Summary: The nation of Israel is promised to Abraham. This foreshadows the blessed spiritual nation of all God’s elect.
Genesis chapter 12 is one of the most important chapters in the whole Bible. Our interpretation of these first three verses affects nearly everything we believe about the church, salvation, and the end of time:
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
Abraham had been living in Ur, but God called him away from there and away from everything familiar to go to an unspecified place.
2And I will make of thee a great nation,
Now, obviously this is talking about the nation of Israel: Abraham had Isaac and Isaac had Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” and he had 12 sons who make up what eventually became the nations of Israel and Judah and the Jews we know today.
But is there more to this nation than Abraham’s DNA?
Let’s go to the New Testament:
Jesus is speaking to some bona fide Jews who have a lot of trust in their physical connections and He says, “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). Was Jesus concerned with their physical connection to Abraham or their spiritual connection?
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. […] 13Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:6-9, 13-14).
Paul spends a lot of time on this theme in Romans where he says, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29). It’s not the outward markings of a man that make him a Jew—it’s the inward things which can only be done by God.
Skip over to chapter 4: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 9Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. 13For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: 15Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:8-17).
And finally go to chapter 9 for one more: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom. 9:6-8). Here’s an Old Testament example of this spiritual truth. Ismael was a son produced in Abraham’s flesh and he was rejected. Isaac, however, was the son of the promise, and it’s the genealogy that comes by promise that matters.