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See the study on the meaning of the 318 men in Abram's private army.
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Difficult Sayings: Abraham's 318 Men
"Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit was far as Dan." (Psalm 16:9, KJV)
A London based Pastor asked me the following question this week:
In Genesis chapter 14 v 14 - we are told that Abram had 318 trained servants who were born in his house. Is there significance to the number 318?
The answer is one of those easy Jewish ones, "yes and no". So I thought I would explain what I mean in this column. For someone to even ask the question makes one wonder if there is any significance, for why mention the exact numbers if not. Why not simply say "all his servants", or is there some vague reference to the profligacy of Abraham or his servants in the fact that 318 adult men were "born in his own house"?
The word for "trained servants" is a hapax legomena, i.e., it only occurs once in Scripture and is thus difficult to render accurately. It is from the Hebrew חָנִיך chânîykh (Strong's #2593) "dedicated" fromחָנַך chânakh (Strong's #2596) "to dedicate" and from which we get the word chanûkkâh, the December-time Jewish festival of dedication. It may also be derived from an Egyptian word employed in the Execration texts of the late 19th Century B.C. of the retainers of Palestinian chieftains.
It would not have been uncommon in the second millennium B.C. for a man of Abraham's position to have had such a large retinue. Though not heavily occupied the land was nevertheless inhabited by various tribal groups, apart from Egypt, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, who were in the land. Abraham himself seems to have commanded a sizable people group with his 318 fighting men from which it has been estimated that his whole following numbered around 2000 persons, men, women, children and the slaves he had (12:16; 15:2; 16:1). The treaty, rebellion and consequent battle in 14:1-9 pictures many goyiim (peoples, not necessarily modern nations) and typical tribal alliances.
The particular form of the Hebrew verb רוּק rûwq (Strong's #7324) used for "armed/led forth/called out" depending on your translation actually means to "cause to pour out" and can even be used of unsheathing a weapons such as a sword which is effectively what Abraham was doing. Some of the modern translations, as does the ancient Samaritan Pentateuch, assume a Hebrew typo and replace ר "r" with ד"d" making it the verb "to muster". Curiously, the Greek Old Testament version, the Septuagint, actually has a verb meaning "to number", arithmeô (from which we get arithmetic), here which may support the idea of "mustering". This "numbering", in turn, may have given later commentators the hint that the number itself held significance.
As the Hebrew alphabet has no numbers they are represented by full words or by the individual letters themselves standing for numbers; letters 1-9 represent the numerals, letters 10-18 the tens, and letters 19-22 cover the first four hundreds. It has gone unnoticed that Abraham's chief servant, Eliezer, and described as his sole heir in Genesis 15:2, has a Hebrew name that adds up to 318 = ע 1 + ל 30 + י 10 + א 70 + ז 7 + ר 200.
Because of the use of the word "dedicated" above to indicate in-house training, though not necessarily military and more likely domestic, later Jewish commentators in the Talmud wrote:
"R. Abbahu said in R. Eleazar's name: Why was our Father Abraham punished and his children doomed to Egyptian servitude for two hundred and ten years? Because he pressed scholars into his service, as it is written, 'he armed his dedicated servants born in his own house'. … Rab said, he equipped them by [teaching them] the Torah. … R. Ammi b. Abba said: Eliezer outweighed them all. Others say, It was Eliezer, for this is the numerical value of his name." (Talmud, Nedarim 32a)
This indicates early knowledge of the numerical equivalent with Eliezer and the idea that "dedicated" could mean "discipled" in Jewish belief as even some Christian commentators such as Calvin and Gill thought.
In the early church, in the late first and second centuries, some writers made use of 318 (made up of 300+10+8, rather than as in Eliezer's name) to signify Jesus on the cross. In Greek, which can also use the numerical=alphabetical system as it too is without numerals, Tau=300 and is equivalent to the Hebrew letter, Tau, both of which represent a cross in the shape of a capital 'T', which is closer to the shape of a crucifixion cross than a modern crucifix. The 18 comes from Eta plus Iota, which stood in the Greek alphabet order where ח cheth and י yodh stand in the Hebrew, thus they stood for 8 and 10 respectively, making the 18. Now, IH, in Greek is Iota-Eta, the first two letters of Jesus' name ΙΣΟΥΣ, iêsous, just as God's name, YHVH, could be represented by its shorter version YH (Yah). So the Epistle of Barnabas, written between 70-135 A.D. says:
For [the Scripture] saith, "And Abraham circumcised ten, and eight, and three hundred men of his household." What, then, was the knowledge given to him in this? Learn the eighteen first, and then the three hundred. The ten and the eight are thus denoted - Ten by I, and Eight by H. You have [the initials of the, name of] Jesus. And because the cross was to express the grace [of our redemption] by the letter T, he says also, "Three Hundred." He signifies, therefore, Jesus by two letters, and the cross by one. (Epistle of Barnabas 9.8)
Writing later in the 3rd century, Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata, "Miscellanies", on 'The Mystical Meanings In The Proportions Of Numbers, Geometrical Ratios, And Music' says:
As then in astronomy we have Abraham as an instance, so also in arithmetic we have the same Abraham. For, hearing that Lot was taken captive, and having numbered his own servants, born in his house, 318, he defeats a very great number of the enemy. They say, then, that the character representing 300 is, as to shape, the type of the Lord's sign, and that the Iota and the Eta indicate the Saviour's name; that it was indicated, accordingly, that Abraham's domestics were in salvation, who having fled to the Sign and the Name became lords of the captives, and of the very many unbelieving nations that followed them. (Clement, Stromata, Book 6, Chapter 11)
So Christian numerological interpretation is just as fanciful as some Jewish numerical word plays. Certainly, we can give full marks for ingenuity and there is no harm done in the meaning given. Nonetheless, it is more probably in a book like Genesis of history not prophecy that historical accuracy rather than symbolism is intended and what is being portrayed is Abraham's wealth and status in being able to raise 318 fighting men.
The Chiastic Structures of Genesis 14
Christine's Bible Study:
"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever." Isaiah 40:8
Genesis 12:1-17:27, parashah lech lecha
Leave a comment Posted by christine on Saturday 12 October 2013
Read Gen 12:1-17:27 at Bible Gateway.
The paragraph divisions for lech lecha are posted here. The chiastic structure formed by lech lecha is posted here. Other chiastic structures within lech lecha can be found here. This week I worked on the chiastic structure for the single paragraph from Gen 14:1-24. It turns out there is not a single chiastic structure that I could find, but several that overlap:
1a) Gen 14:1-9, War between four kings + Chedorlaomer and five kings + Bera at the Valley of Siddim (chiasm);
1b) Gen 14:10, The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled the Valley of Siddim for the mountains;
1c) Gen 14:11-12, Chedorlaomer’s forces took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, including Lot, and departed;
central axis) Gen 14:13-15, Abram armed his 318 men with his allies + pursued + attacked them as far as Hobah;
2c) Gen 14:16, Abram and his forces brought back all the goods, and Lot and his goods;
2b) Gen 14:17a, The king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley);
2a) Gen 14:17b, After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.
Gen 14:1-9, chiasm of the 1A pair above:
1a) Gen 14:1, The four kings allied with Chedorlaomer king of Elam;
1b) Gen 14:2-3, Made war with the five kings allied with Bera king of Sodom in the Vally of Siddim;
central axis) Gen 14:4-7, Because they rebelled against Chedorlaomer + his attack of the surrounding country;
2b) Gen 14:8, The five kings allied with the king of Sodom joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim;
2a) Gen 14:9, Against the four kings allied with Chedorlaomer king of Elam—four kings against five.
1a) Gen 14:13, Abram learned of it/ he dwelt by his allies Mamre, Eshcol, Aner;
1b) Gen 14:14-15, Abram armed his 318 trained servants + went in pursuit + attacked by night;
1c) Gen 14:16, Abram brought back all the goods + his brother Lot and goods + women and people;
1d) Gen 14:17, The king of Sodom met Abram after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer;
1e) Gen 14:18, Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High;
1f) Gen 14:19a, He blessed Abram: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High;
central axis) Gen 14:19b, Possessor of heaven and earth;
2f) Gen 14:20a, And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand;”
2e) Gen 14:20b, And he gave him a tithe of all;
2d) Gen 14:21, The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself;”
2c) Gen 14:22-23, Abram said, “I have sworn to God Most High that I will take nothing, lest you say, ‘I have made Abram rich’;
2b) Gen 14:24a, Except only what the (318) young men have eaten;
2a) Gen 14:24b, And the portion of Aner, Eshcol, Mamre; let them take their portion.”
My theory for the reason there is not a single chiastic structure for Gen 14:1-24, is that the section with Melchizedek is its own central axis of a greater chiastic structure which might encompass many chapters of Genesis. It is interesting that the central axis for the Gen 14:13-24 chiastic structure is Melchizedek’s blessing with the emphasis on God Most High as the Possessor of heaven and earth. Here in Gen 14 is the only place in the Scripture that I could find, where God is called by the title “Possessor of heaven and earth.” This is not an accident, as Melchizedek is a prophetic type of Messiah. I am still putting the puzzle pieces into place as to the connection … so perhaps next year
"What is a chiasm/chiastic structure in the Bible?"
Answer: A chiasm (also called a chiasmus) is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then repeated in reverse order. The result is a “mirror” effect as the ideas are “reflected” back in a passage. Each idea is connected to its “reflection” by a repeated word, often in a related form. The termchiasmcomes from the Greek letterchi, which looks like our letterX. Chiastic pattern is also called “ring structure.”
The structure of a chiasm is usually expressed through a series of letters, each letter representing a new idea. For example, the structure ABBA refers to two ideas (A and B) repeated in reverse order (B and A). Often, a chiasm includes another idea in the middle of the repetition: ABXBA. In this structure, the two ideas (A and B) are repeated in reverse order, but a third idea is inserted before the repetition (X). By virtue of its position, the insertion is emphasized.
Some chiasms are quite simple. The common saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is chiastic. The wordsgoingandtoughare repeated, in reverse order, in the second half of the sentence. The structure is ABBA. Another example of a chiasm, also with the ABBA structure, is Benjamin Franklin’s axiom “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Other chiasms are more complex, even spanning entire poems.
Many passages in the Bible exhibit chiastic structure. For example, Jesus’ words inMark 2:27are in the form of a chiasm: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Using the ABBA form, the wordsSabbathandmanare repeated in reverse order.Matthew 23:12is another example.
A longer chiasm is found inJoel 3:17–21. This one has seven parts, diagrammed this way: ABCXCBA. Here is the passage:
“‘Then you will know that I, the Lord your God,
dwell in Zion, my holy hill.
Jerusalem will be holy;
never again will foreigners invade her.
In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.
A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house
and will water the valley of acacias.
But Egypt will be desolate,
Edom a desert waste,
because of violence done to the people of Judah,
in whose land they shed innocent blood.
Judah will be inhabited forever
and Jerusalem through all generations.
Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged?
No, I will not.’
The Lord dwells in Zion!”
The ideas presented in this prophecy follow this arrangement:
A - God dwells in Zion (verse 17a)
B - Jerusalem is holy (verse 17b)
C - Foreign invaders are banished (verse 17c)
X - The blessings of the Kingdom (verse 18)
C - Foreign enemies are destroyed (verse 19)
B - Jerusalem and Judah are preserved (verses 20–21a)
A - God dwells in Zion (verse 21b)
Other passages that provide examples of chiasms include Ecclesiastes 11:3—12:2;Genesis 6—9;Amos 5:4–6a;Isaiah 1:21–26; and Joshua 1:5–9. Chiastic patterns in the Bible are just one more example of the richness and complexity of God’s inspired Word.
Recommended Resources:Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy ZuckandLogos Bible Software.
See other samples: https://www.google.com/search?q=The+chiastic+structure&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=667&tbm=isch&imgil=vQtUsnnbEdWAtM%253A%253BSEoidpCUiZRyPM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.bible-discernments.com%25252Fjoshua%25252Fwhatisachiasm.html&source=iu&pf=m&fir=vQtUsnnbEdWAtM%253A%252CSEoidpCUiZRyPM%252C_&usg=__hxYfgLB0LaQRCN_eTFm8AGeg-DQ%3D&ved=0CE0Qyjc&ei=4pFzVOjoOIapgwSr5oDoDQ#tbm=isch&q=The+chiastic+structure&facrc=_&imgdii=Czz7RiprKgnxGM%3A%3BDECqiwOzoOYEnM%3BCzz7RiprKgnxGM%3A&imgrc=Czz7RiprKgnxGM%253A%3BmvIapTJTw-Bw5M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fshmita.co%252Fwp-content%252Fuploads%252F2014%252F04%252Fbible-archeology-exodus-mt-sinai-sinai-drawing-shmita.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fshmita.co%252Ftag%252Fyovel%252F%3B1998%3B1397
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