Genesis 12:6-7 - "To your offspring I will give this land ..."

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:6-7)

Did God really give Abraham this land?

The verse contains two key Hebrew words:

זרע (zera`) and ארץ ('erets), which are being translated to "descendants" and "land".

Before we clarify the meaning of these words and verse we must first look at the context of the statement.

The context of this statement is that God appeared to Abraham, and Abraham, in turn, built an altar to God. The word "so" illustrates the connection between God's statement and Abraham's building an altar to God. Did Abraham build an altar to God because God gave some land to Abraham's descendants? No.

An altar is a place of worship. An altar is a location where the Supreme Being is worshiped and offerings are made to Him.

Thus it is clear that the communication between the Supreme Being and Abraham concerns devotion, because building an altar to God is a devotional activity.

What does giving land to Abraham's descendants have to do with Abraham building an altar to God? Nothing.

God's supposedly giving Abraham's descendants a bunch of barren land has nothing to do with devotion.

Some might say that this was God's way of rewarding Abraham for his devotion. In fact, this "land" that God supposedly gave to Abraham was consumed by famine, so much so that Abraham had to flee the land and escape to Egypt:
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. (Genesis 12:10)

Why would God give a land of famine and bloodshed?

Why would God give His devoted servant a bunch of land that was ravished by famine? What kind of gift is this? It would be like giving someone a house that was burnt down. 'Yea, thanks a lot,' the receiver might say.

Furthermore, we know that over the centuries, the Israelites have perpetually had to fight off many others for control over those drought-stricken lands. And many of those battles they lost, thereby losing control over the land. We see this today, as most of the lands being referred to are parts of a myriad of countries in the Middle East.

What kind of gift from God is this land if Abraham's descendants couldn't even maintain control over it? Would God give such a gift and then make us struggle to try to control it? No.

Again, this statement by God has been mistranslated.

What land was God giving?

The second major mistranslation is the word ארץ ('erets), translated here to "land." In fact, the most used translation of this word in Genesis is to either "earth" or "ground" and "soil." Mostly it is used to describe the earth as a whole. This would mean that if this verse were being translated as God giving Abraham's descendants something, God would be giving him the entire earth. Does this make sense?

If this verse did suggest that God was giving this land to Abraham, such a gift would contain some type of description of what was being given. Was "this land" the amount of land as far as the eye could see? Or was "this land" the whole of Judea? Perhaps "this land" meant the entire Middle East. Or perhaps the entire earth.

The reality is that "this land" is not being defined. Therefore such an assumption (and translation) that God was giving land away is nonsensical.

As any real estate developer would know, if God was giving land away He would have to define what land is being given. There would have to be some sort of specification regarding the land that was being given in order for it to be truly given.

The only hint we have about even the locality of "this land" is given in the verse prior:
He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Genesis 12:5)
Now if the assumption is that God gave Abraham the entire land of Canaan - which at the time was an expanse that covered much of the Middle East, including what is today Palestine, Israel, Syria, Turkey and parts of Northern Africa - then this poses an even larger problem.

The reality is that Canaan was an area controlled over the centuries by different nation-groups and tribes. The Egyptians controlled much of Canaan for centuries. Then the Assyrians conquered much of the lands, along with the Hittites and many others. If the Supreme Being awarded Abraham the land of Canaan there is absolutely no evidence that Abraham or his descendants had control over the region whatsoever.

This could be compared to a father living in New York City "giving" his son all of Europe. While they could write down on a piece of paper that the father gave the son all of Europe, there is absolutely no evidence that Europe was actually given away. In order to prove that the father gave the son all of Europe, the son should at least be able to show that he has authority over governments and their armies.

In contrast to the notion that Abraham was given the land of Canaan, we find numerous battles in the region - and a number of different rulers at different times. If Abraham was given the land then he or his descendants would have become absolute rulers, yes? Well, that's not what happened.

In a further comparison, this might be like a person being given a house, only to find that the house was subject to numerous lawsuits whereby many different people claimed they owned the house, and at different times, different people were eventually awarded the ownership of the house. If there is no true ownership how could the house be given?

This leaves us with the preposterous assumption that the Supreme Being gave some land away, but with the stipulation that the person still had to go out and battle with different tribes and nations in order to claim authority over the land. That would make God's gift no real gift at all.

This is a preposterous idea anyway - that God would be giving a single human being and his descendants either the entire earth, or an entire region of land.

If the Supreme Being were giving Abraham a particular land then why wasn't Abraham or his descendants able to control that land? And why didn't He at least describe it better? He should have laid out its boundaries at least. This is what is done when someone buys or sells land. The land's boundaries are described so there is some definition to what is being exchanged.

Humans really cannot be given, nor can they own land permanently. Land may be used to keep the body alive, but that land will remain when the human body dies. Therefore, it cannot be functionally owned by a human body. It cannot be possessed by a temporary human body, because possession requires permanency and control. The human body can provide neither quality.

Our physical bodies are not permanent. They are temporary. Our bodies are temporary vehicles that house our spiritual selves for a few decades, and then they die and decompose.

A temporary physical body owning land would be like saying that by driving a car onto a highway, the car owns the highway. A car cannot own a highway. A car can be on a highway while it drives through it, but the car cannot possess the highway.

The physical body is like a car. It is a temporary vehicle, one constantly undergoing change. The body changes from a baby body to a teenage body to an adult body to an elderly body in just a few decades. Every atom and molecule in the body is constantly recycling. This means our bodies are constantly changing. This changing body cannot possess land.

And since land cannot be possessed by the physical body, land cannot be possessed by one's ancestors or offspring. We may pretend that we or our family owns land as we pass a piece of paper to the bodies of our descendants, but they will not own the land either, because like us, their bodies will also have to leave that land behind when the body dies.

Since none of us are permanent in these bodies, we cannot own anything in the physical world.

What is land ownership?

Land cannot be permanently owned by any human or group of humans. Land can be taken away from any person or people quite easily. This is why there were so many wars in the Middle East over the centuries, some continuing to this day: Some group was constantly taking land away from another group by force.

Since land can be taken away so easily by force, we know that it thus cannot be owned. This is the proof that shows that not only do the Israelites not own the lands of Judea, but neither do the Arabs nor any other race or society. Human bodies simply cannot own land, and any attempt to say that 'my people' or 'those people' or 'I' or 'my family' owns some particular piece of land is quite simply, a lie. Only God can own land. He is the only owner, as He is the only controller.

What does this mean about God's supposedly giving some land to Abraham's descendants? It means He didn't. God did not give any land away. God still owns all the land.

(Personal note: The commentator takes no sides in current Middle East political issues. The physical bodies of people in this region are, like all physical bodies, temporary, and all will decompose the same once the soul leaves the body at the time of death.)

Does this fit an agenda?

Notice how convenient it is that the very institutions who translated this verse to mean God was giving all this land to Abraham's descendants happened to Abraham's descendants or the related institutions?

This would be like one of a man's children translating his father's will, and the translated will happens to say that he inherited all the money. Should we trust the person who translates the will to their benefit without question?

Those institutional scribes who transcribed the various manuscripts into the Five Books of the Torah were employed by emperors who needed to establish their sovereign rule over the lands they were then occupying. Yes, they may have also wanted to glorify God. But having authority over certain lands was at least a part survival tactic to retain power and authority.

This is one reason why Jesus criticized this institution centuries later.

The reality is that God is not in the business of giving certain people land. Nor did He dictate ownership or authority over certain people or nations.

Is there a better translation?

The word זרע (zera`), translated to "descendants," can also mean "a sowing," "seed," "semen virile," "offspring" - etc., and when used figuratively, "of moral quality - a practitioner of righteousness," according to the lexicon.

For its proper translation here we not only consider the context, but must consider whether it is being used figuratively or literally. Again, when used literally, it relates to sowing seed or planting seed and the subsequent offspring that can generate. But when used figuratively, it relates to "of moral quality - a practitioner of righteousness," according to the lexicon.

But we know the context of this verse - which relates directly to Abraham's devotion towards the Supreme Being, has nothing to do with his mating and having children. We must, therefore, utilize the figurative translation for the word זרע (zera`).

This context is further illustrated by the verse following this - concerning Abraham building an altar to God in Bethel:
From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)
Here we see that Abraham not only built an altar in the place that God appeared to him. He also built another altar to God in Bethel. This illustrates Abraham's mission: To promote the worship of God. It has nothing to do with ownership of lands or Abraham's descendants.

Furthermore, it states in Gen. 12:8 that Abraham "called on the name of the Lord." What does this mean?

Calling on the Name of God is an ancient practice that has been lost in modern times among many sectarian institutions, primarily because they have been so focused upon using the scriptures to cement their institutions' political positions to attract followers. They have virtually ignored this ancient practice of loving devotion to the Supreme Being - expressed by praising and glorifying God's Holy Names.

"Calling on the name of the Lord" means to repeat God's Holy Names. This was done with song or prayerful incantation. Repeating God's Holy Names is to focus the mind, senses and heart on the qualities of the Supreme Being. This focuses our attention on Him and gradually increases our love towards Him.

We also know that Jesus held this practice. This is evidenced by how Jesus' followers praised and identified Jesus:
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Matt. 21:9, Matt. 23:39, Mark 11:9, Luke 13:35, Luke 19:38, John 12:13)
The Supreme Being has so many Holy Names. Why would the Supreme Being - the Supreme Person - not have a name? How could one address a person with no name? "Oh, hey so-and-so ... " Is this how we are supposed to address God when we pray? That is preposterous. Every bonafide prayer documented in scripture, made from Noah to Jesus' disciples, addressed the Supreme Being by Name. These included Lord, God, Father, Supreme Being and others from their original languages, which have included Jehovah (here יהוה or Yĕhovah), Yahweh, Eloah, Eli, Abba and many other names, each describing God's qualities of superiority, power, love, beauty, mercy and so on. Jesus himself referred to God as Yahweh, Eli, and Abba.

Rather, what God's statement is actually saying, as indicated by the real meaning of the two keywords in the statement and the context, is a loving instruction. God was instructing Abraham to give, or spread his devotion throughout the earth or at least that region of the earth. This is why the next verse documents his building an altar in the new land.

As such, God's statement in Genesis 12:7 would be translated to something to the effect of:
"Spread your righteousness and devotion throughout the land."
This is a common instruction by the Supreme Being to those who worship Him and love Him. He instructs those who worship Him to pass on that devotion to others because the Supreme Being wants all of us to come home to Him. The Supreme Being loves each of us and wants us to return to Him, so He requests from those who worship Him that they pass on their devotion to others.

Notice that the Hebrew word נתן (nathan) is being translated to "spread" rather than "give." Yes, the lexicon supports this, as to "give" in this context of devotion is better said to "spread" this devotion. At the end of the day, "spreading" is giving, because it is passing it on to others.

The Supreme Being doesn't appear on the earth to grant land to people. He is not running a land grant office or sweepstakes for land giveaways. He appears to His beloved devotees to encourage them and instruct them.

This is because the Supreme Being is God and we are His servants. Many people, even many of those who claim to be religious, confuse this. Many of us consider God as our servant. As though our position is to ask Him for stuff, and His job is to give us stuff and do stuff for us. It is as though He is our servant.

Sorry, but we were created to be His loving servants - assuming we choose to. We are His caregivers by nature. Our happiness is found not by trying to enjoy life and have Him get things set up for us to enjoy. Our happiness is found by making Him happy. By pleasing Him. When we are pleasing the Supreme Being, we are satisfied. We are fulfilled.

We can experience this joy in small ways when we give of ourselves or serve others. When we take care of others we feel better than when we order others around. Serving is our natural position. This is part of our identity, beneath these temporary physical bodies and our self-centered desires.

And this was how Abraham saw himself - as God's servant. He worshiped and cherished the Supreme Being, and the Supreme Being recognized this and showed Himself to Abraham. This was a benediction to Abraham. His natural inclination was to serve God and please God because He loved God. So God appeared to Abraham and instructed Abraham. He wanted Abraham to pass on his devotion to others because God wants us to come home to Him.

And this is precisely what Abraham did with his life, and why to this day we see Abraham as an example of pure devotion to the Supreme Being. One who loved God, and whose purpose was to please His Beloved, and pass on God's glories to others in order to help us return home to our Best Friend and Master, the Supreme Being.

Consider another translation of this verse in Chapter 12 of the New Book of Genesis.