on Genesis 12 :2
I will make of thee a great nation - i.e., The Jewish people; and make thy name great, alluding to the change of his name from Abram, a high father, to Abraham, the father of a multitude.
on Genesis 12 :2
The promise corresponds to the command. If he is to lose much by his exile, he will also gain in the end. The promise contains a lower and higher blessing. The lower blessing has three parts: "First, I will make of thee a great nation." This will compensate for the loss of his country. The nation to which he had hitherto belonged was fast sinking into polytheism and idolatry. To escape from it and its defiling influence was itself a benefit; but to be made himself the head of a chosen nation was a double blessing. Secondly, "And bless thee." The place of his birth and kindred was the scene of all his past earthly joys. But the Lord will make up the loss to him in a purer and safer scene of temporal prosperity. Thirdly, "And make thy name great." This was to compensate him for his father's house. He was to be the patriarch of a new house, on account of which he would be known and venerated all over the world.
The higher blessing is expressed in these remarkable terms: "And be thou a blessing." He is to be not merely a subject of blessing, but a medium of blessing to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive. And the Lord here confers on Abram the delightful prerogative of dispensing good to others. The next verse expands this higher element of the divine promise. "I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee." Here the Lord identifies the cause of Abram with his own, and declares him to be essentially connected with the weal or woe of all who come into contact with him. "And blessed in thee shall be all the families of the ground." The ground was cursed for the sake of Adam, who fell by transgression. But now shall the ground again participate in the blessing. "In thee." In Abram is this blessing laid up as a treasure hid in a field to be realized in due time. "All the families" of mankind shall ultimately enter into the enjoyment of this unbounded blessing.
Thus, when the Lord saw fit to select a man to preserve vital piety on the earth and be the head of a race suited to be the depository of a revelation of mercy, he at the same time designed that this step should be the means of effectually recalling the sin-enthralled world to the knowledge and love of himself. The race was twice already since the fall put upon its probation - once under the promise of victory to the seed of the woman, and again under the covenant with Noah. In each of these cases, notwithstanding the growing light of revelation and accumulating evidence of the divine forbearance, the race had apostatised from the God of mercy, with lamentably few known exceptions. Yet, undeterred by the gathering tokens of this second apostasy, and after reiterated practical demonstration to all people of the debasing, demoralizing effect of sin, the Lord, with calm determination of purpose, sets about another step in the great process of removing the curse of sin, dispensing the blessing of pardon, and eventually drawing all the nations to accept of his mercy. The special call of Abram contemplates the calling of the Gentiles as its final issue, and is therefore to be regarded as one link in a series of wonderful events by which the legal obstacles to the divine mercy are to be taken out of the way, and the Spirit of the Lord is to prevail with still more and more of men to return to God.
It is sometimes inadvertently said that the Old Testament is narrow and exclusive, while the New Testament is broad and catholic in its spirit. This is a mistake. The Old and New Testaments are of one mind on this matter. Many are called, and few chosen. This is the common doctrine of the New as well as of the Old. They are both equally catholic in proclaiming the gospel to all. The covenant with Adam and with Noah is still valid and sure to all who return to God; and the call of Abram is expressly said to be a means of extending blessing to all the families of man. The New Testament does not aim at anything more than this; it merely hails the approaching accomplishment of the same gracious end. They both concur also in limiting salvation to the few who repent and believe the gospel. Even when Abram was called there were a few who still trusted in the God of mercy. According to the chronology of the Masoretic text, Heber was still alive, Melkizedec was contemporary with Abram, Job was probably later, and many other now unknown witnesses for God were doubtless to be found, down to the time of the exodus, outside the chosen family. God marks the first symptoms of decaying piety. He does not wait until it has died out before he calls Abram. He proceeds in a leisurely, deliberate manner with his eternal purpose of mercy, and hence, a single heir of promise suffices for three generations, until the set time comes for the chosen family and the chosen nation. Universalism, then, in the sense of the offer of mercy to man, is the rule of the Old and the New Testament. Particularism in the acceptance of it is the accident of the time. The call of Abram is a special expedient for providing a salvation that may be offered to all the families of the earth.
In all God's teachings the near and the sensible come before the far and the conceivable, the present and the earthly before the eternal and the heavenly. Thus, Abram's immediate acts of self-denial are leaving his country, his birthplace, his home. The promise to him is to be made a great nation, be blessed, and have a great name in the new land which the Lord would show him. This is unspeakably enhanced by his being made a blessing to all nations. God pursues this mode of teaching for several important reasons. First, the sensible and the present are intelligible to those who are taught. The Great Teacher begins with the known, and leads the mind forward to the unknown. If he had begun with things too high, too deep, or too far for the range of Abram's mental vision, he would not have come into relation with Abram's mind. It is superfluous to say that he might have enlarged Abram's view in proportion to the grandeur of the conceptions to be revealed.
On the same principle he might have made Abram cognizant of all present and all developed truth. On the same principle he might have developed all things in an instant of time, and so have had done with creation and providence at once. Secondly, the present and the sensible are the types of the future and the conceivable; the land is the type of the better land; the nation of the spiritual nation; the temporal blessing of the eternal blessing; the earthly greatness of the name of the heavenly. And let us not suppose that we are arrived at the end of all knowledge. We pique ourselves on our advance in spiritual knowledge beyond the age of Abram. But even we may be in the very infancy of mental development. There may be a land, a nation, a blessing, a great name, of which our present realizations or conceptions are but the types. Any other supposition would be a large abatement from the sweetness of hope's overflowing cup.
Thirdly, these things which God now promises are the immediate form of his bounty, the very gifts he begins at the moment to bestow. God has his gift to Abram ready in his hand in a tangible form. He points to it and says, This is what thou presently needest; this I give thee, with my blessing and favor. But, fourthly, these are the earnest and the germ of all temporal and eternal blessing. Man is a growing thing, whether as an individual or a race. God graduates his benefits according to the condition and capacity of the recipients. In the first boon of his good-will is the earnest of what he will continue to bestow on those who continue to walk in his ways. And as the present is the womb of the future, so is the external the symbol of the internal, the material the shadow of the spiritual, in the order of the divine blessing. And as events unfold themselves in the history of man and conceptions in his soul within, so are doctrines gradually opened up in the Word of God, and progressively revealed to the soul by the Spirit of God.
on Genesis 12 :2