8. Abraham’s Test: the binding of Isaac

We saw how Abraham had received the prize of Righteousness.  We also noted the connections between Passover (Pesach) and Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth, learning that the re-discovery of Jesus’ Jewish root is proving fascinating for both Jews and Christians, resulting in shared Sedar meals.

Genesis 22 – Abraham Tested with Sacrifice

The Torah account of the testing of Abraham in the sacrifice of his son Isaac (Yitzchak) builds on this Jesus-Torah relationship right from the Genesis 22 text.  The complete Genesis 22 account is here.  The unfolding relationship of this account to Jesus (Yeshua) is explored below.

G-d initiated the ordeal by giving Abraham a bizarre command:

G-d said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak (Isaac); and go to the land of Moriyah (Moriah). There you are to offer him as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will point out to you.” (Genesis 22:2)

Though many through the ages have wondered why G-d gave such a drastic order, Abraham did not delay but rather…

Avraham (Abraham) got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, together with Yitzchak (Isaac) his son. He cut the wood for the burnt offering, departed and went toward the place God had told him about. On the third day, Avraham raised his eyes and saw the place in the distance. (Genesis 22:3-4)

While traveling for three days Isaac was as good as dead in Abraham’s mind since he knew what was to happen once they reached Moriah.  Upon arriving, Abraham…

They came to the place God had told him about; and Avraham built the altar there, set the wood in order, bound Yitz’chak his son and laid him on the altar, on the wood. Then Avraham put out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. (Genesis 22:9-10)

It is at this point in the account that a dramatic rescue takes place…

But the angel of Adonai called to him out of heaven: “Avraham? Avraham!” He answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy! Don’t do anything to him! For now I know that you are a man who fears God, because you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Avraham raised his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. Avraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. (Genesis 22:11-13)

At the last moment a ram substituted In Isaac’s place.  The ram was offered as a burnt offering instead of Isaac.  The ram died so that Isaac could live.

Now there is another strange twist in this unusual account.  Notice what happens next:

And Avraham called the name of that place Hashem Yireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of Hashem it shall be provided. (Genesis 22:14)

When naming the place, we would expect that Abraham would look back to that moment when G-d provided the ram in place of his son.  But instead it looks forward into the future (‘it shall be provided’) rather than to the recent past when the ram had been provided.

Why is a name given to this place that is future-looking rather than looking back to the saving of Isaac?

Mount Moriah and Jerusalem

Mount Moriah becomes the place where the Temple is built 1000 years later by Solomon.  We see this later in the Tanakh

Then Shlomo (Solomon) began to build the house of Adonai in Yerushalayim (Jeruslaem) on Mount Moriyah (Moriah), where Adonai had appeared to David his father. (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Mount Moriah in the time of Abraham (2000 BCE) was a deserted mountaintop with shrubs and a ram.  But by the time of David and Solomon (1000-950 BCE) it was where the temple was built in David’s newly acquired city of Jerusalem.

The binding of Isaac and Jesus

Let us think about how Jesus (Yeshua) is introduced in the Brit Chadasha.  In the Gospel of John he is introduced in the following way:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Jesus was called ‘The Lamb of God‘. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified?  It is very clearly stated that:

He [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s authority. Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. (Luke 23:7)

The arrest, trial and death of Jesus was in Jerusalem – the same location as ‘Mount Moriah’.  The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.

Major historical events at Mount Moriah
Major historical events at Mount Moriah

Isaac had been saved at the last moment when a lamb was sacrificed in his place.  But strangely the Torah looks to the future rather than back to that lamb.  Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and he is sacrificed at the same location.  There is a connection between the account in the Torah and Jesus through location and by a lamb sacrificed on behalf of someone else.

G-d’s Plan

This has the hallmarks of a Mind connecting these two events separated by 2000 years of history.  What makes the connection unique is that the first event points to the later event in using the future tense.  But only G-d knows the future.  The Torah seems to indicate that He wants us to think about this like below.

Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing forward to Jesus' sacrifice
Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing forward to Jesus’ sacrifice

Passover points to Jesus’ sacrifice, – by pointing to the day of the calendar the calendar started by the first Passover.  With Abraham’s sacrifice the place where the ram died so Isaac could live was Mount Moriah – the same place where Jesus was sacrificed 2000 years later.  In two different ways these two prominent stories in the Torah point directly to the death of Jesus using sacrificed lambs.  But in both stories the significance of the lamb’s sacrifice is the same – the lamb dies so someone else can live.

These two accounts in Torah (Abraham’s sacrifice and the Passover) show that it is reasonable to consider that Jesus’ death also holds similar meaning – his death somehow gives life to others.

The matching details between Torah and Gospels

With this in mind, let’s examine some details of the Genesis account to note the following:

From Torah’s  Genesis 22 account From Brit Chadasha
 

 

‘your son, your only son, whom you love’ (v.2)

 

This is the first occurrence of the word ‘love’ in the Torah. G-d speaks and says that Isaac is the ‘only son’ whom Abraham loves but must give up.

‘This is my Son, whom I love’ (Matthew3:17)

‘You are my Son, whom I love’ (Mark1:11)

‘You are my Son, whom I love’ (Luke3:22)

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’ (John3:16)

In the first 3 Gospels of the Brit Chadasha, G-d speaks and identifies Jesus as his Son whom He loves – the first occurrences of ‘love’. In the 4th Gospel, Jesus is the ‘only son’ whom G-d must give up.

Abraham “took two of his servants with him” (v.3) 

Abraham and Isaac were accompanied by 2 others on the journey to sacrifice.

‘Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed’ (Lk23:32)

Jesus is accompanied by 2 others on the journey to sacrifice.

‘On the third day …’ (v.4)

Abraham journeyed 3 days before he reached Mount Moriah.  In his mind Isaac was dead for three days, being saved on the 3rd.

‘on the third day according to the Scriptures…’ (1 Corinthians15:4)

Jesus was dead for three days and resurrected from death on the 3rd.

“Avraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on Yitzchak his son” (v.6)

The son carries the wood on his back as he walks to his sacrifice

‘Carrying his own cross, he went out…’ (John 19:17)

The son carries the wood cross on his back as he walks to his sacrifice

Other nations in view too

At the end of this account G-d promised Abraham that:

and by your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — because you obeyed my order. (Genesis 22:18)

The promise was that ‘all the nations’ (kol goyei ha’aretz) would be blessed through Abraham’s descendants (literally zerah or ‘seed’).  It is a fact of history that Jesus’ sacrifice has been, to a significant extent, accepted by ‘the nations’.  This account has theme and details which match that of Jesus 2000 years later and concludes with a promise that anticipates the impact of Jesus’ legacy on all the nations of the world.  This should make us ask a few questions.

What is this ‘blessing’? 

How do you get it? 

Though the details are not yet clear, the account suggests that as the ram saved Isaac from death, so Jesus the Lamb of God, by his sacrifice at the same place, can save us from the power of death.

The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah is a puzzling but important event in Jewish history.  Looking at it through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth can help unpack its meaning.  Of course, this raises further questions because of the controversy surrounding Jesus’ claim to be Messiah.  To help us become better informed we examine the original covenant between G-d and David concerning the Messiah.

7. Covenant Righteousness – Abraham’s example

Previously we saw that Abraham obtained righteousness simply by believing the covenant G-d made to him. This was stated in the little sentence:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Righteousness prior to circumcision and the Law

We should not miss when this took place.  The covenant of circumcision is given later in Genesis 17.  Abraham was credited righteousness here in chapter 15 – before circumcision.  So, circumcision was not the cause of his righteousness.  Neither was observance of Moses’ Covenant since that was given hundreds of years later.  The active ingredient for Abraham’s righteousness was his belief.

But belief in what?

Belief is about trusting the Covenant

Think what ‘believe’ means.  Many people think that ‘believe’ means believing that G-d exists.  We think that G-d just wants us to believe that He is there.  It is true that Abraham believed in G-d’s existence, but that is not the point of his righteousness.  G-d had made a covenant with Abraham that He would give him a son.  It was that Covenant or promise that Abraham had to choose to believe or not – even while he knew that he was in his 80’s and Sarah was in her 70’s.  He trusted that G-d would somehow fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this story, is trust. Abraham chose to trust God for a son.

When Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son then G-d also gave him – ‘credited’ him– righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the covenant promise (a son from whom Israel would come) and righteousness.

Righteousness – not from merit or effort

It does not say that Abraham ‘earned’ or ‘merited’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. What is the difference? If something is ‘earned’ you work for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited, but simply given to be received.

We instinctively think that more rigorously keeping Jewish observances, or doing more good things than bad things, practicing more self-denial, or meeting obligations enables us to deserve or merit righteousness.  Abraham proves this thinking false. He did not try to earn righteousness. He simply chose to believe the promise covenanted to him, and righteousness was given to him.

Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it

Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was simple but it was not easy.  When he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ he was 75 years old and he had left his home country and traveled to Canaan.  Almost ten years had passed and Abraham and Sarah still did not have a child – let alone a nation. “Why has G-d not already given us a son if he could have done so”? he would have wondered.  Abraham believed the covenant of a son because he trusted G-d, even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor did he have all his questions answered.

Believing the covenant required active waiting. His whole life was interrupted while living in tents waiting for the promise. It would have been much easier to make excuses and return home to Harran (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived.  Life was comfortable there.  The fact that he stayed in the Promised Land demonstrated his trust, maintained even at personal cost and comfort.  His trust in the promise made a difference in how he lived his life.

His trust in the promise took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being.  He could have disbelieved the promise while still believing in the existence of G-d and continuing with religious observances and good deeds.  Then he could have maintained his religion but not been ‘credited’ righteousness.

Four hundred years later, the covenant mediated by Moses at Sinai did not nullify this covenant with Abraham.  Moses built on it.  G-d is one who is willing to make multiple covenants, anticipating that the covenant receiver will experience the blessing of each one.

Our Example

The rest of the Bible treats Abraham as an example for us.  Abraham’s belief in the covenant from G-d, and the crediting of righteousness, is a pattern for us to follow.  We can see this in Isaiah

New International Version – Isaiah 51:1-2

Orthodox Jewish Bible – Isaiah 51:1-2

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
    and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many.

Pay heed to Me, ye that pursue tzedek, ye that seek Hashem; look unto the Tzur from where ye are cut, and to the quarry from where ye were hewn.

Look unto Avraham Avichem, and unto Sarah that gave birth to you; for I called him as one alone, and put a brocha on him, and made him many.

If we pursue and desire righteousness then we are called to follow Abraham’s example – to actively trust the covenants of G-d with Israel.  Today we know that promise to Abraham has come true.  We also know that G-d made several more covenants.  The covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai probably receives the most attention.  But there are several other covenants, each pregnant with promises, which occur through the Tanakh.  For example, consider the covenant prophesied by Jeremiah around 600 BC.

Covenant Promise of a new Heart

New International Version – Jeremiah 31:31-34

Orthodox Jewish Bible – Jeremiah 31:31-34

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them” declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

Hinei, the days come, saith Hashem, that I will cut a Brit Chadasha with Bais Yisroel, and with Bais Yehudah;

32 (31) Not according to the Brit that I cut with their Avot in the day that I took hold of their yad to take them out of Eretz Mitzrayim; which My Brit they broke, although I was Ba’al (Husband) to them, saith Hashem;

33 (32) But this shall be the Brit that I will cut with Bais Yisroel [T.N. OJBC is Jewish]; After those days, saith Hashem, I will set My Torah in them inwardly, and I will write ketuvim on their hearts; and I will be their Elohim, and they shall be My People.

34 (33) And they shall teach no more every ish his re’a (neighbor), and every ish his brother, saying, Know Hashem; for they shall all have da’as of Me, from the katon of them unto the gadol of them, saith Hashem; for I will forgive their avon, and I will remember their chattat no more.

This promised covenant is expressly given to the ‘people of Israel’ and was to come in effect sometime after Jeremiah since it was given in the future tense.  It would build on the Sinai covenant by writing the law in hearts and minds as opposed to stone tablets, promising that all ‘will know’ G-d and receive His forgiveness.

Following Abraham’s example

We all have the opportunity to follow Abraham’s example with these covenants, choosing whether to trust or not.  When Abraham first received the promise of land in Canaan it was not immediately clear whether this implied remaining in the land or moving to Egypt to avoid famine (Genesis 12:10-20).  When Abraham was given the promise of a son it was not immediately clear if this was going to happen through Sarah or her servant Hagar (hence the events of Genesis 16, and the divorce in Genesis 21 with the effects felt even today).  Abraham was not perfect in his trust, but he did not give up, working through all the issues that his journey of faith brought before him.

As his physical descendants, Jews should be the first to follow Abraham’s example, learning about and taking hold of all the covenants offered by G-d.  Like Abraham it will require a life-long journey, some agonizing choices, thinking differently than the crowd, with many opportunities to turn back.  But as well as receiving the promised son and being credited righteousness, Abraham also obtained something else equally precious.  As G-d, through the pen of Isaiah said of him.

… Abraham my friend… (Isaiah 41:8)

Friendship with the One who created space and time, birthed the nation of Israel, and who is mysteriously guiding her steps thousands of years later is certainly worthwhile.  Since these ancient promises seem to be stirring to life in our day, why not understand the covenants to better generate wise decisions?  And why not tackle the one that is most puzzling – the covenant that reiterated blessings to ‘all nations’ because of the obedience of Abraham in the testing of the sacrifice of his son Isaac.

4. The Promise in the Garden – First Hint of Israel

We have looked at how mankind fell from their first created state. The Bible tells us Hashem had a plan based on a Promise made at the beginning of history.

The Tanakh – Really a Library

First, some facts about the Tanakh.  It is a collection of books, written by many authors, organized into three groupings: Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvin.  It took more than a thousand years for these books to all be written from start to finish.  This makes the Bible a library and sets it apart from other ancient Great Books. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group that knew each other we may not be surprised at its unity, but the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds of years, as well as coming from different social positions and living in diverse countries.  Though they wrote for the people of their day, and recorded the history of their times, embedded through the Tanakh are predictions or prophecies of the future.  Their messages and predictions form unified themes.  We looked at one theme on the re-gathering of Israel here. These writers claim that their writings were inspired by G-d, blessed be He.    The oldest copies of the books of Tanakh that still exist today are from 200 BC and are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.  They are housed at the Israeli Museum Jerusalem in the Shrine of the Book.

The Riddle in the Garden

We see at the very beginning of the Torah another example of how these writings predict the future. Though it is about the Beginning, it was written with the End in mind.  It occurs in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3 when G-d confronts His Adversay, the devil (who was in the form of a serpent) with a riddle just after the serpent had brought about the Fall of mankind. Hashem says to him:

“… and I (G-d) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

You can see that this is prophetic with repeated ‘will’s in future tense.  There are also five different characters mentioned. They are:

  1. I = G-d
  2. you = serpent or Satan
  3. The woman
  4. The offspring of the woman
  5. The offspring of serpent or Satan

The riddle predicts how these characters will relate in the future. This is shown below:

Relationships between the characters in the Promise
Relationships between the characters in the Promise

The riddle says that G-d will cause both the serpent/Satan and ‘the woman’ to have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these offspring and between the woman and Satan/serpent. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the woman’s offspring while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan/serpent.

The Woman?

So who might ‘the woman’ be?  Here is an example of a unified theme weaving through the writings of the Tanakh.  Notice how Hashem, speaking through various prophets in the Tanakh, refers to Israel.

O Israel, … I will make you my wife forever, … I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord. (Hosea 2:17-20)

1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch….
As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.  (Isaiah 62: 1, 5)

Israel is pictured not only as a woman, but a woman married to Hashem.  However, this marriage is not  tranquil.  When Israel descended into idolatry during the First Temple Period, building on the woman married to G-d image, this was called ‘adultery’ by the prophets.  Ezekiel uses stark imagery of Israel as an adulterous wife in chapter 16 and continued with imagery of Judah as an adulterous sister (being in the First Temple period the Northern Kingdom of Samaria was the other adulterous sister).  Ezekiel, as a prophet on behalf of G-d, charged

“‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! (Ezekiel 16:32)

Jeremiah echoes a similar accusation:

But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord.   (Jeremiah 3: 20)

This ‘woman’ Israel is also pictured giving birth, like the woman in Genesis 3:15.

You have enlarged the nation, Lord;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land. …

17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life.  (Isaiah 26:15, 17-18)

There had been an initial hope that the offspring of this birth would result in ‘salvation to the earth’ bringing of life to peoples ‘of the world’.  But because of her sins, this hope is frustrated, and Israel only gives ‘birth to wind’.  The fact that there was an initial high hope for the offspring of this woman was based on the promise of Genesis 3:15.  That promise had raised expectations, but in vain (for the time being).

However, the Divine Program begun by Hashem would still see the anticipated offspring.  First, the Woman needed to be restored.

I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful…
21 “Set up road signs;
put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway,
the road that you take.
Return, Virgin Israel,
return to your towns.
22 How long will you wander,
unfaithful Daughter Israel?
The Lord will create a new thing on earth—
the woman will return to the man.”  (Jeremiah 31: 4, 21-22)

For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
Isaiah 54:5-7

With only superficial reading, most people assume that the ‘woman’ referred to in Genesis 3:15 is Eve.  But this promise is not about her.  Eve did not live in enmity with the Serpent/Satan.  But Israel?  Throughout her long history from Egypt even into our day Israel has experienced relentless ‘enmity’ – from all sides.  When you think of the millennia of visceral anti-Semitic hatred of Jews that been perpetuated by so many nations all over the world (Pharaoh of Egypt, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians under Haman, Greeks in the time of Maccabees, Imperial Rome, Roman Catholic Church, Spanish expulsions, Russian pogroms, French Dreyfus affair, Nazi Shoah, extremist Islamic incitement against Israel, today’s BDS movement – to name just a few) one can see a diabolical enmity directed against Israel.  For sure, the Woman Israel has experienced enmity.

If Genesis 3 refers to Israel this means that the nation Israel was foreseen, even ordained, by Hashem at the beginning of human history.  The call of Abram in Genesis 12 was a logical step of the strategic promise uttered in Genesis 3, not a random event in history.  If so, the calamities and triumphs of Israel cannot simply be explained by secular forces.  There are plans and intentions that go deeper than that.  But is there more we can uncover from this riddle in Genesis 3:15?

In the Brit Chadasha the riddle of Genesis 3:15 is expanded as it describes in vivid imagery the enmity this woman will experience:

12 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him….

13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—… (Revelation 12:1-17)

This picture of a woman giving birth to an offspring in the presence of a dragon/serpent/Satan is a direct allusion to the promise in Genesis 3:15.  From the point-of-view of Brit Chadasha ‘the woman’ in Genesis 3 is unequivocally Israel.  In Genesis 3:15 the details are not filled in, but in Revelation they are.  Since this concerns Israel, and her struggles with her enemy, it is prudent to at least be informed about this view point, and to understand what it means.  It may be that your life will be caught up in this struggle.  But before we delve too deeply into those details here, let’s return to the Garden Promise to reflect on the offspring of the woman.

Who is the Offspring?

Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman in Genesis 3:15 is called ‘he’ we can make some deductions.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is male and therefore is not a ‘she’ and not a woman.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is singular and therefore not a ‘they’, so not a group of people or a nation.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is a person and not an ‘it’.  The offspring is not a philosophy, teaching, political system, or a religion – since these are all ‘it’s. An ‘it’ like these would have been our preferred choice to fix the corruption since people are always thinking up new systems and religions. G-d had something else in mind – a ‘he’- a single male human.   This ‘he’ would crush the head of the serpent/Satan.

Notice what is not said. It does not say that this ‘he’ will come from the woman and a man, but only mentions ‘the woman’. This is especially unusual since the Bible almost always records only the sons coming through fathers.  Some see the Bible as ‘sexist’ because of this father-son bias. But here it is different – there is no mention of the offspring (a ‘he’) from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man.

These observations follow through in the Revelation passage.  There the woman gives birth to a male child – a ‘he’.  Again no involvement of a man is mentioned.  When Revelation says that the male child “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” it quotes Psalm 2:9 – the Psalm that first introduces the title and concept ‘Messiah’ in the Tanakh.  The meaning is unmistakable – the male child born of the Woman Israel is the Messiah who “will rules all nations”.  Once again we see this theme between Israel, the Messiah and the nations.

‘Strike his Heel’??

What does it mean that the serpent/Satan would strike ‘his heel’? One year I worked in the jungles in Africa. We had to wear thick rubber boots in the humid heat because snakes lay in the long grass and would strike the foot – our heel – to kill.  After that experience the riddle took on new meaning.  The offspring of the woman would crush ‘the head’ (i.e. destroy) of the serpent, but in return he would be killed.

The offspring of the Serpent?

Who is this offspring of Satan/serpent?  Daniel in his book in the Tanakh saw a vision, many pages and thousands of years after the Promise in Genesis 3, of a coming person pictured as a horn on a beast. Note the description:

“After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.

“While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

“As I looked,

“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.

11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

The Interpretation of the Dream

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’

19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.

23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.

26 “‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

This describes a conflict between the ‘he’ who will rule all nations – the Messiah – and the boastful horn of the beast. This conflict will engulf the ‘holy people of the Most High’ – the Woman described in Revelation.  But it is first revealed in the Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of the Bible, with details filled in later. The countdown to a global contest between Satan and Hashem started long ago in the Garden.  It could almost make you think that history is really His-Story.

3. …And missing our Target

We saw that G-d created man His Image, but that image was corrupted.  How did this occur?  The Torah records that Adam and Eve ate from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’. That tree represented a free choice to remain faithful to G-d or not. They had been created by G-d and placed in the Garden.  But they had had no choice in these, so G-d allowed them to choose regarding their friendship with Him.  Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam and Eve to G-d had to be chosen.  This choice centered on the command to not eat from that one tree.

How did this happen?  Genesis in the Torah describes their conversation with a ‘serpent’.  The serpent has always been understood to be Satan – a spirit adversary to G-d.  In the Bible, Satan usually speaks through someone.  In this case he spoke through a serpent.

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis3:1-7)

Their temptation (and choice) was to ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had trusted G-d for everything, but now they could choose to become ‘like God’ – to trust in themselves and be their own independent god.

In choosing to become independent they were changed.  Right after they ate they felt shame and tried to cover up.  The account highlights further changes

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:8-13)

The account implies that G-d came regularly to meet with Adam&Eve as friends do, but this time they were hiding from Him.  When G-d confronted Adam, he blamed Eve (and G-d who made her). She blamed the serpent. Neither accepted responsibility.

As descendants of this changed Adam we have this same disposition.  Some misunderstand the Bible and think we are blamed for Adam’s choice. The only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of his decision. We have inherited this independent nature of Adam. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings, separate from G-d.

This explains so much of human life: we lock our doors, we need police, and we have computer passwords– because otherwise we will steal from each other. This is why societies eventually collapse – because cultures have a tendency to decay. This is why all forms of government and economic systems, though some work better than others, they all   eventually breakdown. Something about the way we are makes us miss the way things should be.

That word ‘miss’ sums up our situation. A verse from the Tanakh gives a picture to understand this better. It says:

Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)

This describes soldiers who were slingshot experts and would never miss. The word in ancient Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא .

Just after the giving of the 10 Commandments, the Torah states that:

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. (Exodus 20:20)

The ancient Hebrew word translated ‘sinning’ is תֶחֱטָֽאוּ. It has the same root as the ‘miss’ for the expert soldiers. The soldier shoots to hit the target. If he misses he has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in G-d’s image to hit the target in how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us.

This missed-the-target picture of us is not happy or optimistic.  People sometimes react strongly against the Bible’s teaching on sin. A university student once said to me, “I don’t believe because I do not like what this is saying”.  But what does ‘liking’ something have to do with truth?  I do not like taxes, wars, or earthquakes – no one does – but that does not make them untrue.  We can’t ignore them.  All the systems of law, police, locks, security, failed peace treaties that we have built into society to protect us from each other suggest that something is wrong.  At least this Biblical teaching on our sin should be considered in an open-minded way.

Mankind has a problem.  We are corrupted from the image we were first made in, and now we miss the target when it comes to our moral actions.  But G-d did not leave us in this predicament.  In the sentences that follow in the Torah’s account of the Garden, Israel’s coming is prophesied using a riddle.  Understanding that riddle will help us make sense of the Tanakh and understand G-d’s role for the people He made an “everlasting covenant” with.  We look at this next.

2. But Corrupted … like orcs in Lord of the Rings

The Tanakh is remarkable in that, though it is the foundation for Jewish heritage, culture and history, it also includes all nations and peoples in its scope.  When the Bible begins with creation and declares that man was created ‘in the image of G-d’  this includes all peoples, Jew and Gentile.  This explains why all human life is precious.  However, the Tanakh continues on from creation to reveal a serious problem – highlighted in this Psalm of David.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

Since this says that ‘all’ of us have ‘become corrupt’ it also includes all peoples and nations.  Though we were all made ‘in the image’ of G-d, blessed be He, something has wrecked this image in us so that, from G-d’s point-of-view, we are now corrupt.  Corruption is shown in a chosen independence from G-d (‘all have turned aside’ from ‘seeking G-d’) and also in not doing ‘good’ – not even one of us!

Picturing Elves and Orcs

Orcs are ugly in so many ways, but they were simply corrupted elves

To understand this, compare orcs and elves from the movie Lord of the Rings. Orcs are ugly and evil.  Elves are beautiful and peaceful (ex. Legolas).  But orcs had once been elves that Sauron had corrupted in the past.  The original elf image had been wrecked in the orcs.  In a similar way the Psalm says that all people have become corrupted.

The elves, like Legalos, were noble and majestic.  That image was corrupted in orcs

God had made elves but we have become orcs.

For example, we understand ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour.  But we do not consistently live by what we know. Like a computer virus that damages the proper workings of a computer, our moral code is there – but it is infected. The Biblical view of mankind begins with all people as good and moral, but then also corrupted.  This fits with what we observe about ourselves, and the world around us. In all nations and down through history, mankind has failed to consistently live up to the moral high road that we sense with our conscience.  But this raises a question: why did God make us this way? We know right and wrong yet are corrupted from it. As atheist Christopher Hitchens complains about the 10th commandment prohibiting coveting:

“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., coveteous ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  p. 100

But he misses that the Bible does not say that G-d made us this way, but that something terrible happened after we were made. The first humans revolted against God and in their rebellion they changed and were corrupted.

The Fall of Mankind

This event is sometimes called The Fall.  Adam, the first man, was created by G-d and there was an agreement between them, like a marriage contract of faithfulness. The book of Hosea in the Tanakh describes it like this:

Like Adam, they have broken the covenant… (Hosea 6: 7a)

Adam broke the covenant or agreement he had made with G-d.  The consequences of that affect all peoples, both Jew and Gentile, even today.  The promises of G-d to Israel, the Bible, and even Israel itself are impossible to understand if we ignore what Adam did and the results that followed.  In fact, though the events of Adam happened long before Abraham lived, the seeds of Israel itself are bound up in the events of Adam.  To understand why we need to observe what happened with Adam.

6. The Ageless Promise to unnoticed Abraham – Quiet but Everlasting

As I write this article the world’s attention is focused on multiple sporting championships.  The American NFL is heading for the Super Bowl.  The hockey and basketball champions for this year will soon be decided.  And while these dramas have North American fans riveted, much of the rest of the world is focused on the Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam.  Then there are always soccer (football) matches and championships.

Even with all the attention focused on these championships; they will still be largely forgotten in about six months. What the world takes great note of today will be quickly forgotten as our attention moves on to other amusements, championships or political events. The highlight one day quickly becomes forgotten history the next.

We saw in our previous article that this was also true in Abraham’s day. The important and spectacular contests, achievements and drama that held the attention of people living 4000 years ago are now totally forgotten, but a solemn promise spoken quietly to an individual, though totally overlooked by the world back then, is growing and unfolding before our eyes.

The account of Abraham in the Torah continues with further encounters with this Promise-Making Lord – Blessed be He.  Abraham (and we who follow his journey) learns much more – even moving from history to the eternal.  The story of Abraham is not a trendy but quickly forgotten event like those today; it is one of an unnoticed man taking hold of eternity, so we’d be wise to take note.

Abraham’s Complaint

Several years have passed in Abraham’s life since the Promise of Genesis 12 was spoken. Abraham had made Aliyah to Canaan in what is today Israel. Other memorable events had occurred in his life – except the very one that he waited for – the birth of his son through whom this promise would be fulfilled. So we continue in the Torah with Abraham’s complaint:

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3)

G-d’s Promise

Abraham had been camping in the Land awaiting the start of the ‘Great Nation’ that had been promised him. But nothing had happened and by this time he was around 85 years old. He complained that G-d, blessed be He, was not keeping that Promise given to him. Their conversation continued with:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)

Here the Lord, Blessed be He, basically repeated His initial promise by declaring that Abraham would get a son that would become a people as uncountable as the stars in the sky – many for sure, but hard to number.  In our time today we know this has literally come true in the Jewish people.  But back then, this promise would have seemed unbelievable.

Abraham’s Response: Everlasting Effect

How would Abraham respond to this Promise? What follows is a sentence that the Bible itself treats as one of the most important sentences in the Bible (since this sentence is quoted several times later on). It helps us understand how shalom with G-d is obtained. It says:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is probably easier to understand this sentence if we replace the pronouns with names, making it read:

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is such a small and inconspicuous sentence. It comes and goes with no championship fanfare and so we might miss it. But it is truly significant because in this little sentence Abraham obtains ‘righteousness’. This is the one – and the only one – quality that we need for shalom with G-d, Blessed be He.

Reviewing our Problem: Corruption

Though mankind was made in the image of G-d (Genesis 1:26-27) something happened that corrupted that image. Now the Bible says that

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

This diagnosis covers all peoples: Jew and Gentile, Arab and Israeli, male and female, educated and simple. The corruption of elves to orcs in the Lord of the Rings movies and how the Bible uses the word ‘miss’ have helped me picture what is meant by ‘become corrupt’ in Psalm 14.  The end result is that we find ourselves separated from Adonai the Lord, Blessed be He, because we have no righteousness. Our corruption has launched us into autonomy from and a tendency to not do good – reaping futility and death as a result. If you doubt that just scan some news headlines and see what people have been up to that last 24 hours – and it is pretty much the same all over the world.  What else is a Righteous G-d to do, but to declare us all unrighteous?

In fact we are separated from the Source of Life and so the words of the prophet Isaiah come true

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Abraham and Righteousness

But here in the conversation between Abraham and the Lord, Blessed be He, we find, slipped in so quietly that we can almost miss it, the declaration that Abraham had gained ‘righteousness’ – the kind that G-d accepts. So what did Abraham ‘do’ to get this righteousness?  It was not circumcision – that step came years later (in Genesis 17).  The Ten Commandments and the other Laws of Moses came hundreds of years later, so it was not his observance of kosher food and the many other regulations governing life and diet – good though they are.  The Bible simply says here that Abraham ‘believed’. That’s it?!  When you think of the elaborate observance of many Jews, and even look wider afield at the observances of peoples in other religions and read that Abraham, gained the prize of righteousness simply by ‘believing’ it seems to utterly unbelievable – too good and too simple to be possibly true.

But what does ‘believe’ mean?  And what can we learn for our own righteousness?  We reflect on this later.

1. Made in the Image of G-d

Though the Tanakh is a Jewish book, it is remarkable that it begins, not in Genesis 12, with the story of Abraham, but with creation of the world and all mankind.  In this way, it is different than other ancient writings because it does not start with its own people.  Later in the Tanakh, the relationship between the descendants of Abraham (the Israelites/Jews) and the other nations are developed.  But what can we learn from the Tanakh that is common to all mankind?  Can we use the Bible to understand where mankind comes from? Many say ‘no’, but there is much about us that makes sense in the light of what the Bible says.  For example, consider what the Bible teaches about mankind’s beginnings.  In the first chapter it says

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

What does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’?  It does not mean that the Lord, Blessed be He, has two arms and a head.  Rather it is saying that our basic characteristics come from Him. In the Bible G-d can be sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same emotions that we have.   We make choices and decisions every day.  G-d also makes choices and decisions too.  We can think and G-d does also.  Being ‘made in the image of God’ means that we have mind, emotions and will because G-d has mind, emotions and will and He created us to be like him in these ways.  He is the source of what we find in us.

We are self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  We are like this because The Lord G-d, blessed be He, is this way. The G-d of the Bible is not a non-personality like the ‘Force’ in the movie series Star Wars and neither are we because we are made in His image.

Why do we like beauty?

We also value art, drama and beauty. We need beauty in our surroundings, music and books.  Music enriches our lives and makes us dance.  We love good stories because stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories put these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations.  We use art in its many forms to entertain, relax and refresh ourselves because G-d is an Artist and we are in his image.  It is a question worth asking:  Why do we look for beauty in art, drama, music, dance, nature or literature?  Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding the brain, answers from a non-Bible perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted.  It seldom asks:  Why does music exist?  There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence.  But why do we love it?  Because we find that it is beautiful.  But why is it beautiful to us?  This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.” (Daniel Dennett.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.  p. 43)

Apart from G-d there is no clear answer to why all the forms of art are so important to us.  From the Bible’s point-of-view it is because G-d made things beautiful and enjoys beauty.  We, made in His image, are the same. This Biblical teaching makes sense of our love of art.

Why we are Moral?

Being ‘made in God’s image’ explains our moral capability.  We understand what ‘wrong’ behaviour is and what ‘good’ behaviour is – even though human languages and cultures are very different.  Moral reasoning is ‘in’ us.  As the famous atheist Richard Dawkins puts it:

“Driving our moral judgments is a universal moral grammar …  As with language, the principles that make up our moral grammar fly beneath the radar of our awareness” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. p. 223)

Dawkins explains that our awareness of right and wrong is built into us like our ability to have language, but it is difficult for him to explain why we have this from only physical sources.  Misunderstandings happen when we do not acknowledge G-d as giving us our moral compass.  Take for example this objection from another famous Jewish atheist Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.” (Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39)

Harris misunderstands.  Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in G-d’s image, not from being religious.  And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally. Atheists do not understand why we are like this.

Why are we so Relational?

Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in G-d’s image. It is not hard to notice the importance people place on relationships.  It is OK to see a good movie, but it is much better to see it with a friend.  We naturally seek out friends and family to share experiences with and to improve our well-being.  Conversely, loneliness and broken family relationships or friendships stress us.  If we are in G-d’s image, then we would expect to find this same emphasis with G-d – and we do.  For example consider the following from the Torah

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Much is written in the Bible about the importance that G-d, blessed be He, places on our love for him and for.  When you think about it, Love must be relational since it requires at least two people.

So we can think of G-d as a lover.  Many of the prophetic writings in the Tanakh use a ‘lover’ image. If we only think of Him as the ‘Benevolent Being’ we are not thinking of the Biblical G-d – rather we have made up a god in our minds.  Though He is that, He is also passionate in relationship.  He does not ‘have’ love.  He ‘is’ love.  The two most prominent Biblical pictures of G-d’s relationship with the Jewish people are that of a father to his son (Isaiah 63) and a husband to his wife (Hosea).  Those are not distant relationships but are the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.  The Bible says that G-d is like that.

So here is what we have learned so far.  People are made in G-d’s image meaning mind, emotions and will.  We are aware of self and others. We know the difference between right and wrong.  We can appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms and we will naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others.  We are all this because G-d is all this and we are made in G-d’s image.  Since this comes in Genesis 1, this is true of all mankind – Jews and all other nations.  We continue later to see the Bible’s explanation of why our relationships almost always disappoint us and why G-d seems so distant. Why our deepest longings never seem to work out.

5. Abraham’s Aliyah: 4000 years ago but still heard around the world today

Even though Israel is a small country it is always in the global news.  This news often reports on the unending conflicts between Israeli Jews and their neighbours, and the search for peace.  Even if there is no actual warfare there is continuous tension.  How did this start?  Many people look back only as far back as the birth of Israel in 1948.  But if we are to understand the situation we need to look back much further.  We need to go back to the ancient history of Israel recorded in the Torah. A look at Israel’s history in the book of Genesis of the Bible reveals that 4000 years ago a man, who is now very well known, went on a camping trip in this part of the Middle East.  The Bible says that his story affects our future.  This ancient man is Abraham (or Abram).  We all should be informed of his story so we can understand our situation in difficult modern times.

The Promise to Abraham – Son of Terah

Abraham is introduced in the Bible in Genesis 12 with God making a promise to him:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

Abraham’s name became Great

Many of us wonder if there really is a G-d and if He really is the G-d of the Bible. Jewish history has been so long and difficult that to many people it seems that no G-d has guided it.  But in this promise to Abraham, G-d said ‘I will make your name great’ and today the name of Abraham/Abram is known worldwide.  It is not simply that Abraham is known among the Jews, his descendants.  But literally billions of people on the planet today know the story of Abraham.  These people are from all countries around the world.  This promise has literally come true. The earliest existing copy of Genesis is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and is dated 200-100 B.C. which means the promise has been in writing at least since that time. In that time the name of Abraham was known only among the scattered Jewish remnant.  So the fulfillment of this little promise only came true later, after it was written down.

… by means of his great nation

Surprisingly Abraham really did nothing important in his life.  He was not a great writer, king, inventor or military leader.  He did nothing except camp out where he was told to go and father a few children.  His name is great only because the children became nation(s) that kept the record of his life – and then individuals and nations that came from him became great.  The Jews are the people most known as descendants of Abraham.  This is exactly how it was promised in Genesis 12 (“I will make you into a great nation … I will make your name great”).  No one else in all history is so well-known only because of descendants rather than from great achievements in his own life.

…Through the Will of the Promise-Maker

Jews who descended from Abraham were never really a nation normally associated with greatness.  Jews did not conquer a great empire like the Romans did or build large monuments like the Egyptians did with the pyramids. Their fame comes from the Law and Book which they wrote; from some remarkable individuals that were Jewish; and that they have survived as a somewhat different people group for thousands of years.  Their greatness is not because of anything they did, but rather what was done to and through them.  The promise says repeatedly that “I will …”.  Their unique greatness happened because G-d made it happen rather than some ability, conquest or power of their own.

The promise to Abraham came true because he trusted a promise and chose to live differently than others. Think how likely it was for this promise to have failed, but instead it has happened, and is continuing to unfold, as it was stated  thousands of years ago.  The case is real that the promise came true only because of the power and authority of the Promise-Maker.

The Aliyah of Abraham – The Journey that still shakes the World

abraham-migration-map2
This map shows the journey of Abraham

The Bible then says that “So Abram left as the LORD had told him” (v. 4).  He began a journey, shown on the map that is still making history.

Blessings to us

There is something else promised as well. The blessing was not only for Abraham. It says that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (through Abraham). We should pay attention because you and I are part of ‘all peoples on earth’.  In fact this is true regardless of whether we are Jewish or not.  No matter what our religion, color, background, nationality, social status, or what language we speak – we are part of ‘all nations’.  This promise for a blessing includes everybody alive today! How? When?  What kind of blessing? This is not clearly stated here but since we know that the first parts of this promise have come true, we can have confidence that this last part will also come true.  We can begin to find the key to unlock this mystery by continuing with the Blessings and Curses of Moses to the Jews.