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What are God's voice, charge, commandments, statutes & laws that Abraham obeyed & kept

Genesis 26:4-6 and I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; 5 because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

? And what is the criterion to distinguish between voice, charge, commandments, statutes & laws

It seems that there were laws from God which we had to keep even before the law that came 430 years later ( Galatians 3:17 ) and Abraham was blessed because He kept those laws.

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This is a good (nth) occasion to experience the big difference between reading Bible only through translations and doing so directly from the Hebrew text.

As happens a lot of time, a list of translated terms like these ones - included in Gen 26:5 - seems to be a list of quite identical words.

Rightly, Siju George asked: “And what is the criterion to distinguish between voice, charge, commandments, statutes & laws [?]”.

Granted, there’s only a little trouble to distinguish between ‘voice’ and ‘laws’. But, what distinguishes ‘charge’ from ‘commandments’? Or, ‘statutes’ from ‘laws’? They seems all identical, really.

Yes, they seems so, but only in translation.

I will never tire of telling people how is important – especially in these instances – to determine the basic concept behind the verbal form/noun, since all these word-classes are – by a large majority – some by-products of peculiar conceptual roots.

So, on the basis of this preface, we may continue to dig (Pro 2:4-6)…

בקלי derived from a conceptual root with the basic meaning of ‘to proclaim, declare’. So, here God speaks about his words, that deserve to be proclaimed to all people.

משמרתי /וישמר derived from a conceptual root with basic meaning of ‘to serve, attend, take care (of)’. So, here God speaks about his elevated services He asks willing men to perform.

מצותי derived from a conceptual root with basic meaning of ‘to put, place, fix’. So, here God speaks about his spiritual fixed points, eternal principles He will never disavow (Mal 3:6).

חקותי derived from a conceptual root with basic meaning of ‘to cut drills’ (> to carve [teeth] > to grind one’s teeth), ‘delineate a form, a limit, a boundary’, to ‘demarcate’. So, here God speaks about his moral/spiritual rules, that demarcate, or ‘cut furrows’ between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, between ‘suitability’ and ‘unsuitability’ (you surely know the powerful symbolical meaning of the ‘furrow’ in ancient times. It is enough here to remember the Romulus-made sulcus ['furrow'] Remus did cross. His crossing of that furrow - a line of demarcation between what was suitable [from Romulus standpoint] to do and what is not – cost him his life).

ותורתי derived from a conceptual root with basic meaning of ‘to cast around, to send all around’. So, here God speaks about his spiritual emanations, or issuings.

Now, after we have ascertained the basic meanings of all the terms in the phrase we expatiate on, we may translate in a like-interlinear mode the passage.

אשר That שמע (does) hear אברהם Abraham בקלי my proclamations וישמר and (he) attends/takes care of [‘ministrare’, Latin] משמרתי my services, מצותי my (moral) anchors/fixed points חקותי my (moral) demarcations ותורתי my (spiritual) emanations, issuings

Or, in a more colloquial form: “as Abraham does hear My proclamations, and he takes care of My services, My anchors, My moral demarcations, My issuings.”

In this translating mode, as you see, the sense that all these terms are much the way the same is disappeared because each term expresses his peculiar meaning, in a clearer manner.

A final assonantic (poetic) gem, and moral of the story: in this passage, from God’s viewpoint, Abraham ‘did hear’ [ŠMO] and ‘took care’ [ŠMR].

What about us? Do we hear IEUE God when speaks through his Word?

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  • Thank you so much @SaroFedele. Could you also explain the word ordinances in Colossians 2:14 "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; – Siju George Sep 30 '19 at 2:43
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    @Iju George. Thanks for the attention. I apologize, since only now I realize you asked about an NT Greek term. Well, 'ordinances' is a good translation of the word δογμασιν we found in Col 2:14. A verbal form of same provenience you may found in the verse 20 of the same chapter, and, the verse 21 illustrates some examples of 'decrees'. Moreover, this meaning is confirmed also through the use of it (a related verbal form) made by LXX in 2 Macc 10:8. – Saro Fedele Apr 7 at 8:02
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Abraham walked up a mountain with 'fire and knife' in his hand, Isaac beside him carrying wood. Then Abraham bound Isaac and laid him on the wood and raised the knife to slay his son and to offer him up to God, for God had so commanded him.

By what law ? By what 'ethic' ? What 'law' could possibly require this ?

In order to demonstrate the righteousness of God, was why he did it. No law could possibly require this. No legal command could demand such activity.

For Abraham had already believed God, Genesis 15 : 6. And, already, had that faith been counted for righteousness. By God himself.

God looked at Abraham and God saw Abraham's faith and God evaluated that which was in his faith unto righteousness. For within his faith was God's righteousness. Abraham believed that God would do as God had promised. Abraham believed in God's rightness.

God saw his own rightness reflected in the faith of Abraham. And God attributed that same rightness to Abraham, within whose faith that rightness resided.

Abraham walked by that faith. And Abraham offered up his own son, Isaac, by that faith. And Abraham demonstrated on the mountain what God would do in justification. God would provide a lamb.

Abraham, by faith, joined with God in a public demonstration of how justification would be wrought for all God's people.

Was there a 'law' in any of this ? Was there a legal commandment in any of this ?

These are the ways of God, the charges of God, the commands of God to his own sons - sons by faith, led of the Holy Spirit.

The law, as you rightly say, would not be fully documented for another four hundred and thirty years. None of this was anything to do with law.

The law came by Moses - but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

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This is actually a quite difficult question. I have dozens of commentaries in my Logos software of various depth and I was amazed how few even attempt to deal with the text at all. Then there were a few more who just summarized it as be faithful and obedient like Abraham was.

Here are a few thoughts from some commentaries who bothered to deal with the text.

Allen P. Ross in his excellent work on Genesis (so is his commentary on Leviticus):

In the transferring of the Abrahamic promises to Isaac, the presentation of Abraham as the obedient servant is remarkable. The basis of the promise is in verse 5: “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." The allusion must be to Genesis 22, specifically verse 18 (“because you have obeyed my voice”), but probably encompasses more generally the life of obedience Abraham led. The terminology used to describe his obedience is striking—the words are legal designations from the law and presuppose a knowledge of Deuteronomy. The use of these words to describe Abraham’s obedience has led some to explain that Abraham obeyed the entire law before it was given (see Kiddushin 4:14 in the Mishnah [“We find that Abraham our father had fulfilled the whole Law before it was given”]) and others to conclude that “this can have been pronounced and written only in a period when Israel’s relationship to God was centered on its obedience to the law; that would be the post-Deuteronomic period, as the language of v. 5 clearly shows” (Westermann, Genesis, vol. 2, pp. 424–25). Perhaps the simplest explanation is that the lawgiver himself elaborated on the simple report that Abraham obeyed the Lord, by using a variety of legal terms with which the readers would be familiar. By offering this interpretive paraphrase of the tradition, he raised Abraham as the model of obedience to the law, as if to say that, had Abraham had the laws, statutes, and commandments, he would have obeyed them. [bold added]

Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 458–459.

Ross in another place summarizes this verse:

These are standard terms in the legal literature of the Old Testament. Israel would immediately see Torah (Law) terminology in the record of Abraham, and would be prompted to keep the Law. Abraham learned that true faith obeys God’s words.

Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 71.

This would put a great deal of emphasis on the opening phrase that Abraham obeyed God's voice.

Keil & Delitzsch (One of the standard scholarly commentaries) states this:

The piety of Abraham is described in words that indicate a perfect obedience to all the commands of God, and therefore frequently recur among the legal expressions of a later date. שָׁמַר מִשְׁמֶרֶת יְהֹוָה “to take care of Jehovah’s care,” i.e., to observe Jehovah, His persons, and His will, Mishmereth, reverence, observance, care, is more closely defined by “commandments, statutes, laws,” to denote constant obedience to all the revelations and instructions of God.

Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 173.

I think that leads to the conclusion that these authors think that Moses was using the later language of complete obedience in the Mosaic Law to say that Abraham had been obedient to everything God had commanded that he do in his time, including: leaving UR, being circumcised, and offering to sacrifice Isaac. This would suggest that the phrase is metaphorical for the fact that he had been obedient to everything God had commanded he do.

Another option that is impossible to prove is the idea that God had given Abraham more details concerning what he was to do but the book of Genesis does not record them since they were no longer being asked of Israel. Since Israel was given the Law of Moses this might make some sense. An example of this is the fact that we can see is from Adam forward there is the practice of the whole burnt offering as a covering for sin. There is no command by God recorded in the book of Genesis but it seems impossible that Adam and the other patriarchs would have begun such a practice unless God had given them the command. If God had commanded the whole burnt offering then that would explain why God approved of Abel's sacrifice and not Cain's. This of course is an argument from silence so it is the weakest argument there is logically. In fact some argue that the argument from silence is never a valid argument when it comes to the Scriptures.

Of these two I would probably think the metaphorical language would have the stronger case simply because of the fact that the second is based on an argument from silence.

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The attempt to explain away Yahweh's 5 discreet possessions: "My" voice, charge, commandments, statutes, and Laws can only be successful when ignoring the context (Genesis 26:1-5). Yahweh is speaking to Isaac, discouraging him from going to Egypt. In the face of the famine, Yahweh encourages Isaac to stay in the land that He directs him to (Gerar, :6) and He will reward Isaac's obedience with the fulfillment of the promise that He made to his father, Abraham. Yahweh encourages Isaac by underscoring Abraham's explicit obedience to "My" voice, charge, commandments, statutes, and Laws, each of which can be accounted for in the Genesis narrative, and each of which underscores not only the obedience of Abraham but also his faith.

The idea that any one of these--voice, charge, commandments, statutes, and Laws--didn't exist or the attempt to conflate them conveniently fails to acknowledge Yahweh's use of the personal pronoun "My" and suggests that either none of them existed or that there is no qualitative distinction between any or all of the terms. They are not mere symbols but evidences of the documented obedience of faith that Isaac needed to be reminded of at a critical time in the face of very difficult circumstances.

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  • Welcome to BH.SE. Thank you for your answer. I have used this passage as an argument that the principles given in the Code of Hammurabi were derived from teachings that God gave to Abraham, which is why some of statements in the Code are similar to the laws given to Moses. – enegue Jul 28 at 5:12
  • @DRJCC Could you please give the corresponding examples with verse references of those 5 discreet possessions that are documented? – Siju George Jul 28 at 22:52
  • @SaroFedele could you please comment on this answer? – Siju George Jul 28 at 22:56

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