In fact, theology in the traditional Christian Scholarship (Post the original Jewish Ecclesia: Messiah following Jews) sense, does not exist in the Messianic Hebrew faith, because to the Messianic Jew belief not acted on is unbelief.
1After (meta[G]) these (tauta[G]) words, essences, things (ha-devariym[H]) Yeshua[H, A] (Iesous[G], YHVH Saves, Jesus, Joshua) was walking (peripateo[G], halakh[H]) in the land (b’eretz[H]) of the Galilee (ha-Galiyl[H], a circuit), for He was unwilling to walk (halokh[H]) in Judea (Ioudaia[G], b’Yehudah[H]) because the Judeans, religious Jews (Ioudaios[G], Ha-Yehudiym[H]) were seeking to kill Him (Yeshua[H, A]).
“After these things” Means after the making whole of the lame man on the Sabbath of Purim [John 5:5-16] (which will become poignant in verse 23), after the feeding of the 28,000 (5000 men) [John 6:1-15], after the sign of walking on water and calming the storm [John 6:16-21], after the profession of His identity as the true manna from the heavens [John 6:48-51] and the means of salvation for all who will believe…
The Hebrew text of the Ha-Brit Ha-Chadashah (NT) says “Achar ha-devariym” After these words, essences, things…
“Yeshua was walking” The Hebrew “halakh” means more than just “physical walking”, it means to walk with spiritual, religious, moral integrity according to the perfect practice of God’s word. In Judaism our “halakhah” the way we practically walk our faith is inseparable from our theology. In fact, theology in the traditional Christian Scholarship (Post the original Jewish Ecclesia: Messiah following Jews) sense, does not exist in the Messianic Hebrew faith, because to the Messianic Jew belief not acted on is unbelief (ref. the book of Yaakov [James]). Therefore, one could understand the text by way of remez (hint) drash (comparative teaching), to say “Yeshua’s halakhah was among the common Jewish people of the Galilee, for He was unwilling to practice the halakhah of religious hypocrites.”
Regardless, the reason “Yeshua was not willing to walk in Judea” is clearly stated in the text, it was because the Judean religious leaders “wanted to kill Him”, and while it was His intention to go to the cross, He was determined that His death happen at the “opportune time.” We note that His life was not taken from Him by the authority of men but was given of Him by the authority of God (John 10:17-18).
The sign/miracle that became the catalyst for the Religious leaders’ plan to kill Yeshua was the making whole of the man at Beit Chasda (House of kindness/practical love), because Yeshua had performed a miracle on the Sabbath (John 5:5-16). This is affirmed as we read on, in the discussion over Yeshua’s sanity and the hypocrisy of those who claim Moses as their guide and yet do not keep the Torah that Moses gave to them, albeit from God via Moses. How sadly ironic that the miracle which ignited such hatred toward Yeshua was performed in the House of Kindness by the Kindest man Who ever lived.
“Because of this therefore the Judeans, religious Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Shabbat, but also was calling the God His own Father, making Himself equal with the God.” -John 5:18 Author’s translation
“for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Judeans, religious Jews, were seeking to kill Him.” We see here one of the many examples showing why it is foolish to translate the Greek Ioudaios as “Jews” in general. The context of this passage shows clearly that Yeshua was walking among Jews in the Galilee but did not walk among the Jews of the region of Judea because a group of religious Jews from Judea were intent on killing Him. Therefore, in the context of this passage all are Jews, some are Galileans, some Judeans, some religious, some secular, some of one sect, some of another, all Ioudaios but not all Ioudaios from the region of Ioudaia, though most made regular aliyah (going up) to Jerusalem in Judea for the three Regaliym (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot). It is the foolish general translational choice to equivocate all instances of Ioudaios, that has led to some of the most heinous anti-Semitic theology and action of the so called “Christian Church”. It shames the Name of Christ and has mislead countless people of genuine faith for millennia.
2 Now the feast (Chag[H]) of the Judeans, religious Jews (Ioudaios[G], Ha-Yehudiym[H]), the Feast (Chag[H]) of Sukkot[H] (Shelters), was near.
“Now the feast of the Judeans, religious Jews” Because all observant Jews (from all over Israel and not just from Judea) went up to this feast, the “Feast of the Judeans” here refers to a feast all Jews participated in. Once again, context is key to translation, interpretation and understanding.
“The feast of Sukkot was near” Much time has passed since the end of chapter 6. The events of chapter seven begin some months later. The feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) has been skipped by the author and we now find ourselves nearing the end of the year at the time of the later harvest heading toward fall and winter. The author of the Gospel of John does not intend his Gospel to relay a blow by blow historical and chronologically detailed account like that of Luke. The theme of this Gospel regards the present deity of the Messiah and His redemptive purpose as the Lamb of God come to give Himself as a vicarious sacrifice for all who would receive Him. Thus, the next point in the revelation of the theme begins prior to Sukkot, that festival which prophecies the future dwelling of God with His redeemed creation.
A sound understanding of the festival of Sukkot (Lev. 23:33-43; Num. 29:12-39; Deut. 16:13-16) and its customs is key to a correct interpretation of John 7:37-39 and 8:12. The festival of Sukkot is the backdrop for John chapters 7 and 8.
Sukkot begins 5 days after Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) on the 15th of Tishri (Shabbat or seventh month of the Biblical lunar calendar). It is highly likely given Yeshua’s strict observance of the Torah, that He had gone up to Jerusalem for Yom Kippur and had returned to the Galilee for the 5 day interim period between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. He had every intention of going up for Sukkot, in His own timing (according to God’s timing).
Sukkot is the festival of the later harvest and is full of completions: seven days, seventy sacrificial bulls etc. It has a long standing connection to the nations, from the time of the giving of the Torah in the presence of seventy elders, to the time of the prophet Zechariyah, and in the Talmud of rabbinical Judaism, and beyond.
“16 Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.17 And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the
Concerning the seventy bulls required by Numbers 29:12-34, which were to be sacrificed over the seven days of the festival of Sukkot, the Talmud Bavliy says:
“Rabbi El’azar said, ‘To what do these seventy bulls correspond? To the seventy nations…” (Sukkah 55b)
Based on the many correlations between the number seventy and the nations in the Torah, rabbinic tradition teaches that seventy is a number for the nations and that the seventy bulls sacrificed during Sukkot are meant as an atonement for the nations.
Jewish Tradition and Practice During First Century CE Sukkot Celebrations at the Temple in Jerusalem:
Apart from the continued Torah instructed practice of dwelling, sleeping, eating and drinking, in temporary shelters, first century Jews practiced various other rites during Sukkot in Jerusalem each year.
The waving of the four species or Lulav (still practiced today) made up of branches of palm tree, myrtle, and willow, bound up together in a bundle. These were carried in the right hand, with an etrog (citron native to Israel) in the left. The lulav is waved three times first toward the east, then south, east, north, toward the heavens and then toward the lower regions and brought back to rest over the heart of the worshipper. This signifies that God is Creator and sustains of all things.
In the first century the priests walked around the altar once, with the lulav in their hands, saying the words "Hoshana Save now, I plead to You, O Lord, O Lord I plead to You, send now prosperity" (Psalm 118:25): and on the seventh day, they went around the altar seven times (Mishnah. ib. c. 4. sect. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Maimon. Hilch. Lulab, c. 7. sect. 5, 6, 9, 23).
There were great Menorah-like four branched candles stands in the Temple precinct. At sundown on the first day of the feast, they went down to the court of the women where golden candlesticks had been erected, and at the head of them four golden basins, and four ladders to every candlestick, and four young priests had four pitchers of oil, that held a hundred and twenty logs (an ancient measure of oil), which they put into each basin. Wicks were made from the old breeches and girdles of the priests, and it was these oil soaked wicks that the priests would light. There was not a court in Jerusalem which was not lit up with that light, and religious men, and men of good works, danced before them, with lighted torches in their hands, singing songs and hymns of praise, which continued for the following six nights (Mishnah. Succah, c. 5. sect 2, 3, 4; Maimon. ib. c. 8. sect. 12.).
On every day of the festival water was drawn from the pool of Siloach (sent), and was poured along with wine upon the altar as a libation offering, which was celebrated with great rejoicing (simchateinu). During the illumination in the court of the women, many instruments were employed such as harps, psalteries, cymbals, and two priests with trumpets, who sounded them when they were given the signal, and on every day, as they brought water from the pool of Siloach to the altar, they sounded with trumpets, and shouted; the great "Hallel" (Psalms 136), was sung all the eight days (Mishnah. ib. c. 4. sect. 8, 9. & c. 5. 1, 4, 5. & Eracin, c. 2. sect. 3). The whole festival was one of great rejoicing, according to Leviticus 23:40.
3 Therefore His brothers (achiym[H]) said to Him (Yeshua), “Leave here and go into the region of Judea (Ioudaia[G], b’Yehudah[H]), so that Your disciples (talmidim[H]) also may see Your works, deeds (ergon[G], ha-ma’asiym[H]) which You are doing, making (oseh[H]).
It seems clear that Yeshua had many disciples outside His intimate retinue and that many of them were not always with Him but were Judean Jews who often spent time in Judea among the religious community there. The suggestion of Yeshua’s biological brothers is a practical one, and in and of itself is not wrong.
4 For no one does anything, word (davar[H]) in secret (kruptos[G], seiter[H]) when he himself seeks to be known (l’hivodeia[H]) publicly, become famous. If You’re going to do these things, show Yourself to the world (kosmos[G], ha-olam[H]).”
“no one does anything in secret when, he himself seeks to be known publicly.” Initially the suggestion of Yeshua’s brothers may have been well meaning, a desire to see Yeshua succeed in His role as a great teacher of Israel. However, their disbelief alluded to in the following verse illuminates their true motivation. Like so many others of their generation and like so many human beings throughout the generations, the thought of failing to promote one’s gifts in order to form a mass following seemed ludicrous to them.
We are guilty of the same idolatrous sin today: Mega Churches, Media promotion of certain faith leaders, buildings, empires, mass followings, and all contrary to the ministry of Messiah Yeshua. Our motivation has been self-promoting idolatry, whereas Yeshua’s motivation was to walk according to the redemptive purposes of God and in full obedience to the Father regardless of what that meant for His own reputation and well-being.
“Secret, hidden” The use of the Greek kruptos, meaning “secret, hidden, concealed” is poignant, given that Yeshua had explained earlier (some months past, but directly precedent to this chapter) that He is the “true bread from the heavens”( John 6:48-51), the manna that had been hidden, kept secret, concealed from the eyes of the Jewish people up to this point in history. Yeshua is the hidden manna in that He can be seen only by those who receive Him. He has no need of popularity because His intent is not to please the public but to honour God His Father. Modern believers would do well to emulate Him.
“The one who has an ear, let that one hear what the Spirit says to the body of believers. To that one who overcomes, to that person I will give some of the hidden, secret, concealed (krupto) manna (bread from the heavens), and I will give that person a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but the one who receives it.’” -Yeshua’s Revelation to Yochanan 2:17
5 For not even His brothers (achiym[H]) were believing in Him, thought Him true, were persuaded of Him, had faith in Him, trusted Him (pisteuo[G], he’emiynu[H]).
Yeshua’s brothers are named in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark as: Yaakov, Yosef, Yehudah, and Shimon. These were sons of Miriyam (Mary) and Yosef (Joseph), Yeshua’s biological mother and earthly but not biological father (Matt.13:55-56; Mark. 6:3).
“A stranger I have become to my brothers and a foreigner to the children of My mother…” -Tehilim (Psalms) 69:8 Author’s translation
It’s important to note that the disbelief of Yeshua’s brothers did not persist after His death and resurrection. We know for certain that Yaakov became not only a believer in Yeshua but also a leader of the early Messianic Jewish sect (The Way) [Acts. 2:17, 15:13, 21:18, Galatians. 1:19, 2:9, 12]. He is also the most likely author of the book of Yaakov (James) included in the Ha-Brit Ha-Chadashah (NT). Another brother Yehudah is thought to be the author of the NT book of Yehudah (Jude).
6 So Yeshua[H] said to them, “The true measure, opportune time for Me (ho kairos[G]) is not yet here, but your true measure, opportune time (ho kairos[G]) is all the time, any time, always now (pantote[G]).
In other words, pursuing popularity, self-promotion and idolatry are always the go to for those who are spiritually blind. In and of itself fame is not wrong, the Scriptures tell us that because HaShem was “with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land” (Joshua 6:27), but when the pursuit of fame seeks to promote self rather than the Gospel, or worse, in place of the Gospel, it becomes idolatry.
7 The world (kosmos[G], ha-olam[H]) can’t hate you, but it hates Me because I testify (meiiyd[H]) of it, that its deeds are perpetual, intense, multiples of evil (raiym[H]).
The sin affected people of this world love those who tell them what they want to hear, but those who challenge sin and teach the need for sacrifice and repentance are hated by this world. Why? Because our evil actions are perpetual, so much so that evil has become the norm. Therefore, when our long held beliefs are challenged we do what all sin affected people do, we become defensive and attack the one who has exposed the lie of our existence.
8 Go up to the feast (Chag[H]) yourselves; I do not go up to this feast (Chag[H]) because the true measure, opportune time for Me (ho kairos[G]) has not yet (oupo[G]) fully come (pleroo[G]).” 9 Having said these things to them, He stayed in the Galilee (ba’Galiyl[H], b’Galeela[A]).
Notice that Yeshua’s brothers were religiously observant Jews who had clearly planned to make aliyah (going up) for the Regaliym Festival of Sukkot (Shelters).
Both the context and the grammar tell us that Yeshua was not saying that He wouldn’t go at all, rather He was saying that He would come at the appropriate time. The present tense of the Greek is better translated as “I’m not presently going up”.
10 But when His brothers (achiym[H]) had gone up to the festival (Chag[H]), then He Himself also made aliyah[H] (went up), not openly (b’gelya[A]), but in secret, hidden, concealed (kruptos[G]). 11 So the Judeans, religious Jews (Ioudaios[G], Ha-Yehudiym[H]) were seeking Him at the feast (Chag[H]) and were saying, “Where is He?”
Yeshua had always intended to attend. It is likely that He followed soon after His brothers and arrived in time for the beginning of the feast so as to make His chagigah or sacrifice according to first century practice. The journey from the Galilee to Jerusalem was approximately 3 days by foot, with stops to rest each evening). However, the Mishnah allows for the sacrifice to be made at another point during the festival (Mishnah. Chagiga, c. 1. sect. 6. Maimon. Hilch. Chagiga, c. 2. sect. 4, 5, 6, 7). Therefore, regardless of when He went up, He non the less kept the Torah requirement, as was His custom.
The anger of the Religious leaders was such that they were actively searching for Yeshua at the festival. However, we note that they at very least considered Yeshua an observant Jew, or else why were they looking for Him at the feast?
12 There was much murmuring, grumbling, secret displeasure (goggusmos[G]) among the crowds concerning Him (Yeshua[H]); some were saying, “He is a good man”; others were saying, “No, on the contrary, He causes people to go astray (planao[G]).” 13 Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Judeans, religious Jews (Ioudaios[G], Ha-Yehudiym[H]).
The people of Israel were undecided as to whether Yeshua was a good, even truly prophetic figure or a heretic. Some spoke quietly against Him, others spoke quietly in His favour, but such was the power of the religious leaders that none spoke publicly concerning Him for fear of religious persecution or being “Put out of the synagogue”.
14 But when it was now the middle (alt. chol ha-moediym[H] intermediary days) of the feast (Chag[H]) Yeshua[H] (Jesus) went up into the Temple (hieron[G], ha-Mikdash[H]), and began to teach.
Some date this Sukkot festival to the year 29 CE, the definitive middle of the festival being at the convergence of yom shiyshiy and the beginning of the only weekly Shabbat of the festival. If this dating is correct the ministry years of Yeshua spanned 27-30 CE.
“…into the Mikdash (temple)” means inside the Temple area itself, and does not refer to the outer court of the Gentiles which is not considered part of the Temple proper. In other words, at the time of these events Yeshua’s teaching was made available only to Jews.
15 the Judeans, religious Jews (Ioudaios[G], Ha-Yehudiym[H]) marvelled, were astonished, admired His teaching (thaumazo[G]) saying, “How has this man become knowledgeable, learned in sacred things, having never been educated?”
“How has this man become knowledgeable, learned in sacred things, having never been educated?” In other words, “How is this hick from the Kinneret (Galilee) able to clearly articulate Jewish halakhic teaching without ever having attended a yeshivah or studied under a famous rabbi or scholar?”
Interestingly the Talmud acknowledges that Yeshua was taught by the great Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Peracyah, the chief teacher of his day (Sanhedrin 107b, Sotah 47a). However, that is utter nonsense, given that the rabbi in question lived a hundred years earlier. Still, the point is that Jewish tradition does not record Yeshua as being ignorant of religious training and knowledge.
16 So Yeshua[H] answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me (sholkhiy[H]). 17 If anyone is willing to do His will, that one will know of the teaching, whether it is of the God (ho Theos[G], Elohiym[H]) or whether I speak (adabeir[H]) from Myself.
In reality Yeshua’s learning, knowledge, and application were in this world but not of it. His wisdom and practice are from above, the impartation of the Father God. His teaching, perpetual, sacred and transcendent.
“…whether it is of the God or whether I speak from Myself.” The beautiful irony here is that in either case the teaching is of God.
18 He who speaks from himself seeks, craves, demands (zeteo[G]) his own judgement, opinion, view, glory (doxa[G], k’vod[H]); but He who is seeking the judgement, opinion, view, glory (doxa[G], k’vod[H]) of the One who sent Him, He is true, faithful, trustworthy (alethes[G], ne’eman[H]), and there is no injustice, unrighteousness (adikia[G]) in Him.
Note the intrinsic connection between judgement (discernment, view) and glory (honour). This link between judgement and glory bears fruit in verse 24 where Yeshua challenges the false judgement/glory of His hearers.
19 “Didn’t Moshe[H] (drawn out) give (natan[H]) you the Instruction (Ha-Torah[H]), and yet none among you does, acts out (oseh[H]) the Instruction (Ha-Torah[H])? Why do you seek to kill Me?”
In fact Moses gave Israel the Instruction of God, the author and goal of that Instruction being Yeshua Himself. The religious Jewish community of the first century were proud of their connection to the Torah and Moses, and yet they did not do what the Torah required. This is true of so many people of faith today. We are aware of what we should do but non the less act in a contrary fashion. Yeshua is not exposing their inaction but their hypocrisy.
20 The crowd answered, “You have an evil spirit, demon, divinity, god (daimonion[G], sheid[H])! Who seeks to kill You?”
In modern terms, “You’re a demonized psycho, a sicko, crazy person…”
21 Yeshua[H] answered them, “I did (poieo[G]) one (echad[H]) deed, work (ergon[G]) and you all admire, marvel (thaumazo[G]).
The work Yeshua speaks of is recorded in John 5:5-16, and concerns the making whole of the lame man at the pool of Beit Chasda on the Shabbat of Purim now some months prior. John 5:18 quite literally says that the religious Jewish leaders “sought to kill” Yeshua because of this miraculous sign performed on the Shabbat. Thus, what follows concerns actions that are permissible by first century Jewish halakhah on the Shabbat, even when they contradict the Shabbat commandment.
22 For this reason Moshe[H] (drawn out) has given (natan[H]) you circumcision (ha-miylah[H]) [not because it’s from Moses, but from the fathers (ha-Avot[H], Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov)], and on the Sabbath (Ha-Shabbat[H]) you circumcise (tamulu[H]) a man.
“Moses has given you circumcision” Leviticus 12:3
“…not because it’s from Moses, but from the fathers” God originally gave the commandment of circumcision to Avraham in Genesis 17:1-27, which he carried out on Yitzchak in Genesis 21:4, and it was perpetuated by Yitzchak and Yaakov respectively. This occurred centuries prior to the command given through Moses, which was a reiteration of the original command.
"we do not circumcise because Abraham our father, on whom be peace, circumcised himself and his household, but because the holy blessed God commanded us by Moses, that we should be circumcised, as Abraham our father was circumcised.'' -Maimon. in Mishnah. Cholin, c. 7. sect. 6.
23 If a male receives circumcision (timol[H]) on the Sabbath (Ha-Shabbat[H]) so that the Instruction (Torah[H]) of Moshe[H] will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire human being (anthropos[G]) sound, whole, fully restored (hugies[G]) on the Sabbath (Ha-Shabbat[H])?
The Torah commands that a Jewish male be circumcised on the eight day (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3), however, it also prohibits work on the Shabbat (Exodus 20:9-10, 23:12, 31:14-15, 34:21; Lev. 23:3; Deut. 5:12-14 etc.) Therefore, if the eighth day of a new born male’s life falls on a Shabbat there is a practical conflict. It is clear from the text that the halakhah of the first century Judean Jews under these circumstances was to practice circumcision on the Shabbat. The Talmud tractate Shabbat 128b-137b records this halakhic practice for posterity. Therefore, that which Yeshua referred to was a well-known and accepted halakhic practice. Yeshua was not denying its validity, rather He was using it as an example so as to expose the hypocrisy of His accusers.
Yeshua is using a form of reasoning which in Judaism is called kal ve’chomer or a light and heavy argument. He is essentially saying, “You permit the breaking of the Shabbat in order to circumcise, how much more important is it to make a person whole on the Shabbat?”
Jewish tradition agrees with Yeshua’s reasoning. The Talmud Bavliy sites the principle that saving a life suspends the Shabbat:
“Rabbi El’azar answered, ‘If circumcision. Which involves only one of the 248 human body parts, suspends Shabbat, how much more must [healing] the whole body suspend Shabbat.” -Talmud Bavliy Yoma 85b
"…the preservation of the soul life, suspends the Shabbat…” -Talmud. Bavliy. Shabbat, fol. 132. 1.
Put simply, a suffering person cannot rest, therefore, in order for the suffering person to keep the Shabbat that person must first be made whole. After all, Shabbat means “Seventh, blessing, stop, rest, pause, completion, wholeness, sound construction and transcendent peace.”
24 Do not separate, select, prefer, determine, judge (krino[G], tish’petu[H]) according to sight, seeing, appearance (opsis[G], lemareih[H]), but, instead by righteous, innocent, faultless observation (dikaios[G], tzedek[H]) separate, distinguish, make just, right judgment, alt. conclude justly (krisis[G], mishpat[H]).”
This verse challenges the false sight of the religious Jewish leaders and those among the crowd who oppose Yeshua’s teaching. He brings to summation the idea seeded in verse 18 concerning the intrinsic connection between judgement and glory, as a means of challenging His hearers to choose a different way of looking at, perceiving, judging, accessing things. If they were to follow His advice they would receive Him and His teaching and find redemption.
Every modern believer is promptly challenged to do away with the foolish, decontextualized popular pseudo Christian phrase, “Don’t judge”. While it is true that Scripture indicates elsewhere that we are not in any position to condemn others or pass judgement on them, it is certainly not true that we should not judge. A lack of judgement results in sin. Rather, we are instructed to judge well, truly, rightly, based on Godly sight born of the righteousness purchased for us in Messiah. Therefore, “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a truly just judgement.”
Copyright 2020 Yaakov Brown
"Avraham fell on his face and rejoiced." -Bereishit 17:17
Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of our Fathers 5:3 tells us that G-d tested Avraham with ten trials. However, we are not told what those trials were. Thus there are a number of rabbinic traditions regarding the ten trials of Avraham. According to the list of Maimonides—which is found in its entirety within Scripture, circumcision at an old age is the sixth trial. Whereas Rabbi Ovadiah of Bertinoro lists the same trial as the seventh of Avraham’s tests. Lists of the trials can also be found in MidrashTehillim, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, Avot d’Rabbi Natan, and the commentary of the Meiri on Ethics of Our Fathers. Regardless of which tradition one follows, the trial of circumcision appears in the latter part of the majority of lists. This trial is bringing Avraham close to the last of his trials and is in itself a trial intended to reveal his spiritual identity by using a physical sign. A covenant by nature is a cutting, it requires the shedding of blood.
As is always the case, this trial is not a test in the sense that G-d is trying to figure out Avraham’s character, rather it is a proving of the character G-d already sees in Avraham. For all who, like the father of faith, have chosen to trust G-d through Messiah Yeshua, there is a profound lesson to be learned within the narrative of Genesis 17. The delight over the miraculous provision of G-d is often accompanied by a practical commitment. We act out in the physical realm the living picture of what we are trusting G-d for in the spiritual realm. There are times when being set apart unto G-d is a painful experience. There is a cost to the free gift of redemption, a pruning of the self.
The covenant of chapter 15 is incumbent upon G-d alone, with Avram, the father of trust and his progeny as the recipients. It is no accident that this was the first of the Abrahamic covenants: it is the very essence of the Gospel, redemption through blood and trust alone (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9). The covenant of the current chapter is the outworking of that trust. Here the fruit of faith is to be seen in action (circumcision). In many ways chapters 15 and 17 are a platform for the teaching of Rabbi Yaakov (James):
“Trust devoid of action is dead.” –Yaakov (James) 2:17
17:1 And when Avram was ninety nine years old, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) appeared to Avram, and said to him, “Ani (I am) El (G-d) Shaddai (Almighty, all sufficient); walk before My face, and be tamiym (Whole, complete, healthful, sound, wholesome, innocent, entirely in accord with truth).
Avram is ninety nine years old, a significant number which falls just short of the ten by ten number of completion one hundred. He is also at an age, even by historical contextual standards, where seeding a child has become a medical impossibility.
The previous chapter emphasised the all-seeing attribute of G-d’s nature and His willingness to appear in angelic form in order to be seen by those He sought relationship with. Here G-d appears to Avram as El Shaddai (God, Ruler, Judge – Almighty, all sufficient). Perhaps this is intended to remind Avram of the immutable power of the One in whom he had placed his trust.
The instruction that follows is a poignant reminder of Avram’s attempt to father his own heir in an act of temporary mistrust. The All Sufficient G-d of Avram challenges Avram to walk intimately and perpetually with Him. Thus the Hebrew, “P’nei” (face). G-d explains to Avram that if Avram walks in intimate relationship with G-d he will become tamiym (Whole, complete, healthful, sound, wholesome, innocent, entirely in accord with truth).
The Hebrew, “tamiym” which is often translated perfect, has a much wider and holistic meaning. In fact the English word perfect can be easily misunderstood in this context. I believe the best example of the meaning for this Hebrew word is found in the healing practice of our Messiah Yeshua Who says:
“Your trust (In Me, as the Messiah and representative of G-d’s redemptive work) has made you (acted as the catalyst for making you) whole (tamiym).” –Mark 10:52
Notice that Avram is to, “be” tamiym (Whole, complete etc.) G-d has witnessed Avram’s wholeness and completion outside of the restraints of time and space. In a sense the text is both an instruction and an observation. We can read, “Walk before My face and you will become whole” and, “I’ve seen you walk before My face and become whole”.
“For by one offering He (Yeshua) has perfected (tamiym) for ever them that are sanctified.” –Hebrews 10:14
Gen 17:2 And I will set My covenant in the midst, between Me and you, and will make you great in exceeding abundance.”
The covenant of G-d is to be with Avram, in his midst and between G-d and him. This is an extremely intimate statement which conveys the intrinsic nature of the covenants made between G-d and humanity. It is the shedding of blood, which is the essence of physical life, which acts as a catalyst for the covenant/cutting of a binding agreement.
Gen 17:3 And Avram fell on his face: and speaking with him, G-d (God, Ruler, Judge) said, Gen 17:4 “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall become a father of a roaring crowd of nations.
Throughout Scripture, when encountering the Holy G-d, many have fallen face down just as Avram does here. In the face of G-d, Avram hides his face, which is an act of humility and awe. This willing submission to G-d receives a response in the form of an affirmation of the promise formerly given to Avram concerning his offspring.
The Targum of Yonatan along with several other Jewish scholars (Yarchi, Pirke Eliezer), suggests that Avram’s uncircumcision as the reason that he fell on his face, citing subsequent encounters Avraham stood in G-d’s presence. While this may simply be conjecture filled tradition, it none the less teaches the true nature of heart circumcision, without which no one can stand before G-d or enter relationship with Him.
The phrase, “My covenant is with you” conveys the plain meaning that Avram is the second party in the covenant agreement. However, it can also be understood to infer that the covenant will remain with Avram and his descendants.
The literal translation of the Hebrew, “roaring crowd of nations” infers that the nations proceeding from Avram will make plenty of noise throughout history. In hindsight we can see that this is indeed the case.
The obligations of each of the two parties of the covenant of circumcision are listed as follows:
Gen 17:5 No longer will you continue to be called by the name Avram (Father of a great nation, father exalted), from now on your name shall be Avraham (Father of many nations); for a father of many nations have I made you.
The meaning of Avram’s name, like so many other aspects of study, is disputed. It may mean, “Father of Aram” from the Hebrew contraction Av-Aram, Aram being in his native country (Mesopotamia). Others suggest that it means, “Exalted Father” from the Hebrew contraction Av- Ram meaning G-d High. Avram’s disassociation with Aram makes the reish (r) superfluous, therefore I favour the meaning, “Father of a Nation” from the three Hebrew words, Av-Am.
Regardless of which of the interpretations of Avram’s name you prefer. The name change is almost universally understood to mean, “Father of a Multitude”, “Father of Many Nations” and, “Father of a Great number of Nations” respectively: from the Hebrew tri-unity, “Av-rabah-hamon”. The point being that G-d has intended from the beginning to birth multitudes through the humble trust of one man.
“Behold, he (Avraham) is the father of the whole world, who are gathered under the wings of the Shechinah.” – Maimonides, Hilchot Bikurim, c. 4. sect. 3.
Avram’s new name, Avraham, has great significance in relationship to his being the father of Trust, or, the Father of all who believe through faith.
“Though converts do not descend from the patriarchs… all converts are considered descendants of Avraham because the Torah calls him the father of… nations, and therefore a convert can be called a son of Avraham.” –Rambam, Commentary to Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4
It seems that the Rambam agrees with Rabbi Shaul the shaliach (Paul the Apostle), who writes:
“Therefore, the promise comes by trust (emunah: faith), so that it may be by grace (chesed) and may be guaranteed to all Avraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the Torah but also to those who have the trust of Avraham. He is the father of us all.” –Romans 4:16
Gen 17:6 And I will make you fruitful exceeding, abundant, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall go out from you. Gen 17:7 And I will arise, establishing My covenant which is in the midst, between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an olam (everlasting, eternal, perpetual) covenant, I will be your God (God, Ruler, Judge), and God to your seed after you.
It is important to note that G-d’s promise to bring many nations forth from Avraham is in the future tense. This means that the covenant promise is for those yet to be born and does not apply to Y’sh’ma’el (Ishmael).
The blessing regarding kings relates to G-d’s Kingship over all things. The kings of Avraham’s descendants are tasked with representing the true King of kings and His attributes of Mercy and Judgement. Unfortunately this has rarely been the case in the history of Israel’s kings.
The greatest of these blessings is the one that bears them all, “I will be your G-d”. These are the words of a bridegroom, “I will”. The question remains, “Will you?” A bride is not secure in marriage until she utters the words, “I will”.
Gen 17:8 And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land where you now sojourn, all the land of Canaan (Lowland), for an olam (everlasting, eternal, perpetual) possession; and I will be their Elohim (God, Ruler, Judge).”
This addition, which follows the phrase, “I will be your G-d”, is an affirmation of the former promise of land which is incumbent upon G-d alone. It is not subject to the circumcision covenant because it has already been covenanted according to the first covenant of Genesis 15. In a sense, the, “And” at the beginning of this verse reads, “And, I haven’t forgotten what I already established with you in the former covenant”.
We note that the title Elohim, meaning G-d, Ruler and Judge, is being used here to convey the sense of binding law. It is a title of G-d that denotes security and authority over what some would term legal matters.
Gen 17:9 And Elohim (God: Ruler, Judge) said unto Avraham, “My covenant is for you to tish’mor (Keep, guard, observe, heed), you and your seed after you in their generations. Gen 17:10 This is My covenant, which you shall tish’m’roo (Keep, guard, observe, heed), between Me and you and your seed after you; Every male among you shall be circumcised.
There is little detail given here as to how the circumcision is to be performed. The covenant is said to simply rely on the practice and a faithful and perpetual keeping of it. Modern rabbinical Judaism has added a number of beautiful traditions to the ceremony of circumcision, but strictly speaking they are not inferred in the instruction of G-d’s Torah.
Circumcision was not unique to the Jewish people, many nations in the middle East already practiced it, with the exception of the Philistines. However, what makes this circumcision unique is the fact that it is done before a child has entered into the moral responsibilities of adulthood and is therefore the mark of his identity and belonging outside of any obligations to moral law. The instruction then is incumbent on the father of the child and not on the child himself. Of course, as the child grows and becomes a father himself, the covenant becomes incumbent upon him.
The early administration of the Jewish covenant of circumcision, implies a commitment to G-d’s chosen people (v14) and to G-d (Jeremiah 4:4). Later in Israel’s history it came to symbolize the discarding of heathen practices (Joshua 5:9).
From its inception circumcision has been a physical representation of the spiritual human need to receive a circumcised heart (core being).
“Circumcise your hearts (core being), therefore, and do not be stiff-necked (Full of pride) any longer.” –Deuteronomy 10:16
This covenant is open to the nations (v12-13), however, this was only the case when they became wholly devoted to belonging to the community of ethnic Israel (Exodus 12:45).
My mother tells me that although my father had lost touch with Jewish tradition, having been raised in a secular Jewish home, he none the less insisted that my brothers and I be circumcised when I was born. Somehow, deep within his Jewish soul he understood the need to perpetuate this sign in my flesh even though he was ritually disconnected from this covenant Jewish practice, this rite; this right of every Jewish male.
Radak notes that this instruction was given prior to Yitzchak’s conception, for the purpose of Yiztchak’s holy conception, and in order to emphasis the miracle of Avraham’s ability to father a child with a weakened organ.
The act of circumcision also brought attention to the symbolic nature of the male organ. We should note that Y’sh’ma’el was conceived while Avram was yet uncircumcised and is therefore according to the flesh (fallen man), whereas Yiztchak was to be conceived via the circumcised organ as a symbol of the need for human hearts to be spiritually circumcised.
Gen 17:11 And you shall circumcise the flesh of your orel (barrier, foreskin); and it shall be an ot (Sign, remembrance, distinguishing mark, banner, proof) of the covenant between Me and you.
The Hebrew word, “orel” translated as, “foreskin” also has a metaphorical meaning as a, “barrier”. In particular, a barrier that prevents beneficial results (Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 9:25-26; Ezekiel 44:7).
“The days are coming,” declares HaShem, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh-- Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised (orel: barrier) in heart.” –Jeremiah 9:25-26
The ot (sign, mark) of circumcision is just that, a sign on the body of the servants of G-d.
Gen 17:12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money from any foreigner, which is not of your seed.
The practice of circumcision on the eighth day is both physically and spiritually illuminating. Medically speaking it is within the time period that a child’s skin heals more rapidly, and therefore causes much less pain than circumcisions carried out on adult males.
The number eight holds important spiritual value. Where seven represents completion, wholeness and perfection, as in the days of creation, the cycle of the years of the Shemittah etc. Eight represents the convergence of completion and new beginning. The eighth day is in fact the first day of the second week following creation. The covenant for the land and the building blocks for the progeny have already been completed, just as creation was completed. Now, at the beginning of the second week, something new.
It is important to remind ourselves again, that this new beginning, this circumcision of the heart, like that of the flesh, must be performed by someone other than ourselves. In this case, it is G-d Who will perform the circumcision through His Son (Fully Man & Fully G-d with us).
With regard to subsequent Jewish tradition the following are halachic rulings concerning variations of the practice of circumcision:
“And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” –Vayikra (Leviticus) 12:3
"An infant might be circumcised on the eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, neither less nor more; (not less than eight days, nor more than twelve).” -Mishnah. Sabbat, c. 19. sect. 5.
“If he was born between the two evenings, he is circumcised on the ninth; if between the two evenings of the evening of the Sabbath, he is circumcised on the tenth; if on a festival day, after the Sabbath, he is circumcised on the eleventh; if on the two days of the beginning of the year, he is circumcised on the twelfth: an infant that is sick, they do not circumcise it until it is well.'' -Mishnah. Eracin, c. 2. sect. 2.
"They do not circumcise until the sun shines out on the eighth day of a child's birth, and all the day is fit for circumcision; but they that are prepared hasten to the commandment, and circumcise immediately in the morning; and indeed circumcision, which is not in its proper time, is never performed but in the day:'' -Schulchan Aruch, c. 262. sect. 1.
"A servant is born in the power of an Israelite, and another that is taken from Heathens, the master is bound to circumcise them; but he that is born in the house is circumcised on the eighth day; and he that is bought with money is circumcised on the day that he is received, even if he received him on the day he is born, he is circumcised on that day; if he receives a grown servant of Heathens, and the servant is not willing to be circumcised, he bears with him a whole year, but more than that it is forbidden to keep him, seeing he is uncircumcised, but he must send him again to the Heathens.'' -Maimonides. Hilchot Milah, c. 1. sect. 3, 6.
Gen 17:13 He that is born in your house, and he that is bought with your money, must be circumcised: and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an olam (everlasting, eternal, perpetual) covenant.
This covenant is open to the nations (v12-13), however, this was only the case when they became wholly devoted in belonging to the community of ethnic Israel (Exodus 12:45).
Gen 17:14 And the uncircumcised male (zakar) whose flesh of his orel (barrier, foreskin) is not circumcised, that person (nephesh: Life, soul) shall be separated, cut off from his people; My covenant he has broken.”
The Hebrew text is clear in identifying the uncircumcised male as being a male (zakar: literally, male of the species) rather than a child (yeled). This is because only a male who has reached the age of understanding can be justifiably required to keep the instruction. Radak teaches that if a Jewish male is not circumcised by his father when he is a child, he becomes responsible to arrange his own circumcision at the age of his bar mitzvah (13yrs).
Maimonides sees the phrase, “cut off from his people” as referring to those Jews who wilfully refuse circumcision up to the time of their death. Thus he sees a post death cutting off from the Olam Haba (World to come). This is yet another traditional view that correlates to the Messianic view of the need for circumcision of the heart prior to death. We are entirely reliant on the circumcising work of the Messiah in order to enter the tents of HaShem for all eternity.
“A father or a mother that transgress, and circumcise not, make void the affirmative commandment, but are not guilty of cutting off; for no cutting off depends but upon the uncircumcised person himself; and the Sanhedrim are commanded to circumcise a son or a servant in its time, that they may not leave an uncircumcised person in Israel, nor among their servants; if the thing is hid from the Sanhedrim, and they do not circumcise him, when he is grown up, he is bound to circumcise himself; and every day that passes over him, after he is grown up, and he does not circumcise himself, lo, he makes the commandment to cease; but he is not guilty of cutting off until he dies, and he is a presumptuous uncircumcised person;'' – Maimonides, Hilchot. Milah, c. 1. sect. 1, 2.
Gen 17:15 And Elohim (God, Judge, ruler) said to Avraham, As for Sarai (My Princess) your wife, you shall no longer call her name Sarai (My Princess), but Sarah (Woman of Nobility, Princess) shall be her name. Gen 17:16 And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her: yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come out from her.
In changing Sarai’s name G-d makes her a co-participant in the covenant. The name Sarai, which is in the possessive, literally means, “My Princess” which implies that she owes her status to being Avraham’s wife. In changing her name to Sarah, meaning, Princess or Noble Woman, G-d gives her a unique position as the mother of nations and kings. As Rashi says, she became princess “par excellence”- to all humankind (Berachos 13a).
“Even as Sarah obeyed Avraham, calling him lord (Master, Husband): you are her daughters
as long as you do well, and are not afraid or in terror.” -1Peter 3:6
Sarah had previously been barren, but with her new name comes a promise of fertility, progeny and divine destiny. She was beyond the age of child bearing, however, while it was medically impossible for her to produce children, it would not be impossible for G-d. As a result, the birth of the promised son Yitzchak will be a miracle. One could say that Israel is born of miracles, and in turn we see the promised Messiah, the son of G-d born miraculously into time and space, his very birth dividing time itself.
Gen 17:17 Then Avraham fell upon his face, va’yitzchak (and laughed, rejoiced), and said in his lev (Core being, heart, centre), “I’ll have a son born to me, at a hundred years old? Is it possible that Sarah, a woman of ninety years old, could give birth?”
Note the position of prostration. Avram is again in awe and humbles himself at the pronouncement of G-d. This qualifies the nature of his laughter. It is not the laughter of incredulity but of awe and excitement. The Targums of Yonatan and Yerushalayim paraphrase it, "and he wondered". Onkelos renders v’chadi, “he rejoiced”. Thus his question is not one of doubt but of trust and hope, “Could this be possible?” And the answer, “For G-d all things are possible”.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.” –Yochanan
Gen 17:18 And Avraham said to Ha-Elohim (The God, Ruler, Judge), “O that Yi’shma’el (Heard by God) might live before Your face!”
Rambam sees Avraham’s plea as a plea for Ishmael’s life, suggesting that Avraham thought Ishmael would die as a result of the birth of the legitimate heir Isaac. Others suggest that Avraham simply wanted the best for both his sons.
Gen 17:19 And Elohim (The God, Ruler, Judge) said, “Sarah (Woman of Nobility) your wife shall bear you a son indeed; and you shall call his name Yitzchak (Isaac: He laughs): and I will establish my covenant with him for an olam (everlasting, eternal, perpetual) covenant, and with his seed after him.
In answer to Avraham’s, “Could this be?” G-d assures him, “wife shall bear you a son indeed”.
Before G-d answers Avraham’s question regarding Ishmael He makes it very clear that He is establishing His covenant with Yitzchak and his seed after him, eternally.
Gen 17:20 And as for Yi’shma’el (Heard by God), I have heard you: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall come from him, and I will make him a great nation.
The blessing for Ishmael comes by way of compensation but does not entitle him to the covenant promises of Avraham. Ishmael, as we have seen, has risen and ruled much of the known world through the religion of Islam (subjugation). However, as Rashi rightly notes, “n’shiim” translated here as princes, can also be rendered clouds, thus the Arab peoples will rise for a time, but in the end they will dissipate like clouds.
Gen 17:21 But my covenant I will establish with Yitzchak (Laughter), which Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year.”
While sin has prevented Israel from receiving the fullness of the covenant promises of G-d to date, there is a future time coming when all Israel will be redeemed through Yeshua our Messiah (Romans 11) and as a result the fullness of G-d’s promises will be seen.
Gen 17:22 And having completed the words, Elohim arose from Avraham.
The literal reading here denotes an intimacy in the preceding conversation. Elohim gets up from sitting with Avraham.
Gen 17:23 And Avraham took Yi’shma’el (Heard by God) his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Avraham's house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in that same day, as Elohim (God, Judge, ruler) had said to him.
Immediately after receiving the covenant of circumcision from G-d, Avraham circumcises every male member of his household. This was done within the same day, a lot of blood, suffering and tears, particularly for Avraham and the older males. Avraham understood that a barrier (foreskin) was separating the hearts of humanity from G-d, the barrier (foreskin) of fallen humanity’s sin. He also understood that without the shedding of blood a covenant could not be established. Thus he obeyed immediately in trust, having just finished spending time on his face with G-d.
Gen 17:24 And Avraham was ninety nine years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
The text infers that the circumcision was done to Avraham. Therefore it was performed by someone else. Some suggest that Eli-etzer, his servant performed the circumcision of Avraham. This is a nice idea, given the meaning of Eli-etzer (My G-d is helper).
Jewish tradition suggests that Avraham sent for Shem (Name), the son of Noach (Comforter), who circumcised him and his son Ishmael (Pirke Eliezer, c. 29.). Another wonderful idea, given the meaning of the names Shem, Noach, Avraham and Ishmael. We could say that this tradition teaches that, “Avraham called on Yeshua (Shem, Name: for there is no other name under heaven by which one can be saved), son of The Comforter (Noach, G-d, The Holy Spirit), Who circumcised the hearts of many nations (Avraham) because G-d heard (Ishmael) their cry for salvation”.
Avraham was one year short of the number symbolizing compound completion and fullness (10 x 10).
Gen 17:25 And Yi’shma’el his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
Ishmael is circumcised at an age that denotes the relationship between G-d and Israel (1 G-d + 12 tribes).
Gen 17:26 In that same day Avraham was circumcised, and Yi’shma’el his son.
“He (Avraham) was circumcised on the day… appointed by Moses for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)… and in the place where he was circumcised the altar (Temple altar) was built.” -Pirke Eliezer, ut supra. (c. 29.)
Gen 17:27 And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
The actions of Avraham are repeated for the purpose of remembrance. This is a common occurrence throughout Hebrew Scripture. To this day we glean from the repetition the observance of our faith and the practice of remembering what G-d has done, what He is doing, and what He has promised to do.
© Yaakov Brown 2016
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.