Genesis 12:3 is one of the most famous verses in the Old Testament. It’s the foundational verse for what is known as the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant that God entered into with Abraham. The record of the actual ceremony that took place between Abraham and God to formally seal that covenant is found in Genesis chapter 15.
At its core, Genesis 12:3 is a three-fold promise that God speaks to Abraham. The promise goes as follows:
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. (Genesis 12:3, N.K.J.V.)
The meaning of this three-fold promise isn’t hard to understand. If a person, a group of people, or even an entire nation blessed Abraham, God would bless them. On the other hand, to curse Abraham was to evoke God’s cursing. As for the part about all the families of the earth being blessed in Abraham, that found its highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who as a genetic descendant of Abraham died for the sins of the world.
We know from the book of Genesis that God honored His promise concerning Abraham. When Egypt’s Pharaoh naively attempted to make Sarah (Abraham’s wife) his wife, God plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues (Genesis 12:17). Years later, when Abimelech tried the same thing, God came to Abimelech in a dream and began the conversation by saying, “You are a dead man” (Genesis 20:3). For good measure, God also closed up all the wombs of the women of Abimelch’s house as long as Sarah was under Abimelech’s roof (Genesis 20:18).
But the question that concerns us today is, are we right to carry the Genesis 12:3 promise over from Abraham to modern Jews? Putting the question another way, is the promise that God specifically made to Abraham long ago transferable to the current nation of Israel? Well, the answer you get depends upon whom you ask.
Those who say the promise is transferable cite Numbers 24:9, where the prophet Balaam, in clear reference to the entire nation of Israel (not just to Abraham, who was long since dead), says:
…Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you. (Numbers 24:9, N.K.J.V.)
Furthermore, these people point out that just a few verses beyond Genesis 12:3, in Genesis 12:7 to be exact, God appears to Abraham and says concerning the land of Canaan, “To your descendants I will give this land.” By placing Genesis 12:3 and Genesis 12:7 alongside each other, we can see the divine link between Abraham, who never actually possessed Canaan, and his descendants, who eventually did possess it. Obviously, God wasn’t just interested in Abraham; He was interested in Abraham’s descendants as well.
And then there is Deuteronomy 30:7, where Moses quite bluntly says to the Israelites under his leadership:
Also the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. (N.K.J.V.)
As for a New Testament passage that might prove that Genesis 12:3 can rightly be applied to the nation of Israel as a whole, Luke 7:1-10 could potentially be mentioned as a candidate. There we read about a Roman centurion who sent a group of Jewish elders to Jesus to ask Him to come and heal the centurion’s beloved servant, who was gravely ill. As those Jewish elders made the request to Jesus, they explained to Him why the Gentile centurion was deserving of help from a Jewish rabbi. They said of the centurion, “He loves our nation and has built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:5). Because of that specific compliment, we might theorize that Jesus actually had Genesis 12:3 in mind when He agreed to go to the centurion’s home and heal the servant.
Still, though, while all these passages might seem to make the case that God really does bless those who bless the modern nation of Israel and curses those who curse it, there is a possible pushback to this interpretation. This pushback comes from the writings of the apostle Paul. Consider the following passages:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28-29, N.K.J.V.)
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel. (Romans 9:6, N.K.J.V.)
Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:7, N.K.J.V.)
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26,29, N.K.J.V.)
You see, Paul taught that there are, in a very real sense, two “Israels.” As he described the situation, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.” First, there is what we might call national Israel. That consists of all Jews whose ancestral lines genetically trace back to Abraham through his son, Issac. Second, there is what we might call spiritual Israel. That consists of only those Jews who have by faith accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah/Savior and have thus become Christians.
With this in mind, our question then becomes, should we apply the Genesis 12:3 promise to all Jews (especially modern Israel as a recognized nation) or should we apply it only to Jews who have become Christians by placing their faith in Jesus as Messiah/Savior? Since it’s been well said that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible, let me offer a couple more passages from Paul that are applicable to the question. The first passage is Galatians 3:16, where Paul references the Genesis 12:3 and Genesis 12:7 promises by saying:
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,’ who is Christ. (N.K.J.V.)
This verse certainly brings an important new detail into the discussion, doesn’t it? Paul says, “When God spoke to Abraham about his descendants, He was actually referring to just one of those descendants: Jesus Christ. Therefore, the promises that God made to Abraham and his “seed” were made to Abraham and to Jesus.”
The second passage is Galatians 3:8-9, where Paul again references the Genesis 12:3 promise when he writes:
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (N.K.J.V.)
As you read that passage, don’t miss the fact that it plainly says that Gentiles who place their faith in Jesus as Savior “…are blessed with believing Abraham.” Read that again. It doesn’t say that the Jews as a national whole are blessed with believing Abraham. No, it’s the individuals — Jews and Gentiles alike — who place their faith in Jesus who are the ones blessed in this way. As a matter of fact, an argument can be made that Christians have more of a Biblical claim upon Genesis 12:3 than the modern-day nation of Israel does. This explains why many Bible teachers do not hold the position that the Genesis 12:3 promise can be transferred to Israel as a nation today.
As for me, I agree that modern-day Israel is not a nation worthy of the spiritual legacy of Abraham. I mean, we can’t just forget about the fact that the Jews who make up that nation are in vast majority lost unbelievers who have never placed saving faith in Jesus Christ. A lost person is a lost person, whether that person be a Gentile living in Atlanta or a Jew living in Jerusalem. I’m not an anti Semite, and I certainly don’t go around persecuting Jews, but I’m not going to lie about their spiritual state, either. The irrefutable fact is that they don’t truly know Abraham’s God because they don’t truly know Abraham’s Savior.
So, does this mean that the ethic nation of Israel is doomed permanently because of its rejection of Jesus Christ? No, that’s not what the Bible teaches. What the Bible teaches is that there is coming a day when a remnant of the nation will embrace Jesus as Messiah/Savior and in so doing will experience spiritual salvation and be welcomed into Christ’s 1,000 year reign upon the earth. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this embracing will not occur until the days of the seven-year Tribulation Period that will precede Christ’s Second Coming. Until then, whatever national Israel does, it does it apart from any authentic spiritual connection to Abraham. The biological, genetic connection is there, but the spiritual connection simply isn’t.
In regards to how nations such as the United States should relate to modern Israel, all I can offer is what I would do if I was the President of the United States. I would try my best to maintain a balance between keeping a healthy alliance with Israel while at the same time recognizing that each and every Jew who doesn’t know Christ as Savior is not a part of the covenant that God has eternally made with Abraham. No, this foreign policy wouldn’t be a cop out. To the contrary, I would consider it to be an accurate application of all the relevant scriptures from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Someone says, “But Israel isn’t like other nations; they are God’s chosen nation.” Yes, that’s true, and that’s why I, as President, would tend to give that nation preferential treatment. As I’ve pointed out, though, modern Israel doesn’t even pretend to be a Christian nation, and the harsh reality is that the souls of lost Jews who die go to the same hell as the souls of lost Muslims who die. This reality applies regardless of any promise made as part of the Abrahamic Covenant, and it’s not one that is ever going to change. Merely being born as a biological descendant of Abraham just isn’t enough. Each Jew must also be “born again” as a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ if he or she wants to eternally come under the umbrella of Genesis 12:3.