Q&A: Israel as a Blessing to the Nations

Israel as a Blessing to the Nations

How did the Jacob stories teach Israel about her role to be a blessing to the nations in Genesis 28:14?

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Answer

Among other things, God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that Israel, his descendants, would become a blessing to every family, every nation on the earth. And, of course, this is what Christians believe comes through Jesus as the gospel goes to every nation in the world. But that theme of God blessing all the nations through Abraham also reappears in Genesis 28:14 in the life of Jacob. Jacob at Bethel receives this blessing, that he will have many descendants, they will live in the Promised Land, but then they will spread to the east, to the west, to the north and the south, and because they spread out, they will then become a blessing to all the nations of the world.

And then the story of Jacob also emphasizes this as Jacob interacts with Esau, the father of the Edomites, who are the people of the south, and of Laban, when he interacts with Laban when they… And these are the people of the north. And so, as you deal with those two boundaries or those two borders of the Promised Land, Edom and Laban up north, then what you have is interactions of Jacob with people around him, other people other than his own descendants. And we see in both of those stories that Jacob interacts both positively and negatively with those people. It's important to realize that in Genesis 12:3, when God says that Abraham will become a blessing to all the nations, which is then repeated in 28:14 for Jacob, that God also says this to Abraham: "Those who bless you I will bless, and those who curse you" — or disdain you — "I will curse." And so, this interaction that will, with other peoples, lead eventually to the blessings of all the nations isn't just positive, it's also negative. And so, blessings and curses work together in God's economy, or God's providence, to eventually lead to Jacob becoming a blessing to all the nations.

This is the theme that comes out for the people of Israel in the days of Moses. They were going to the Promised Land. But why were they going to the Promised Land? What was the endpoint? What was the goal? What was the destiny? Was it that God would just bless them, that God would give them good things, that God would save them from their sins and give them eternal life? No. It was that they, as the instruments of God, would become the conduit of blessings to all the families of the earth, something that we see repeated over and over in the book of Genesis, but also we see later on in the Bible as well, say in Psalm 72, where it is said that the blessing will be given to all peoples in fulfillment of Abraham's promise by means of the house of David. Psalm 72, in many respects for the Old Testament, is the climax of this, the hope that then is centered in the house of David as the one through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.