5 Mar 2020

My Father was what kind of Aramean!?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, American Empire, Baptism, Church, Deuteronomy, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Kingdom Come, Mission, Worship
My Father was a Homeless Aramean

A Confession of Saving Grace

Ancient Israelites did not possess personal Bible’s nor, for that matter, did ancient Christians. They remembered (they were instructed) the “story” that mattered through worship. Israel’s worship calendar took the average Israelite through the Gospel of God’s Saving Grace every year. In the festivals, the story is told (=remembered).

For example, during “first fruits” (=Pentecost) the worshiper would come to the Lord with a basket of the fruit of the land. The basket of food was given to the priest. Then God’s people offered a “confession.” And then they gathered for a feast with all priests, the slaves and the aliens, in the Presence of the Lord. Worship suddenly redefined the social world, a new world was created.

Then you, together, with the Levites and the aliens among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house” (Deuteronomy 26.11. Notice that v.12 continues to list the powerless).

The confession God’s people offered is found in Deuteronomy 26.5-10 (vv 1-10). This is one of the most important statements of biblical faith. It is even incorporated into the Passover as well.

So the Israelite would say, “confess,” the narrative of God’s Mighty Acts. It may be sort of like the Old Testament version of what Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15.1-4. The creed of God’s acts.

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor;
he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien,
few in number,
and there he became a great nation,
mighty and populous.
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us,
we cried to the LORD,
the God of our ancestors;
the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction,
our toil, and our oppression.
The LORD brought us out of Egypt
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,
with a terrifying display of power,
and with signs and wonders;
and he brought us into this place and gave us this land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.
(Deuteronomy 26.5-9, NRSV. The text from v.1 to v.15 ought to be meditated upon).

My father was a wandering Aramean …” (NIV)

What a stunning confession of the grace of God we encounter here. Yahweh’s graciousness is stressed and Jacob’s (=Israel) vulnerability are the core of the Israelite confession of faith. The confession binds the ancient past to the present worshipper. Israel went into Egypt long ago but it is “we” who are afflicted, enslaved, oppressed and delivered.

Worship conflates the distance of time and space and brings God’s mighty act of grace for the aliens in Egypt to the very moment “we” stand before God with thankful hearts to share God’s grace with slaves and aliens.

Israel’s worship magnifies God’s grace by testifying to Yahweh’s decision to side with the “least of these.” Israel’s obedience is never mentioned. What is mentioned is Israel’s desperate situation. Yahweh quite literally delivered Israel from the “kingdom of death” and brought us into the “kingdom of life.”

Who Are “We”?

The first line says quite a bit. In a terse statement our sense of privilege is annihilated. We are what our ancestor was. What kind of Aramean was he/we?

I have studied this text many times and its significance has only grown. Today, I was startled, yet again, by what I did not know. So what kind of an Aramean is Jacob/Israel?


At the very least, Jacob was a nomadic migrant. Israel followed in his footsteps by wandering around in the Wilderness learning that life does not come from the stability that we humans manufacture for ourselves. Rather Israel was thrust into a nomadic life for forty years in the Sinai desert to learn that they are dependent upon the hesed of Yahweh to care for our daily needs.

Remember the long way the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8.2-3)

We, of course, recognize these words from Jesus’s testing the Wilderness (Mt 4.4 citing Dt 8.3). Jesus, like his ancestor became a wandering Aramean having no place to lay his head (Mt 8.20). But long before Jesus, Israel’s worship calendar took Israelites back to the wilderness during the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles. Yet again the stress is on remembering Yahweh’s care and reminding us of who we really are. We are a wandering people, a migrant people … a “wandering Aramean was our ancestor.

Biblical worship reminds us of our identity by stressing the vulnerability we remember about ourselves.

אֹבֵ֣ד (‘obed)

But the confession of our ancestors says more than we are mere wanderers. I was reading in a different translation today and was stopped dead in my tracks. I pulled down my Hebrew Bible and low and behold.

The term ‘obed‘ translated as “wandering” in most Protestant Bibles occurs 185 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is translated “wandering” a whopping total of one single time (1x) in the NIV, KJV, etc, right here in Deuteronomy 26.5.

This sent me to examine a myriad of other occurrences of the term. What other ideas lie hidden away in this term that are lost to us because of the power of tradition in translation?

The root has two basic meanings:

  1. perishing/dying/destroyed
  2. become lost

The word stresses the fragility of life or circumstances.

Sometimes the term refers to something that has been destroyed, or to possessions or even hope that has been lost. So a donkey or a cloak can become ‘obed.

“you shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey or garment; and you shall do the same for anything your neighbor loses” (Deut 22.3; 1 Sam 9.3,20).

The Psalmist says, “I have gone astray like a sheep” (119.176).

The idea of perishing/destroyed is in many texts. “you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places” (Num 33.52).

My ancestor was an ‘obed!


The term “wandering” in English hardly captures what the ancient Israelite is commanded to confess and remember. It will be recalled the only place, out of 185x, where our term is so translated.

Israelites are told to remember the lack of status of their heritage, the lack of power to take care of themselves. This magnifies the grace of Yahweh. So here are some translations that tell us what kind of ancestor we have.

1) “An AILING Aramean was my father” (Peter Craigie’s Commentary)
2) “My father was an Aramite REFUGEE” (First Testament: A New Translation)
3) “An Aramean Astray my Ancestor” (Schocken Bible)
4) “My father was a HOMELESS Aramean” (NEB/REB)
5) “My father was a FUGITIVE Aramean” (Tanakh)
6) “My father was a STARVING Aramean” (Common English Bible)
7) “a NOMAD Aramean was my father” (The Bible: An American Translation)

The force of Deuteronomy 26.5 is compelling. Israelites were a family of nobodies living off the “handouts” of Yahweh. The force of this confession is to curb arrogant self-reliance, foster humility, and constantly keep in our face that we exist by the generosity of Another (read the whole of 26.1-11). This confession is so important that it is also incorporated into the Passover liturgy.

My Father was a starving Aramean

A Nation of Aliens

The very identity of God’s people is enmeshed with the precarious existence of aliens. We are refugees. We are ailing. We are homeless. We are starving. We are nomads. We are fugitives. We survive because Yahweh gives us grace.

Using slightly different terminology, but same idea, the Bible repeatedly stresses that God’s people are aliens. We are not aliens to God’s good creation. We are aliens to the power structures of this fallen age, the Egypt’s, the Assyria’s, the Babylon’s, the Roman’s, the German’s, and even the American.

And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers …” (Hebrews 11.13-16)

Beloved, I urge you, as aliens and exiles …” (1 Peter 2.11-12)

As John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine write in Kingdom Come about the radical nature of baptism.

“This new life entails seeing the world from the perspective of the new creation. Baptism entails the inauguration of a new humanity, one that is no longer defined by race, gender, nationality, or political orientation (Gal 3:27-28). This means we are no longer defined by the ideologies of the present age. To put it another way, baptism explains why disciples do not make the best Americans, Germans or Ethiopians.” (Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding, p. 40)

God’s people know who they are. Our status as graced fugitive/homeless/starving/refugees facilitates empathy in God’s people for others. This is why Yahweh told Israel they were to “know the heart of an alien.”

Do not oppress an alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23.9)

Our Father was a refugee. We are a nation of refugees. We become Pharaoh’s when we forget what all of God’s people confess:

“My father was an Aramite REFUGEE

Surely this text certainly speaks to God’s people today.

The text, once more, blows me away!

Technical Support

‘abad,” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, ed. William A. VanGemeren, vol 1, pp. 223-225.

Mark W. Hamilton, Jesus, King of Strangers

John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding

2 Responses to “My Father was what kind of Aramean!?”

  1. Ed Dodds Says:

    Sons of Abraham – A nation of anointed prophets [Psalm 105:13-15; see also 1 Chron 16]:

    13 When they went from one nation to another,

    From one kingdom to another people,

    14 He permitted no one to do them wrong;

    Yes, He rebuked kings for their sakes,

    15 Saying, “Do not touch My anointed ones,

    And do My prophets no harm.”

    + + + +

    Sons of David – Psalmster Exorcists – https://blog.judahgabriel.com/2007/02/dead-sea-scroll-exorcism-psalms.html

  2. Monte Ray Hawk Says:

    Bobby, you always dig down to those depths that I have seemingly practiced the Passover on. Thanks.


  1. Stoned-Campbell Disciple » Blog Archive » Deuteronomy, Gospel of Moses vs Salvation by Precision Obedience

Leave a Reply