Genesis (Part 68)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 17: 1-8

17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

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God Almighty = אֵל ʼêl, ale; shortened from H352; strength; as adjective, mighty; especially the Almighty (but used also of any deity):—God (god), × goodly, × great, idol, might(-y one), power, strong. Compare names in ‘-el.’; שַׁדַּי Shadday, shad-dah’-ee; from H7703; the Almighty:—Almighty.

This is the first time “El Shaddai” is used in the Bible. Here is what Wiki says about the translation:

El Shaddai (Hebrew: אֵל שַׁדַּי‎, IPA: [el ʃaˈdaj]) or just Shaddai is one of the names of the God of IsraelEl Shaddai is conventionally translated into English as God Almighty (Deus Omnipotens in Latin), but its original meaning is unclear.

The translation of El as “God” or “Lord” in the Ugaritic/Canaanite language is straightforward, as El was the supreme god of the ancient Canaanite religion. The literal meaning of Shaddai, however, is the subject of debate. The form of the phrase El Shaddai fits the pattern of the divine names in the Ancient Near East, exactly as is the case with names like “‘El Olam”, “‘El Elyon” or “‘El Betel”. As such, El Shaddai can convey several different semantic relations between the two words, among them:

* El of a place called Shaddai
* El possessing the quality of shadda
* El who is also known by the name Shaddai

David Guzik’s Commentary provides some additional insight regarding the translation:

i. Kidner: “A traditional analysis of the name is ‘God (el) who (sa) is sufficient (day).”

ii. Clarke: “El shaddai, I am God all-sufficient; from shadah, to shed, to pour out. I am that God who pours out blessings, who gives them richly, abundantly, continually.”

iii. Barnhouse: the Hebrew word shad means “chest” or “breast.” It may have in mind the strength of a man’s chest (God Almighty) or the comfort and nourishment of a woman’s breast (God of Tender Care).

iv. Leupold: Shaddai comes from the root shadad, which means “to display power.”

v. We do know the Septuagint translates the word with the Greek pantokrator “Almighty,” the “One who has His hand on everything.”

Notice here that we are are told that The Lord (יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh) named Himself as God Almighty. This should remove any questions about whether The Lord Yahweh is a different entity altogether than God Almighty “El Shaddai.” It should also remove the notion that Yahweh was a subsequent deity injected into an earlier Elohistic text.

We are also told that The Lord appeared.

appeared = רָאָה râʼâh, raw-aw’; a primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitive, intransitive and causative):—advise self, appear, approve, behold, × certainly, consider, discern, (make to) enjoy, have experience, gaze, take heed, × indeed, × joyfully, lo, look (on, one another, one on another, one upon another, out, up, upon), mark, meet, × be near, perceive, present, provide, regard, (have) respect, (fore-, cause to, let) see(-r, -m, one another), shew (self), × sight of others, (e-) spy, stare, × surely, × think, view, visions.

If you read the definition, then you can see that the nature of the appearance is unclear. It can be either literal or figurative.

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Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(1) Abram was ninety years old and nine.—Thirteen years, therefore, had passed by since the birth of Ishmael, who doubtless during this time had grown very dear to the childless old man, as we gather from the wish expressed in Genesis 17:18.

I am the Almighty God.—Heb., El shaddai. The word is Archaic, but there is no doubt that it means strong so as to overpower. Besides its use in Genesis we find it employed as the name of Deity by Balaam (Numbers 24:4Numbers 24:16); by Naomi (Ruth 1:20); and in the Book of Job, where it occurs thirty-one times. We may thus regard it as “one of the more general worldwide titles of the Most High” (Speaker’s Commentary). In Exodus 6:3 it is said, with evident reference to this place, that El shaddai was the name of God revealed to the patriarchs, but that He was not known to them by His name Jehovah. Here, nevertheless, in a passage said by commentators to be Elohistic, we read that “Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said to him I am El shaddai.” But the very gist of the passage is the identification of Jehovah and El shaddai, and the great object of the manifest care with which Moses distinguishes the Divine names seems to be to show, that though Jehovah became the special name of Elohim in His covenant relation to Israel after the Exodus, yet that the name was one old and primeval (Genesis 4:26), and that the God of revelation, under various titles, was ever one and the same. And so is it now, though we, by following a Jewish superstition, have well-nigh forfeited the use of the name Jehovah, so greatly prized of old (Genesis 4:1).

Walk before me.—The same verb as that used of Enoch (Genesis 5:22), and of Noah (Genesis 6:9), but the preposition before implies less closeness than with. On the other hand, Noah was described as “perfect among his contemporaries” (ibid.), while Abram is required still to strive after this integrity (see Note on Genesis 6:9).

Guzik provides some more helpful direction regarding the translation:

i. The word blameless literally means “whole.” God wanted all of Abram, wanting a total commitment.

תָּמִים tâmîym, taw-meem’; from H8552; entire (literally, figuratively or morally); also (as noun) integrity, truth:—without blemish, complete, full, perfect, sincerely (-ity), sound, without spot, undefiled, upright(-ly), whole.

  • At some point, maybe when I complete the Genesis study, I may specifically do some topical research about specific questions that come up throughout the Book. One of the topic in which I am most interested relates to the various names used for God within the text. As the note above demonstrates, this passage pushes back on the distinction that some commentators attempt to make between the names for God.
  • Here, nevertheless, in a passage said by commentators to be Elohistic, we read that “Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said to him I am El shaddai.”
  • Perhaps it’s just me, but that draws my attention more strongly to the fact that in other sections of the text, ‘elohiym is used in the plural form – which should more directly be translated “the gods” rather than God as we typically see.
  • Is shaddai used as an identifier among the other El?
    * גַּבְרִיאֵל Gabrîyʼêl, gab-ree-ale’; from H1397 and H410; man of God; Gabriel, an archangel:—Garbriel.
    * מִיכָאֵל Mîykâʼêl, me-kaw-ale’; from H4310 and (the prefix derivative from) H3588 and H410; who (is) like God?; Mikael, the name of an archangel and of nine Israelites:—Michael.
    * יִשְׂרָאֵל Yisrâʼêl, yis-raw-ale’; from H8280 and H410; he will rule as God; Jisraël, a symbolical name of Jacob; also (typically) of his posterity:—Israel.

Returning to the text, we see that it has been thirteen years since Ishmael was born. It has been twenty-four years since God called Abram to leave for Canaan. God has made promises to Abram three times – both concerning his taking the land and having innumerable direct descendants – and it has nevertheless been (from Abram’s perspective) many long years of waiting.

Regarding Verse 2 – From Ellicott:

(2) I will make my covenant.—In Genesis 15:18 the Heb. word for “make” is cut, and refers to the severing of the victims; here it is “give,” “place,” and implies that it was an act of grace on God’s part (comp. Note on Genesis 9:9). Abram had now waited twenty-five years after leaving Ur-Chasdim, and fourteen or fifteen years since the ratification of the solemn covenant between him and Jehovah (Genesis 15:17); but the time had at length arrived for the fulfilment of the promise, and in token thereof Abram and Sarai were to change their names, and all the males be brought near to God by a solemn sacrament.

“make” = נָתַן nâthan, naw-than’; a primitive root; to give, used with greatest latitude of application (put, make, etc.):—add, apply, appoint, ascribe, assign, × avenge, × be (healed), bestow, bring (forth, hither), cast, cause, charge, come, commit, consider, count, cry, deliver (up), direct, distribute, do, × doubtless, × without fail, fasten, frame, × get, give (forth, over, up), grant, hang (up), × have, × indeed, lay (unto charge, up), (give) leave, lend, let (out), lie, lift up, make, O that, occupy, offer, ordain, pay, perform, place, pour, print, × pull, put (forth), recompense, render, requite, restore, send (out), set (forth), shew, shoot forth (up), sing, slander, strike, (sub-) mit, suffer, × surely, × take, thrust, trade, turn, utter, weep, willingly, withdraw, would (to) God, yield.

In verse three, we look at the Pulpit Commentary:

And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,Verse 3. – And Abram fell on his face – in reverential awe and worship (vide Ver. 17; cf. Genesis 24:52Numbers 16:22Mark 14:35). Other attitudes of devotion are mentioned (1 Kings 8:54Mark 4:251 Timothy 2:8). And God – Elohim, the third name for the Deity within the compass of as many verses, thus indicating identity of being – talked with him, saying –

In this verse, as noted by the commentary, the word used for God is: אֱלֹהִים ʼĕlôhîym, el-o-heem’; plural of H433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative:—angels, × exceeding, God (gods) (-dess, -ly), × (very) great, judges, × mighty.

The great mystery of the plurality of God is at play again here. We see that Abram has been communicating with Yahweh (singular) who named Himself El Shaddai (singular) but here God (plural) speaks to Abram. What does God (plural) say to Abram in verse 4? I am looking at Blue Letter Bible’s translation kit HERE: The kit begins with the Hebrew word ‘ănî

“As for me,”

I (first pers. sing. – usually used for emphasis)

אֲנִי ʼănîy, an-ee’; contracted from H595; I:—I, (as for) me, mine, myself, we, × which, × who.

Interestingly, though, when you look at the English translation of this, this “as for me” words are not to be found in the ESV. “As for me” is present in the ASV, the KJV, and other translations. Why is that relevant? If a plural God is about to speak (per in verse 3), then we start verse 4 returning to a singular God again to actually deliver the words. “As for me” just strikes me as a weird clause to insert in the text here unless clarification as to who was speaking was needed. Did verse three subtly refer to other voices speaking to this issue, too, before returning the text to Yahweh to begin verse 4? From the Pulpit Commentary:

Verse 4. – As for me. Literally, I, standing alone at the beginning of the sentence by way of emphasis (cf. 2 Kings 10:29Psalm 11:4Psalm 46:5wide Ewald’s ‘Hebrew Syntax,’ § 309). Equivalent to “So far as I am concerned,” or, “I for my part,” or, “So far as relates to me.” Behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be – literally, shalt become (cf. Genesis 2:7), or grow to (cf. Genesis 9:15) – a father of many (or of a multitude of) nations.

From Ellicot:

(4) Of many nations.—This is a feeble rendering of a remarkable phrase. Literally the word signifies a confused noise like the din of a populous city. Abram is to be the father of a thronging crowd of nations. And so in Genesis 17:5.

(5) Abram.—That is, high father.

Abraham = Father of a multitude, “raham” being an Arabic word, perhaps current in Hebrew in ancient times. Another interpretation of Abram is that it is equivalent to Abi-aram, Father of Aram, or Syria. This too is an Arabic form, like Abimael in Genesis 10:28. By some commentators the stress is thrown upon the insertion of the letter “h,” as being the representative of the name Yahveh or Yehveh. (Compare the change of Oshea into Jehoshua, Numbers 13:16.)

אַבְרָהָם ʼAbrâhâm, ab-raw-hawm’; contracted from H1 and an unused root (probably meaning to be populous); father of a multitude; Abraham, the later name of Abram:—Abraham.

From the Pulpit Commentary:

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.Verse 7. – And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, – literally, for a covenant of eternity (videGenesis 9:16) – to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. Literally, to be for Elohim; a formula comprehending all saving benefits; a clear indication of the spiritual character of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Genesis 26:24Genesis 28:13Hebrews 11:16).

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.Verse 8. – And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, – literally, of thy sojournings (Genesis 12:9Acts 7:5Hebrews 11:9) – all the land of Canaan (videGenesis 10:19), – for an everlasting possession. Literally, for a possession of eternityi.e. the earthly Canaan should be retained by them so long as the arrangement then instituted should continue, provided always they complied with the conditions of the covenant; and the heavenly Canaan should be the inheritance of Abraham’s spiritual children forever (videGenesis 9:16Genesis 13:15). And I will be their God. Literally, to them for Elohim (vide supra).

From David Guzik’s Commentary:

a. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham: To encourage Abram’s faith in the promise of descendants, God changed Abram’s name from Abram (father of many) to Abraham (father of many nations).

i. There was, no doubt, a sense in which Abram – “father of many” – was a hard name to bear for a man who was the father of none, especially in a culture where inquiry about one’s personal life was a courteous practice. Now God went a step further and made his name “father of many nations.” It is almost preposterous for a childless man to have such a name.

ii. Think of when Abraham announced his name change to others. They must have thought he wanted to escape the burden of his name. Instead he increased the burden.

b. As an everlasting possession: To encourage Abraham’s faith in the promise of the land, God repeated the promise again, reminding Abraham it is an everlasting possession given by an everlasting covenant.

  • It is worth noting that Abraham’s name changes before his wife Sarai (soon to be Sarah) is pregnant with a son. The long wait continues on and God continues to up the ante with respect to what will eventually happen.
  • I was particularly interested in this note from above. (Maybe I should have studied ancient Semitic languages in school)
    * Abraham = Father of a multitude, “raham” being an Arabic word, perhaps current in Hebrew in ancient times. Another interpretation of Abram is that it is equivalent to Abi-aram, Father of Aram, or Syria. This too is an Arabic form, like Abimael in Genesis 10:28. By some commentators the stress is thrown upon the insertion of the letter “h,” as being the representative of the name Yahveh or Yehveh. (Compare the change of Oshea into Jehoshua, Numbers 13:16.)

This section of verses ends with God’s declaration that He will give Abraham’s descendents the land of Canaan, for eternity, and a statement that “I will be their God.” Verses 4 – 8 all follow verse 4’s “as for me” clause. We thus know that God (singular) is making the I statements in those verses. However, the section of verses ends with “I” (singular God) telling Abraham that He will be the God (‘elohiym / plural) of Abraham’s descendants.

And with that, we end this section of verses. When we come back, though, the text will discuss circumcision.

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