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The Seed Of Abraham: The Great Fulcrum

"For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham." (Heb 2:16 KJV)
"For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham." (Heb 2:16 ESV)

Interpretation is often a big part of translation and Hebrews 2:16 is a good example of what I mean. How to translate the key verb in this verse, epilambanomai, depends on how to interpret what the Spirit is declaring. The two translations quoted above represent the two ways of interpreting the use of that verb. The KJV sees Christ laying hold of our nature; the ESV sees Christ laying hold of us.

Either approach works within the passage. Our verse is nestled in a cohesive thought being conveyed by the last five verses of chapter 2: Christ became one of us to empathize with us and to be our champion. We needed more than Him being on our side, we needed Him on our team.

Therefore, why not be quite literal in translating epilambanomai? "Lambano" is at the heart of the word and it means "to take", while the prefix "epi" means "on" - giving us "take on". In scripture, our verb most often refers to laying hold of someone, sometimes rudely. It seems we're being told He took hold of our flesh that He might partake of our humanity and become our great representative.

But hold on a moment, because it isn't that cut and dried. We find this verb in one other passage of this book, in Heb 8:9. That verse is part of an extended quote from Jeremiah 31, regarding the new covenant. It uses epilambanomai to translate where Jeremiah stated the Lord took His people by the hand to lead them out of Egypt. Isn't that an intimate and picturesque way of saying He helped us? Doesn't it convey direct involvement and personal concern?

In fact, epilambanomai is used in just that way several times in the New Testament, where one comes along side another in need to personally lead them to a good outcome. Jesus rescued Peter as fear robbed him of his ability to walk on water (Mat 14:31). He took a blind man by the hand, led him outside the village, and healed him (Mk 8:31). Good Barnabas intervened when the Apostles rejected Saul of Tarsus. He took Saul back before them and personally vouched for him (Act 9:27).

Think about the last time you heard of a destructive natural disaster. We always see two kinds of reactions - people responding to the need or ignoring it. But among those who do respond, aren't there two kinds of responses? One group of people make donations, and God bless them for that! But another group fills their vehicle with tools and supplies and then drives to the scene to help. The first group responds online; the second group responds onsite. Take heart, beloved! The Lord our God is an Onsite Helper.

So, back to Heb 2:16, we have already been told in the adjacent verses that He partook of our humanity to become like us. With those gracious facts declared before and after verse 16, perhaps our verse is summarizing and explaining Christ's actions. After all, verse 16 starts with the word "for". That suggests the writer is now the one interpreting, giving a reason for Christ's generosity, rather than more anecdotes of it. Jesus Christ laid hold of us to help us, just as He laid hold of a sinking Peter. He did it by partaking of our frail flesh and blood, that He might fight for us in mortal combat and stand for us before a holy God. Emmanuel, God With Us, isn't just a nice name; it is an apt description.

But there's more, much more, to our opening verse. One aspect of it that all the translators agree upon is which group of people are being contrasted against angels. Christ had compassion, not on angels, but on the seed of Abraham.

The seed of Abraham. Now, that is a powerful phrase! Its depth of meaning matches its height of destiny. The Apostle Paul told the Galatians Christ Himself is the ultimate Seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16). Yet, just a few verses later (Gal 3:29), he declared we are that glorious seed.

Can the phrase "seed of Abraham" help us determine what Christ laid hold of in our verse? Does its use elsewhere influence our choice here? Well, in Luke 13, Jesus rebuked a synagogue ruler who took offense at Him healing a woman on the sabbath. We're even told He laid hands on her when He healed her (v13). His defense against the naysaying synagogue ruler? "Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (v16) So, Jesus laid hands on a seed of Abraham to personally help.

Yet, as mentioned above, Gal 3:16 clearly states Christ Himself is the Seed of Abraham. One could say He laid hold of that title when He took on flesh and was born a descendant of King David and, therefore, of Abraham.

So, scriptures are available to support each interpretation. Frankly, I see no controversy after all. Heb 2:16 displays the genius of the Holy Spirit, as He simultaneously employed both senses of the word. Nor should we be surprised at seeing our multitasking Savior being doubly good to us, when we remember The Son of God is the Son of Man and The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is also the Lamb That Was Slain.

But why didn't the Spirit contrast angels here with Adam? Isn't Adam the father of the whole race? His name even means 'man'. Our whole race is contrasted with angels earlier in this same chapter: "For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: "What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him?" (Heb 2:5-6 NKJV)

Yet, our verse doesn't declare Christ as helping mankind in general, but the seed of Abraham. Yes, God loves the whole world and sent His Son to die for it, but Heb 2:16 declares that help comes to and through Abraham. God is mindful of man, but He acts on that concern through Abraham. It's not hard to imagine why.

Abraham shines when compared to Adam. He believed and obeyed God, something Adam failed to do. Abraham's faith in God and His word was credited to him as righteousness, earning him the title Friend of God, something Adam was never called. I dare say Adam behaved like a Judas. He is like Reuben, the firstborn of Jacob. Reuben means, "See, a son!" – God might've exclaimed that after He created Adam. Yet, like Reuben, Adam forfeited the rights and high calling of the firstborn by sinning. Reuben fornicated with one of Jacob's concubines (Gen 35:22); Adam "fornicated" with one of God's cherubs (Hos 1:1, Jam 4:4).

But "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Rom 11:29). The privileges of the firstborn weren't destroyed when their first holder dropped them. Instead, they fell upon others. It seems obvious Jacob saw his son Joseph as the recipient of what Reuben let slip away (though, in reality, those rights were split between Judah and Joseph). Similarly, God placed Adam's destiny and purpose on Abraham's shoulders when He tapped him and called him out of Ur.

Adam's sad life is performance art of what the Apostle Paul declared in First Corinthians chapter 3. Adam built with hay and straw on the foundation God laid for him. I believe he is in heaven yet saved as through fire. He gained heaven and suffered loss, with his works burned up behind him. But there was a better welcome for Abraham! He received that "rich welcome into the eternal kingdom" the Apostle Peter wrote of, in 2Peter 1:11. That type of welcome is still available for any who earn it. And each that receives it will be the seed of Abraham. Selah.

Adam laid a curse on all of us because of his sin. But don't dwell on that, for God Himself declared, many years later, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Gen 22:18). Since we have to endure both a curse and a blessing, the order makes all the difference! But look at Gen 22:18 again: "In your seed" - another reference to Abraham's seed. The Father blessed it and the Son embraced it. Praise God, you and I are joined to it – receiving the Son's embrace and the Father's blessing through it.

The second chapter of Hebrews does not present us as mere observers in the stands watching superstars perform. Verse 10 says God is working to bring many sons and daughters to glory. You and I are called to be part of that. Verse 11 speaks of many being made holy. That door is open to us, too. Therefore, chapter 12 reassures us we may share in His holiness (v10), even as it warns us we'll never see the Lord without it (v14).

The Lord told the people they needed "a lamb for each household" (Ex 12:3), to rescue them from the coming Death Angel. Many of us are called to be that for our families. Yet, in light of what I've declared here, I say there's a need for "an Abraham for each household", to rescue them from the curse of Adam. One who will stand for God. One who will swim against the tide of doubt threatening to sweep the rest away. One through whom their family can receive the blessing of God. Can we be that for them? Can we be that to them for God?

So, I mean "to stir us up to love and good works" (Heb 10:24) that we might fulfill our high calling and reach our great destiny. Let's be like our father Abraham and believe God - even in the face of contradiction and opposition. God is looking for foul weather friends He can trust with the keys of the kingdom. Our loving trust of God throughout the trials and heartaches of this life turn those troubles into steppingstones to glory.

Don't give up, beloved! If we persevere and overcome, we may one day even hear those angels singing our high praises before God: "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Tears, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion." (Ps 84:5-7)

© Matthew Schilling 2022

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