the Old and the New Testament. Particularism in the acceptance of it is the accident of the time. The call of Abram is a special expedient for providing a salvation that may be offered to all the families of the earth.

In all God's teachings the near and the sensible come before the far and the conceivable, the present and the earthly before the eternal and the heavenly. Thus, Abram's immediate acts of self-denial are leaving his country, his birthplace, his home. The promise to him is to be made a great nation, be blessed, and have a great name in the new land which the Lord would show him. This is unspeakably enhanced by his being made a blessing to all nations. God pursues this mode of teaching for several important reasons. First, the sensible and the present are intelligible to those who are taught. The Great Teacher begins with the known, and leads the mind forward to the unknown. If he had begun with things too high, too deep, or too far for the range of Abram's mental vision, he would not have come into relation with Abram's mind. It is superfluous to say that he might have enlarged Abram's view in proportion to the grandeur of the conceptions to be revealed.

On the same principle he might have made Abram cognizant of all present and all developed truth. On the same principle he might have developed all things in an instant of time, and so have had done with creation and providence at once. Secondly, the present and the sensible are the types of the future and the conceivable; the land is the type of the better land; the nation of the spiritual nation; the temporal blessing of the eternal blessing; the earthly greatness of the name of the heavenly. And let us not suppose that we are arrived at the end of all knowledge. We pique ourselves on our advance in spiritual knowledge beyond the age of Abram. But even we may be in the very infancy of mental development. There may be a land, a nation, a blessing, a great name, of which our present realizations or conceptions are but the types. Any other supposition would be a large abatement from the sweetness of hope's overflowing cup.

Thirdly, these things which God now promises are the immediate form of his bounty, the very gifts he begins at the moment to bestow. God has his gift to Abram ready in his hand in a tangible form. He points to it and says, This is what thou presently needest; this I give thee, with my blessing and favor. But, fourthly, these are the earnest and the germ of all temporal and eternal blessing. Man is a growing thing, whether as an individual or a race. God graduates his benefits according to the condition and capacity of the recipients. In the first boon of his good-will is the earnest of what he will continue to bestow on those who continue to walk in his ways. And as the present is the womb of the future, so is the external the symbol of the internal, the material the shadow of the spiritual, in the order of the divine blessing. And as events unfold themselves in the history of man and conceptions in his soul within, so are doctrines gradually opened up in the Word of God, and progressively revealed to the soul by the Spirit of God.


Ge 12:1-20. Call to Abram.

1. Now the Lord had said unto Abram—It pleased God, who has often been found of them who sought Him not, to reveal Himself to Abraham perhaps by a miracle; and the conversion of Abraham is one of the most remarkable in Bible history.

Get thee out of thy country—His being brought to the knowledge and worship of the true God had probably been a considerable time before. This call included two promises: the first, showing the land of his future posterity; and the second, that in his posterity all the earth was to be blessed (Ge 12:2). Abraham obeyed, and it is frequently mentioned in the New Testament as a striking instance of his faith (Heb 11:8).

I will bless thee with all my blessings, spiritual, temporal, and eternal; (see Deu 7:13 28:2, &c.; Ephesians 1:3)

and thou shalt be, both a pattern and instrument of blessedness to others; to thy posterity, who shall be blessed for thy sake; to thy servants and friends, who shall be blessed by thy instruction and help; and to all the world, as it follows.

And I will make of thee a great nation,.... In a literal sense, as the people of the Jews were that descended from him, and in a spiritual sense believers in all ages and of all nations, that walk in the steps of the faith of Abram, who are his children, and are blessed with him:

and I will bless thee; not only with temporal blessings, but principally with spiritual ones, since Abram in person had no share of the land of Canaan; even with the adoption of children and friendship with God; with justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ, which blessedness came upon him when uncircumcised; with a large measure of faith, and every other grace; with the sanctification of the Spirit, and an increase of it until brought to perfection; and with eternal glory and happiness, a right, title, and meetness for it, and the full possession of it:

and make thy name great; as it was among the Jews his descendants, who boasted of having Abram for their father; and among the several nations of the world; his name is famous in profane history, and is in high esteem with the Mahometans to this day; and especially his name is great and famous, and the memory of him precious among all those who have obtained like precious faith with him, in every age and in every nation:

and thou shall be a blessing; to all that knew him and conversed with him, they receiving spiritual light and knowledge by means of his instruction, and to all that should hear and read of his faith and piety, being encouraged by his example: or, "shall be blessing"; blessing itself, that is, most blessed, exceedingly blessed; as a very wicked man may be called wickedness itself; as "scelus" for "scelestus" with the Latins; so a good man may be called blessing itself, extremely happy.

And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be {c} a blessing:

(c) The world shall recover by your seed, which is Christ, the blessing which they lost in Adam.

2. The promise, (1) of national greatness, (2) of personal privilege, embraces a double relation, to the world and to the individual.

a great nation] This thought stands in the forefront. The personal aspect of the promise made to Abram is from the first merged in the thought of its historic influence throughout the ages.

I will bless thee] The experience of happiness in the personal relation to Jehovah is to be the pledge of the ultimate fulfilment of blessing to the world.

make thy name great] Contrast Genesis 11:4. The blessing of Abram, in its spiritual influence upon the world, will be of more enduring renown than any of the material forces of the world.

be thou a blessing] i.e. one who impersonates true felicity; cf. Zechariah 8:13. Not a source, but a type, of blessing, to be pronounced upon others. The imperative expresses a consequence which is intended (Gesenius, Heb. Gr. § 110. 1) = “so that thou shalt be a blessing.” By a slight alteration of the pointing, Giesebrecht reads “and it (the name) shall be a blessing.” For the “curse” of the primaeval age (Genesis 3:13, Genesis 4:11, Genesis 5:29, Genesis 9:25 (J)) is substituted the “blessing” of the Chosen Family.

Verses 2, 3. - And I will make of thee a great nation. A compensation for leaving his small kindred. The nation should be great

(1) numerically (Keil, Rosenmüller),

(2) influentially (Kalisch, Inglis),

(3) spiritually (Luther, Wordsworth). And I will bless thee. Temporally (Pererius, Murphy), with every kind of good (Rosenmüller), in particular with offspring (Vatablus); but also spiritually (Rupertus, Bush), in the sense., e.g., of being justified by faith, as in Galatians 3:8 (Candlish). The blessing was a recompense for the deprivations entailed upon him by forsaking the place of his birth and kindred (Murphy). And make thy name great. Render thee illustrious and renowned (Rosenmüller); not so much in the annals of the world as in the history of the Church (Bush); in return for leaving thy father's house (Murphy). So God made David a great name (2 Samuel 7:9; cf. Proverbs 22:1; Ecclesiastes 7:3). And thou shalt be a blessing. I.e. "blessed," as in Zechariah 8:12 (Chaldee, Syriac, LXX., Dathe, Rosenmüller, Gesenius); or "a type or example of blessing," so that men shall introduce thy name into their formularies of blessing (Kimchi, Clericus, Knobel, Calvin); but, best, "a source of blessing' (spiritual) to others" (Tuch, Delitzsch, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy). The sense in which Abram was to be a source of blessing to others is explained in the next verse. First, men were to be either blessed or cursed of God according as their attitude to Abram was propitious or hostile. And I will bless them - grace expecting they will be many to bless (Delitzsch) - that bless thee, and curse (with a judicial curse, the word being the same as in Genesis 3:14; Genesis 4:11) him - only an individual here and there, in the judgment of the Deity, being likely to inherit this malediction (Delitzsch) - that curseth (literally, treateth lightly or despiseth The verb is applied in Genesis 8:11 to the diminution of the waters of the flood) thee. The Divine Being thus identifies himself with Abram, and solemnly engages to regard Abrams friends and enemies as his, as Christ does with his Church (cf. Acts 1:4). And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Not Mess themselves by thee or in thy name (Jarchi, Clericus); but in thee, as the progenitor of the promised seed, shall all the families of the ground (which was cursed on account of sin, Genesis ill 17) be spiritually blessed - cf. Galatians 3:8 (Calvin, Luther, Rosenmüller, Keil, Wordsworth, Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary'). Thus the second sense in which Abram was constituted a blessing lay in this, that the whole fullness of the Divine promise of salvation for the world was narrowed up to his line, by which it was in future to be carried forward, and at the appointed season, when the woman s seed was horn, distributed among mankind. Genesis 12:2The Call. - The word of Jehovah, by which Abram was called, contained a command and a promise. Abram was to leave all - his country, his kindred (see Genesis 43:7), and his father's house - and to follow the Lord into the land which He would show him. Thus he was to trust entirely to the guidance of God, and to follow wherever He might lead him. But as he went in consequence of this divine summons into the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:5), we must assume that God gave him at the very first a distinct intimation, if not of the land itself, at least of the direction he was to take. That Canaan was to be his destination, was no doubt made known as a matter of certainty in the revelation which he received after his arrival there (Genesis 12:7). - For thus renouncing and denying all natural ties, the Lord gave him the inconceivably great promise, "I will make of thee a great nation; and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing." The four members of this promise are not to be divided into two parallel members, in which case the athnach would stand in the wrong place; but are to be regarded as an ascending climax, expressing four elements of the salvation promised to Abram, the last of which is still further expanded in Genesis 12:3. By placing the athnach under שׁמך the fourth member is marked as a new and independent feature added to the other three. The four distinct elements are - 1. increase into a numerous people; 2. a blessing, that is to say, material and spiritual prosperity; 3. the exaltation of his name, i.e., the elevation of Abram to honour and glory; 4. his appointment to be the possessor and dispenser of the blessing. Abram was not only to receive blessing, but to be a blessing; not only to be blessed by God, but to become a blessing, or the medium of blessing, to others. The blessing, as the more minute definition of the expression "be a blessing" in Genesis 12:3 clearly shows, was henceforth to keep pace as it were with Abram himself, so that (1) the blessing and cursing of men were to depend entirely upon their attitude towards him, and (2) all the families of the earth were to be blessed in him. קלּל, lit., to treat as light or little, to despise, denotes "blasphemous cursing on the part of a man;" ארר "judicial cursing on the part of God." It appears significant, however, "that the plural is used in relation to the blessing, and the singular only in relation to the cursing; grace expects that there will be many to bless, and that only an individual here and there will render not blessing for blessing, but curse for curse." - In Genesis 12:3 b, Abram, the one, is made a blessing for all. In the word בּך the primary meaning of ב, in, is not to be given up, though the instrumental sense, through, is not to be excluded. Abram was not merely to become a mediator, but the source of blessing for all. The expression "all the families of the ground" points to the division of the one family into many (Genesis 10:5, Genesis 10:20, Genesis 10:31), and the word האדמה to the curse pronounced upon the ground (Genesis 3:17). The blessing of Abraham was once more to unite the divided families, and change the curse, pronounced upon the ground on account of sin, into a blessing for the whole human race. This concluding word comprehends all nations and times, and condenses, as Baumgarten has said, the whole fulness of the divine counsel for the salvation of men into the call of Abram. All further promises, therefore, not only to the patriarchs, but also to Israel, were merely expansions and closer definitions of the salvation held out to the whole human race in the first promise. Even the assurance, which Abram received after his entrance into Canaan (Genesis 12:6), was implicitly contained in this first promise; since a great nation could not be conceived of, without a country of its own.

This promise was renewed to Abram on several occasions: first after his separation from Lot (Genesis 13:14-16), on which occasion, however, the "blessing" was not mentioned, because not required by the connection, and the two elements only, viz., the numerous increase of his seed, and the possession of the land of Canaan, were assured to him and to his seed, and that "for ever;" secondly, in Genesis 18:18 somewhat more casually, as a reason for the confidential manner in which Jehovah explained to him the secret of His government; and lastly, at the two principal turning points of his life, where the whole promise was confirmed with the greatest solemnity, viz., in Genesis 17 at the commencement of the establishment of the covenant made with him, where "I will make of thee a great nation" was heightened into "I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee," and his being a blessing was more fully defined as the establishment of a covenant, inasmuch as Jehovah would be God to him and to his posterity (Genesis 11:3.), and in Genesis 22 after the attestation of his faith and obedience, even to the sacrifice of his only son, where the innumerable increase of his seed and the blessing to pass from him to all nations were guaranteed by an oath. The same promise was afterwards renewed to Isaac, with a distinct allusion to the oath (Genesis 26:3-4), and again to Jacob, both on his flight from Canaan for fear of Esau (Genesis 28:13-14), and on his return thither (Genesis 35:11-12). In the case of these renewals, it is only in Genesis 28:14 that the last expression, "all the families of the Adamah," is repeated verbatim, though with the additional clause "and in thy seed;" in the other passages "all the nations of the earth" are mentioned, the family connection being left out of sight, and the national character of the blessing being brought into especial prominence. In two instances also, instead of the Niphal נרכוּ we find the Hithpael התבּרכוּ. This change of conjugation by no means proves that the Niphal is to be taken in its original reflective sense. The Hithpael has no doubt the meaning "to wish one's self blessed" (Deuteronomy 29:19), with ב of the person from whom the blessing is sought (Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 4:2), or whose blessing is desired (Genesis 48:20). But the Niphal נברך has only the passive signification "to be blessed." And the promise not only meant that all families of the earth would wish for the blessing which Abram possessed, but that they would really receive this blessing in Abram and his seed. By the explanation "wish themselves blessed" the point of the promise is broken off; and not only is its connection with the prophecy of Noah respecting Japhet's dwelling in the tents of Shem overlooked, and the parallel between the blessing on all the families of the earth, and the curse pronounced upon the earth after the flood, destroyed, but the actual participation of all the nations of the earth in this blessing is rendered doubtful, and the application of this promise by Peter (Acts 3:25) and Paul (Galatians 3:8) to all nations, is left without any firm scriptural basis. At the same time, we must not attribute a passive signification on that account to the Hithpael in Genesis 22:18 and Genesis 24:4. In these passages prominence is given to the subjective attitude of the nations towards the blessing of Abraham-in other words, to the fact that the nations would desire the blessing promised to them in Abraham and his seed.

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