Exegesis of Genesis 15:6

University of Cambridge Archives, digital library

The focus of this exegetical analysis will be on Genesis 15:6, “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” The narrative is distinct among Mesopotamia literature, because when this particular deity (Yahweh) appeared to Abraham in a vision, He does not issue a doctrinal statement or a set of rituals. Instead, God has something to offer Abraham. In the ancient Near East, if the head of the household had no male heir, the servant could be legally adopted as the heir. It was a last resort because of the difficulties in transferring property to a person who was considered property themself and not a blood relative. Abraham’s frustration of not having a child is evident in his response to God, stating he had designated Eliezer of Damascus to be his heir, believing that was his only course of action. When God informed Abraham that his heir would come from his own bloodline and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, Abraham believed God. Many Jews believe themselves to be descendants from Abraham, God’s chosen people![1] Moreover, the Old Testament teaches that “the nations of the earth shall be blessed through you [Abraham]” (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14).  However, there exists a theological dimension which extends beyond Jewish beliefs. For example, Paul preached, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness… those who believe are the descendants of Abraham” (Gal. 3:6-8). Paul is making the case that all Gentiles who believe will be blessed through Abraham. The Gospel of Matthew substantiates this claim. For example, the genealogy of Jesus begins with the profound statement, “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).[2]

Word Study

To better understand the meaning of the verse, a word study should be conducted to help put the passage in the correct context and clarify any nuances associated with the word.[3] The Hebrew word chosen for this study is צְדָקָה. This word was chosen because of the English translation, “righteousness.” The word is at the end of the sentence and it indicates that Abraham was completely satisfied with God’s answer regarding Abraham’s biological heir and proliferation of descendants. Genesis 15:6 is the first time that the word occurs. Francis Brown, R. Driver, and Charles Briggs’ (BDB) Hebrew-English lexicon records it as: “n.f. righteousness.” The word is sometimes associated with God’s righteousness in sovereign government—judge, ruler, or king; administrating justice; executive justice and righteousness. Also, it can indicate righteousness as in ethically right or truthfulness.[4] Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee lexicon records similar meanings: right, justice, righteousness, piety, or virtue. Gesenius has the root of the Hebrew word צְדָקָה in Genesis 15:6 listed as “rectitude, right,” and translates it as follows: “(God) reckoned it to him for righteousness.” Expanding on the interpretation, Gesenius adds: “took it as a proof of his probity or piety.”[5] Early usage of the word occur in association with the functioning of judges. The judges’ decisions were to be in accordance with the truth, without partiality. However, the usage of the Hebrew word צְדָקָה in this context refers to righteousness as meaning virtue, piety, or right action. For example, because Abraham believed and trusted God’s promise that he would have a biological heir, Abraham’s action (faith) was deemed righteous. Therefore, God credited Abraham for his faith.[6]

Another important word in this verse is the Hebrew word יַּחְשְׁבֶ֥. BDB records the translation into English as: “vb. think, account,” with Aramaic roots. Other translated English words include: impute, reckon, “the habit of believing in he reckoned to Abram as righteousness.”[7] According to Blue Letter Bible, the King James Version  for the Hebrew word חְשְׁבֶ֥ occurs 124 times, “in the following manner: count (23x), devise (22x), think (18x), imagine (9x), cunning (8x), reckon (7x), purpose (6x), esteem (6x), account (5x), impute (4x), forecast (2x), regard (2x), workman (2x), conceived (1x), miscellaneous (9x).”[8] Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon has it in the Piel: “The primary idea seems to be that of computing, reckoning; hence, to reckon with; unless perhaps it be that of mixing, like Arab.”[9] The root appears once in the Hithpael stem, but it primarily occurs in the Qal, Niphal, and Piel.[10] There are some reasons to accept this word in the Piel. For example, one primary way to identify the Piel is it will show intensity, that is, “the subject acts with greater intensity.”[11] However, there are scholars who argue there are variations occurring in the Niphal. For example, God spoke of “imputing” Abraham. “God ‘counted’ (imputed) it to him for righteousness.”[12]

Theological Implications

Considering how Genesis 15:6 parallels with passages in the New Testament, the context would suggest the English translation “counted” or “reckoned” would best express the meaning in the passage. For example, Paul preached, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Moreover, Paul taught that the Gentiles are Abraham’s heirs; all who believe in Christ are the children of Abraham. “And the Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, ‘All the gentiles shall be blessed in you.’ For this reason, those who believed are blessed with Abraham who believed” (Gal. 3:8-9).  More important, for Christian theology, faith in Christ transcends the physical aspects of ancestry when determining the true children of Abraham. “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). Therefore, God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was fulfilled by Christ. “You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:25-26). Although, Abraham did not live to see all the fulfillment of the promises, he did believe, and because of this faith “God credited it to him as righteousness.”[13] The primary theological implication from this exegetical analysis is: just as Abraham was credited by God as being righteous for his belief, all who believe in Christ are justified by their faith—the true children of Abraham. 

Bibliography

Blue Letter Bible. ” Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.” Accessed 22 Jun, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm.

Brown, Francis, R. Driver, and Charles Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018.

.Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001. 

Harris, Laird R., Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Workbook of the Old Testament. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1980.

Roden, Chet. Elementary Biblical Hebrew: An Introduction to the Language and Its History. San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2017.

Walton, John H., Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000.


[1] John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000), 46-48.

[2] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 19.

[3] Chet Roden, Elementary Biblical Hebrew: An Introduction to the Language and Its History (San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2017), 63.

[4] Francis Brown; R. Driver; Charles Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018), 842.

[5] “- tsedaqah – Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 20 Jun, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm.

[6] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1980), 754.

[7] Francis Brown; R. Driver; Charles Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 362.

[8] “- chashab – ” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 22 Jun, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm.

[9] Ibid.

[10] R. Laird Harris, Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, 330.

[11] Chet Roden, Elementary Biblical Hebrew, 80-81.

[12] R. Laird Harris, Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, 330.

[13] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd edition, 19-20.

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