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. – Genesis 12:3
And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed… – Genesis 26:4
And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. – Genesis 28:14
The blessing of Abraham is the key to the history of the postdiluvian age. God now singles out a man from Shem’s race who is to become the father of God’s peculiar possession. In turn, this nation would become the cradle for the world’s Messiah. The God of Shem truly has kept His Word!
The peculiar promise that goes with the call of Abraham is known as the “blessing of Abraham.” It becomes a designation for the Good News, just as the term “gospel” is with us. We see this in Genesis 28:4, when the Lord through Isaac says to Jacob: “And give you the blessing of Abraham, To you and your descendants with you.”
This peculiar promise—of a great people, its inheritance of the Promised Land, and its bringing forth of the Seed in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed—puts its stamp on this family’s entire history.
This promise was the beginning of a new life for Abram. Since his father, Terah, and his house were idolaters, Abram is called to a radical separation. He is to leave his country and kindred and go to the land of promise. This radical separation from the world while still living in it defines the family of Abraham. Both Isaac and Jacob do not take wives for themselves from the neighboring Canaanites. Abram will not take any money from the king of Sodom. These histories of the Bible are a poignant illustration to Paul’s words: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”
But there are great blessings which supplant this great sacrifice of home and hearth, of kith and kin. Some of them are temporal blessings. Isaac’s descendants are compared to the stars of heaven; Jacob’s descendants are compared to the dust of the earth. Even though the images are different, the point is clear. From one, God shall make a multitude.
The other temporal blessing is possession of the promised land. God would show Abraham the promised land, and he gives precious promises to Isaac and Jacob. Jacob’s promise is particularly beautiful: “you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south.”
However, we see that the temporal blessings are conditional promises. When the children of Israel broke the Law of God, they forfeited these worldly promises. Isaiah’s withering words of judgment make this clear: “Unless the Lord of hosts Had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.” The great nation promised to the fathers, became a tiny residue, a veritable vestige on account of their sins. It is only by God’s grace that they were allowed to endure.
The same is true of the possession of the land. The prophet Ezekiel thundered: “You eat meat with blood, you lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood. Should you then possess the land . . . For I will make the land most desolate, her arrogant strength shall cease, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that no one will pass through” (Ezek. 33:25, 28). The land of milk and honey would be savaged and abandoned, ruined by sin; and it would be shunned by both God and man.
But the eternal promise of the Seed was an unconditional promise; This promise endured. The Messiah came, not on account of Israel’s merits, but because our God is faithful even when we are faithless. Through this family, our Savior would come into the world to be a blessing, first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. All nations of the earth are blessed through this Seed, Who would destroy the works of the devil.
It is the promise of the Christ which defines Abraham’s family. Even though they often preferred the temporal promises to the eternal promise, nevertheless God remained faithful. Out of His incomprehensible grace, our Lord and God promised and finally procured salvation through father Abraham for every patria, every patriarchy under heaven. As St. Paul writes: “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16).