reported by John-Peter Gernaat
Does God change from the God who destroys nations in the Old Testament to a benevolent God in the New Testament? How we read the events of the Old Testament may change our view of God and help us understand the evolution of human consciousness, and the workings of the Divine. In the Old Testament we encounter YHWH (Yahweh) of the Elohim as a representative of God who has been given a specific spiritual task. He is dedicated to this spiritual task. As our study of the Old Testament continues, we will discover more of his task and also when the appropriate time was that this task was fulfilled. When a spiritual task is carried on beyond the time of its fulfilment it no longer serves the good purpose for which it was given. We may gain further insight as we continue.
We must read the story of Abraham with a sense for the literary style in which the story was written. We would be incorrect to read it as we would a modern biography.
This study of the name change for Abram and Sarai begins by looking again at Adam and Eve. Gen 3: 20 states that “the man called his wife by the name of Eve because she was the mother of all the living”. This means that Eve does not receive a name until after she and Adam have eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and after the judgement of God. Before the Fall the woman is still an extension of Adam, the human being, in that they are one in their being, not separate beings. She is an aspect of the full humanity of Mankind. The man has two names: Human or ‘Adam’, and Man of Earth or ‘Adama’. In these two names we recognise that the idea of the human being becomes a reality on the earth, in the name Adama. The human being is a merism, has two aspects, man and woman, male and female. They complement and complete one another as a whole. This is why when the woman part of the human community on earth eats of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and shares it with the man, he makes no objection, because in her eating of it he has eaten of it, they are one. The way the story tells us that the man eats after the woman is merely to complete the picture that the whole human organism has taken the fruit into itself. Adam cannot in all honesty say to God after the event that it was only a part of him, the woman, who ate of the fruit. Adam tries this (much like we might speak of a part of us that has sinned) but God recognises that the entire human ate of the fruit. The entire human must own that part of its being that goes ahead, has the ability to pay attention to the voice of the whispering prognosticator (the serpent), which is what the woman comes to represent.
The deed of eating of the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, which the woman recognised was the destiny of humanity, was done too soon. YHWH of the Elohim, who we encounter in Gen. 2 as a Being of Form who formed the earth, takes the very specific task in caring for the Hebrew people. He becomes so strongly identified with his task that the Hebrew people eventually see him as Ēl Elyōn, God Most High, whose priest is Melchizedek, even though YHWH is a servant of Ēl Elyōn.
This brings us the concept that when we are initiated into a new task, as the woman was, we take on a new name. She becomes Eve.
Gen. 17: “When Avram is ninety-nine years old YHWH appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty. (YHWH is not God Almighty but for Avram he is the representative of God Almighty and therefore he can say to Avram: ‘You cannot serve another God, there is only one God and I represent him in everything for you.’) Walk in my presence and be without blame. I will make a covenant between myself and you and I will multiply your race.’ Avram fell face down and YHWH said, ‘This is my covenant with you, you will be the father of a multitude of nations’”. The name Abraham means ‘father of many’. YHWH is a spiritual father to the people of Israel, to the Hebrews, and he gives Avram the tasks to become the earthly father of many. The three main monotheistic faiths are the Abrahamic faiths for whom Abraham is the father. Abraham becomes like a new Adam. In taking on a new leadership role for all of humanity the person becomes a new Adam for humanity. Abraham is no longer just a follower of YHWH, he is given a mission to fulfil: he is going to father a son. This event occurs after the birth of Ishmael and therefore Ishmael is not significant in this covenant that YHWH makes with Avram. The birth of Isaac is significant for the faith mission given to Abraham.
This is why the Jewish people are the chosen people. The beginning of this people as a tribe set apart begins with Abraham and the covenant YHWH makes with Abraham. This covenant is different to the covenant made with Noah. The covenant with Noah was made for all of humanity and the Noahide Laws (also called Noachian Laws) were considered by the Jews to have been given for all of humanity. The Laws of the Covenant given to Moses are specifically for the Hebrew people. The faith established by YHWH is a legalistic faith – it is more important to obey the Law than to have belief in God.
Gen 17:15 “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai, your wife, no longer are you to call her Sarai, but Sarah. I will bless her and I will give you a son by her. I will bless her and from her will come nations, kings and peoples shall come from her.’ And Abraham fell face down”. Sarah becomes the mother of the nation, and in receiving her new mission, becomes like a new Eve. Together Abraham and Sarah become the Adam and the Eve to a new faith family through their son Isaac. They become the conduit through which we can come to the man Jesus of Nazareth who will bear the Christ.
The action of Abraham falling face down is significant in that humanity could not yet look directly face to face with the Divine. This still applied to the Magi who fell face down before the mother and child. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tells us that with Christ in us we are called not only to see God face to face but to see Christ in the other, face to face.
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