"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.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."
There is no doubt that God’s covenant with Abraham was a huge moment in the history of the Lord’s people. However, as modern Christians, we tend to miss some of the importance of this covenant. This covenant is not just a promise to make great the nation that was going to grow out of Abraham’s direct descendants, it extends beyond that as a promise that affects even Gentile Christians living in the 21st century A.D.
Like many of the Old Testament covenants and prophecies, there was an immediate fulfilling of the covenant God made with Abram in Genesis 12. In fact, in Genesis 15, when God promises land to Abraham and his descendants, there is a very strange ritual that goes along with it. God asks Abraham to take a variety of animals and cut them directly in half. He was then to line them up, with a path between the halves. I’m really glad God has never asked me to do anything quite like that. After that, God put Abraham into a deep sleep and God, in the form of a smoking, fiery pot, moved between the pieces. This ceremony was symbolic that God would fulfill His end of the bargain or die. Now, of course God cannot be destroyed, right? So, think about that for a minute. What does that say about the possibility of God not keeping up His end of the bargain? Exactly! It was an impossibility that God would not keep up His end of the covenant to bless Abraham and his family. God was saying, “You can know with absolute certainty, with the certainty that you know I’m there forever beside you, that this blessing will be fulfilled." Wow.
God’s promise to Abraham has several components. The first is that He will make a great nation of Abraham’s family. We know that, while he was old an childless and had a hard time believing this, that Abraham did in fact become father of a great nation. God said that he would bless Abraham. We also know that Abraham did indeed live a blessed life. Abraham’s name would be great. The fact that we’re talking about him right now, thousands of years later attests to the validity of that part of the promise.
“You will be a blessing.” Abraham was a protector of those around him (Just think of how many times he bailed Lot out). “I will bless those who bless you.” Any nation that showed Abraham kindness, grace and peace was blessed in turn. “Whoever curses you, I will curse.” This is the counterpoint to the blessing on those who blessed him. Interestingly, other people noticed this part of the blessing on Abraham. in Genesis 21:22-24, Abimelech makes a treaty with Abraham, basically saying, “God’s with you, so I don’t dare risk being your enemy.”
The final part of this blessing, the part that continues today is the part that I want to spend the rest of our time on. “All peoples on Earth will be blessed through you.” Take a moment to skim Matthew 1. Who is the first person listed in Jesus’ genealogy? Abraham didn’t just father a great nation, he fathered the family line that led straight to the Messiah. Before God even gave Moses the Law, He promised to send redemption in the form of Abraham’s seed. Before the Jewish law was ever born, God had made a provision for and a promise to the entire human race. This covenant with Abraham wasn’t just about the birth of the nation of Israel. It was a sneak peak a few hundred years into the future of the story of redemption. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.
The Apostles in the early church were constantly going up against flawed thinking about how Judaism and Christianity fit together. There were people who thought that the two were completely separate and that Jewish history had no bearing on Christians at all, no matter their ethnicity. There were those who saw Christianity as little more than a new branch or sect of Jewish faith. They believed that anyone who wanted to become a Christian must first become fully Jewish, embracing the Jewish law and culture. Paul’s arguments about law and being too strict were about more than just legalism (although that’s certainly a big problem). He was fighting for the church’s identity. There are two key passages that address the church’s identity by referencing God’s covenant with Abraham.
Acts 3:25 “And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, 'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.”
This passage is taken from the account of Peter explaining to his Jewish listeners that the Messiah came not only for the Jewish people, but for all people. Christ was the route through which all people of all ethnicities could be adopted into the nation of God’s children. They didn’t have to become Jewish to become Christian. They just had to accept Jesus and the promise that had been fulfilled through Him. The history of redemption became their history. We have been adopted into the nation of Abraham’s seed.
Galatians 3:8-9 “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." So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
This passage has a similar gist, but is aimed at a different audience. In Galatians, Paul is reassuring gentiles of their identity in Christ and also that this wasn’t a new development. God said AAAAAAAAAAllllllllll the way back when that there would be justification for the Gentiles through their faith, not their following of the law. Abraham was a man of faith. He lived before the Mosaic law had been given. We too are redeemed through faith, not law. Paul says that God “. . . announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.”
When we read about Abraham, we aren’t just reading about a guy who lived a really long time ago who had a son when he was old and eventually grew into a nation that did some pretty good stuff. Abraham is the first listed forefather of the Messiah. He was a man of faith who was given a glimpse into the future of the world and God’s plan for it- centuries in advance! It’s easy to put Abraham in the line up of “pretty cool Old Testament” characters on the flannel board in Sunday School, but we must be careful to remember the huge importance of what God promised to Abraham and provided through Abraham’s faith and life.