Dear Church Family,
In our sermon series in the book of Genesis, this past Sunday we examined the call of Abram (later called Abraham) in Genesis 12:1-3. Understanding God’s calling Abraham and Abraham’s subsequent faith undergirds our understanding of redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, the first three verses of Genesis 12 give a rough-sketched outline of the entirety of God’s plan of redemption. In this regard, Genesis 12:1-3 is an important text to see the unfolding of salvation – beginning with Abram, moving out to Israel, and then to all the earth:
Genesis 12:1 – God promises to give land to Abram
Genesis 12:2 – God promises to make Abram into a great nation
Genesis 12:3 – God promises to bless all of the families of the earth through Abram
Unfortunately, these verses have been the subject of gross errors in interpretation and application. Verse 3, in particular, seems to have been lifted from the pages of Scripture (especially in the last 60 years or so) and misapplied with disastrous results.
Here are just two examples of how God’s promise from Genesis 12:3 is misapplied today. The first is from Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX. Writing for “Christians United for Israel,” Hagee gives “Seven Biblical Reasons Why Christians Should Support Israel.” Number one on his list is Genesis 12:3 in which Hagee states that the point is that “God has promised to bless the man or nation that blesses the Chosen People. History has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the nations that have blessed the Jewish people have had the blessing of God; the nations that have cursed the Jewish people have experienced the curse of God.”
The second example comes from Christian Life Missions (CLM) which is associated with Charisma magazine. Again, drawing on Genesis 12:3, this non-profit organization solicits funds for purpose of “blessing the nation of Israel.”
These are just two examples of the myriad of voices from within and without the Christian church that misunderstand and misapply this text. No doubt you’ve heard this line, “He who blesses Israel will be blessed, and he who curses Israel will be cursed.” Of course, as Christians, we are commanded to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10). So, it is a good thing (a Christian duty, in fact) to help those in need, whether they are believers or not.
But is this the proper interpretation and application of Genesis 12:3? Is God indeed telling Abram in this verse that people will be blessed when they bless him and his descendants and people will be cursed when they curse him and his descendants? The answer is both “Yes” and “No.” If that sounds confusing, let me explain.
In the old covenant, up until the coming of Jesus Christ, the answer is “Yes, those who bless or curse Abram and his physical descendants (the nation of Israel) will receive the same.” But, when the Son of God became man and took flesh to Himself, the promises which were made to Abraham and to his seed, came to their fulfillment and ultimate end in Christ (Galatians 3:16 – “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ”). Therefore, in the new covenant, the answer is “No, those who bless or curse Abram and his physical descendants (the nation of Israel) will not receive the same.”
The New Testament teaches us that all the promises of God are “yes” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), and that God’s revelation to us has culminated in its fullness with the coming of Christ (John 1:17-18; Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:10-12). Therefore, we must interpret and apply the Old Testament Scriptures through the lens of the New Testament. We cannot lift verses out of the Old Testament, without understanding their proper place in the progress of God’s revelation.
So, how ought we to understand the promise of Genesis 12:3? Well, it helps when you trace this promise from its root. In Genesis 3:15, God promises that the woman will bruise the head of the serpent (Satan). The line of the promised seed can be traced in the Scriptures from Adam and Eve, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Moses, and David (of course, I’m leaving out many names, but you get the picture). And, as noted above, the promises which were made to the seed of Abraham (e.g., Genesis 12:3; 22:18) are fulfilled – or come to a terminal point – in Christ (Galatians 3:16).
So, when Paul says at the end of Galatians 3 that “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants (literally ‘seed’), heirs according to promise,” (Galatians 3:29) he is saying that the true seed of Abraham is Christ (Galatians 3:16) and those who are in Christ (Galatians 3:6-9). So, while men and nations were blessed or cursed in the old covenant depending upon how they treated Abraham and his physical descendants, since the coming of Christ, men and nations are blessed or cursed depending upon how they treat Christ and His Church.
In an effort to help correct the proliferation of the misinterpretations and misapplications noted above, about eleven years ago many pastors and theologians put together a document entitled: “An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel.” You may access this document online here: http://www.pcabakersfield.com/articles/open_letter_to_evangelicals.pdf. The issue that we addressed in the sermon this past Sunday, as well as in this letter, is summarized in that document under point #6:
VI. The inheritance promises that God gave to Abraham were made effective through Christ, Abraham’s True Seed. These promises were not and cannot be made effective through sinful man’s keeping of God’s law. Rather, the promise of an inheritance is made to those only who have faith in Jesus, the True Heir of Abraham. All spiritual benefits are derived from Jesus, and apart from him there is no participation in the promises. Since Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the Abrahamic Covenant, all who bless him and his people will be blessed of God, and all who curse him and his people will be cursed of God. These promises do not apply to any particular ethnic group, but to the church of Jesus Christ, the true Israel. The people of God, whether the church of Israel in the wilderness in the Old Testament or the Israel of God among the Gentile Galatians in the New Testament, are one body who through Jesus will receive the promise of the heavenly city, the everlasting Zion. This heavenly inheritance has been the expectation of the people of God in all ages.
We have received the blessings which were promised to Abraham; we have received those blessings through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us worship and praise our gracious God with thankful hearts. For indeed, we are, by grace: the seed of Abraham.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch