I am not a scholar of ancient biblical Hebrew… not even close.
But, the wonder of the internet leads me to believe that the translators of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, made an egregious error when they translated Genesis 15:1 to read,
And the Lord said to Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
This sounds as if two things are being proposed:
- God will protect Abram (“I am your shield”).
- God intends to grant Abram a “very great” “reward” at some future yet-to-be determined date.
The “reward” referred to here appears to be a reference back to the original deal God made with Abram in Genesis 12:1,2:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
If Abram is willing to leave behind everything in his life that is familiar, safe and secure, God will produce from him “a great nation”; God will “bless” him, and will “make his name great.”
The problem is that Abram has faithfully fulfilled his end of the bargain and yet by the time we get to Genesis 15:1, there is no sign that the “reward” is about to show up. So Abram launches his complaint against God whining,
O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?…You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.(Genesis 15:2,3)
How is Abram to get his “reward” and become “a great nation,” who will be blessed and whose “name” will be “great” if he remains “childless”?
Here is where the translation problem in Genesis 15:1 becomes important. If the translators of the NRSV got it wrong by connecting the “reward” promised to Abram with the material outcomes upon which Abram appears to be fixated, perhaps Genesis 15:1 actually calls into question our whole understanding of the idea of God’s “reward.”
Abram appears to have been captured by a view of life in which he assumes life owes him something.
It is not an unfamiliar attitude. If we work hard, behave properly, and obey the rules and laws of the land, we assume we should be rewarded.
When the rewards seem inadequate, insufficient, or not entirely to our liking, we, like Abram, are tempted to launch out in search of someone, or something, to blame. It is tempting to lash out in anger at whoever it is we come to perceive has obstructed our way to the full reward we believe we deserve.
This frustrated reward mentality fuels a vicious and dangerous political attitude currently plaguing the world.
But what if the KJV version of Genesis 15:1 is correct?
The translators of the KJV of the Bible translated Genesis 15:1 to read:
And the Lord said to Abram, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
The difference between the KJV and the NRSV rendering is startling. In the KJV version, the reward is not some great prize in the future. It has nothing to do with becoming a “great nation”, being “blessed,” or having a “great name.” Instead, God is the reward.
The reward is discovering in our innermost being that the presence, power, love, beauty, and truth we call “God” live within the deepest part of our being. These realities are our true nature as beings created “in the image of God.” We already possess all the “reward” for which our hearts might ever yearn.
Life is its own reward. We do not need to get something more; there is nowhere to go, nothing we need to achieve or accomplish. The “reward” is here.
It is only as we become truly aware that we have been deeply blessed by the presence of God in our lives that we begin to be able to fulfill the last part of God’s original promise to Abram,
in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)
We become a blessing to others because we know we have been blessed. The “reward” is becoming conscious of the presence of the Divine Beauty Who lives at the core of our being. We are inspired, motivated, and guided in blessing others, not to gain a reward, but as an expression of the reward we know we have already received.