Belief in God God's sovereignty hermeneutics History

The seed of Abraham: the land of Israel?

(In the following all bold are my emphases added. Square brackets [ ] indicate meanings of words, and my explanations. Unless otherwise stated King James Version Easy-Reading Bible (KJVER) used.)

 Joel 3:1-2 For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity [bring back the exiles, those who were in captivity] of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat and will plead with them there for My people and for My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted [divided up] My land.

The prophet Joel seems to be speaking of the restoration of the Jewish people in their homeland, Israel. Some commentators though claim that the eternal promise made to Abraham was solely fulfilled in Christ and that those promises were not to the people Israel. So let’s have a look at what the Lord God YHWH has said.

Genesis 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram [Abraham], and said, To your seed [descendants] will I give this land: and there built he an altar to the LORD, who appeared to him.
Genesis 17:15,16 And God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.  And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. 
Map of the Settlements of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. From Bible History
Map of the Settlements of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. From Bible History

Jehovah promised from Abraham’s barren wife God would make many nations. These nations include the Jewish people who descended from their son Isaac and then Jacob who God changed his name to Israel. Israel had 12 sons from whom descended 12 tribes, to which God gave specific parcels of land in Canaan, and on the other side of the Jordan river. See map to the right for those divisions.

Genesis 13:14-17 And the LORD said to Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: 15 For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed [descendants] for ever. 16 And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your seed also be numbered. 17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to you.
Genesis 15:18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, To your seed [descendants] have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
Genesis 17:8 And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
From these scriptures we see clearly that God promised to Abraham the physical land of Israel, and that it was given to his seed, his descendants, forever. God even specifies the land of Canaan, and its geographical extent, which, by the way, the current government of Israel does not claim all of. Also the promises include that God would multiply Abraham’s  seed as the dust of the earth. His descendants God will make numerous like the sand beside the seashore.
Genesis 22:17 That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.

Very clearly these promises indicate that the ‘seed’ referred to here are the nations that come from Abraham’s loins (a good English word, the King James Bible uses; Hebrews 7:5). The seed here is plural not singular.

Romans 4:17,18 (As it is written, I have made you a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who makes alive the dead, and calls those things which be not as though they were. 18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall your seed be. (emphasis in original, with Paul quoting from the Torah.)

 In a separate prophecy God did promise to Abraham that Christ would be his seed (singular).

Genesis 17:19 And God said, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed; and you shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.

The covenant promise from God (אֱלוֹהִים ‘elohiym) is everlasting and applies to Isaac and his offspring (not Ishmael, the son of Abraham with Hagar, the servant girl of Sarah, who she gave to Abraham for a wife, when Sarah believed she could not bear him a child).

Galatians 3:16-18 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to your seed, which is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the covenant [agreement], that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none [no] effect. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

Quite clearly there is the promise that Christ would come of the seed of Abraham. This is promised. And the promise was before the law came when God took Moses to the top of Mount Sinai and gave him the law (Exodus 20). The promise preceded the law and is not erased. So here Paul’s point is that Christ is the promised Messiah to the Jewish people. But also if you read Romans 10-11 (particularly Romans 11) you will understand that the Jewish people have been temporarily blinded by God (Romans 11:8), like Paul himself was before his experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-22). And God also promises there that there will come a time when the times of the Gentiles (non-Jewish people) is complete (the period of salvation for the Gentiles; Romans 11:25) and God will remove the scales from their eyes that they might understand that Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) is there Messiah. Hallelujah!

Romans 11:26,27 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer [Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ], and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob [Israel]: 27 For this is my covenant [agreement] to them, when I shall take away their sins. (Note: Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20-21)

But the land was the inheritance of the tribes of Israel (the seed of Abraham, plural not singular here). There were two promises. You don’t erase one with the other. Apostle Paul describes both promises. Was he wrong? Definitely not. It is clear in Scripture, which God has preserved.

A small controversy

Now we’ve established God made two promises to Abraham that He would bless him and multiply his seed (plural) and of his seed, Christ would be born, which Paul refers to as seed, singular (Galatians 3:16).

And we know Sara was too old to bear children but God miraculously opened her womb and she bore a son, Isaac.

Hebrews 11:12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead [by age close to death], so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

From Isaac God made a mighty nation for Himself and many other nations. These became a multitude of people. Many people. But what about this verse?

Genesis 15:5 And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell (סָפַר caphar (saw-far’)) the stars, if you be able to number (סָפַר caphar) them: and He said to him, So shall your seed be.

Was God telling Abraham that, prophesied in the stars, or their names, is the record of the Christ to come, who will be his offspring? This is often related to the idea of the “gospel in the stars.” But there is no doubt that this is a prophesy of Christ.

 Galatians 3:6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

That shows Abraham understood his salvation was merited on Jehovah’s grace through faith. But remember Paul wrote:

Galatians 3:16b He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to your seed, which is Christ.

So there is no doubt Christ is the singular seed but what about the seed in Genesis 15:5, when God said: “So shall your seed be”?  You see how important it is to get the tense of the translation correct. The word “seed” in the latter prophesy is singular, one, meaning Christ. But the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible translation writes:

Genesis 15:5  And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be. (ESV)

This is a quotation from what should be the same Hebrew text. And this rendering is repeated in most other modern translations. But the Hebrew word סָפַר caphar translated ‘tell’ in the KJV is translated in the ESV as ‘number’ and hence the translator got the wrong meaning. The Hebrew word also can mean ‘declare’ or ‘speak,’ meaning what are they declaring (but not enumerating) to Abraham. The English word ‘tell’ has both meanings, to ‘number or count’ as well as to ‘tell, speak or declare’. A bank teller counts your money, true, but she also can tell you how much money you have left in your account.

Here the KJV is a far better translation and it captures the correct translation of the original words of God. In this case the prophecy is about Christ and there is only One.

Additional Reading

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.