(1) The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. (2) I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3, NIV).
How many times have you heard fundamentalist Christians, and perhaps Zionist Jews, use the first part of verse 3 to proclaim that those who are not for the nation of Israel are the enemies of God and cursed by Him? They read this verse as if God had told Abraham that those who bless his grandson Jacob (Israel) and Jacob’s descendents (the Israelites, or the nation of Israel) will be blessed by God, and whoever curses the descendents of Jacob will be cursed by God. According to their reading, it doesn’t matter how evil the actions of those Israelites may be; they have to be “blessed” just because they are the genetic descendents of Abraham through his grandson Jacob, and are thus God’s “chosen people” for as long as this physical earth shall last. We are warned of the fearful consequences if we today don’t automatically and unreservedly take Israel’s side in all their decisions and actions.
That, of course, is not at all what this promise (and threat) says, is it? This interpretation is built on a foundation of sand, and is pure nonsense. The promise was made to Abraham that whoever blessed him would be blessed, and whoever cursed him would be cursed. Although verse 2 had contained a promise to Abraham that God would cause a great nation to arise from him, it was not the nation to which any of the promises in these verses were made. God did not say that He would bless those who blessed the nation which would descend from Abraham, and curse those who cursed that nation.
Those who “bless” Abraham are those who follow in the steps of his obedient faith in the One God, and those who “curse” Abraham are those who repudiate that faith in the One God and do not obey Him. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are physically descended from Abraham through Isaac, Ishmael, or any of his other sons. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. That is the true faith of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – all “Abrahamic faiths”. The assured hope of all of these religions is that eventually God will cause this faith to triumph throughout the whole earth; all nations will embrace in obedient faith the Creator and Sustainer of all, just as Abraham did.
Consider for instance this statement of the Christian apostle Paul in Galatians 3:6-9 – (6) Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (7) Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. (8) The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (9) So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Those who “bless” Abraham, and are consequently blessed themselves, are those who follow in the steps of Abraham’s faith.
The Qur’an of the Muslim faith states the matter like this: [3:67] Abraham was neither a “Jew” nor a “Christian,” but was one who turned away from all that is false, having surrendered himself unto God; and he was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him. [3:68] Behold, the people who have the best claim to Abraham are surely those who follow him – as does this Prophet and all who believe [in him] – and God is near unto the believers (Muhammad Asad version). As a consequence, The [Muslim] believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians – all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good – will have their rewards with their Lord. No fear for them, nor will they grieve (2:62, Abdel Haleem version). Abraham was blessed by God because he believed in God and the Last Day, rejected all falsehood and false gods, and did good; and all those who believe and live in the same way receive the same blessing.
That God did not intend us to understand that we are obligated to “bless” the physical nation of Israel when he spoke of “blessing” and “cursing” in Genesis 12:3 is obvious – in that nothing is more common among the Hebrew prophets themselves than to utter curses against the ungodly and rebellious nation. Yet it is certainly true that those prophets were not cursed by God for doing so. In fact, they are said to have been speaking for God Himself when they uttered those curses.
Think of Deuteronomy 28 and 29 – part of the Hebrew Torah. In those chapters, God is said to have laid out for the Hebrew people (the nation of Israel) blessings which would come on them if they were obedient to the covenant He had given them through Moses; and also terrible “curses” which would come upon them if they failed to keep that covenant. Here are verses 15-20 of Deut. 28 – (15) However if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: (16) You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. (17) Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. (18) The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. (19) You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. (20) The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. I ask you, who could curse Israel more than God Himself and His prophets did?
The prophets called Israel harlots and adulterers, and used graphic images to describe “her” – certainly very far from “blessing” the rebellious Israelites. Consider Hosea in chapter 2: (2) Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face, and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts. (3) Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born; I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst. (4) I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery. (5) Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.’
It was said that Israel’s ‘sister’ was Sodom – but Israel was more depraved than Sodom! (Does this sound like “blessing” Israel?) Ezekiel chapter 16: (46) Your older sister was Samaria, who lived to the north of you with her daughters; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you with her daughters, was Sodom. (47) You not only walked in their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they. (48) As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done… (51) Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done.
John the Baptizer called the leaders of Israel a “brood of vipers” and warned them that judgment was swiftly approaching (Matthew 3:7-10). Jesus also called them snakes and a brood of vipers, and said they could not escape condemnation (Matthew 23:33). In that 23rd chapter of Matthew, Jesus called them “hypocrites” over and over again; blind guides, whitewashed sepulchers full of dead men’s bones, and pronounced “woe” to them time after time. In fact Jesus made this drastic statement: Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit (Matthew 21:43). And that is precisely what has happened. In whatever sense Israel may have been at one time the “special people of God”, they are not any longer. The people of God – the true “Israel of God” – are to be found in all people, of all nations, whose hearts are attuned to God and who do “righteousness”. This is a truth taught in both Christianity (though it appears that fundamentalists sometimes close their eyes to it in favor of calling national Israel “God’s chosen nation”) and Islam; and I believe many Jews also recognize this truth.
So I call on fundamentalist Christians and Zionist Jews to quit spreading untruths about God. He never said that those who fail to “bless” an ungodly and unrighteous nation of Israel will be cursed by God. What the book of Genesis claims that God said is that those who bless Abraham will be blessed, and those who curse Abraham will be cursed. This is because Abraham was a righteous and faithful servant and prophet of God, the father of all the faithful; and those who curse God’s faithful and righteous prophets – rather than emulating them – cannot expect God’s favor on themselves.