The following verse contains quite a God statement spoken to Abraham:
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen. 12:3).
The last part is easy. The true seed of Abraham, Jesus, is the one through whom all the earth is blessed, regardless of ethnic background. The former part could be taken at a simple level and applied to Abraham. Given the election of God of Abraham all who bless him will be blessed and those who do not will be cursed. It is often though understood to not simply be an attitude toward Abraham but toward the seed of Abraham and this can be backed up by adding the words that Balaam spoke:
May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed! (Numbers 24:9).
So it is probably right to include the descendants of Abraham in that original God statement. Settled then? If anyone criticises Israel (today’s Israel) then they are in trouble. However… the prophets spent a lot of their time critiquing and even criticising Israel. The nation was often spoken of in challenging terms and the criticisms can be summarised under two main headings – criticised for not trusting God as Provider nor as Protector. So blessing Israel cannot mean no criticism. And that was to a people still seeking to be a covenant people, with some major differences to the secular state of today.
I am not Jewish, nor do I have a focus toward that ethnic group; I can easily acknowledge that they are ‘beloved because of the patriarchs’, but the continuation of their call is what interests me. If blessing Israel was key maybe a good way to approach these texts is to ask what did it mean to be Israel, for as Paul says, ‘Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.’ Not all of ‘Israel’ are ‘Israel’. That debate is what fuelled the sects within the nation, not too different to – ‘well of course they are not proper Christians, just going to church does not make you a Christian, but unless you are…’ Israel, special nation, was called for the sake of the nations. A wonderful privilege to be called into a unique relationship but with a unique responsibility for all that lay beyond its borders.
Bless Israel. But what if Israel is not being Israel? Ultimately all those who are in Christ are descendants of Abraham, and it is this aspect that is of real interest to me. How do we shape up? Are we (the church) here for those beyond our borders? Don’t curse Israel. Bless (true) Israel. But Israel and all those who live from that calling – live up to the calling. I am sure even when we have not done too well (and when Israel did not do too well) God has a soft spot for the descendants of Abraham. He understands it can be pretty tough at times living up to that non-self-centred calling.
If we live up to our calling and those around bless us there will be blessing flowing to them as we live for them; should they curse us that clearly would not be too smart.