Let Me Bless: a few thoughts on Genesis 12:3

"It isn't that God basically wants to condemn and then finds a way to rescue some from that disaster. It is that God longs to bless, to bless lavishly, and so to rescue and bless those in danger of tragedy--and therefore must curse everything that thwarts and destroys the blessing of his world and his people." (N.T Wright, Justification page 71)

וַאֲבָֽרֲכָה מְבָרְכֶיךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ אָאֹר וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָֽה׃
Genesis 12:3
Ever since I first started translating Hebrew I've been interested in genesis 12:3, one of the most important passages in all of scripture. It says, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." The power of that verse is incredible not only because it's found in God's covenant with Abraham, and not only because of it's prophetic/eschatological inclusiveness ("all peoples on earth will be blessed through you") but also because hidden in it's original language is a hint for us about God's desire. When we read it in English it tends to come off sounding a bit static. God sounds like a blessing/cursing machine who simply blesses people who bless Israel and Curses those who curse Israel without any regard for passion or desire for anyone else (which should sound ironic if we keep the "all peoples" part at the forefront). But when I fist translated it in college, my translation, rough as it was, revealed something new to me.

When I translated Genesis 12:3 it ended up sounding something like this: "Let me bless [cohortative] those who bless you and those who are cursing you I must curse." Notice that the blessing and the cursing are in different forms. Barak (blessing) is in the cohortative thus best translated, "let me bless" with a sense of binding. And the verb arar (to curse) is not in the cohortative but in the Qal imperfect (a simple imperfect) which makes it what you might call an obligatory imperfect in light of the earlier binding cohortative. For those to whom this means nothing, which is most of the world, all this is to say that the blessing and the cursing are not static and the same as the English translations would usually imply. In fact, blessing is a desire of God's--"let me bless"--he takes pleasure in it through covenant faithfulness. And cursing is not something God directly desires but is something that he must do, that he is obligated to do in order to bless with the intensity his covenant requires. Therefore it is justified to translate "I will bless" and "I will curse" (as we see in English translations) as "let me bless" and "I must curse" giving the passage very different implications as to what the desire behind this covenant really is--a desire for corporate and individual blessing. (There are some pretty good notes on this stuff here)

It has been God's desire from the start for blessing. God never desires to banish anyone from such blessing--from his renewing and salvific covenant--but in order for his revolutionary covenant with people to be anything at all, it must stand against those who perpetuate anything other than blessing. In other words, God's covenant is against the curse of Genesis 3 and therefore must be against those systems and people who perpetuate the curse. It is God's passion for blessing--for love, liberation, compassion, salvation, justice, mercy, and life--that puts him against the curse of oppression, slavery, violence, injustice, brutality, death, and any who find themselves caught up therein.

God is not a machine who doles out blessings and curses without passion. Rather, God is so passionate about blessing that he must banish, he must curse those who curse his covenant of blessing and renewal for all people.


nate said…
This is fantastic Wes.
Shepherd said…
You have it right brother and written correctly.