Sunday, December 3, 2006

Jewish Commentary: Genesis 17: 1-8

The Jewish orthodox sages and Rabbis understood the literalness of all of the Old Testament prophecies. Premillennialists and dispensationalists are in good company in seeing the Bible interpreted in a normal, literal hermeneutic. Someday, the eyes of the Jews will be open in seeing the Lord Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. Meanwhile, their interpretative notes and commentaries on great prophetic passages continue to support the “rightness” of looking for future prophecy being fulfilled actually, and literally!

Genesis 17: 1-8

The Promise Confirmed Again 

17:1 I am God Almighty. The Hebrew is El Shaddai. The Rabbis remind us to look at Exodus 6:3: “I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty.” The divine name “Shaddai” may be vague, however the root means “to heap benefits” thus meaning “The Dispenser of benefits.” Or, God is the Friend who shepherds the Patriarchs and preserves them from all harm (see Num. 1:5). The Latin Vulgate translates the word “Almighty.” This has come into many of our English versions. Abraham’s hope seemed distance and dim but here, God assures him that nothing is impossible with the Lord!

    Be blameless. Have implicit and undivided confidence in God alone. The Rabbis connect this exhortation with the covenant of circumcision, which was just about to be commanded and instituted. Abraham and his children were to be pure and clean—this underlies the ritual act.

    17:2 I will establish My covenant. Literally, “I will grant My covenant.” This is not just an establishing of a compact between the two parties but a statement of God’s plans and His designs for Abraham and his descendants.

    17:3 Abram fell on his face. The Oriental way of submitting to an authority, and an expression of gratitude. Notice that the Lord also “talked” with Abraham! God reinforces His promises and expands on them. 

    17:4 God’s covenant. Notice that this is not a “joint” covenant. It is God’s “deal,” His “testament” or “contract” that He is making with one individual and His family.
    Father of a multitude of nations. Nations is in the plural, go-im. Besides the Israelites (coming from Isaac and Jacob), there will be the children of Ishmael and Esau, and other tribal descendants who are enumerated in 25:1-on. The larger body of the Arabic peoples come from Abraham, who are presently giving the rightful children of the Patriarch so much trouble in the Land of Israel (eratz Israel). 

    17:5 Abraham’s name is now changed to reflect what God is doing with him. “Abram” means “high father,” while “Abraham” means “father of a multitude. “Ab” means father and “raham” in Abrabic means “multitude.” The Rabbis put it this way, his mission was “to bring all the peoples of the earth under the wings of the Shechinah,” or under the glory of God! 

    The Abrahamic covenant goes on in perpetuity to all of his children, again, through Isaac and Jacob. But also, the covenant will be fulfilled only with the believing or trusting children of Abraham. That trust must ultimately be with Israel’s Messiah!  
    17:6 Exceedingly fruitful. Abraham’s impotency (plus his old age) was miraculously broken as shown when he impregnated Hagar (16:15-16). His wife Sarai was barren because of her old age but, by miracle too, she would bare Isaac, who would be the rightful child of Abraham who would be the inheritor of the promises (17:15-19), not Ishmael who was born to Hagar. 

    Kings shall come forth from you. The ultimate kings who would come through him would be David, Solomon, and of course the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah! 

             God planned for the birth and coming of the Messiah throughout the history
             of Israel, from the days of Jacob onward. The descent of the Messiah is
             assigned to the noblest royal line that ever existed in Israel, that of King
             David.   – Raphael Patai

             The Messiah is greater than the Jewish Fathers, loftier than Abraham,
            more elevated than Moses, and higher than the ministering angels.   
                                                                          – Midrash Tanhuma

    17:7 Throughout their generations. The Abrahamic covenant does not stop though it is on hold to be fulfilled when Israel repents and turns to her Messiah. The covenant stands ready to be fulfilled in the Promised Land when the Jews come to their King! 

    Everlasting covenant.”Everlasting” (olam) tells us the covenant has not been abrogated or dismissed, nor is it fulfilled in the church! The church never “replaces” Israel! The covenant with Abraham is distinctly a Jewish covenant, though Gentiles will benefit by it. 

    A God to you and your descendants after you. Before and after the civil war that divided the nation between Israel (northern kingdom) and Judah (southern kingdom), the nation turned away from God into worshipping the gods of the pagans. When the Southern Kingdom returned from Babylon the nation did not revert back to the foreign gods. The Jews, though now basically in unbelief concerning the Messiah, still belong to the Lord. They will someday repent, believe in their Messiah, and return to the Lord.

    17:8 Your sojournings. Abraham’s children will own the land where at this time Abraham is a stranger. Specifically mentioned is the land of Canaan, though the final territory when the kingdom comes will be much, much larger! Note that the possession is “everlasting.” But there is more. A broken relationship will be restored and God in a real, deep, and spiritual sense “be their God.”


    The Pentateuch and Haftorahs.
    Society and Religion in the Second Temple Period, Michael Avi-Yonah and Zvi  Baras (Jerusalem: Massada Publishing, 1977).
    The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1979).
    Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, William Green, ed. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 1999).