God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

God as Reward(er) and Protector in Genesis 15:1

From the About page comes this great question: Does Genesis 15:1 mean “your [Abram’s] reward will be very great” or “I [God] am your great reward”?

The NRSV translates it, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great,” while the KJV has a different understanding: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”

The issue is the final phrase in Hebrew, which (disregarding tense for a moment), according to the NRSV, means “your reward is good,” while the KJV thinks it means “your good reward.” Together with the first part of the sentence (“I am your shield”), the NRSV version ends up, “I am your shield and your reward is good,” while the KJV is also coherent: “I am your shield, your good reward.”

It turns out that the Hebrew is actually ambiguous.

To understand the text here we need a detour through a handful of related bits of Hebrew grammar. (And, really, what says “fun” more on a Friday morning in early September than a handful of Hebrew grammar?)

First, adjectives in Hebrew generally follow nouns, and there’s no word for “a” or “an.” So, for example, from the Hebrew words yeled (“boy”) and tov (“good”), we get yeled tov, “a good boy.”

Secondly, Hebrew does have a word “the” in the form of the prefix ha-. When it’s used, it gets put on both nouns and adjectives. So “the good boy” in Hebrew is ha-yeled ha-tov, literaly “the-boy the-good.” Furthermore, some phrases (technically called “definites”) behave like they have “the.” One such case is possessives. So “my good boy” in Hebrew is “my-boy the-good” (yaldi ha-tov).

Thirdly, Hebrew almost never uses “to be” in the present tense. So, for example, “I am your shield” in Hebrew is just “I your shield.” (The KJV — foolishly, in my opinion — sometimes uses italics in English to reflect the Hebrew grammar in these cases.)

The combination of the first and third bits create potential ambiguity. While yeled tov can mean “a good boy,” it can also mean “a boy is good.”

As a matter of practice, though, this kind of ambiguity is rare, because of the second bit. Hebrew differentiates between “the good boy” and “the boy is good” by using “the-boy the-good” (ha-yeled ha-tov, as we’ve seen) for the first one, and “the-boy good” (ha-yeled tov) for the second.

Similarly, “your good reward” is “your-reward the-good” in Hebrew (s’char’cha hatov), while “your reward is good” in Hebrew is “your-reward good” (s’char’cha tov). So you might expect that we’d be able to distinguish between “your great reward” and “your reward is great.”

Unfortunately, the word for “great” here is harbeh, and, together with m’od (“very”), it forms the invariant phrase harbeh m’od. Unlike most modifiers, that phrase never takes “the.” So “your reward is very great” in Hebrew is (as we see here in Genesis 1:15) “your-reward very great” (s’char’cha harbeh m’od) but “your very great reward” is the identical Hebrew, because, in this case, the expected “your-reward the-very-great” doesn’t exist.

This means that, as a matter of translating this sentence, the Hebrew is truly ambiguous. So we have to look elsewhere for clues.

One such clue might be the tenses. The first is present tense, and the second — if, as in the NRSV, it is its own clause — is also present tense. So the NRSV has to explain why the sentence doesn’t mean, “I am your shield; your reward is very great.” This seems to point in the direction of the KJV.

On the other hand, tenses are notoriously idiosyncratic, and anyone who’s looked at Hebrew knows that we commonly see one tense in Hebrew and a different one in English.

The commentator Rashi suggests that God is assuaging Abram on two fronts: he will not be punished, and he will be rewarded. So Rashi thinks the line means “don’t fear, Abram, I will be your shield [so you will not be punished] and you will be rewarded.” So Rashi would have sided with the NRSV.

I have some more thoughts, but nothing to convince me solidly one way or the other. (For those who are curious, here’s a list of where the phrase harbeh m’od appears: Genesis 15:1, Genesis 41:49, Deuteronomy 3:5, Joshua 13:1, Joshua 22:8, I Samuel 26:21, II Samuel 8:8, II Samuel 12:2, II Samuel 12:30, I Kings 5:9, I Kings 10:10, I Kings 10;11, II Kings 21:16, I Chronicles 20:2, II Chronicles 14;12, II Chronicles 32:27, Ezra 10:1, Nehemiah 2:2, and Jeremiah 40;12.)

So I’m opening up the question here. Based on context, which translation do you think makes more sense? And why?

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September 7, 2012 - Posted by | grammar, translation practice | , , , , , , ,

25 Comments »

  1. Context is King, no? The context of Genesis 15 is offspring for Abraham (vv 2-3): so, “Your reward shall be very great” (RSV).

    Try Zechariah 13. I say it is a climax of the good Shepherd/bad shepherd dynamic, with 13:6-7: “What are these wounds between your hands ‘[yad bayin’], he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the House of my Beloved [God’s House]. Awake, O sword of my Shepherd [the one that God has raised up in 11:16], against [or ‘within’] the man who is my intimate companion [‘amiti], says the Lord of Hosts. Strike, O Shepherd, that the sheep may be broken to bits ‘[utepusena’], and I will return my hand upon the little ones.”

    The context is the Lord bringing a good Shepherd, or Master (Zechariah?), finally, to the “little ones” or sheep” — the “fat ones” of 11:16 who have their “flesh torn from their hooves” (a good thing in this passage), and “striking” them with the sword of the “Word” (“out of his mouth a flaming sword” of Revelation, for example) to make them fit for the presence of the Lord (“refined as one refines silver”, 13:9).”They are [now] my people”, 13:9.

    This, of course, has great and ominous implications for the gospels, Mark 14 and Matthew 26. The same dynamic is at the climax of The Gospel of Judas, with Judas as the sacrifice of “the man that bears me”, and elsewhere in other scriptures, both canonical and apocryphal.

    Comment by Sahansdal | September 7, 2012 | Reply

  2. Psalm 17:14-15 points to my bias – HaShem is the reward
    Let them be satisfied with children
    vs
    I in righteousness will gaze on your face – same gaze as in vision בַּֽמַּחֲזֶ֖ה

    Comment by bobmacdonald | September 7, 2012 | Reply

  3. When something is ambiguous in the original language, I think it should remain ambiguous in the target language of a translation. Perhaps both meanings are true. Perhaps one meaning is true for one emotional state and the other for another emotional state. Perhaps the ambiguity is intended to act like an ink blot test and reveals information about what the viewer sees more than what is actually there.

    Comment by Don Johnson | September 8, 2012 | Reply

  4. Ok, well if Gen 15:1 is to mean “I [the LORD] am your very great reward” then Abram’s question in the next verse, “LORD, what will you give me?” wouldn’t make sense. If it’s clear what the reward is (i.e., the LORD himself), then why ask what it is? The narrative explains itself.

    Also, at the ending of the previous chapter, Abram is offered a large gift from the king of Sodom but rejects it on the grounds that the king would think that Abram’s future riches are a result of this gift and, therefore, be indebted to him. Verses 2 and 3 of chapter 15 reveal Abram’s anxiety in holding to the LORD’s promise to make him great. I suppose that’s why the LORD initially says “Do not fear,” to which Abram’s response is basically “why shouldn’t I?” In verse 7 we find out what the gift or reward is: “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” So it is that the land is the very great reward from verse 1.

    Comment by George M | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  5. Hang on a minute, Abram’s question in verse 2 relates to an heir. The Lord answered his anxiety in verse 4, saying that the heir will come from his own flesh. The Lord then shows him the stars in the sky as a metaphor for his future descendants, to which Abram believes and is then imputed righteousness.

    The heir (and descendants) is the great reward. The land is brought up as a continuation of the original vision.

    Comment by Robert Kan | September 11, 2012 | Reply

    • Well, that’s what I always thought but that’s not the case. The whole question is this: “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (NIV)

      The gift and the heir are not the same, but Abram relates them. His question is twofold: (1) What will you give me and (2) what’s the point in giving me something great seeing as I’m about to die without a legitimate heir to claim it? Yes, the LORD then reassures Abram that he will indeed get an heir from his own “loins” and that they will continue on. Once that is established, the LORD continues speaking and tells him about what He will give him:

      Gen 15:7-8, 18-21 (NIV)
      7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” 8 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it? […] 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates– 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

      Comment by George M | September 12, 2012 | Reply

      • Abram thought that his servant will be his heir. Whether that is a legitimate heir or not is a moot point. The land was not his primary concern. The righteousness he was bestowed undeniably points to the heir and descendants. Miss that, and you miss the whole point of the bible.

        Comment by Robert Kan | September 12, 2012

      • For the New Testament yes, but you can’t deny the emphasis in the Torah and the book of Joshua on the “Promised Land.” And it’s not a moot point because Abram is the one who brought it up. It’s not that he “thought” his servant was to be his heir, his servant WAS his heir because of the fact that he had no children of his own, which is what I meant by legitimate (there’s probably a better word but my vocabulary is lacking). This is why receiving a “great reward” is such a concern for Abram.

        If you read from Genesis 11 up to this point you will see the emphasis is on the land of Canaan. It is not until around chapter 18 that getting an heir becomes a real issue in the story. By then the LORD comes personally to visit Abram and swears to him that he will get a child from his wife Sarah.

        Comment by George M | September 12, 2012

      • First you said that the servant was not a legitimate heir. Now you indicate that the servant WAS the heir at the time… It doesn’t bring clarity to a discussion when such comments are set forth.

        Since you choose not to respond to my point of Abram’s righteousness, I’ve got nothing more to add.

        Comment by Robert Kan | September 12, 2012

      • You missed my point of clarification. I’m not saying anything different than what I said initially. Like I said in the parentheses of my last post, what I define as legitimate in this scenario is a child from Abram’s own loins. Granted, the definition is wayward but my vocabulary sucks and I can’t think of a word to fit this situation. An heir will inherit Abram’s estate, but only his own son can inherit his name also–which is the point of Abram’s question.

        I didn’t “not respond” to that point. I said yes, in the New Testament. Answering in detail on that point will just pull the discussion way off topic, so I’ll say this: I never said the heir was unimportant. All I said was that the “great reward” is not Abraham’s descendants, it’s the land of Canaan. If the big thing that the LORD promised to give Abram is many descendants then why does the LORD keep pressing the Israelites to inhabit the land, to take possession of it–by force even–if by the time of the Exodus they are already a very large family? Why doesn’t the LORD just say, “you know what guys, you have all you need. Just keep the line going and don’t worry too much about the land if it’s too hard to take over”?

        You can have a great sermon on faith from the first five books of the Bible and there would be nothing wrong with that interpretation, but the central theme, the main focus of them is on the “Promised Land.” It is the goal that the Israelites strive for, given to them by the LORD through covenant, and everything else happens around trying to achieve that goal.

        While we can look at the Pentateuch with NT eyes and highlight faith as the central theme, it is not the original focus.

        Comment by George M | September 12, 2012

      • The Land of Canaan or the “Promised Land” is metaphor for the heavenly regions. Just like Mt. Sinai, the burning bush, “Exodus” and all the other details of biblical history. This is LITERATURE. Every single little detail in these stories has a counterpart in the inward journey of the soul toward higher consciousness. That’s why, for example, you don’t have tons of pottery and flints, knives, arrowheads, bones, whatever, in the Sinai desert from the 40 yrs of a hundred thousand wandering Jews… Its A STORY, folks.

        Comment by Robert Wahler (@RobeertWahler) | September 13, 2012

    • The heir and the descendents as reward are metaphor. This is literary metaphor for spiritual attainment in meditation. Male offspring symbolize attainment, female ones failure in one’s devotions. (Sorry, gals!).
      There is an excellent out-of-print book on this: “Mystic Bible” by Dr. Randolph Stone, which is occasionally available for $150 or so (WELL worth it).

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Mystic-Bible-Randolph-Stone/dp/B0007BO328/ref=pd_rhf_cr_p_t_3

      All these OT characters were doing Yoga-style meditation.Very few OT or NT figures were historical, including Abraham and Jesus. Jesus was a composite character drawn from John the Baptist and James.This is provable from Clement and Hegesippus and Hebrew Matthew.

      Comment by Robert Wahler (@RobeertWahler) | September 12, 2012 | Reply

    • Robert,

      You have stated incorrectly twice now: You stated the righteousness as imputed by the Lord (above) and bestowed upon Abraham (below). Both are misconstruing the stated “reckoned it as righteousness” of Genesis 15:6b. The subject is understood, and in Hebrew, as in English, it is the previously mentioned one — Abraham — “HE believed”, of 15:6a. He reckoned it unto HIMSELF as righteousness. This is how Paul got faith righteousness wrong by using the Septuagint (he couldn’t speak Hebrew, and was NO Pharisee, despite what he said about himself. Read Hyam Maccoby.). Righteousness comes by WORKS: Matthew 5:19 and 7:21 “he who DOES the will of my Father”, also see James’ letter.

      Comment by Robert Wahler (@RobeertWahler) | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  6. Curious that the reward is wages – as in Psalm 127.3 – that works against my interpretation.

    Comment by bobmacdonald | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  7. The Promised Land was important for settling, having a sense of ownership, building the Temple and so on. But the land was not the reward:

    Ps 127:3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward.

    Gen 15:2-3 Abram said, “O Lord God, WHAT WILL YOU GIVE ME, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “SINCE YOU HAVE GIVEN NO OFFSPRING TO ME, one born in my house is my heir.” (Capitals my emphasis)

    God did not manipulate Abram to cause him to respond the way he did, before finally revealing some truth to him after much ado about nothing. On the contrary, God gave Abram a vision in v.1, Abram questioned it in v.2, he despaired in v.3, and God answered it in v.4. The fruit of the womb as reward is consistent with Abram’s thought process in response to the revelation.

    The same Hebrew word for “give”, spoken by Abram in relation to the reward, occurs consecutively in verses 2 & 3. One is not at liberty to use peripheral vision in an attempt to destroy Abram’s immediate perception of the reward. One is not at liberty to use peripheral vision in order to make light of the righteousness mentioned of Abram in this context.

    Comment by Robert Kan | September 14, 2012 | Reply

    • But one is however correct in pointing out that the righteousness Abram was ‘reckoining’ was reckoned by himself, The understood subject is Abram, not the Lord. As an aside, this is cited by Paul as support for faith salvation, and negatively in James’ letter (ch. 2) regarding faith salvation. This is the real significance of Genesis 15:6. It does not give Paul support for faith salvation.

      Comment by Robert Wahler (@RobeertWahler) | September 14, 2012 | Reply

  8. Robert Kan,

    I’m assuming the point of your emphasis is to connect those two phrases? “What will you give me […] since you have given no offspring to me.”

    It’s interesting that you highlight the use of the word “give.” However, for this to be complete the LORD would have to respond with “give,” correct? And indeed, He does respond to Abram’s “what will you give me” question with “give,” twice actually: [1] “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it” (v. 7, NAS) and [2] “To your descendants I have given this land” (v. 18, NAS). Interestingly, He does not respond with regard to the heir and descendants as “giving” them to him. He, the LORD, says, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir […] Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them […] So shall your descendants be.” (vv. 4-5, NAS)

    I have to admit though, that Psalm 127:3 text stopped me for a second. But I see your psalm prooftext and raise you, Psalm 105:1-11.

    Psalm 105:1-11, NAS
    1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name ; Make known His deeds among the peoples.
    2 Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders.
    3 Glory in His holy name ; Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad.
    4 Seek the LORD and His strength ; Seek His face continually.
    5 Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth,
    6 O seed of Abraham, His servant, O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones !
    7 He is the LORD our God ; His judgments are in all the earth.
    8 He has remembered His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations, 9 The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac.
    10 Then He confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel as an everlasting covenant,
    11 Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan As the portion of your inheritance,”

    Just so you know, the word “inheritance” at the end of verse eleven is the same Strong’s number (H5159) as “gift” in Psalm 127:3a.

    ——————————————–

    Now moving to a new point, take a look at the following passage:

    Genesis 16:7-10
    7 Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.
    8 He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going ?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”
    9 Then the angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.”
    10 Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.”

    Would you agree that the “very great reward” that the LORD promises Abram is unique? After all, He does not say “I will give you a very great reward” but “Your reward shall be very great.” If you agree that Abram’s reward is unique then the above passage should pose a problem for you since the LORD offers the same thing to Hagar and her son, Ishmael, as He does Abram according to your interpretation. What is unique to Abram though is the promise of the land of Canaan. Only that is promised to Abram and the child of Sarah’s womb, and no one else.

    [Don’t get caught up on “angel of the LORD” since the actual word rendered as “angel” (Strong’s H4397) more accurately means messenger or emissary and is understood as one acting on behalf of the LORD.]

    ———————————–

    Looking at Genesis 15:1-3 from a number of translations is quite beneficial:

    Mechanical Translation by Jeff A. Benner (from http://www.mechanical-translation.org/mt/translation15.html)
    1 after these words, the word of Yhwh existed for Avram in the vision saying, “do not fear Avram, I am a shield for you, your wages will increase greatly, 2 and Avram said, “Adonai of Yhwh, what will you give to me as I am walking barren and the son of acquisition of my house is Eliezer of Dameseq,” 3 and Avram said, “though you did not give me seed, look, a son of my house is possessing me,

    New English Translation of the Septuagint (from http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/)

    American Standard Version (ASV)
    1 After these things the word of Jehovah came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, [and] thy exceeding great reward. 2 And Abram said, O Lord Jehovah, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? 3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

    Jewish Publication Society (JPS)
    1 After these things the word of HaShem came unto Abram in a vision, saying: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield, thy reward shall be exceeding great.’ 2 And Abram said: ‘O L-rd GOD, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go hence childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ 3 And Abram said: ‘Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed, and, lo, one born in my house is to be mine heir.’

    New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”

    Holman Christian Standard Version (CSB)
    1 After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great. 2 But Abram said, “Lord God , what can You give me, since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Abram continued, “Look, You have given me no offspring, so a slave born in my house will be my heir.”

    Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
    1 Some time later the word of ADONAI came to Avram in a vision: “Don’t be afraid, Avram. I am your protector; your reward will be very great.” 2 Avram replied, “ADONAI, God, what good will your gifts be to me if I continue childless; and Eli’ezer from Dammesek inherits my possessions? 3 You haven’t given me a child,” Avram continued, “so someone born in my house will be my heir.”

    New Living Translation (NLT)
    1 Afterward the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” 2 But Abram replied, “O Sovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since I don’t have a son, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. 3 You have given me no children, so one of my servants will have to be my heir.”

    Today’s New International Version (TNIV)
    1 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. ” 2 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

    New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
    1 Some time later, Abram had a vision. The LORD said to him, “Abram, do not be afraid. I am like a shield to you. I am your very great reward.” 2 But Abram said, “LORD and King, what can you give me? I still don’t have any children. My servant Eliezer comes from Damascus. When I die, he will get everything I own.” 3 Abram continued, “You haven’t given me any children. So a servant in my house will get everything I own.”

    The Message (MSG)
    1 After all these things, this word of God came to Abram in a vision: “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I’m your shield. Your reward will be grand!” 2 Abram said, “God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything?” 3 Abram continued, “See, you’ve given me no children, and now a mere house servant is going to get it all.”

    The Bible in Basic English (BBE)
    1 After these things, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, Have no fear, Abram: I will keep you safe, and great will be your reward. 2 And Abram said, What will you give me? for I have no child and this Eliezer of Damascus will have all my wealth after me. 3 And Abram said, You have given me no child, and a servant in my house will get the heritage.

    Common English Bible (CEB)
    1 After these events, the LORD’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “LORD God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” 3 He continued, “Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”

    New Century Version (NCV)
    1 After these things happened, the Lord spoke his word to Abram in a vision: “Abram, don’t be afraid. I will defend you, and I will give you a great reward.” 2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you give me? I have no son, so my slave Eliezer from Damascus will get everything I own after I die.” 3 Abram said, “Look, you have given me no son, so a slave born in my house will inherit everything I have.”

    ————————————–

    Here are Rashi’s comments on verses 1-3 of Genesis 15 (from http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8210/showrashi/true):

    Verse 1:
    After these incidents: Wherever the term אַחַר is used, it signifies immediately afterwards; אַחִרֵי signifies a long time afterwards (Gen. Rabbah 44:5). After this miracle had been wrought for him, that he slew the kings, he was worried and said, “Perhaps I have received reward for all my righteous deeds.” Therefore, the Omnipresent said to him,“Fear not Abram, I am your Shield” from punishment, that you will not be punished for all those souls that you have slain, and as far as your being worried about receiving reward, your reward is exceedingly great. [from Aggadath Bereishith 16:2; Tan. Buber, Lech Lecha 15; Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer ch. 27]

    Verse 2:
    since I am going childless: Heb. עִרִירִי. Menachem ben Saruk (Machbereth p. 137) explained it as meaning an heir, and a similar instance is (Mal. 2:12):“a son (עֵר) and a grandson (וְעֹנֶה).” Hence, עִרִירִי would mean without an heir, as you would say (Job 31:12):“and it will uproot (תְשָׁרֵשׁ), all my crops” [meaning] it will tear out its roots. Similarly עִרִירִי means childless; in Old French, desenfantez. It appears to me, however, that עֵר וְעֹנֶה is derived from the same root as (Song of Songs 5:2):“but my heart is awake (עֵר)” whereas עִרִירִי is an expression of destruction, as in (Ps. 137:7):“Raze it, raze it (עָרוּ עָרוּ)” and as in (Hab. 3:13):“destroying (עָרוֹת) the foundation,” and as in (Jer. 51:58):“shall be completely destroyed (עַרְעֵר תִּתְעַרְעַר) ,” and as in (Zeph. 2:14):“for the cedarwork will be destroyed (עֵרָה).”

    and the steward of my household: וּבֶן מֶשֶׁק בֵּיתִי, to be interpreted like the Aramaic translation, (וּבַר פַּרְנָסָה הָדֵין דִי בְּבֵתִי) : and this sustainer who is in my house). My entire household is sustained by his orders, as (below 41:40):“and by your orders they will be sustained (יִשַׁק).” [בֶּן מֶשֶׁק \’82 means]“my administrator,” but if I had a son, my son would be appointed over my possessions.

    Verse 3:
    Behold, You have given me no seed: So of what avail is all that You will give me?

    Comment by George M | September 17, 2012 | Reply

    • What is your source, George, for all those translation versions?

      Comment by fuzzrabbit | September 17, 2012 | Reply

    • Point 1
      Regarding Rashi’s comments, isn’t it amazing how tweaking a statement (in this case, verse 3) can affect one’s bias towards a particular view?

      Point 2
      No, Genesis 16 does not pose a problem. Irrespective of the land, the promise to Abram was still unique since “through Isaac your descendants shall be named”. Isaac was destined to be the child of promise, the legitimate heir and family line foretold in Gen 15, since his mother Sarah was also Abraham’s wife (as opposed to the maidservant). Irrespective of the promise of land, the promise given to Hagar was not to be identified with that given to Abram. (I do wonder though if the story would have been different had Sarah had accepted Hagar, or if Abraham was not so submissive to her. After all, Jacob also had children by his wives’ maidservants, and they did share in the inheritance.)

      Point 3
      My point about Ps 127:3 is to make a general acknowledgement that having a child is a reward from the Lord, to rebut your point that the reward and the heir cannot be the same.

      Point 4
      Gen 15:2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
      Gen 15:3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”

      What can we say about these consecutive verses?
      2a and 3a are both about “giving”.
      2b and 3b are parallel statements about the servant.
      It is therefore intuitive that 2a and 3a are directly related.

      Point 5
      Abram’s overriding concern was with having offspring. In his eyes, that was the primary and great reward. The land played second fiddle to his obsession with offspring. What is most significant is that he was credited with righteousness after the Lord reaffirmed his promise (back in Gen 12) of making him into a great nation. The promise of land occurred in the second interaction with the Lord, albeit after the imputation of righteousness. I see no value in your argument that the Lord did not “give” Abram an heir, because he didn’t use the word “give” with regard to the heir. This argument looks like one of desperation.

      Comment by Robert Kan | September 18, 2012 | Reply

      • You know the interesting thing about Rashi’s comments is that I hadn’t read them previous to my first post. The only thing I knew about Rashi’s commentary regarding this passage was what Dr. Hoffman included in his post (which isn’t much). I came to my conclusion by reading the text as a narrative and not from any theological bias. I form my own conclusions first and then see what others say about it; it’s kind of a rule of mine.

        The only translations I originally read from were the NKJV, NIV, and NAS. It’s interesting though that pretty much every English translation agrees with my interpretation, whether literal or paraphrase. I don’t particularly like paraphrase translations, but if your interpretation is true then it should come across in one of these since they generally try to strike a “balance” (however successful or unsuccessful they may be) between the explicit and implicit meanings of the text. However, not one of these translations interprets it the way you do, nor do they differ in interpretation by any significant degree.

        I won’t respond to your point 2 since it’s a side issue. I just wanted to know what you thought of that.

        On Psalm 127:3, I realized that’s what you were doing. It seemed like a “bluff” to me so I used some poker humor. Strong’s H5159 is used for the word “gift” in Psalm 127:3 with regard to children, which is also used for the word “inheritance” in verse eleven of Psalm 105 with regard to the land of Canaan. And of course, the word “reward” (Strong’s H7939) is the link between the two passages with regard to Genesis 15:1. The thing that is against you though is context. The context of Psalm 127 is labor (maybe)? The context of Psalm 105, however, speaks explicitly of Genesis 15 and is pretty much a summary of the whole Pentateuch. Also, the use of Strong’s H5159 and H7939 in Psalm 127:3 seems like an isolated incident; I can’t find any other instance where it speaks of children as “gifts” or “rewards.” If you could find another instance of this, it would establish the statement as common thought and not just the psalmist using the words in a new way.

        On point 5: You know, from my end it looks like you’re the one grasping at straws. I’m not trying to be rude or anything, it’s just interesting how perspective works. You build up the use of “give” but then abandon it when the LORD says “give” in connection with the land of Canaan. I’m not being desperate but using common sense. If I ask someone, “what will you give me,” somewhere in their response they’re going to say “give.” As I said before, Abram’s question to the LORD is twofold, and he gets a twofold answer. The shape, or line, of this conversation is an arc: Abram asks A-B, the LORD responds B-A.

        Rashi’s comment on verse 3 isn’t really a modification of the verse; it’s the implied meaning behind the explicit words. That’s why it’s a commentary and not an insertion into the text. Surprisingly though, a lot of English translations include the implicit meaning alongside the explicit. But, I have realized that going back and forth like this isn’t getting us anywhere. So what do you think “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir” means? Try to incorporate the second part of the verse and not just the first.

        Comment by George M | September 18, 2012

      • Reply to George M.

        The mystic interpretation of that would be Abram telling the Lord that since he has no success in his devotions (meditation, male offspring), he has only illegitimate thoughts to offer Him. Google Amazon, “Mystic Bible” by Dr. Randolphe Stone.

        Comment by Robert Wahler (@RobeertWahler) | September 19, 2012

  9. George,

    I’ve already answered your specific question and stated my position on this quite clearly. Refer to my point 4.

    And to reiterate myself (somewhat) from September 14:
    V1 God’s vision to Abram
    V2 Abram’s question (one only, not two)
    V3 Abram’s despair (this is not a question)
    V4 God’s answer
    V5 God’s extended answer to amplify his first answer

    I KNOW what you said before, that Abram’s question was twofold – that’s why I presented the above as refutation (but you paid no attention). And, now, it doesn’t make it sound more convincing when you claim that Rashi’s rendering “isn’t really a modification of the verse” or “it’s the implied meaning behind the explicit words”.

    The “give” in connection with the land of Canaan would be a sufficient argument to demolish my interpretation, but only if it could similarly established that God did not “give” Abram an heir and descendants. (And just because God did not explicitly use the word “give” in relation to the heir and descendants does not demonstrate that he didn’t “give” them to him. We know he did.)

    The Bible *explicitly* states that offspring is a reward from the Lord (Ps 127).
    Isn’t that odd?
    According to my research, the *same* cannot be said about the land of Canaan.
    That’s a bit odd too.
    That leads me to conclude: making an *explicit* connection between the LAND and the REWARD is a good effort at best, and imaginative at worst.

    And the end of the day, I could compromise and be satisfied with an interpretation saying that the land is a reward, provided that it did not also exclude the descendants (or the blessings). But that’s not how you approached it.

    Thanks for the debate.

    Regards
    Rob

    Comment by Robert Kan | September 19, 2012 | Reply

    • I’d just like to clarify something. Twofold is not the same as two distinct. Yes, it is one question (though some translations choose to separate it into two) but there are two concerns expressed that are contingent upon each other.

      If you’re still interested, I have one more thing to say but from a different perspective. I’ll post it anyway for the sake of the general discussion later on today.

      And yeah, same here. It’s was kinda fun.

      Comment by George M | September 19, 2012 | Reply

  10. Funny how a day turns into a couple weeks.

    Dr. Hoffman,

    I’m not sure how helpful we’ve all been in coming up with a conclusive answer to whether “s’char’cha harbeh m’od” from Gen 15:1 means “[I am] your very great reward” or “your reward shall be very great.”

    Gen 17:7 may have Gen 15:1 mean “[I am] your very great reward.”

    Gen 17:7 (NAS)
    “I will establish My covenant […] for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you […]”

    But as I understand the passage in Gen 15:1, it definitely seems to mean “your reward shall be very great,” because: (1) This is how Abram interprets it himself by referring to material possessions; (2) The LORD doesn’t correct him by interpreting it this way; (3) There doesn’t seem to be any peculiar statements in the immediate context that hint at the alternative meaning of the phrase.

    Comment by George M | October 3, 2012 | Reply


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