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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #117 - 11/12
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Eli Dahan

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The first history lesson in the Old Testament

On December 20th  we are going to discuss the famous “Binding of Isaac” story at our Second Biblical Hebrew Summit. One of the heroes of this story is Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham in Genesis 17.  In a lead up to the summit, I have decided to share with you, ahead of time, another important passage about our friend Abram, which is in fact the first ever history lesson that was given in the Old Testament.

Abram is considered the first Patriarch -האב הראשון- across all three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Islam (Ibrahaim) and Christianity.  Abram was the one who God chose to go to the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. However, Abram needed proof from God in order to fulfill the tasks commanded of him. When we read Genesis chapter 15, which describes the covenant of the pieces - ברית בין הבתרים - we witness the very first episode of the Israelites in Egypt.
Let us see what God asked of Abram:  
 

יג וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם, יָדֹעַ  תֵּדַע כִּי- גֵר

   יִהְיֶה   זַרְעֲךָ  בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם,   

   וַעֲבָדוּם, וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם-    אַרְבַּע

   מֵאוֹת, שָׁנָה.

 

טז וְדוֹר רְבִיעִי יָשׁוּבוּ הֵנָּה:

    כִּי לֹא-שָׁלֵם עֲו‍ֹן הָאֱמֹרִי   עַד-הֵנָּה

"God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years"(Genesis 15:13)

 

 

"Then, in the fourth generation, they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”(Genesis 15:16)

 
The history lesson describes 400 years of slavery in Egypt. What an incredible thing to foresee! We shall discuss the significance of this number in another newsletter. For now, let’s focus on the more immediate destiny being foretold. 
Something that I realized upon re-reading this text was that the Promised Land in Abram's life was never really his completely, since the prior inhabitants of the land, the Amorites (a nickname for one of the seven nations of Canaan), were considered sinners, who God punished by taking away their territory. As much as Abram got the land, it wasn’t entirely his to begin with. Kind of like a hand-me-down. 
As I continued to read more about this topic, I found another verse that suggests a similar notion – that is, if the Israelites wanted to stay in the Promised Land, if they wanted God to keep His promise, they had to be pure in their faith. If not, the land will simply reject them, as we can see in the beautiful anthropomorphism in the text below:
 

כח וְלֹא-תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם, בְּטַמַּאֲכֶם אֹתָהּ, כַּאֲשֶׁר קָאָה אֶת-הַגּוֹי, אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם.

"So that the land will not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you"(Leviticus 18:28)

 
Being able to stay in the Promised Land was dependent upon on the people's behavior. As far as God was concerned, the ownership of the land could pass between nations if the people continued to sin; God would simply find new inhabitants, a topic which we have discussed before in Webinars. 
 
My best friend Chaim, who is also a Biblical Hebrew teacher, caught my attention by suggesting we add the next verse into the discussion: 
 

ה"לֹא בְצִדְקָתְךָ וּבְיֹשֶׁר לְבָבְךָ, אַתָּה בָא לָרֶשֶׁת אֶת-אַרְצָםכִּי בְּרִשְׁעַת הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מוֹרִישָׁם מִפָּנֶיךָ, וּלְמַעַן הָקִים אֶת-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ, לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב"

"It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Deuteronomy 9:5)

 
One of the most beautiful expressions in Hebrew, I believe, is הִגְדִּישׁ אֶת הַסְּאָה, which essentially means, “to exaggerate.”  I mention this because this first history lesson showed Abram only one side of the story - it would take some time until the Promised Land truly became the land of his descendants. With this in mind, he, and also we, should be patient. The other side of the story requires an understanding of the history of the land; the nations that inhabited it before and those who inhabit it now. The Land of Israel is a place that has endured the way it has because of its inhabitants, the people who appreciate it by accepting and sanctifying the word of God. 
Let’s say I take the words of God and change the term “Promised Land” to “Promised World” – may I suggest that we all try to be better people than we were yesterday, wherever we dwell; let this saying be the torch that guides us!
Have a blessed week!
Yours truly, 
Eli
 
Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

 

English

Transcription

Hebrew

To posses

lārešet

לָרֶשֶׁת

The nations

haggoyîm

הַגּוֹיִם

The land

Hā'ārets

הָאָרֶץ

Sojourner

gēr

גֵר

Four

'arba'

אַרְבַּע

Here

hēnnāh

הֵנָּה

Sin

'avon

עֲו‍ֹן

 
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