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Hebrew Grammatical Background: One thing I have learned in Hebrew class is that construct chains link nouns together in a genitive relationship. Nouns that follow the chain may not be technically part of the chain, but can still be "in context" as far as the meaning. An example of this might be when in Hebrew we see something like "Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau": the "mother of Jacob" would be a construct chain, whereas poor Esau is just a grammatical afterthought. (Note that this is not a real Biblical example--it was just an example used in class to help students understand that a construct chain would not extend beyond a conjunction like "and"--in fact, beyond any word other than another noun.)

1 Chronicles 29:10: In this passage, the words "God of Israel" are clearly in construct relationship. The word "God" is tagged in the interlinear notations (see image below) with "N-mpc", meaning it is a noun in masculine plural construct form. Interestingly, the noun immediately following these two words is designated as "N‑msc | 1cp", meaning it is a noun in masculine singular construct, with a first-person common plural pronominal suffix. It is this suffix that forces the word into construct state (all nouns with pronominal suffixes are technically in construct, as I understand, whether or not the vowel pointings and/or word "conjugation" would otherwise indicate this).

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Question: In light of these facts, is the "our Father" referencing, not Israel, but God? God is the subject of the immediately-preceding construct chain, which should still be in focus, as I understand.

I would appreciate Hebrew expertise to help explain, with proper grammatical rationale, whether "Father" should be addressing "God" or "Israel." From my limited understanding, having studied Hebrew for less than three years, it looks like it addresses God. Is this correct?

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    'God is our Father' - in the terms of the question this would only relate to Jehovah being a 'father' to the children of Israel, the natural (not spiritual) descendants of Abraham. God being 'our Father' in respect of a begetting of Spirit, in repentance and in faith of Jesus Christ the Son of God : is an entirely different matter, related to the New Testament, an everlasting Testament, justification by faith, redemption by the blood of Jesus Christ and reconciliation through the death of Christ. I am not clear as to whom you are including (in this question) 'our'
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 18:12
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    @NigelJ It is not clear why you should be attempting to make such a distinction as this. If parents have multiple children and one of them speaks, saying, "My parents...," the speaker is neither wrong, nor by such a wording able to disenfranchise his/her siblings of their parentage: each of them could rightfully say "my parents." That said, this question in no way denies anyone his/her Father.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 20:16
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    I was pointing out the distinction between Jehovah being a 'father' to Israel (on a natural basis) and the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ being 'Father' to his own begotten (on a spiritual basis). The question had clouded that distinction (in my own view). 'Our Father which art in heaven' is a totally different matter from 'Jehovah, our father, who led us out of Egypt'. The distinction is a matter of hermeneutics.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 6:00
  • @NigelJ See Hebrews 2:8-11, which culminates with this: "he is not ashamed to call them brethren." If Jesus is our Brother, we all have the same Father. Jesus' Father and our Father is one and the same Father. Jesus told us this plainly himself: "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." (John 20:17, KJV)
    – Biblasia
    Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 6:54

3 Answers 3

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So we have ambiguity between two possible compositions in 1 Chron. 29:10:

[God of [Israel our father]] or [[God of Israel] our father]

Grammatically and semantically both are plausible.

  • Are both constructions possible? Yes, you can have the God of Israel or you could have the God of the unit "Israel our Father".

  • Are both appositions possible? Either option involves not only a construction but also an apposition (two nouns or noun phrases adjacent of which one is meant to be a restatement of the other, thereby clarifying its identity). There's already lot of apposition in this part that has no outward marking: You Yahweh God. And yes, you could have "Israel" apposed to "our father" or you could have the unit "God of Israel" apposed to "our father".

  • Are there any morphological hints? There are, actually. Remember that possessive suffixes come in two sets for a total of 20 suffixes: 10 for the object being singular, 10 for the object being plural. Thus we have both 'avinu our father and 'avoteinu our fathers. Since 'elohei is grammatically plural, we might expect 'avoteinu, but instead we have 'avinu. So does that resolve the question? Not definitively, for two reasons. One, it could actually agree with the singular Yahweh or you due to the apposition already mentioned. Two, the plurality of 'elohei is not always reflected in agreement. On the other hand, if it had been 'avoteinu, our question would have been definitively solved in favour of *'elohei' being our father since there is no other plural for the suffix to agree with.

  • Do the cantillation marks help? Yahweh has a pashta. 'Elohei has a pashta as well. Yisra'el has a munach. And 'avoteinu has a zakef katan. The marks are categorized into disjunction and conjunction; all here are disjunctive except the munach between yisra'el and 'avoteinu, suggesting that "Israel" is meant to be connected with "our father". However, (1) that doesn't really preclude "Israel" being connected qua the head of the constructed phrase as described above, and (2) while the cantillation can help us with the syntax, their primary function is probably melodic.

Since these aren't definitive, it seems that we should look for usage patterns to help us decide. I went through the concordance of each of the suffixed forms of "father" to get a sense of how it's used. Some observations (here our stands for our, your, my, etc.):

I think the Chronicler probably meant for us to read "God of [Israel our father]", primarily because of the relative frequencies of calling God the God of someone's father rather than calling God someone's father directly, in addition to the cantillation and the possessive suffix's singular agreement.

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  • Thank you. It appears you put some effort into that and I appreciate it. I'm still trying to digest it all; it was rich. I appreciate the balance you put into it, noting that "God our father" also occurs in the OT, even though in this instance you lean toward "father" as addressing "Israel." (Do you have a source for this or is this from your own knowledge?) +1
    – Biblasia
    Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 15:02
  • @Biblasia Mainly from the concordance (on the Strong's page you can see it on the right-hand pane — a series of links to each inflected form. Reading through them I see that God is very rarely called our father, but usually the god of our fathers, and often also our God. I think in the NT we start to get much more of God as our own father. Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 15:47
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Luke's answer was good, and is likely the correct answer for many minds. However, I just asked an Israeli, a Jewish rabbi, and he explained it more carefully.

His first, and almost immediate, reaction was that the word "father" in this text is a direct reference to God. When I pushed him on it, he admitted that it could be interpreted as Israel's father, and that the cantillation marks added by the Masoretes appeared to indicate this as well. He, however, claimed to often disagree with the Masoretic interpretation, and asserted that the entire expression in 1 Chronicles 29:10 was commonplace in Hebrew, virtually idiomatic, to say that God is our Father.

It is suggested that when the God of the patriarchs was referenced, Jacob/Israel would not have been mentioned alone, but rather the God of "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." This is one reason why in 1 Chronicles 29:10 the expression should be interpreted as God being our Father, rather than the unusual mention of the God of our father Jacob (Israel)--mentioned alone.

Conclusion

The grammar of the verse most certainly does allow for God to be addressed as our Father.

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There are two uses of the construct state: 1) when a word takes a suffix or 2) when a word is connected to another word in a construct chain (State Construct, unfoldingword). As the OP notes, “‘God of Israel’ are clearly in construct relationship.” “God” and “Israel” are connected in a construct chain that together forms one construct or idea.

Words in a construct chain are often translated into English with the word “of” between them. Construct chains can consist of two words (for example, “the king of Israel”) or more than two words; (for example, “the son of the king of Israel”) – State Construct, unfoldingword

“Our father,” however, is in the form of a construct noun, not because it is part of a construct chain, but because it takes a pronominal suffix (Suffix Pronominal, unfoldingword).

As noted by @Luke, “our father” functions as an appositive in 1 Chr 29:10. The question is: Which noun or phrase does it identify? Searching for an answer, I also looked at verses with a similar usage pattern to that of 1 Chr 29:10: a construct chain followed by a noun, one with a pronominal suffix and that functions as an appositive. Here are two examples among many:

the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God – Deut 31:26

the commandments of the LORD their God – 2 Ki 17:16

Of greater relevance, the verses below have almost identical phrasing and syntax to that of 1 Chr 29:10:

לֵאלֹהֵי דָּוִיד אָבִיו the God of David his father – 2 Chr 34:3

אֱלֹהֵי דָּוִד אָבִיךָ the God of David your father – 2 Ki 20:5

אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ the God of Abraham your father – Gen 28:13

אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ the God of Abraham thy father – Gen 26:24

אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִינוּ the God of Israel our father – 1 Chr 29:10

Noting that the appositives in the examples above do not reference the initial construct noun or the construct chain as a whole, I conclude that “our father” in 1 Chr 29:10 references “Israel” and not the construct chain “God of Israel” or the construct noun “God” that heads it.

While the words “our father” may not be referencing “God” in 1 Chr 29:10, they do refer to God in other OT verses (Is 63:16, Is 64:8). The idea of God being our Father in the OT, however, rests primarily on God’s love for man and His creative act (cf Deut 32:6, also see commentary of Keil & Delitzsch on Is 63:16, biblehub.com). God is ever our Father in this sense but, to my understanding, it is not until the NT that men would be able to fulfill their calling to become God’s children by the Spirit (cf Jn 1:10, Rom 8:14-21, Rom 9:26/Hos 1:10).

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  • Thank you for your contribution. As the Rabbi noted, it could be interpreted as you have suggested. So your conclusion is plausible. He, however, found the opposite interpretation to be more plausible. As an educated Hebrew speaker, and long-time Jewish rabbi (he's well into his retirement years, but teaches a few online Hebrew classes on the side), his opinion is of interest, and at this point I find it more credible. Perhaps one needs to find more of the passages, rather than a select few, to see from where the rabbi's understanding comes.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 13:02
  • @Biblasia Of the first set of examples, there are too many to list. Of the second set, the one with examples that parallel both the wording and structure of 1 Chr 29:10, I have updated it to include all the ones that I could find. While I'm not opposed to your conclusion, I would appreciate it if you would provide evidence to support it. Your question specifically asks for grammatical context after all.
    – Nhi
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 14:37
  • I was able to perform a Regular Expression search on the KJV Bible, looking for the following: "God of ((Israel)|(Jacob)) (\w+) father". That would find any expression with either "God of Israel" OR "God of Jacob" AND any pronoun or word such as thy, your, his, their, etc. and "father" or even "fathers". The search resulted in ONLY ONE hit: 1 Chronicles 29:10. Apparently, then, it is the only text with this form of expression regarding Israel, which could be understood ambiguously (it's less ambiguous when referencing someone else, e.g. David). So, context may be insufficient here.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 15:35
  • While I don't agree with you that "our father" is part of or refers to the construct chain, I've considered the possibility that "God of Israel" and "our Father" are part of a string of appositives referencing the pronoun "You." IOW "You" is identified by three appositives: "Lord, God of Israel, our Father." I'm personally intrigued by and drawn to this way of interpretating the text. There is certainly some ambiguity here, and more than one meaning may be possible and even intended.
    – Nhi
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 17:19
  • I agree that "our father" is not part of the construct chain. But it does refer back to one of the construct's elements--either to "God" or to "Israel". I have now asked three separate Hebrew teachers, each giving different perspectives (of course!)--but all have agreed, once their initial reactions had calmed to more studious analysis, that the text is ambiguous and could be taken either way.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 17:24

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