I am your shield, your very great worth!
An examination of Romans 4
4:1 What shall we say therefore, that Avraham Aveinu--Abraham (father of many peoples) our father—has discovered regarding the flesh? 2 For if Avraham was justified by working, he has something to boast about, but not before G-d. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham trusted G-d, and it was credited to him as righteousness--right standing with G-d.”
Shaul/Paul continues his diatribe/rhetoric/rabbinical discussion by addressing the first century Jewish understanding of z’khut-avot—merits of the fathers’. The Amidah (standing prayer) is an essential part of daily Jewish prayer. The words, “zokher chasdei-avot”--You remember the good deeds of the patriarchs—are pronounced in the first blessing of this prayer several times a day. The traditional rabbinical understanding infers a reward for the descendants of the patriarchs’. Shaul/Paul’s teaching doesn’t deny the value of being circumcised children of Avraham, rather he revises the way that z’khut-avot is to be understood. In Paul’s view the merit is G-d’s, the patriarchs offer an inheritance of trust, that is, they have accepted G-d’s gift by faith/trust and pass on this principal to their descendants. However each descendant must trust G-d for themselves, no one merits right standing with G-d based on the trust of an ancestor. This understanding is an affront to the then and present perspective of rabbinical Judaism, however it is by definition a Hebrew understanding, after all Avraham is ha-Ivri—the Hebrew.
Note that Avram has something to boast about based on his working, but not before G-d. In other words, a man may boast to others about what he has done and achieved and at times this may impress his hearers but this will never give him right standing before G-d.
The Scripture in question is Genesis 15:6. In typical rabbinical style Shaul/Paul is providing the premise for the remaining verses of the chapter. He intends that the whole portion of Genesis 15 be understood by the reader/hearer.
Genesis 15 15 After these things the Word (d’var, Yeshua) of the L-rd (YHVH) came to Avram (father of a people) in a vision, saying,
“Do not fear, Avram,
I am your magen—shield;
Your me’od (very), rabah (great) sakar (worth).”
Notice that the text here reads Avram (father of a people) and not Avraham (father of many peoples). The inception of Avram’s belief happens when he is father of only one people: a people without an heir.
Avram had recently fought and won a great battle by G-d’s hand, now HaShem (YHVH) was assuring Avram of his security in Him. The love and protection of HaShem is offered to Avram prior to his accepting G-d’s gift by trusting/faithfulness. The New Testament reminds us that we love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
HaShem states as fact that He is Avram’s shield—protection, shelter, security—by extension He is the shield of all who believe by faith/trust.
HaShem states that He Himself is Avram’s big, great worth. English translations that suggest that G-d is simply offering a great reward to Avram forget that Avram has earned no reward. Nor will he earn a reward for trusting. On the contrary, in the previous chapter of Genesis Avram refuses a reward for his role in defeating King Kedorlaomer and his allies. What G-d is giving is credited to Avram, the Hebrew, “sakar” should be understood as worth/value: in other words, “I am your great worth.” Avram and his descendants—both by flesh and by faith—find their worth/value in G-d.
At this point the Word (d’var) appears to Avram in a vision but as things progress we see a transition in the appearance of the Word (Yeshua)
2 Avram said, “Adonai (lord, master) HaShem (YHVH), what will You give me, since I am childless, and the ben (son & heir) of my house is Eli-ezer (my G-d is a helper, advocate) of Damascus?” 3 And Avram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”
It seems that at this point Avram is seeking a physical proof of G-d’s promise. At this time in history a man sought a son to continue his family name and line, Avram had only a male servant to pass on his name to. He clearly had his heart set on a male heir born of his own seed.
Consider the names and their meanings: Avram, which has at its core the meaning father (HaShem) and Eli-ezer which represents G-d as Helper or Advocate (Ruach ha-Kodesh, the Holy Spirit). It seems that Avram’s request is not too far off the mark. After all a son is the only missing part of the whole from Avram’s point of view.
From HaShem’s perspective however all are present: D’var (Yeshua, Son), Eli-ezer (Ruach ha-Kodesh, Advocate) and Avram (HaShem, The Father).
4 Then behold, the Word (d’var, Yeshua) of HaShem came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”
Thus, the Son (Yeshua, d’var) comes to Avram (father of a people) from ha-Av (the Father) to pronounce the birth of a son, Yitzchack (he laughs, with joyous fulfillment).
The son born to Avram will manifest both his physical and spiritual hope. He will be a prophetic type for Mashiyach. Thus The Son prophecies a son.
Note that this appearance of the Word (Yeshua) is not in a vision as before, in fact we will soon see that the Word acts in a physical way in leading Avram out to gaze at the stars.
5 And He (the d’var, Yeshua) took him outside (a physical interaction) and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
The Word took him outside, the Word didn’t lead him outside or tell him to go outside, rather He (The Word) took him outside, a physical act. Some have called this the pre-incarnate Messiah but it is not necessary for Him to be pre-incarnate: after all, upon resurrecting from the dead and going to be with the Father Messiah is once again beyond the limitations of time and space. In other words the one who was before creation, who had entered the chronology of humanity as the man-God Messiah is now, in his resurrected state, able to reenter the chronology of humanity at any point. Thus it is an incarnation of Messiah who meets with Avram, He is G-d with us, He knows the end from the beginning and reveals it to Avraham.
The stars become a symbolic promise of the multitude of descendants of Avram. Many years hence a star will return the nations to G-d and they will send representatives to Israel, to Bethlehem to behold the Son of promise ha-melekh Yeshua the King of righteousness who would offer redemption to both Israel (a people) and the goyim (many peoples). The promised Son would once again be offered by a father only this time the Son would physically die and rise again for the purpose of redeeming all who would accept His sacrificial death and His life giving resurrection.
6 Avram trusted HaShem (YHVH); and HaShem credited it to him as righteousness.
Avram accepts what HaShem has offered as a gift (not payment for services rendered) and has already completed outside of time. It is the relational act of trusting that is the catalyst for redemption. HaShem has trusted Avram to trust HaShem. HaShem trusts you to trust Him in the same way a parent trusts a teenager to trust in their parental protection and deep love and concern. Because G-d knows you and because He knows the end from the beginning He is able to trust you with His ultimate gift of love, the gift of His Son.
Say these words to yourself, “G-d trusts me.”
Now repeat the words with this addition, “G-d trusts me to trust Him.”
Brother, sister, The Father of all creation trusts you to trust Him, He rejoices over you with singing.
“HaShem your Elohim is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves (Yeshua). He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
7 And He said to him, “I am the HaShem who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” 8 He said, “Adonai HaShem, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Avram drove them away.
Avram admits to HaShem his frailty of belief, he asks for a physical, tactile, kinetic symbol of affirmation. Admission of the frailty of doubt is not the same as rebellious doubt: one is a show of humility, the other a rebellion born of pride. Avram exhibits the former here.
Notice that this sacrifice does not emulate the later sacrifices of Israel’s priesthood. The High priest of creation is facilitating this sacrifice. The accuser Satan detests it because he sees in it the birth of salvation and a turning back to HaShem of the creation. Hence the birds of prey, G-d does not prey on humanity or her offerings, on the contrary He seeks her reconciliation.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Avram;
Notice that Avram is in a deep sleep when this covenant promise takes place. The only one then responsible for its fulfillment is HaShem Himself. Where other covenants are conditional on right action on the part of Israel/humanity, this covenant is reliant entirely on the faithfulness of G-d alone.
And behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 God said to Avram, “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. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.
G-d doesn’t hide pain and suffering from His children, He journeys with us through pain and suffering and in the midst of it He gives us hope and a promise of freedom and prosperity in the days ahead. Our suffering is real but temporary, G-d, who suffers with us will bring us into eternal peace. Like Avram we will rest in peace, this is not a colloquial expression denoting death, to the contrary it is a promise promoting life. The darkness may last for a night but joy comes in the morning!
16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”
This refers to the fact that the evil actions and practices of the Amorites will reach a time of judgment when G-d sends Israel against them to wipe out their rebellious and idolatrous worship of false gods.
17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking pot and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18 On that day HaShem (YHVH) made a covenant with Avram, saying,
“To you descendants I have given this land,
From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:
Notice yet again that Avram is not the one making this covenant nor is he participating in it, he is in a deep sleep. HaShem alone makes this covenant and offers as a physical promise the land of Israel to Avram’s direct descendants that is the descendants of the promised son Yitzchak. This is a promise reliant on G-d alone, a promise that He will credit the land of Israel to the Jewish people.
As followers of Yeshua we can also see the allegorical truth that the promise of our saving relationship with G-d and our hope in the Olam haba (World to come) is not reliant on our ability but is entirely reliant on the faithfulness of G-d. This is Shalom (peace, security, wholeness, surrounding fidelity.)
Back to Romans 4:4
4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his emunah (faithfulness) is credited as righteousness (right standing with G-d), 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom G-d credits righteousness apart from hypocritical works:
7 “Blessed are those whose (Adam) rebellious deeds have been forgiven,
And whose offences have been kaparah (covered, wiped away.)
8 “Blessed is the human being (Adam) who’s Perversity HaShem (YHVH) will not take into account.”
Shaul/Paul affirms what the account of Avram tells us, that G-d alone redeems us. We are entirely unable through any work of our own to earn salvation (Yeshua). Logically speaking, even our very nature tells us that we cannot earn another person. Salvation is a person, His name is Yeshua.
Human beings who have received the free gift of G-d experience this wonderful truth, that our rebellion (perpetual sin nature, yetzer hara) has been forgiven, that the individual offences we have committed (past, present and future) have been covered over and wiped away by Yeshua our kaparah, and HaShem Himself will no longer hold our perversity against us: meaning we no longer stand in condemnation but have been (past tense) redeemed and are being made Holy (set apart) unto G-d alone for all eternity. It is finished!
Paul does not end there however: the quotation of Psalm 32 leads us upon yet another midrashic journey of illumination.
A Psalm of David. A Maskil (rhythm). 32 How blessed are those (Adam) whose rebellion is forgiven,
Whose offences are kaparah (covered)!
2 How blessed is the person (Adam) to whom HaShem does not impute perversity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
This is the platform for all human hope.
3 When I kept silent, my bones decayed
Through my groaning in the height of the day.
4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. (I pause to contemplate)
The psalmist reminds us that when we attempt to deny our sin by keeping silent before G-d we only hurt ourselves. G-d’s hand then becomes heavy upon us by means of discipline because He disciplines the ones He loves. We are asked to pause and soberly contemplate this. This reminds us again that G-d’s wrath is an act of love.
5 I acknowledged my offences to You,
And my perversity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to HaShem”;
And You forgave the perversity of my offences. Selah. (I pause to contemplate)
The acknowledgement of sin on our part doesn’t benefit G-d, it benefits us. He has given us the gift of confession in order to birth in us a cycle of growth and renewal. Through confession we receive what has already been offered, forgiveness, not only of individual acts but also of the perpetual nature of sin itself. Again the psalmist sees this as a point of contemplation.
6 Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
This is a challenge to be faithful (emunah). The alternative to faithful trust is drowning in our own folly. While G-d is always close to us we are sometimes unable to find Him because of the walls we have built up of our own fruition. When we act of our own strength we steal away the freedom of G-d.
7 You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah. (I pause to contemplate)
We are utterly and completely secure in G-d. Ask a friend to grip your wrist with both hands and with all their strength, then try to pull your hand free. This is the grip of grace. Contemplate it.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
Which way should I go? “Peace child, rest, I will instruct you.”
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
When my wife and I are in a crowded room some distance from each other and I need some fresh air, I am able to catch her eye and with a certain look and a glance toward the door I can indicate to her that I want to go outside with her. The leading of the eyes is an intimate action. This is what it means to belong to G-d in Messiah.
9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.
10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
A final warning from one who has been there done that. Don’t allow your stubborn heart to refuse G-d’s loving hand or He will be forced to use the bridle for your good. A wicked core produces a sorrowful outcome, instead, choose joy.
But he who trusts in HaShem, chesed (mercy, loving kindness) shall surround him.
11 Be glad in HaShem and rejoice, you righteous (right standing before G-d) ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.
David finishes the way he began, affirming our position as children of G-d. You who trust HaShem, know that you are soaking in the chesed (mercy, loving kindness) of G-d. You are a sponge soaked in mercy. So be glad in this knowledge, shout for joy at the understanding that you are secure in Him.
Back to Romans 4:9
9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised only, or on the fore-skinned also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Avraham (Avram) as righteousness.”
Notice that Shaul/Paul uses Avraham, while the Scripture he had formerly quoted specifically says Avram. He knows that his Jewish listeners will realize the wordplay and understand that he is interchanging the meanings of the names. Shaul is saying that the father of many nations (Avraham) whom Israel claims as hers alone is in actuality the father of a nation (Avram) which is the commonwealth of Israel reconciled to the nations of the world through Messiah. This doesn’t negate Israel’s unique physical identity but it does make a way for all who believe by trusting to enter into the kingdom of G-d.
10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or fore-skinned? Not while circumcised, but while fore-skinned; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness (right standing with G-d) of the faith which he had while fore-skinned, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of Aveinu Avraham (our father Abraham) which he had while fore-skinned.
Avraham’s righteousness was credited to him prior to him becoming ha-Ivri (The Hebrew) and thus all people who believe by trusting share Avraham as a venerated father of faith. As a sign of his faith he received circumcision just as all who believe receive the sign of a circumcised heart—which Paul has already alluded to.
Shaul/Paul affirms the Jew as one who while being circumcised can also believe by faith and the sign of his physical circumcision will be a reminder of his heart circumcision. What advantage has the Jew? Much, in every way!
13 For the promise to Avraham and to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law of circumcision, but through the righteousness of faithfulness. 14 For if those who are of the Law of physical circumcision are heirs based on circumcision, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Torah brings about wrath (reveals sin), but where there is no Torah (That is when the issue is an entirely separate one, that of faith), there also is no violation.
Something that is not governed by law is not subject to law. Shaul/Paul illuminates this principal further in his letter to the Galatian ecclesia:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law of circumcision, but also to those who are of the faith of Avraham, who is the father (Av) of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even G-d, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
All who believe by trusting will receive the free gift of G-d. This is affirmed by the fact that G-d both redeemed Avraham’s son Isaac with a ram and redeemed the nations with His Son the Ram of G-d who takes away the sins of the world. This is likened to the act of creation itself. G-d bara (creates from the nonexistent) a new heart in each of us, as the Scripture says elsewhere, “The old has gone, the new has come.”
18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”
Avraham, leaning against Hope for support, placed all his hope in HaShem and His promise.
19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb;20 yet, with respect to the promise of G-d, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to G-d,
Although he was physically incapable of seeding children and knew that his wife was also barren, he none the less did not even flinch in unbelief but became even more convinced of the faithfulness of G-d.
21 and being fully assured that what G-d had promised, He was able also to perform.
Avraham was fully assured, that is G-d had fully assured him. We too can know this assurance, not by achieving it ourselves but simply by receiving it from G-d. He assures us, this is not our responsibility.
22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.
Formerly Avram had trusted G-d for the Promised Land and it was credited to him as right standing with G-d, now for a second time he trusts G-d according to the promise of a son and heir. This too is credited to him as right standing with G-d. Notice that Avram is not a one hit wonder, rather his faith is shown as faithfulness, his trust as trustworthiness.
23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Yeshua (Jesus) our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
We who have trusted G-d in Messiah Yeshua are children of the faith of Avraham. Like our venerated father Avraham we can be assured by G-d, trusted to trust Him and able to believe the impossible at the very Word of G-d Himself.
Go outside and count the universes, if you can (I know you can’t) thus will your eternity be, this is the promise of G-d, that leaning on Him as our hope we will hope in Him for the reconciliation of creation, the physical resurrection of the dead and the Olam Haba (World to come), where we will dwell with Him forever.
Child of the faith of Avraham, G-d has credited your trust in Him to you as right standing with Him through His Son Yeshua. You are in Messiah in G-d.
Child of G-d you are blessed because your rebellion is forgiven,
Your offences are kaparah (covered)!
You are blessed because G-d no longer holds your perversity against you,
His Spirit in you doesn’t deceive!
G-d cannot lie!
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.