New English Translation
The Obedience of Abram
“Go out[c] from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household
to the land that I will show you.[d]
2 Then I will make you[e] into a great nation, and I will bless you,[f]
and I will make your name great,[g]
so that you will exemplify divine blessing.[h]
3 I will bless those who bless you,[i]
but the one who treats you lightly[j] I must curse,
so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing[k] through you.”
- Genesis 12:1 sn The Lord called Abram while he was in Ur (see Gen 15:7; Acts 7:2), but the sequence here makes it look like it was after the family left to migrate to Canaan (11:31-32). Genesis records the call of Abram at this place in the narrative because it is the formal beginning of the account of Abram. The record of Terah was brought to its end before this beginning.
- Genesis 12:1 tn The call of Abram begins with an imperative לֶךְ־לְךָ (lekh lekha, “go out”) followed by three cohortatives (v. 2a) indicating purpose or consequence (“that I may” or “then I will”). If Abram leaves, then God will do these three things. The second imperative (v. 2b, literally “and be a blessing”) is subordinated to the preceding cohortatives and indicates God’s ultimate purpose in calling and blessing Abram. On the syntactical structure of vv. 1-2 see R. B. Chisholm, “Evidence from Genesis,” A Case for Premillennialism, 37. For a similar sequence of volitive forms see Gen 45:18.sn It would be hard to overestimate the value of this call and this divine plan for the theology of the Bible. Here begins God’s plan to bring redemption to the world. The promises to Abram will be turned into a covenant in Gen 15 and 22 (here it is a call with conditional promises) and will then lead through the Bible to the work of the Messiah.
- Genesis 12:1 tn The initial command is the direct imperative (לֶךְ, lekh) from the verb הָלַךְ (halakh). It is followed by the preposition ל (lamed) with a pronominal suffix (לְךָ, lekha) emphasizing the subject of the imperative: “you leave.”
- Genesis 12:1 sn To the land that I will show you. The call of Abram illustrates the leading of the Lord. The command is to leave. The Lord’s word is very specific about what Abram is to leave (the three prepositional phrases narrow to his father’s household), but is not specific at all about where he is to go. God required faith, a point that Heb 11:8 notes.
- Genesis 12:2 tn The three first person verbs in v. 2a should be classified as cohortatives. The first two have pronominal suffixes, so the form itself does not indicate a cohortative. The third verb form is clearly cohortative.
- Genesis 12:2 sn I will bless you. The blessing of creation is now carried forward to the patriarch. In the garden God blessed Adam and Eve; in that blessing he (1) gave them a fruitful place, (2) endowed them with fertility to multiply, and (3) made them rulers over creation. That was all ruined at the fall. Now God begins to build his covenant people; in Gen 12-22 he promises to give Abram (1) a land flowing with milk and honey, (2) a great nation without number, and (3) kingship.
- Genesis 12:2 tn Or “I will make you famous.”
- Genesis 12:2 tn Heb “and be a blessing.” The verb form הְיֵה (heyeh) is the Qal imperative of the verb הָיָה (hayah). The vav (ו) with the imperative after the cohortatives indicates purpose or consequence. What does it mean for Abram to “be a blessing”? Will he be a channel or source of blessing for others, or a prime example of divine blessing? With the opposite notions of being a curse, taunt, horror, reproach, or proverb, a person (or the nation) is an example of such and/or referenced in a statement of such. For example, in Zech 8:13 God assures his people, “You will be a blessing,” in contrast to the past when they “were a curse.” Certainly “curse” here does not refer to Israel being a source of a curse, but rather to the fact that they became a curse-word or byword among the nations, who regarded them as the epitome of an accursed people (see 2 Kgs 22:19; Jer 42:18; 44:8, 12, 22). Therefore the statement “be a blessing” seems to refer to Israel being transformed into a prime example of a blessed people, whose name will be used in blessing formulae, rather than in curses. If the statement “be a blessing” is understood in the same way in Gen 12:2, then it means that God would so bless Abram that other nations would hear of his fame and hold him up as a paradigm of divine blessing in their blessing formulae. And yet the gnomic promise that begins v. 3 can be seen to identify the way in which Abraham could be a blessing to others; as they bless him, they are blessed by God.
- Genesis 12:3 tn The Piel cohortative has as its object a Piel participle, masculine plural. Since the Lord binds himself to Abram by covenant, those who enrich Abram in any way share in the blessings.
- Genesis 12:3 tn In this part of God’s statement there are two significant changes that often go unnoticed. First, the parallel and contrasting participle מְקַלֶּלְךָ (meqallelekha) is now singular and not plural. All the versions and a few Masoretic mss read the plural. But if it had been plural, there would be no reason to change it to the singular and alter the parallelism. On the other hand, if it was indeed singular, it is easy to see why the versions would change it to match the first participle. The MT preserves the original reading: “the one who treats you lightly.” The point would be a contrast with the lavish way that God desires to bless many. The second change is in the vocabulary. The English usually says, “I will curse those who curse you.” But there are two different words for curse here. The first is קָלַל (qalal), which means “to be light” in the Qal, and in the Piel “to treat lightly, to treat with contempt, to curse.” The second verb is אָרַר (ʾarar), which means “to banish, to remove from the blessing.” The point is simple: Whoever treats Abram and the covenant with contempt as worthless God will banish from the blessing. It is important also to note that the verb is not a cohortative, but a simple imperfect. Since God is binding himself to Abram, this would then be an obligatory imperfect: “but the one who treats you with contempt I must curse.”
- Genesis 12:3 tn Or “find blessing.” The Niphal of בָּרַךְ (barakh) occurs only three times, all in formulations of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:2; 18:18; 28:14). The Niphal stem is medio-passive and it has traditionally been rendered as passive here. While this captures an assumption in the passage, it does not fully capture the nuance of the verb. The verb is denominative (based on the noun “blessing”) with its active voice in the Piel and its normal passive expression in the Pual (or the Qal passive participle). Some have argued that the Niphal has the same reciprocal notion as its Hitpael (which appears in two other formulations of the Abrahamic covenant: Gen 22:18; 26:4) and means “bless one another by you[r name].” As an example of being blessed, Abram would be mentioned in their pronouncements of blessing. This could be possible, but it is more likely that the Niphal is used instead of the Hitpael to indicate a different middle voice meaning than the Hitpael, just as it would not be expected to have the same passive meaning as the Pual. In the immediate context, the first lines of this verse explain how others may be blessed by God, specifically by blessing Abram. The middle voice nuance may be expressed as “they may consider themselves blessed through you,” or that “they may find/receive blessing through you.” The logical outcome is that those who bless Abraham receive blessing and thus will “be blessed” (passive), and that anyone on the earth may be part of that category. So a passive translation can be a fair rendering of this implication. This translation attempts to reflect the middle voice of the Niphal as well as a modal sense “may receive blessing,” since the blessing only comes to those who bless Abram. Additional iterations of the Abrahamic covenant extend this principle to his descendants.