“May many nations become your servants,
and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
and all who bless you will be blessed.”
In Genesis 12 Abraham is singled out by God immediately following the thoroughly universal narrative of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The story brings us to the great catalog of all the nations, 70 of them, descended from the three sons of Noah found in chapter 10. Then chapter 11 tells the story of Babel, from which the entire human race was scattered over all the earth to form the various nations, divided by language and geography. Genesis 10 – 11 sets, as it were, the international scene for the whole rest of the Bible’s story. Unlike the choice of Noah and his family, the singling out of Abraham is not at all to be understood as God giving up on the nations.
Blessings is the key word in God’s promises to Abraham: Abraham himself will be blessed, in that his descendants will be a great nation, and Abraham will be a blessing, in that all the families of the earth will be blessed. The promise that all the nations will be blessed is repeated four more times in Genesis. On the last of these occasions it is given to Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Moreover, even within the stories of Jacob and his sons, the blessing of the nations begins – or at least is foreshadowed – when Jacob brings blessing to Laban and Joseph to Potiphar. Then there is the peculiarly significant scene when the aged patriarch Jacob, on his arrival in Egypt, gives his blessing to no less than the Pharaoh of Egypt.
Blessing highlights the relationship between creation and salvation in a different way from the other ways of characterizing God’s activity in the world. Already on the fifth day of the creation God blesses. Blessing is the way God enables His creation to be fertile and fruitful, to grow and to flourish.
With sin God’s curse enters creation alongside of God’s blessing. we found the universal background to God’s promise to Abraham in the account of the nations in Genesis 10 -11. But there is an even earlier background in Genesis 3 and 4, where the blessings of creation turn to curse. The curse even enters into God’s promise to Abraham, apparently paralleling the blessing. But blessings predominates in the promise and it is clearly blessing , not curse that is the goal of God’s calling of Abraham.
Through the story of Israel curse continually accompanies blessing, but the ultimate goal of God’s promise to Abraham is the blessing that will prevail over the curse. It does when the seed of Abraham, the singled-out descendant of Abraham, the Messiah, becomes a curse for us…so that the blessing might come to the Gentiles. This is why God’s promise that the nations will be blessed is called the “gospel” by Paul. The secret of the promise is Christ’s bearing of the curse so that the blessing may prevail.