Genesis 12 verse 3: a verse that shapes history

Summary

When God told Abram (Abraham) to go to “a land that I will show you” (Canaan), He promised to make him “a great nation”, and that in him “all families of the earth shall be blessed”. This was an unconditional promise: the nation turned out to be the Jewish nation, Israel, and through Abraham’s descendants came Christ, the Saviour of the world. God also said:

And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. (Genesis chapter 12 verse 3, NASB).

This verse has never been abrogated and since it refers to both Abraham and his descendants it is true today until the the end of the age. Some 3,500 years have now passed and, in accord with this verse, world history has been shaped by how individuals, people groups and nations have treated the Jewish people. Yes, they have suffered, but a remnant always survives:

All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality? [Mark Twain, 1897]

Understanding Genesis 12 Verse 3

The Abrahamic Covenant is formally given in Genesis 15 and 17, but the elements are laid in Genesis 12:2-3. The covenant is wholly gracious and unconditional. The descendants of Abraham only had to abide in their own land to inherit every blessing. Unfortunately, verse 3 is often mistranslated from the Hebrew, so let’s look at a few English translations:

And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee … (King James Version, KJV)

I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you … (New King James Version, NKJV)

And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses [reviles] you I will curse [bind under a curse] … (New American Standard Bible, NASB)

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse … (English Standard Version, ESV)

And I will bless (do good for, benefit) those who bless you, and I will curse [that is, subject to My wrath and judgment] the one who curses (despises, dishonors, has contempt for) you … (Amplified Bible, AMP]

 

Working backwards from the English to Hebrew can be misleading, but let’s try it. Taking the NASB text and inserting the corresponding Hebrew word from Strong’s Concordance we get:

And I will “baruch” those who “baruch” you, and the one who “qalals” you I will “arar” …

Here, the Hebrew ‘baruch’ (Strongs 1263) means ‘to bless’, ‘to praise’, ‘to give thanks’. Now note that the two verbs ‘curses’ and ‘curse’ have different Hebrew roots; both Hebrew verbs ‘arar’ and ‘qalal’ can be translated “curse,” link. The Hebrew ‘‘arar’’ (Strongs 779) means to ‘execrate’ (express great loathing for), ‘bitterly curse’ or ‘bind under a curse’. In contrast, some take ‘qalal’ (Strongs 7043) to mean ‘make light of’, ‘treat as trivial’, ‘revile’ or have ‘contempt’ for. But is this translation correct?

Working forwards: Hebrew to English

Genesis 12 verse 3

As stated, working backwards from English to Hebrew can be misleading. The query concerns the root ‘qalal’ since it is the root for two Hebrew verbs. In its most basic form, L’hakel (להקל), it means to ‘make light of’ or ‘to belittle’ (as mentioned). But in its intensive form, l’kalel (לקלל), it means to curse or revile, link. The significant point is that Gen 12:3 uses the intensive form, link. See l’kalel.

Having identified the correct form of the Hebrew root ‘qalal’ in Gen 12:3, we can identify the more accurate translations. The ESV and AMP translations seem misleading, whilst the NASB with alternative meanings inserted seems more accurate:

I will bless those who bless you, and the one who reviles you I will bind under a curse … (Gen 12:3, NASB)

To revile means to criticize strongly, to hate, to be contemptuous, speak of abusively, or say unpleasant things about a person or people group e.g. Israel.

Application of Genesis 12 verse 3

Having a clearer understanding of the Hebraic background to this verse, we can now ask ourselves ‘to whom, and when, does this verse apply?’

First, the personal pronoun ‘you’ must translate to Abraham’s descendants; after all, Abraham himself was not made into a great nation, but his descendants were (see Gen 26:4). So God’s blessing applies to all those Gentiles who at least speak well of Abraham’s descendants, Israel, whether they have faith (Gal 3:7), or not. All Gentiles in the world, throughout history, should bless and befriend the Jews if they want to earn God’s favor (using today’s common terminology, ‘Jew’ is any descendant from Abraham, link). For example, Gentiles bless Israel when they “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps 122:6-9). Remember also that, through Abraham, “all the families of the earth” were to be blessed (Jew and Gentile) – a reference to the true Jewish Messiah, Yeshua (verse 3b).

Similarly, ‘the one’ must apply to all individuals, groups or nations throughout history. For example, in the millennial age rebellious nations are judged harshly for not honouring Israel:

the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you [Israel] will perish … (Isa 60:12)
And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them (Zech 14:17)

In summary, God’s warning was never abrogated and applies to all time dispensations. It applied during Israel’s exodus from Egypt, to Babylonian rule, to Germany and the holocaust, and to Arabic aggression against Israel today. In short, how nations and individuals treat Israel has shaped history, and still does. It is dangerous to severely criticize, treat with contempt, hate or try to eliminate the Jewish nation, Israel. To do so endangers God’s curse. History shows God’s curse for such lack of respect and disdain is to invoke harsh judgment. It is better to be blessed by God by blessing Israel His people than to come under God’s curse. ‘Blessing’ in the Old Testament essentially relates to divine bestowal of prosperity onto humans, link.

Genesis 12 verse 3 in History

Destruction of the Egyptian army

God sometimes leads Israel’s enemies against her in order to honor His name. This happened in the case of Pharaoh when He hardened his heart to chase the supposedly trapped Israelites at the Red Sea (Exod 14). It will happen again in the imminent Gog-Magog war (Ezek 38 and 39).

Pharaoh was clearly an enemy of the Israelites. It took nine plagues and then the death of Egypt’s first born for Israel to be released from humiliating slavery. But, it seems, Pharaoh needed one more demonstration of the power of the God of Israel. The Bible says that when Pharaoh’s army entered the dry land in the midst of the sea it was destroyed (Exod 14:26-31). Archaeological evidence for the biblical exodus is available, link, link.

The Defeat of the Amalekites

The Amalekites were an ancient biblical nation living near the land of Canaan, link. They are notorious since they were the first nation to attack the Jewish people after the Exodus from Egypt. It happened while the Jews were recuperating from their escape from Egypt (Exod 17:8-13). The Amalekites launched a vicious surprise attack on them — even though the Jews had no designs on Amalekite territory. In response, Moses asked Joshua to fight against the Amalekites, whilst Moses himself would stand on a hill top with the rod of God in his hand (v10).

The Amalekites were finally defeated, and subsequently God ordered Moses to record the treacherous attack of the Amalekites for everlasting memory. Today the Jews regard Amalek as representing the worst form of evil, link.

The Destruction of Tyre

Modern Tyre. Wikipedia. Ankara, Creative Commons

Ancient Tyre was in two parts. The first part was on the mainland and the second was on an island about a kilometer from the shoreline. Over time, the island portion of the city became very wealthy and heavily fortified. It also served as the city’s religious center, where they worshiped pagan gods, particularly the fertility god “Baal”. Despite pagan worship, God’s anger against Tyre appears to have been aroused only when she declared her aggression against Jerusalem:

‘Aha! She is broken who was the gateway of the peoples; now she is turned over to me; I shall be filled; she is laid waste.’(Ezek 26:2)

To this, God declared:

‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you … they will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea’ (Ezek 26:3-5)

This prophecy was fulfilled by Alexander the Great when he built a land bridge from the mainland to the island of Tyre in 333-332 BC. Alexander’s forces took rubble (stones, timber and soil, v12) from Tyre’s mainland and built a causeway to capture the island. Ancient Tyre (the island) is no more, see archaeological verification. Modern Tyre occupies the northern half of the island and also sprawls across Alexander’s causeway and onto the mainland, link, link, link.

Judgment upon Russia – Communism

Pogroms (antisemitic violence) erupted in Russia in the late 19th century and went on into the early 1920’s. Pogrom is a Russian word meaning ‘to wreak havoc’ and at this time Russian authorities initiated violence, including slaughter, against Jews.

But, in turn for Jewish persecutions, did God ‘wreak havoc’ upon the Russian people themselves by bringing in repressive communism? The Russian (or Bolshevik) Revolution took place in 1917 when working class people of Russia revolted against the Tsar. They were led by Vladimir Lenin and a group of revolutionaries and a communist government set in. Stalin came to power after Lenin in 1924. In the 1930’s Stalin’s communist terror engulfed the USSR, sending millions to labour camps or firing squads. He destroyed the remnants of individual freedom and failed to promote individual prosperity, link, link.

Stalin’s war against the Soviet Jews: A gradual liquidation of Jewish cultural institutions also set in with Stalin’s ascent to power, link. Part of Stalin’s antisemitism was to conjure up the so-called Doctor’s Plot, in which the Kremlin doctors, most of them Jews, ‘confessed’ under torture that they had deliberately misdiagnosed health problems of Soviet leaders. In fact, the doctors were released immediately after Stalin’s death and completely rehabilitated.

Genesis 12 verse 3

Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation. Wikimedia. Enlarge

Stalin’s timely death: Stalin suffered a stroke on February 28, 1953. Curiously, it was on the same day as the Jewish holiday of Purim. This festival commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia (Iran) from Haman’s plot to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews in a single day (see the Old Testament book of Esther). It was also on the same day that deportations to Siberia of more than one million Jews from Moscow alone and millions more from other parts of the Soviet Union were to begin, link. Was this the outworking of Genesis 12 verse 3 – God’s judgment upon those who hate the Jews?

Russia’s Jew-hate Today: It is claimed that today Russia is the global leader in Jew-hate (does the Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation imply this? See Israel’s enemies). Germany has by no means been history’s top purveyor of global antisemitism. That distinction goes to Russia, which has spread antisemitism more widely and durably, link. Will God’s judgment upon Russia for her treatment of Jews be completed in the imminent Gog-Magog war? Here Russia is totally defeated and humiliated.

Germany’s Jew Hatred

Hitler capitalized on antisemitic ideas that had been around for a long time. By blaming the Jews for the WWI defeat, Hitler created a stereotypical enemy. In the 1920’s and early 1930’s, the defeated country was still in a major economic crisis, but the Nazis argued that expelling the Jews was the solution. This political message and the promise to make Germany economically strong again won Hitler the elections in 1932.

After Hitler came to power, the laws and measures against the Jews steadily increased. Nazi anti-Jewish policy constituted legal measures to expel the Jews from society and strip them of their rights and property, while engaging in incitement, abuse, terror and violence, link. It ended in the Shoah, the Holocaust, the murder of six million European Jews, link.

As promised in Genesis 12 verse 3, it appears Hitler’s Germany experienced God’s curse for hating the Jews. At the end of the war Germany was in utter chaos, link:

Displaced Persons’ were roaming about the country, often looting as they went. Transportation and communication services had ceased to function. Agriculture and industry were largely at a standstill. Food was scarce and there was a serious risk of famine and disease during the coming months. And to crown it all there was no central government in being, and the machinery whereby a central government could function no longer existed [Field Marshall Montgomery, 1945]

The leaders of this people cause them to err, and those who are led by them are destroyed (Isa 9.16)

Britain’s Blessing – Prosperity

In the 18th and 19th centuries you’d be hard pressed to find Bible teachers who weren’t defenders of the Jews, men such as Lord Shaftesbury, William Wilberforce, J.C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley and more. Interestingly, this was an age of great evangelistic efforts, notably among the Jews, and particularly among the Jewish population of the East London of Charles Dickens, link.

When it comes to Britain’s leaders, the Jew Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) twice served as UK Prime Minister and led the Conservative party for nearly three decades. It has been said “Many modern Conservatives look back on Disraeli as their prophet, high priest and philosopher rolled into one”. Notably, there was a lack of anti-Jewish violence in Britain in the 19th and early 20th century, link.

It was during these centuries that Britain prospered through the revolution of industry and transport, link. For a few decades in the 19th century British manufactured goods dominated world trade, link.

Britain’s betrayal of the Jews

In 1917 the British Foreign Office stated:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people … it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine [A.J. Balfour, British Foreign Office]

This became known as the Balfour declaration. The 1920 San Remo Peace Conference gave Britain a provisional ‘Mandate for Palestine’ based upon the Balfour Declaration and this was formalized in 1922 by the Council of the League of Nations, link. The primary objective of the Mandate was to grant political rights in respect to Palestine to the Jewish people. The 1920 Mandate defined “Palestine” as spanning both west and east of the Jordan.

 

Britain Reneged on the Mandate

The 1922 League of Nations sub-division. Image courtesy Eli E. Hertz. Enlarge

The Peel and Woodhead commissions of 1937/38 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab state, a proposal hardly honouring the Mandate. It was rejected by the Arab leadership. There’s worse. The British White Paper of 1939 was a statement of policy that severely compromised the British commitment to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The White Paper limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to just 75,000 over a five year period. The policy therefore repudiated the Balfour Declaration and Britain’s commitments under the League of Nations just at the time of greatest need for a sanctuary for Jewish refugees, link.

It got even worse. In July 1947 the ship ‘The Exodus’ was carrying Jewish emigrants to British Mandatory Palestine, link. It carried 4515 men, women and children – most of whom were Holocaust survivors. The British navy attacked the Exodus to resist her landing in Palestine. When she did eventually land, some Jews were forcibly removed to be reloaded onto ships sailing back to Europe.

In Summary: Britain essentially failed in her charge to establish a Jewish homeland, and it was left to the UN and to the Jews themselves.

Did God Judge Britain for Betraying the Jews?

Some see Britain’s general decline commencing around 1947/48, when she finally reneged on her Mandate for Palestine and handed it over to the United Nations, link.

Britain’s Declining Navy: Britain once boasted the most powerful navy in the world. The British Navy steadily increased from the 1700’s to reach a peak fleet size in 1945 of some 800 destroyers and frigates, link. But by 1950 there had been a rapid decline to 250 destroyers and frigates, and by 2017 Britain had just 19!

Britain’s Declining Empire: Around 1920/21 Britain’s Empire reached a territorial peak, covering 24% of the Earth’s land area, link. It is interesting to note that this occurred when Britain was mandated with helping the Jews find a homeland in Palestine (1917, 1920, 1922). But between 1945 and 1965 the number of people under British rule outside the UK itself fell from 700 million to just 5 million, link.

The merits and sins of such an Empire are debatable, but the fact remains that Britain very rapidly lost her world influence from about 1945, and this continued to the close of the millennium.

Over the next decade, Britain’s pretensions to be a great power will evaporate … with rapidly shrinking military and diplomatic influence” [The Guardian, 2009]

For many, the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997 marked the end of the British Empire.

Britain’s Declining Economy: In the early 1950’s Britain was an industrial giant, with an output per head 30% ahead of the six founder members of the EEC. But within 50 years it had been overtaken by many European and several Asian countries. Today, UK manufacturing accounts for just 11% of GDP. See “The Slow Death of British Industry: a 60-Year Suicide, 1952-2012” [NewStatesman, 2013].

Genesis 12 verse 3 Today

According the Genesis 12 verse 3, today’s institutionalized church is in danger of God’s judgement. Why? because in general it embraces some forms of Antisemitism. This is often in the form of antisemitic rhetorical speech or writing, or in social action and political maneuvering against the Jewish State.

The world will also see God’s anger vented upon Islamic nations who today revile, and in the the near future, war against the Jewish state.

Antisemitism in the Institutionalized Church

The World Council of Churches (WCC): The WCC is an ecumenical movement promoting Christian unity across many denominations, including Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed churches and the United Church of Christ. It represents over 500 million Christians in more than 100 countries and territories. A key objective is the breaking down barriers between people and seeking justice and peace.

WCC’s flagship project on the Arab-Israeli conflict is called EAPPI, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. Despite WCC’s noble objective of ‘breaking down barriers and seeking justice and peace’, the activities of EAPPI are biased against Israel. In particular, it is claimed EAPPI recruits activists abroad, sends them to Israel for three months and trains them to lead anti-Israel campaigns, link. In addition, NGO MONITOR claims EAPPI:

  • rejects the link between Israel and the Jewish people
  • rhetoric accuses Israel of ‘apartheid’ and ‘war crimes’
  • strengthens work on sanctions and suspension of US aid to Israel
  • encourages civil disobedience action
  • encourages churches to join campaigns for economic boycotts e.g. BDS
  • supports Palestinian ‘Right of Return’
  • stresses Israel’s ‘land occupation’
  • lobbies the EU to impose sanctions on Israel
  • supports the call for the UK to apologize for the Balfour DeclaratiOn

 

The Kairos Document: The WCC is a promoter of the Kairos Palestine document. This group of Palestinian Christians repeatedly claims Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, claims Israeli settlements ravage Palestinian land, claims daily humiliation of Palestinian workers, and stresses the ‘right of return’ of refugees. It is also claimed that Kairos characterizes terrorist acts of armed resistance as ‘Palestinian legal resistance’, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, compares Israel with the South African apartheid regime, and calls churches worldwide to engage in BDS.

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS): This is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. In 2005 the WCC encouraged its member churches ‘to explore ways of avoiding economic participation in illegal activities related to the Israeli occupation’, link. The BDS campaign is an example. It is claimed that major UK churches have adopted the anti-Israel BDS agenda, link.

Jewish Reaction: Given such activities, it is not surprising that the UK Jewish Board of Deputies has described the EAPPI (aka WCC) as ‘inflammatory and partisan’ and accused it of ‘creating a climate of hostility towards Israel within the Church of England’.

Given how the WCC reviles the Jewish people, it’s an open question as to how the God of Israel will enact Genesis 12 verse 3. Is the WCC (and the member churches that support its views) part if the apostate church of Revelation 17 which is eventually ‘burned with fire’?

Aggression from Islamic Nations

Some see today’s Arab-Israeli/Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be rooted in biblical history, namely in the hostile Amalekites. The nation of Amalek is long gone, but many Israelis see Amalek living on in their daily enemies, link. One such enemy is Iran.

Today, Islam repeatedly reviles the Jewish state. Israel is criticized in the most hateful way:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it [Hamas Charter, 1988]

The very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humanity [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, August 2012]

Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor … that has to be removed and eradicated [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, April 2018]

How will Genesis 12 verse 3 Apply? In the immediate future there will be an Islamic invasion of Israel from the north. Many see this as being headed by Russia and Iran. Meanwhile, the western nations simply standby and observe (Ezek 38:13). What happens? The invaders are completely defeated by the God of Israel (Ezek 38:18-23). They will “fall upon the mountains of Israel” (Ezek 39:1-8). Moreover, God will be magnified in the eyes of many nations (Ezek 38:23, 39:21), and Islam will be humiliated. Is this an example of the curse God places upon those who curse Israel?


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