The Promise to the Patriarchs.
A great epoch is, in Genesis, ushered in with the history of the time of the Patriarchs. Luther says: "This is the third period in which Holy Scripture begins the history of the Church with a new family." In a befitting manner, the representation is opened in Gen. xii.1-3 by an account of the first revelation of God, given to Abraham at Haran, in which the way is opened up for all that follows, and in which the dispensations of God are brought before us in a rapid survey. Abraham is to forsake everything, and then God will give him everything.

Gen. xii.1. "And the Lord said unto Abraham, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy hone, and from thy father's house, into a land that I will show thee. Ver.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. Ver.3. And I will bless them that bless thee, and him who curseth thee I will curse: and in thee all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

"Into a land that I will show thee." From what follows, it appears that, in the very same revelation, the country was afterwards more definitely pointed out; for Abraham, without having received any new revelation, goes to Canaan, For the sake of brevity, the writer gives the details only afterwards, when he has occasion to report how they were carried out. The land which God will show to Abraham, stands contrasted with that in which he is at home, -- in which he and his whole being had taken root. This contrast points out the greatness of the sacrifice which God demands of Abraham. With a like intent we have the accumulation of expressions -- "out of thy land," etc. -- corresponding to a similar one when the command was given to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. xxii.2), and forming the condition of the promise which follows. This promise is intended to make the sacrifice a light thing to Abraham, by pointing out what he is to receive if he give up everything which stands in the way of his living to God. A similar call comes to all who feel impelled to renounce the world in order to serve God. This call to Abraham is peculiar only as to its form; as to its essence, it is ever repeating itself. This will appear the more distinctly, when we inquire into the true reason of the outward separation here demanded of [Pg 47] Abraham. It can be Intended only as a means of the internal separation. In the circle in which he lived, sin had already made a mighty progress, as appears from Josh. xxiv.2, -- a passage which shows us that idolatry had already made its way into the family of Abraham. In order to withdraw him from the influences of this corruption, Abraham is removed from the circle in which he had grown up, and in which he had hitherto moved. That the special thing here demanded is only the result of the general duty of renunciation and self-denial, which is here, in Abraham, laid upon the whole Church, appears from the circumstance, that the promise was renewed at a subsequent period, when, with a willing heart, he had offered up his son Isaac as a spiritual sacrifice to his God. The carnal, ungodly love to Isaac is thus placed on a level with the attachment to the land, etc., which came betwixt him and his God. The general idea, that self-renunciation lies at the foundation, is brought out in Psalm xlv.11.

The words, "And thou shalt be a blessing," imply more than the words, "I will bless thee:" they are intentionally placed in the centre of the whole promise. Abraham shall, as it were, be an embodied blessing -- himself blessed, and the cause of blessing to all those who bless him -- to all the generations of the earth who shall, at some future period, enter into this loving and grateful relation to him. On the ground of Abraham's self-denial, and unreserved surrender, blessing is poured out upon him, blessing also on his account and through him. The blessing connected with him begins with himself, and extends over all the families of the earth.

"And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee I will curse. The blessing is based upon the turning to Him who has appointed Abraham for a blessing, as we may learn from the example of Melchizedek, Gen. xiv.19. They who bless are themselves not far from the kingdom of God; blessing, therefore, is the preparatory step towards being blessed. (Compare Matt. x.40-42.)

"And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Luther says: "Now there follows the right promise, which ought to be written in golden letters, and proclaimed in all lands, and for which we ought to praise and glorify."

The promise stands here in close connection with the Mosaic [Pg 48] history of the creation. According to that, man, as such, bears upon him the impress of the divine image. Gen. i.26, and is the depository of the divine breath. Gen. ii.7. From such a beginning, we cannot conceive of any limitation of salvation which is not, at the same time, a means of its universal extension. It must therefore be in entire accordance with the nature of the thing, that even here, where the setting apart of a particular chosen race takes its rise, there should be an intimation of its universally comprehensive object. There is, in the circumstance of families being spoken of, a distinct reference to the history of creation; [Hebrew: mwpHh] everywhere corresponds exactly with our word "family." It is everywhere used only of the subdivisions in the greater body of the nation or tribe. The expression, then, points to the higher unity of the whole human race, as it has its foundation in the fact that all partake in common of the divine image.

The announcement of the blessing in this passage leads us back to the curse pronounced in consequence of sin, Gen. iii.17: "Cursed is the ground (Adamah) for thy sake." (Compare Gen. v.29.) This curse is, at some future time, to be abolished by Abraham. We can account for the mention of the families of the "Adamah" only by supposing that a reference to this passage was fully intended; for it was just the "Adamah" (primarily, "land") which had there been designated as the object of the curse.

In announcing that all the families shall be blessed in Abraham, the writer refers also to the judgment described in Gen. xi., by which the family of mankind, -- which, according to the intention of God, ought to have been united, -- was dispersed and separated. When viewed in this connection, we expect that the blessing will manifest itself in the healing of the deep wound inflicted upon mankind, in the re-establishment of the lost unity, and in the gathering again of the scattered human race around Abraham as their centre.

Beyond this, no other disclosure about the nature of this salvation is given. But that it consisted essentially in the union with God accomplished through the medium of Abraham, and that everything else could be viewed as emanating only from this source, was implied simply in the circumstance, that all the blessing which Abraham enjoyed for himself had its origin in [Pg 49] this, that he could call God his God; just as, in Gen. ix., it had been declared as the blessing of Shem, that Jehovah should be his God, and as the blessing of Japheth, that he was called to become a partaker of this blessing. The blessings which were either bestowed upon or promised to the Patriarchs and their descendants, had for their object the advancement of knowledge and the practice of true religion, and had been bestowed or promised only under this condition (compare Gen. xvii.1, xvii.17-19, xxii.16-18, xxvi.5); they could not hence expect anything else than that their posterity would, in so far, be the cause of the salvation of the heathen nations, that the latter should, by means of the former, be made partakers of the blessings of true religion.

With regard to the manner in which this blessing was to come to the Gentiles, no intimation was given by the words themselves. The person of the Redeemer is not yet brought before us in them; the indication of that was reserved for a later stage in the progress of revelation.[1]

The last clause of ver.3 cannot, by any means, take away from the import of the preceding one; the announcement of the blessing which, through Abraham, is to come upon all the families of the earth, does not repeal the foregoing one, according to which all shall be cursed who curse him. This view is confirmed by an allusion to this announcement in Zech. xiv.16-19, where the words, "the families of the earth," must be regarded as a quotation. In ver.16, the prophet says that all the Gentiles shall go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles; but then, in vers.17-19, he intimates the punishment of those who should refuse to go up. Luther says: "If you wish to [Pg 50] comprehend in a few words the history of the Church from the time of Abraham down to our days, then consider diligently these four verses. For in them you will find the blessing; but you will see also, that those who curse the Church are cursed, in turn, by God; so that they must perish, while the eternal seed of the Church stands unmoved and unshaken. For which reason, this text agrees with the first promise given in Paradise, concerning the seed which is to bruise the serpent's head. For the Church is not without enemies, but is assailed and harassed so that she groans under it; but yet, by this seed, she is invincible, and shall at length be victorious, and triumphant over all her enemies, in eternity."

References to this fundamental prophecy are found in other parts of the Old Testament, besides the passage just quoted from Zechariah. In the 28th verse of Ps. xxii., which was written by David, it is said: "All the ends of the world shall remember, and turn unto the Lord; and all the families of the Gentiles shall worship before Thee." The realization of the blessing announced in Genesis, to all the families of the earth, appears in this psalm as being connected with the wonderful deliverance of the just. Another reference is in Ps. lxxii., which was written by Solomon. In ver.17 of this psalm it is said of Solomon's great Antitype: "And they shall bless themselves in Him, all nations shall bless Him." In these words the realization of the Abrahamitic blessing is distinctly connected with the person of the Redeemer.

Among the New Testament references, the most remarkable is in John viii. There, in ver.53, the Jews say to Christ: "Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? Whom makest thou thyself?" Jesus, in ver.56, answers: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad," In ver.57 the Jews reply: "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" In ver.58 Jesus thus says to them: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am."

Let us here, in the first place, consider only the declaration of Jesus, that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and was glad. It is altogether out of the question to think of any such explanation of this as the one given by Luecke, after the example of Lampe namely: "that Abraham, in the heavenly life, as a blessed [Pg 51] spirit with God, saw the day of the Lord, and in heaven rejoiced in the fulfilment." For it is the custom of Jesus to argue with the Jews from Scripture; and He cannot, therefore, here be appealing to an assumed fact which could not be proved from it. The answer of the Jews, in ver.57, is likewise opposed to such an explanation, inasmuch as it proceeds from a supposition which Jesus had acknowledged to be true, namely, that the question at issue was a meeting of Christ with Abraham not mentioned in history; and in ver.58 Christ sets aside their argument, "Thou art not yet fifty years old." But Luecke must himself bear testimony against his own interpretation, inasmuch as, according to it, he is obliged to speak of "the very foolish question of the adversaries."[2]

Jesus saw Abraham, and Abraham saw Jesus. Not the person, but the day of Christ, was future to Abraham. And this can be explained only by Jesus' being concealed behind Jehovah who appeared to him, and gave him the promise, that in him and his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. This blessing of all the families of the earth is the day of Jehovah, -- the day when He will be glorified on the earth.

The key to the right understanding of this is furnished by the doctrine of the Angel of the Lord, which meets us as early as in Genesis. From the passages in which, at the appearances and revelations of Jehovah, the mediation of the Angel is expressly mentioned, we infer that it (the mediation) took place even when Jehovah by Himself is spoken of; and the more so, since, even in the former series of passages, the simple name of Jehovah is commonly varied by that of the Angel of Jehovah. The Evangelist John's whole doctrine of the Logos points to the personal identity of Jesus with the Angel of the Lord. Not less so does the passage, John xii.41; and there is unquestionably a purpose which cannot be misunderstood in the fact, that, throughout the discourses of Jesus, as reported by John, the declaration that God sent Him occurs with such frequency and regularity. But we can scarcely conceive of any other purpose than that of marking out Jesus as the Angel or Messenger of Jehovah spoken of in the writings of the Old Testament. Compare, e.g., xii.44, [Pg 52] 45: "Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on Me, believeth not on Me, but on Him that sent Me; and he that seeth Me, seeth Him that sent Me." So also iv.34, v.23, 24, 30, 37, vi.38-40, vii.16, 28, 33, viii.16, 18, 26, 29, ix.4, xii.49, xiii.20, xiv.24, xv.21, xvi.5.

Let us now, in addition, turn to the words, "Abraham rejoiced to see (literally, that he might see) My day." It cannot be liable to any doubt, that these words express the heartfelt, joyful desire of Abraham to see that day, and that Bengel correctly explains it by the words: gestivit cum desiderio. It is true, [Greek: agalliaomai] signifies, by itself, only "to rejoice;" but it has added to it the idea of joyful desire by its being connected with [Greek: hina]. The words now under consideration are expressive of Abraham's joy and longing in the spirit for the manifestation of the day of Jehovah and of Christ, while those in the last clause of the verse express the gratification of this longing, which was produced by his receiving the promise that all the families of the earth should be blessed.

The ardent desire of Abraham to see the day of Christ implies that he already knew Christ, which can be the case only on the supposition of Christ's concealment in Jehovah. This longing desire is not expressly mentioned in Genesis, but it is most intimately connected with all living faith, and must necessarily precede such divine communications. The seed of the divine promises is everywhere sown only in a well prepared soil. That the promise in 2 Sam. vii. was to David, in like manner, a gratification of his anxious desire -- an answer to prayer -- we are not, it is true, expressly told in the historical record; and yet, that it was so, is evident from the words of Ps. xxi.3: "Thou hast given him his heart's desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips." There is here, then, express mention made of that which is a matter of course, and which forms the necessary condition of that which was reported in Genesis.

We are furnished by the Book of Genesis itself with the right explanation of what is meant by the day of Christ, about which interpreters have so frequently erred. It is not the time of His first appearing, but, in accordance with the New Testament mode of expression (e.g., Phil. i.10), the time of His glorification. The day of Christ is the time when the promise, "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed," shall be fulfilled.

[Pg 53]

Peter quotes this promise in Acts iii.25, 26. Among the families of the earth he enumerates, first and chiefly, the people of the Old Testament dispensation; and he does so with perfect propriety, since there is no warrant whatever for limiting it to the Gentiles.

Paul probably refers to this promise when, in Rom. iv.13, he speaks of a promise given to Abraham and his seed that he should be the heir of the world. A blessing imparted to the whole world is a spiritual victory obtained over the world. The world is, in a spiritual sense, conquered by Abraham and his seed. Express references are found in Gal. iii.8, 14, 16.

The same promise is repeated to Abraham in Gen. xviii.18. Instead of the [Hebrew: mwpHvt hadmh] (the families of the earth), the [Hebrew: gvii harC] (the nations of the earth) are there mentioned; the family-connection is lost sight of, and the comprehensiveness only -- the catholic character of the blessing -- is prominently brought out. This promise is a third time repeated to Abraham in chap. xxii.18, on a very appropriate occasion, even that on which, by his endurance of the greatest trial, and by his willingness to sacrifice to God even what was dearest to him, he had proved himself a worthy heir of it. It is certainly not a matter of mere accident that this promise is just three times given to Abraham. There is in this a correspondence with the three individuals to whom the same promise is addressed. Abraham, however, as the first of them, and as the father of the faithful, could not be put on the same footing with the others. Instead of "in thee," or "by thee" ([Hebrew: bK]), we read in xxii.18, "in" or "by thy seed" ([Hebrew: bzreK]). The same promise is confirmed to Isaac in chap. xxvi.14, and it is transferred to Jacob in chap. xxviii.14. But while, in the first and second passages, it is said, "by thee," and in the third and fourth, "by thy seed," we read, in the passage last mentioned, "by thee and thy seed." This evidently shows that, in those passages where we find "by thee" standing alone, we are not at liberty to explain it as meaning simply: "by thy seed." It is not only the seed of Abraham, but Abraham himself also, who is to be the medium of blessing to the nations, as the foundation-stone of the large building of the Church of God, as the father of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh, and as the father of all believers.

There is a deep reason for the fact that, wherever the posterity [Pg 54] of the Patriarchs are spoken of as the instruments of blessing, the singular is always used. This circumstance is pointed out by Paul in Gal. iii.16. The Apostle does not in the least think of maintaining that, by [Hebrew: zre] "seed," only a single individual could be signified. Such an opinion, no one who understood Hebrew could for a moment entertain; and Rom. iv.13 shows that Paul was indeed very far from doing so. The further development of the promise (which took place within the limits of Genesis itself, in chap. xlix.10), as well as its fulfilment (it is, indeed, with reference to the promise now under consideration that the lineal descent of Christ from Abraham is established at the commencement of Matthew's Gospel), showed that the real cause of the salvation bestowed upon the Gentiles was not the seed of Abraham as a whole, but one from among them, or rather He, in whom this whole posterity was comprehended and concentrated. Now, all to which Paul intends to draw our attention is the fact, that the Lord, who, when He gave the promise, had already in view its fulfilment which He had Himself to accomplish, did not unintentionally choose an expression which, besides the comprehensive meaning which would most naturally suggest itself to the Patriarchs, admitted also of the more restricted one which was confirmed by the fulfilment. In the Protevangelium, and in the promise of the Prophet in Deut. xviii., we have a case quite analogous to this; and in 2 Sam. vii. there is likewise a case which is, to a certain extent, parallel.

In two passages out of the five -- in chap. xxii.18 and xxvi.4 -- the Hithpael of the verb [Hebrew: brK] instead of the Niphal is found. We meet with it also again in the derived passage in Ps. lxxii.17, where it is said of the great King to come, "And they shall bless themselves in Him, all nations shall bless Him." In xxii.18 and xxvi.4, we shall be allowed to translate only thus: "They shall bless themselves in thy seed." For the Hithpael of [Hebrew: brK] always signifies "to bless oneself;" and the person from whom the blessing is derived (Isa. lxv.16; Jer. iv.2), or whose blessing is desired, is connected with it by means of the preposition [Hebrew: b]. (Compare Gen. xlviii.20: "In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh.") From the nature of the case, it is evident that only the latter can be meant here. This is shown also by the derived passage [Pg 55] in Ps. lxxii.17, where the words, "they shall bless themselves in Him," are explained by the subsequent expression, "they shall bless Him."

But it is certainly not accidental that the Hithpael is on both sides inclosed by the Niphal, and that the latter stands not only twice at the beginning, but also at the end. Hence we are not at liberty to force upon the Hithpael the signification of the Niphal; but the passages in which the Hithpael occurs must be supplemented from the real fundamental passages. "To bless oneself in" is the preparatory step to being "blessed by." The acknowledgment of the blessing calls forth the wish to be a partaker of it. (Compare Isa. xlv.14, where, in consequence of the rich blessings poured out upon Israel, the nations make the request to be received among them.) Oftentimes in the Psalms utterance is given to the expectation that, through the blessing resting on the people of God, the Gentiles will be allowed to seek communion in it. (See my Commentary on Ps. vol. iii. p. lxxvii.) But especially in Ps. lxxii. does it clearly appear how "blessing oneself in" is connected with "being blessed by." The very same people who bless themselves in the glorious King to come, hasten to Him to partake in the fulness of the blessings which He dispenses. He has dominion from sea to sea; they that dwell in the wilderness bow before Him; all kings worship Him; all nations serve Him.

Several commentators (Clericus, Gesenius, de Wette, Maurer, Knobel, and, in substance, Hofmann also) attempt to explain the fundamental passage by the derived ones, and force upon Niphal the signification of Hithpael; so that the sense would be only that a great and, as it were, proverbial happiness and prosperity belonged to Abraham: "Holding up this name as a pattern, most of the eastern nations will comprehend all blessings in these or similar words: 'God bless thee as He blessed Abraham.'" But this explanation is, according to the usus loquendi, incorrect, inasmuch as the Niphal is used only in the signification "to be blessed," and never means "to bless oneself," or "to have or find one's blessing in something." To a difference in the significations of the Niphal and the Hithpael, we are led also by the circumstance that the Hithpael is connected only with the seed -- "they shall bless themselves in thy seed," -- and the Niphal only with the person of the Patriarch: [Pg 56] "they shall be blessed in thee," and "in thee and thy seed." The Patriarchs themselves are the source of blessing, but, if these nations blessed themselves, they wish for themselves the blessing of their descendants exhibited before their eyes. The reference in Zech. xiv.17, 18 to the promise made to the Patriarchs presupposes the Messianic character, and the passive signification of [Hebrew: nbrkv]. In like manner, all the quotations of it in the New Testament rest on the passive signification. It is from this view of it that the Lord says that Abraham saw His day; that, in Rom. iv.13, Paul finds, in this promise, the prophecy of His conquering the world; and that, in Gal. iii.14, he speaks of the blessing of Abraham upon the Gentiles through Christ Jesus. Gal. iii.8 and Acts iii.25 render [Hebrew: nbrkv] by [Greek: eneulogethesontai]. The explanation, "they shall wish prosperity or happiness to each other," is destructive of the gradation, so evident in the fundamental passage, -- blessing for, on account of, and by Abraham; it cannot account for the constant, solemn repetition of this proclamation which everywhere appears as the acme of the promises given to the Patriarch; it destroys the correspondence existing between this blessing upon all the families of the earth, and the curse which, after the fall, was inflicted upon the earth; it does away with the contrast, so clearly marked, between the union of the families of the earth effected by the blessing, and their dispersion, narrated in chap. xi.; it demolishes the connection existing between the prophecy of Japheth's dwelling in the tents of Shem (ix.27), on the one hand, and the Ruler proceeding from Judah, to whom shall be the obedience of the nations (xlix.10), on the other; and it severs all the necessary connecting links which unite these prophecies with one another.

Another attempt to deprive this promise of its Messianic character -- that, namely, made by Bertholdt (de ortu theol. Vet. Hebr. p.102) and others, who would have us to understand, by the families and nations of the earth, the Canaanitish nations -- does not require any minute examination, as the weakness of these productions of rationalistic tendency are so glaringly manifest.

Footnote 1: Herder says, in his Briefe das Studium der Theol. betr. ii. S.278: "If, in Abraham's descendants, all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, Abraham might and should have conceived of this blessing in all its generality, so that everything whereby his nation deserved well of the nations of the earth, was implied in it. If, then, Christ also belongs to the number of those noble individuals who deserved so well, the blessing refers to Him, not indirectly, but directly; and if Christ be the chief of all this number, it then most directly, and in preference to all others, refers to Him; -- although, in this germ, Abraham did not distinctly perceive His person, did not, nor could, except by special revelation, in this bud, so plainly discover the full growth of His merits."

Footnote 2: Even in this he was preceded by Lampe, who remarks: "Christ had spoken of seeing the day; the Jews speak about seeing the person. He had spoken of Abraham's seeing; they speak of Christ's seeing."

[Pg 57]

the blessings of noah upon
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