Genesis 12:1-12:3 The Abrahamic Covenant

Abrahamic covenant…idea of transformation… great responsibility… guilt…Blessed by being able to bless… happiness consists of fulfillment, other-centeredness, justice, and expansion… liberating rather than guilt-inducing

Genesis 12:1-12:3

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

We now get to what many consider the central plot of scripture, often called the Abrahamic covenant. It is intimately tied in with the idea of transformation, so its worth dwelling on in detail. Clearly, it starts with Abram being called (‘amar) to leave (yalak) and enter the land (‘erets) which Terah had targeted (though whether this conversation happened before leaving Ur appears ambiguous). Then follows a remarkable series of promises:

And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

The central verb, bless (barak) is one of those primitive words in Hebrew that doesn’t appear to have any other meaning, unlike English where it appears to mean “speak well for.” Regardless, its clearly a very good thing. Several things strike me about this promise:

a) it is unconditional * God’s going to do it, regardless of Abram’s future performance (though perhaps it does assume he obeys the command in the prior verse)

b) it honors self-interest * God appears to not merely condone, but celebrate the fact that Abram desires to (i) be blessed, and (ii) have a great name (gadal shem)

c) it couples self-interest with service * One of the wonderful things God will do for Abram is make him a blessing (B@rakah) to others

d) it promises justice * to bless blessors (barak barak) and curse cursers (‘arar qalal)

e) it is global * encompassing all the families of the land (mishpacah ‘adamah) — the whole tribe of Adam.

Powerful stuff! I first learned this concept in the missions-oriented Perspectives course, way back around 1986. However, the way I understood it back then — and that may have just been me, or my teacher, or something that has since changed — was that we were “Blessed to be a blessing.” That is, being blessed carries with it the obligation to bless others. “With Great power comes great responsibility” and all that. Similar to Kennedy’s “Ask what you can do for your country” — a phrase often honored by both liberals and conservatives, though despised by libertarians.

In the last year, I’ve started looking at things a little differently, though still admiring much of the earlier sentiment. See, I interpreted that phrase in a way that induced guilt, where I was almost ashamed or embarrassed by being blessed (again, that may have just been me, not the intent of Perspectives). Today, I read that as “Blessed by being able to bless.” As an apothegm I once coined put it:

The happiest people in the world are those who can and do enjoy blessing those they love

That is, God is not just setting forth a series of benefits and obligations; he is defining what it means to be happy — transformationally happy! A happiness that not merely requires, but consists of fulfillment, other-centeredness, justice, and expansion. Two corollaries I use are:

The more people loved, the greater the risk

The more people successfully loved, the greater the happiness

To me, that is the essence of what it means to be transformational: to have a holistic vision of happiness, which is intrinsically tied both to personal holiness AND to blessing others. Such a vision is liberating rather than guilt-inducing, and serving rather than judging.

Of course, having that vision and living up to it are two different things, as we’ll soon see in Abram’s life (if we didn’t have enough reminders from our own!).


God, thank you for the amazing promises of your word. Regardless of when or where Abram lived, the depths of Your promise to him have resonated throughout the ages, reflecting the depths of Your transforming heart for humanity. Teach me to not settle for shallow understandings and half-measures. May I have the courage to obey your call, and forsake the half-truths of my country, kindred, and household to enter the bountiful land that you have promised me — a land where I can be a blessing to that household, kindred, and country. By the promises of Jesus name, Amen.