Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Genesis 15:1 Abraham's Fat Booty

So I was having a translation pow-wow with some minister friends of mine and we came to Genesis 15:1, normally translated something like, "Don't be afraid, I am your shield and your very great reward." There are several things here that need to be nuanced, but of vital importance is this word for "reward". Our lexicons gave us two options, reward or wage, the first a little more Calvanist, the second a little more Arminian. But given the context, I don't think either is adequate.

Abram has just fought a small war with the locals, rescued Lot, tithed to God's priest Melchizedek, and refused to take any of the spoil the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah offered. Here in 15:1, God speaks to Abram and tells him two vital things: 1) That God IS his military shield, 2) Abram's reward WILL be very large. Kudos to the Septuagint's differentiation of tense here. In other words, Abram will still get the "reward" he gave up. Unless the translation purposefully makes this connection between the two stories, an English reader would be lost and might tend to think that chapter 12 is unrelated or particularly spiritual compared to the previous "weird" and "why-is-that-in-there" type of chapters.

Also, the three of us all agreed that the "very great reward" is predicative, "your reward is/will be very great" as opposed to, "I am your great reward". Maybe there is some Hebrew rule that we are unaware of that bridges the subject from the precious clause, but the text does not seem to be asserting that God is the reward (even though he is), but that God will make Abram's reward, spoil, booty, very big indeed. Props to the New American Standard and the Revised Standard rendering it this way.

If there is any question that we are all prudes, listen to the lexicon describe what is meant by a son coming from Abram's own "body". The second definition listed for מעה is "that part of the body through which people come into existence." Wow. So much for the lexicon being concise.

So what?

1) This means Abram's question to God is not doubt, it makes perfect sense. Abram is not going to be around much longer or in shape to fight and acquire much booty. So of what booty does God speak? Who's gong to enjoy it? These are not selfish questions, their just reality type questions. Abram's question is very legitimate. Well that's great for Eliezer, who's going to "inherit me", as the Hebrew puts it.

2) I see in this story the first hint at a principle Jesus laid down with his disciples who gave up family and property to follow Jesus. Jesus says these disciples will not fail to "receive many times as much and will inherit eternal life" (Mat 19:29). I find it fascinating that the two things which Abram gave up, are the very same as the cost of discipleship here, family and property.

3) And I find it fascinating that receiving these things back is put side by side with receiving eternal life. It's almost as if the answer to the modern question, "what is eternal life?" is the family and property God gives back to you after you start to follow him. After all, eternal life has already begun in the Christian. God really does bless people materially. Let's not be more spiritual than the Bible and let's not act like God's blessings are all inner blessedness.

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