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B'resheet/Genesis 17:7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you ...
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What is it that holds the Jewish people together? The old saying goes, "two Jews, three opinions" and we all love to argue and debate our points, sometimes with so much passion that we fall out with each other. Yet the Jewish people are unique in the history of the world as a people who have held together and who are still recognisable after two thousand years of exile from their own land and being scattered among the other nations. Just what is the secret of our longevity? The plain and simple answer lies in the first word of this verse: , here translated "And I will establish". This is a Hif'il affix 1cs form of the root - to stand - in a vav reversive construction to give it a future tense. The Hif'il stem has a causitive voice, so that the literal meaning of the word is "I will cause to stand" and hence "I will establish". Who is speaking? This is the key:HaShem is speaking. As it happens, He is speaking to Avraham and confirming the covenant that He initially "cut" with him a couple of chapters earlier when "he believed in the L-rd and He credited it to him as righteousness" (B'resheet 15:6, NASB). Of course, this follows HaShem's call to Avram that starts this portion - "Go for yourself" (B'resheet 12:1) - when Avram is chosen and called to leave his land, family and father's house so that HaShem may raise up a people for Himself. This is the fundamental reason for our continued existence: "I will establish" - it is G-d who maintains and upholds the covenant between Himself and the Jewish people.
Rashi asks "And what is the covenant?" and then answers his own question from the second half of the verse: "To be G-d to you". Well of course that is the answer; that is what the text says. What is bothering Rashi that he asks a question with so obvious an answer? Rashi wants to emphasise which of the various promises that G-d has made is most important or might be uppermost in Avraham's mind. Is G-d going to confirm the promise of a son? Perhaps the promise of the land? Neither of those would be worth anything without a relationship with G-d, and neither of those would be permanent or guaranteed without G-d. Only when G-d is part of and upholding the covenant, when He is in His rightful place as G-d, do the other components of the promises make sense.
ObadiahSforno adds an important comment on the verse, "To be G-d to you and to your offspring after you: I will associate My Name with yours without an intermediary, as I associate it with all that is eternal, as it says, 'For whatever G-d does, it shall be forever' (Ecclesiastes 3:14)". Sforno points out that when G-d does something, it is permanent or eternal; when G-d wishes to do something temporary, He uses a human intermediary, whose works are temporary. So G-d is establishing a personal relationship with Avraham and the Jewish people that will last for ever. At various times, the Philistines, the Assyrians, Nebuchanezzar and even the Romans were G-d's agents to punish, chasten or challenge His people; Cyrus was G-d's instrument to return the people to the land and rebuild the Temple, Herod glorified it as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. All the human intermediaries have faded away while G-d's work and word remains. This is why Rav Sha'ul writes to Timothy: "there is only one mediator between G-d and mankind, Yeshua the Messiah, Himself a man" (1 Timothy 2:5). It is only Yeshua, who is both G-d and man, can act as G-d's personal and permanent intermediary for all of mankind; G-d is doing it Himself.
Nahum Sarna points out that the expression "to you and your descendants after you" occurs five times in verses 7-10 and again in verse 20 of this chapter; it also appears in 35:12 and 48:4 in connection with the covenantal promises. Sarna explains that this is legal terminology: "The inclusion of the phrase in documents relating to the devolution of property upon the death of the owner assured that the real estate automatically passed on from generation to generation without restriction." The covenant that G-d gives the descendants of Avraham, Yitzckah and Yaakov is to be a permanent covenant, that He is going to establish and guarantee and it is to pass without restriction from generation to generation so that all the generations shall be a part of it and included it in. Hear Moshe's words when he confirms the covenant on the plains of Moab with the generation of Israelites who are about to enter the Land: "Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the L-RD our G-d and with those who are not with us here today" (D'varim 29:14-15, NASB); the covenant was not just for them, but for all the future generations who would - and do - continue to be G-d's sign people among the nations.
The biblical record tells us that, being human, the descendants of Ya'akov failed time and again to keep their side of the bargain, to uphold G-d's covenant with them. G-d, on the other hand, never gave up.Hirsch puts these moving words in G-d's mouth as He speaks to Avraham: "The realisation of this destiny which I have fixed for your descendants will be no easy task. It will meet with many obstacles and endure many struggles, but I will 'keep it established', I will form, guide, purify and educate your children after you until they become My children." Knowing the difficulties that were involved, G-d nevertheless promised that He would make sure that the covenant did endure from generation to generation; He would always be there to pick up the pieces and cajole the people back into relationship with Himself.
Yeshua spoke of the certainty His followers would have as they trusted in Him: "I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no-one shall snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28, NASB). No-one can take us away from Yeshua or break our relationship with Him. Isn't that security! But how can Yeshua be so certain - is there something more? He goes on: "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (v. 29, NASB). The Father, who has sent the Son for this very purpose, stands behind Him. He has given His children to Yeshua and - just as HaShem has never broken a covenant or reneged on a promise - He isn't going to start now; His fundamental character would not allow it. This is surely why Rav Sha'ul can write, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers, neither what exists nor what is coming, neither powers above nor powers below, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of G-d which comes to us through the Messiah Yeshua, our L-rd" (Romans 8:38-39, CJB).
Even though relationship with Yeshua is not inherited - each physical or spiritual generation has to enter that for themselves by confessing Yeshua as L-rd - nevertheless, G-d promises that the spouses and children of believers will have a certain level of preparedness for taking that step: "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy" (1 Corinthians 7:14, NASB). As believers, we share our faith with those closest to us and, in the case of children, teach them about the L-rd and how to pray; we encourage and prepare them to know Yeshua for themselves; we invite them to make that connection for themselves, just as Moshe encouraged the Israelites on the plains of Moab. And the wider circles of our acquaintance - our work colleagues, other parents at the school gate, people we meet on buses or in supermarket checkout queues - what about them? Does G-d have a plan for their lives? Absolutely; no matter where they are or what they have done, G-d still wants to rescue them from the wrath to come; the offer of relationship with Yeshua is available for them too. As the modern vernacular would have it: How cool is that!
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 4:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:12
Application: Do you know the certainty of G-d's covenant with you? Are you able to trust Him, no matter what may happen, to uphold the covenant He has made? Read and re-read those promises until the Spirit brings you His assurance; then you will know that you know that you know.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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