Genesis 12:1-3

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [1]

We enter a new section of Genesis as the story of Abram unfolds before us. The great theme of chapters 12 through 50 is the Promised Seed and, to a lesser extent, the Promised Land. “The promise of a son dominates chapters 12 to 20 by its tantalizing delay, while Abram alternately jeopardizes it by failures of nerve and hope (chapters 12, 16, 20) and holds to it by faith (chapters 15, 17, 18).

After Isaac’s birth in chapter 21 the interest centers on the slender line of succession to the promise; finally, the story moves towards the [era] beyond the patriarchs, as God leads the family to Egypt and reveals the beginnings of the tribal destinies. By the end of the book, Israel’s place among the nations who will remain her neighbors throughout the Old Testament, and her unique calling and [future], have been clearly established, and the stage set for the great events of the Exodus.”[2]

In the first seven verses of Genesis 12, God makes seven “I will” promises to Abram” (1) “I will make you into a great nation”; (2) “I will bless you”; (3) “I will make your name great”; (4) “you will be a blessing”; (5) “I will bless those who bless you”; (6) “whoever curses you I will curse”; and (7) climactically, in the favored seventh position, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”[3]

The seventh promise goes far beyond a promise of material blessing. We need to consider it on its own before we move on with Abram’s story. It’s the second prophecy of the coming of Messiah Jesus. The first prophecy about Christ came in Genesis 3:15 during Adam and Eve’s judgment for their sin. God said to the dragon-serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.[4] In this second prophecy here in 12:3, God speaks of the work of the Deliverer as a spiritual blessing for all the nations of the earth. It’s a short but powerful statement, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

How did Abram react to God’s promise? Moses doesn’t tell us how Abram felt. But he does tell us in verse 4 that “Abram went, as the Lord had told him.[5] Abram’s action indicates trust into God. But the promise to give the land to Abram (v. 7) follows the promise to show the land to Abram (v. 1), and “show” becomes “give” only when Abram makes his move.[6]


But there must have been some sense of wonder as he listened to God make these promises of land, seed, and blessing. In particular, he must have wondered how God would make him a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. He must have been as amazed as King David when God promised that David’s Seed would reign on an eternal throne. David replied, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 19 And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God![7]

Abram must have known that this direct word from YHWH was, as David would later proclaim, “instruction for mankind.” God’s promise certainly involved Abram, but clearly spoke of a plan far beyond Abram’s capabilities and lifespan. God promises blessing through Abram to all the earth’s clans (or peoples, families), like those mentioned in Gen. 10. Here is YHWH’s great plan for life, the universe and everything. The pagan nations and peoples of the earth of whom we read in chapters 3–11 shall be blessed through Abram.[8] Now we see the importance of the long list of names in chapters 10 and 11 because we hear God’s promise to bless the pagans through this one man who will continue the line of the Promised Seed.

Martin Luther said this promise:

…should be written in golden letters and should be extolled in the languages of all people, for it offers eternal treasures. For it cannot be understood in a material sense, namely, that it would be confined to this people only, as the previous blessings were. But if, as the words clearly indicate, this promise is to be extended to all nations, or families of the earth, who else, shall we say, has dispensed this blessing among all nations except the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ?[9]

God promised Abram the material blessings of land, children that would become a great nation, and fame. In addition, he promised something that did not depend upon Abram – blessing of all peoples. Abram could not be the source of his own blessing; he could only receive blessing from God. The promise of world-wide blessing had to come from a greater Son than Abram himself – just like the later promise that David would have an eternal throne. That future source of blessing must be God (the true source of blessing) and yet somehow part of the Abrahamic and Davidic line of descendants to be truly a “Seed” of those two men.

Abram must have come to understand something of this line of reasoning. Perhaps the promise of the Seed of the Woman had been passed down to him through the Godly line of the Family Shem. But the Lord Jesus himself confirms Abram eventually knew the Promised Seed would come. He said to the Jewish leaders of the Jerusalem temple, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.[10]

Some verses in the Old Covenant are considered to be so crucial to the gospel they are treated at length by the New Covenant writers. Genesis 12:3 is one such verse. Paul treats it at length in Galatians as he deals with the doctrine of justification by trust into Christ alone. Paul’s first reference to our verse comes as he is refuting the false teachings of the Judaizers For Jesus movement who came from James’ congregation in Jerusalem.

They followed Paul throughout his church planting journeys teaching that in order to be saved, a person had to perform works of the Mosaic Law. A person could not simply be saved by objectively trusting what God had done. It was necessary to perform works of the Law. “Paul replied that it wasn’t necessary to become a physical member of the Jewish nation and that, while good works would necessarily flow from a life that had been transformed by God, works themselves did not enter into justification. It is all by grace. In proving this, his chief example is Abram.”[11]

In Galatians 3:6-9, Paul writes:

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. [12]

The apostle’s argument centers on our verse and Genesis 15:6, which says that Abram’s trust into God was credited to him as righteousness. Paul calls this THE gospel. Genesis 12:3 and 15:6 were early announcements of the coming work of the Promised Seed. He makes two points. First, that rightness with God comes ONLY by trust (faith). This is his main focus in his letter to the Galatians. His second point is that this good news is available to ALL nations. The word “nations” (or clans, families, peoples) in scripture generally refers to Gentiles.

All Gentiles are able to enter the City of God and remain Gentiles. Salvation has NEVER come by keeping God’s law. Salvation has always and ONLY come by trust into the person and work of the Promised Seed. Because of Christ, no one any longer need come to God by first becoming a Jew. Before Moses and the Law came this great gospel promise through Abram that all nations could find blessing in the Promised Seed by simply trusting into his perfect law-keeping life and sacrificial death. Paul argues:

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. [13]

After establishing Abram as the recipient of the promise of the Seed, Paul goes on to write this promise involved the redemption of many people:

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. [14]

Though Abram might not have grasped this during God’s early dealings with him, Paul makes a crucial point. Abraham’s blessing was not some general blessing about physical needs or even undefined spiritual needs. The blessing concerns the very problem all humanity with its condition of sin faces before a righteous and perfect God. Having been born under Adam’s guilt and curse, every human has inherited Adam’s guilt and sinful condition and God’s righteous condemnation. Paul calls this “the curse of the law.”

On top of this judicial guilt, sin has tightened its tentacles around us and into us so completely that we are powerless to escape its grasp. What we need is One who can buy us out from under this curse and free us from sin’s bondage. This is the content of God’s promise to Abram. This is what Jesus, the Promised Seed accomplished by his cross work as Calvary.


The idea of redemption is not popular for some contemporary Bible students. Some tend to see redemption as mere deliverance and not something that involves payment of a price. If salvation involves any kind of price, then it is not “free.” The dejected disciples walking home to Emmaus had that idea. As the resurrected and disguised Jesus approached them and asked them why they looked so sad, they told him about the great prophet’s crucifixion in Jerusalem. They said, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[15] In their mind, “redemption” meant being freed from the power of Roman rule. They had hoped for a messiah who would establish Israel as an independent political power and a great moral theocracy. “Make Israel great again!

Jesus responded, “25 And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” [16]

The matter of a price for redemption is an Old Testament concept. There we find the words gaʾal (“redeem”) and goʾel (usually translated “kinsman-redeemer”). Jewish law contained the principle that property should remain within a family, if possible. To be deprived of property was to be deprived of one’s share in the land, one’s inheritance. It was disastrous. Provision was made in the law of Israel so that one who had lost his property could receive it again through a family member who was obligated to buy back the land.[17] Paying a price to buy back the lost land was called “redemption.” You may recall the book of Ruth centers around this idea of redemption. Gentile Ruth married into Israel and became an ancestor of Jesus, the Promised Seed and Kinsman-Redeemer of both Jews and Gentiles.

Another Hebrew word related to redemption is kopher, meaning “ransom price.” It was a provision of the Mosaic law allowing for victim compensation when an animal owned by a neighbor caused property damage or personal injury. The owner of the animal could reach a financial settlement with the victims and buy back his animal. An animal that caused death to a neighbor would have to be killed under the law. But the owner could pay the kopher and redeem his animal from the law’s death penalty. The concept of redemption for a price was ingrained in the Mosaic Law and the culture of Israel.

The idea of paying a redemption price is found in New Testament times as well. The most important Greek word for redemption is luo (“to loose, unbind, undo, set free, or destroy”). It can mean redemption or deliverance (“unbound, set free”). As the word group developed, some of the derivatives came to mean “deliverance by the payment of a price.” First came the noun lutron, which means the “ransom price.” It described, for example, the price one paid to set a slave free. From lutron another verb developed—lutroo, which always meant “to deliver by the payment of a price.” From this came the word for “redemption,” lutrosis or apolutrosis.[18]

The concept of redemption for a price is found in the secular Greco-Roman world of New Testament times. Several scholars reference the standard legal language for purchasing the freedom of a slave.[19] Often this price was paid to the temple of a particular god or goddess: “X pays to the Pithian Apollo the sum of [so many] minae for the slave, Y, on the condition that he [she] shall be set free.” This legal formula is found so often in secular Greek writings that it was certainly a common practice to “redeem” slaves. The idea of payment of a cost to buy back a person or a thing is found in several New Testament texts.

Matthew 20:28 reads, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom [lutron] for many.[20] Jesus stated he came to buy his people out of slavery to sin at the cost of his life. Titus 2:14 says Jesus, “gave himself for us to redeem [lutron] us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” [21] And, 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “you were ransomed [lutroo] from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.[22]

Finally, there is another word group in the New Testament used for redemption by paying a price. They also are terms of commerce. The words agorazo (which means “to buy in the marketplace”—based on the Greek noun agora, which means “marketplace”) and exagorazo (which means “to buy out of/from the marketplace”). Together these words describe how Jesus entered into the marketplace of sin and, paying the price of his own lifeblood, and purchased us for himself so that we might be brought into the glorious liberty that is ours as children of God.[23]

Whatever Abram understood of God’s promise to bless all people through him, Paul makes clear that it is only through the perfectly lived life and sacrificial blood-shedding death of the resurrected and ascended Jesus that this blessing for all peoples can come to anyone who trusts into Christ’s redeeming payment. Paul makes one more point in his examination of Genesis 12:3. The Promised Seed who would descend from Abram was Christ.

He wrote, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your seed,’ who is Christ.[24] Now this might seem repetitive to say this morning. After all, we’ve been saying that Abram’s blessing came through Christ. But the additional, and very important, point is that Abram’s blessing to all peoples comes ONLY through Christ. Being under the curse of God’s wrath and being bound to the powers of our sinful flesh, all human beings need a redeemer. Abram/Abraham cannot be that redeemer because, as we will repeatedly see his obedience and his trust – great though they often are – are imperfect.

Abram is just as bound in sin and just as in need of redemption as any other human being. Maybe Moses can save us. Nope. He too was a murderer and, at times, an explosively angry man. So, what about King David to whom the promise of the seed becomes a royal and eternal promise? No, he is a vicious warrior, a murderer, an adulterer, a rotten father, and not a particularly good or well-loved king. Abraham cannot save us. Moses cannot save us. David, a man after God’s own heart, cannot save us. That’s why scripture takes such great care to record just a sampling of their choice sinful actions and attitudes.

The Redeemer through whom the blessing of Abraham comes is Abram’s bodily Seed, “which [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,” Abraham’s son and God’s “Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.[25]

To quote Peter, whose sermon was heard in all the languages represented on God’s temple mountain at Pentecost: “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.[26]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 12:1–3.

[2] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 123.

[3] Waltke and Fredricks, 203.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 3:15.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 12:4.

[6] Hamilton, 371.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Sa 7:18–19.

[8] Hamilton, 374.

[9] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 2 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 260.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 8:56.

[11] Boice, 451–452.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 3:5–9.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 3:27–29.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 3:13–14.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 24:21.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 24:25–27.

[17] Boice, 453–454.

[18] Id.

[19] Adolf Deismann, Light from the Ancient East (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) and Leon Morris, Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956).

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 20:28. Emphasis mine.

[21] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Tt 2:14. Emphasis mine.

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 1:18–19.

[23] Boice, 455.

[24] Ga 3:16. Trans. mine.

[25] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 1:1–4.

[26] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 4:12.