I went to the second session of my church’s Bible study. We’re going through The Unbreakable Promise: God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David With Michael Rydelnik. I have two items: Abraham’s seed, and generosity being motivated by faith that God will work things out.
1. Paul says in Galatians 3:16: ” Now to Abraham and his seed were
the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of
one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”
I said in the group that I thought Paul’s reasoning here was pretty
poor. Michael Rydelnik on the DVD employed similar argumentation. What
I recall Rydelnik saying is that there is a shift to the singular in
the Hebrew of Genesis 22:17. Genesis 22:17 states: “That in blessing I
will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the
stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and
thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Genesis 22:17).
According to Rydelnik, the seed that will possess the gate of his
enemies is Christ. The thing is, though, I’m not sure where exactly
Rydelnik believes the shift to the singular is, for the Hebrew word for
seed, zera, is singular throughout Genesis 22:17. Zera often is a collective noun: it is singular, yet it is collective, like the words “nation,” or “community.” Even if zera is in the singular, it can still refer to a group of people rather than a single individual.
One person in the group, whom I will call “Joe,” responded that we
have to look at the context: when the passage is talking about Abraham’s
seed being more numerous than the stars of heaven, or Abraham’s seed
possessing the land of Canaan, then the seed there is collective and
applies to the nation of Israel; when it says that all the nations will
be blessed through Abraham’s seed, however, then the seed there is
Christ, for the only time when all the nations were blessed through
Abraham’s seed was when they received salvation through faith in Christ.
I did not find Joe’s argument to be entirely convincing (though I let
him have the last word), for he seemed to be assuming Christianity to
argue for Christianity. Where does Genesis ever say that Abraham’s seed
blessing the nations will entail people becoming saved and going to
heaven after they die because they accepted Jesus Christ as their
personal savior? Are there other ways to understand the blessing that
Abraham’s seed brings to the nations, ways that are more faithful to
themes within the Hebrew Bible itself: Jacob bringing blessing to Laban
when he was working for him, Joseph bringing blessing to the nations
amidst famine as vizier of Egypt, or Israel bringing the nations
knowledge of the one true God, in its history or in its time of
eschatological restoration? Even Michael Rydelnik seemed to acknowledge
some multifaceted application to God’s promises to Abraham.
And yet, Joe’s comments made me think: Does “seed” always mean a
collective? Could it ever refer to a single individual? Someone else
in the group made that sort of point: a person has offspring, and the
offspring has offspring, etc. I did a search after I came home, and it
appears that zera can sometimes refer to a particular person.
In Genesis 4:25, after Eve gives birth to Seth, Adam says that God has
given him seed in place of Abel. Seth is a zera.
But maybe the singular and the collective can overlap, on some level. Seth is a zera,
and yet he will also produce a line. Even within the New Testament,
Paul acknowledges that Abraham’s seed is collective. Granted, Paul
believes that Abraham’s seed was Jesus Christ, yet Paul also argues that
those who have faith are Abraham’s seed (i.e., Galatians 3:29).
I may have overstated my case in the group by arguing that zera is always
collective. I still don’t think that Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:16
is very good, at least in terms of supporting his interpretation of
Genesis. One can say that Paul was following rabbinic methods of
interpretation, or that Paul was speaking to insiders to the Christian
community rather than trying to convince outsiders. Perhaps, but I
would have to hear more before those proposals sit well with me.
2. In Genesis 13, Abraham lets Lot have the land of his choice after
their herdsmen dispute due to lack of room. Michael Rydelnik contends
that Abraham could be so generous because he realized that God would
eventually give all of the land to him (or at least his offspring),
anyway. In my opinion, that made Abraham’s generosity sound less than
generous, for Abraham is still thinking about what’s in it for him. At
the same time, I do appreciate the theme that I am more likely to give
to others when I firmly believe that God loves me and will work things
out for my good. Attaining that sort of faith and then maintaining it
can be rather difficult, however.