What is the meaning of the words "bless" and "curse" in Genesis 12:3? How does this apply to Israel?
The meaning of Genesis 12:3 is often misunderstood. The verse is part of the Abrahamic Covenant recoded for us in Genesis 12:1-3.The verse contains a promise from God that He will bless those who bless Abraham and his descendants and curse those who curse him and his descendants. So, what is the meaning of “bless” and “curse” in Genesis 12:3? Here is the verse,
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
Genesis 12:3 (NASB)
The meaning of the words “bless” and “curse” in the verse are not determined by a modern English dictionary. The meaning of the words comes from the Hebrew words from which they are translated. First we must discover the meaning of the words and then how they benefit the nation of Israel is given. The English translations of the Hebrew words for “bless” and “curse” in the English Bibles are inadequate, as you will soon discover.
I Will Bless Those Who Bless You
For example, the two Hebrew words in Genesis 12:3 that are translated as “bless” come from the same word, barak. This word has a broad meaning that includes the concept of kneel, bless, praise, and salute, depending upon the context. The word does not mean happy. In general, the best English word may be “honor,” for that includes blessing, praise, and saluting. It can also include kneeling as a humble act. Therefore, “I will bless those who bless you” reveals that anyone who gives honor to Abraham and his descendants will be given honor.
We must not miss God’s promise in this statement. He said that He, God Himself, would bless anyone who blesses Abraham. God reveals His solidarity with Abraham. If we bless Abraham and his descendants, then God will bless us.
One Who Curses You I Will Curse
In the statement, “the one who curses you I will curse,” there are two different Hebrew words for curse. The first Hebrew word for curse is qalal. While it is possible qalal can be translated as “curse,” the fuller meaning includes disparage, abuse, dishonor, despise, consider of little account, disdain, treat as contemptible, or cause harm. This Hebrew word refers to the actions of the one who abuses Abraham.
The second Hebrew word that is translated as “curse” is arar. It only means “curse.” In this verse the word refers to God’s protective action of Abraham. Once again, God reveals His solidarity with Abraham. Anyone who harms Abraham will be cursed by God Himself and suffer the consequences.
But the Abrahamic covenant extends beyond Abraham to his descendants. Since the Abrahamic Covenant was reaffirmed to Isaac (Genesis 28:3-4) and Jacob (Genesis 27:27-29), the provisions also extend to Isaac and Jacob and their descendants because Genesis 27:29 includes the promise of blessing and cursing. The Holy Spirit also came upon the false prophet Balaam who repeated the promise of blessing and cursing (Numbers 24:2-3, 9). It is significant that the Holy Spirit gave this promise of blessing and cursing to Israel. This passage reveals that the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant flowed from Abraham to the nation of Israel.
Since the beneficiaries of the Abrahamic Covenant are unconditional and eternal, this reveals the promise of blessing and cursing are unconditional and eternal. They still apply to Israel even today. This means that anyone who blesses Israel today will be blessed by God Himself, and anyone who abuses, dishonors, or harms Israel will be cursed with a curse by God Himself. So, everyone should bless Israel. No one should protest, attack, or rejoice that Israel is attacked. No one should dishonor Israel, unless you want to be cursed by God. H. C. Leupold states,
. . . to curse him [Abraham] comes to be almost the equivalent of cursing God.
1. Nahum Sarna. Genesis. The JPS Torah Commentary. The Jewish Publication Society. 1989. p. 89.
2. H. C. Leupold. Exposition of Genesis. Baker Book House. 1987. vol. 1, p. 412.
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