Genesis 17:19-21 - "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son ..."

"Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year." (Genesis 17:19-21)

Does God favor one family or race over another?

This statement by God seems pretty cut and dried for those ecclesiastical translators and interpreters who wish to put forth the interpretation of scripture that God gives special favor to a particular family or race of people, and those who are born within that family and race throughout history are somehow better than others - often termed the "chosen people."

Such a philosophy would make the Supreme Being a racist.

God is not a racist. The Supreme Being gives each and every one of us the same freedom to choose to return to our original spiritual relationship with Him or not. No one has more opportunity than another to approach Him and regain their loving relationship with Him.

Rather, we make our own choices. Those who choose to dedicate their lives to loving and serving God naturally receive the Supreme Being's attention. This is called a relationship.

The notion that someone born into the family or race of Abraham has special favor with God does not come from God. It comes from those who wished to advance their particular race as having special property rights and other rights over others. It comes from a place of greed, not from a place of love.

These texts, derived from the Torah, were originally passed down orally from teacher to student for thousands of years. Around the 6th Century BCE, they were transcribed into written form. This was done by scribes who were part of an empire threatened on many sides by invading armies. Establishing their people as being chosen over others produced a type of pride that translated into fierce warriors.

This doesn't mean that Abraham did not have a special relationship with the Supreme Being. And this also doesn't mean that due to Abraham's devotion to the Supreme Being, Abraham's family was also dear to God. This is all part of a relationship and seen amongst all relationships.

But as we find clearly in so many other parts of the scriptures, the ability of the Israelites to gain favor was not their heredity - it was each individual's worship of God. It was the devotion of those individuals who were indeed devoted.

To see this, all we have to do is look at the many verses where God voiced his disappointment with some of the Israelites. Consider for example, this statement:
This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.' I appointed watchmen over you and said, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But you said, 'We will not listen.'" (Jeremiah 6:16-17)
We find in these verses and many others that many Israelites chose not to devote themselves to God. We find this during the lives of Job, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Jesus and other times when some of the Judean tribes had fallen away from God and the Supreme Being, was not happy about that.

The reason the Supreme Being was not happy relates to a person who has access to the teachings of one or more of God's devoted loving servants and they do not take advantage of that access. They do not take advantage of that knowledge and learn more about God so they can come closer to God. Such a missed opportunity saddens the Supreme Being.

What does this statement really mean?

Thus we find that the translation and interpretation of much of the text above to be critically incorrect. Let's break down the Hebrew making up most of this text:

אבל ('abal) means 'truly, verily, surely' but also can mean 'however, but, nay.'

שרה (Sarah) refers to Sarah, Abraham's wife.

אשה ('ishshah) means either 'wife, woman, female;' or 'each' and 'every'

ילד (yalad) means 'to bear, bring forth, beget, gender, travail.' It can also relate to the 'day or birth' or 'birthday' according to the lexicon.

בן (ben) means a 'son, grandson, child, or a member of a group.' It can also refer to a 'people', or 'a member of a guild, order, class' - a follower.

קרא (qara') means "to call, call out, recite, read, cry out, proclaim;" and specifically in the context of most of its scriptural use, "to call unto, cry (for help), call (with the name of God)"

שם (shem) means 'name, reputation, fame, glory;' and most specifically, 'the Name (as a designation of God)'

יצחק (Yitschaq) is typically referred to Isaac, but the word means 'he laughs' or 'he sports' according to the lexicon.

קום (quwm) means 'to rise, arise, stand, rise up, stand up;' but also 'to maintain oneself, be established, be confirmed, be fulfilled, ratified, erected, raise.'

ברית (bĕriyth) means 'covenant, alliance, pledge.'

עולם (`owlam) means "long duration, antiquity, futurity, for ever, ever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, old, ancient, world, continuous existence."

ברית (bĕriyth) means 'covenant, alliance, pledge.'

זרע (zera`) means 'seed, sowing, offspring, descendants, posterity, children;' but also 'of moral quality, a practitioner of righteousness' when used figuratively.

אחר ('achar) means 'after the following part, behind (of place), hinder, afterwards (of time)' as well as 'after that' and 'besides.'

ישמעאל (Yishma`e'l) is assumed as the name of Ishmael, meaning "God will hear" - the son of Abraham and Hagar. The problem is that Yishma`e'l also is used to reference other people in the scriptures, including the murderer of Gedaliah, a descendant of Saul, the father of Zebadiah, the son of Johanan, and a priest of the family of Pashur in the time of Ezra.

שמע (shama`) means 'to hear, listen to, obey;' but also 'to perceive' or 'understand' and 'give heed' and 'grant request.'

הנה (hinneh) means 'to behold, lo, see,' when pointing out persons, things and places.

ברך (barak) means 'to bless, kneel, to praise, salute.' It also refers to 'breaking, breaking down.'

פרה (parah) means 'to bear fruit, be fruitful, branch off'

רבה (rabah) means 'to become great, be or become many, be or become much, be or become numerous;' or 'to make much to do, do much in respect of, to increase greatly or exceedingly.'

מאד (m`od) means 'muchness, force, abundance, exceedingly.'

ילד (yalad) means 'to bear, bring forth, beget, gender, travail.'

שנים (shĕnayim) means 'two, double, twice, couple.'

עשר (`asar) means 'ten, -teen (in combination with other numbers), used only in combination to make the numbers 11-19.' It was originally used in conjunction with the ten fingers - tens, decades. (And two such decades of people is considered a generation - about twenty years.)

נשיא (nasiy') means 'one lifted up, chief, prince, captain, leader.'

נתן (nathan) means 'to give, put, set, be given, be bestowed, be provided, be entrusted to, granted.'

גדול (gadowl) means 'great, large (in magnitude and extent)' in the intensity of number. It is also often a reference to God Himself - 'of God.'

גוי (gowy) means 'nation, people' in general, or even 'a swarm' of locusts, bugs, animals.

The rest of the verse contains similar words.

One may question from this translation whether or not Sarah even gave birth to Isaac. This is debatable. The text clearly identifies Isaac as a follower, which Sarah 'brings forth.' This may be bringing forth in the form of changing his heart - which is a form of spiritual rebirth. Or it may relate to her being Isaac's mother. Either position, even both, is possible, but the emphasis of the communication lies upon the devotional aspects, being that Isaac will be a devoted follower and servant of God.

Isn't this about a loving relationship?

Many have speculated that the "covenant" is related to God's granting special favor to the Israelites - descendants of Abraham. This is simply not true. If this covenant was all about only the Judean people, why did God say:
"This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come" (Genesis 9:12)

"I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind." (Genesis 9:15)

"This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth." (Genesis 9:17)
With these clear verses, how could teachers of any sect claim that God's "covenant" concerns the Israelites or Jews or any other particular race, creed or nationality when God specifically says that His covenant has been established with "every living creature," "all living creatures of every kind," and "all life on the earth"?

We see here that God's covenant - as confirmed with these and other statements - is with all living beings. And what is that "covenant"? It is love. It is the promise that God loves each and every one of us, and each and every one of us can return to our loving relationship with Him.

That covenant is a pledge that He makes throughout the Old Testament because the Supreme Being is reaching out to us. He wants us to return to Him. He wants us to remember our lost loving relationship with Him and return to the spiritual realm and our loving relationship with Him.

And those who facilitate this promise "maintain My covenant" by helping God reach out to us become intimately involved in that covenant - that promise. Those who serve the Supreme Being by passing on His message of love and mercy become part of that covenant.

This is the position that God is portraying about Isaac. The thrust of this discussion is not that Isaac will have a great family who will become a big nation. In fact, God is contrasting Isaac's life of service to that of Ishmael, who God states will also have many followers, some who will be rulers of people. But Isaac's teachings - according to this statement by God - will carry on the message of pure love and loving service.

This is the message that - despite the repeated focus on love for the Supreme Being among so many Biblical verses - has been practically forgotten by those ecclesiastical translators who have completely ignored God's true covenant with us.

Now as to whether or not those future leaders are specifically family members of Abraham is not the thrust of this statement by God. God's interest was not in the family legacy of Abraham. His interest was in the passing on of His message - His desire that we regain our loving relationship with Him.

Certainly, Isaac and Ishmael may have had sons and daughters. But they also had followers who were not sons or daughters of their physical body.

And many of those followers carried on the teachings of Abraham. Are we to say that those followers of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael who were disciples of one of them were not their sons or daughters?

This ancient tradition of referring to one's spiritual teacher as "father" continues today in not only the Roman Catholic tradition, but many other spiritual traditions of the world. A person who mentors a student in the ways of spiritual life becomes that person's spiritual father.

This relationship is more important than the relationship of physical father, because physical fatherhood is a temporary relationship. It is a relationship of the temporary physical body. After the death of these physical bodies, that physical relationship dissolves.

A spiritual father - the spiritual teacher - is a permanent relationship. This is because one's spiritual teacher - assuming the teacher is a bonafide representative of God - is one's link to the Supreme Being. This creates a relationship - a spiritual relationship - that never dies. It continues into the spiritual realm.

The Torah and Old Testament is not a family ancestry of the human race. This is an account of the devotional relationships that existed between the Supreme Being and many of His loving servants who dedicated their lives to loving and pleasing the Supreme Being.

And within those lives we find a common thread: Every one of these loving servants - often referred to as "prophets" - dedicated their lives to passing on the Supreme Being's message, as clearly communicated by Moses and his disciple, Joshua:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:5)

"Love the LORD your God and keep His requirements, His decrees, His laws and His commands always." (Deut. 11:1)

"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 11:13)

"If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow--to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to hold fast to Him" (Deut. 11:22)

"...because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today--to love the LORD your God and to walk always in His ways--" (Deut. 19:9)

"For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws..." (Deut. 30:16)

"...and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the LORD is your life..." (Deut. 30:20)

"But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Joshua 22:5)

"So be very careful to love the LORD your God." (Joshua 23:11)

"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and foremost commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38

Consider another translation of these verses in Chapter 17 of the New Book of Genesis.