Tuesday, 31 January 2017
…circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; Philippians 3:5
Paul now begins his list of things that could give him “confidence in the flesh.” First on his list is that he was “circumcised the eighth day.” It is the badge of the Jew and the rite goes all the way back to Genesis 17 at the time of Abraham. There the Lord said to Abraham –
“Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” Genesis 17:10-13
Being circumcised on the eighth day meant that he was not only in the covenant people, but that he was received into the covenant people, having been circumcised according to this ancient rite on his eighth day of life. No mere proselyte was he, but one with the lineage of Abraham himself.
Next he says that he is “of the stock of Israel.” This is an emphasis concerning what he just noted. Another person could have been born of another nation and circumcised on the eighth day, but he was of the true line of Abraham, through Isaac, and through Jacob who is Israel. He bore in his blood the royalty of the patriarchs.
Thirdly, he says that he was of “the tribe of Benjamin.” He has identified his status within the circumcision, then his status within the national lineage of Israel. Now he further defines the national identity by showing what portion of that group he belongs to, which is “the tribe of Benjamin.” This was a high honor indeed. Israel’s first king, Saul, was of the tribe of Benjamin. Further, the tribe was almost annihilated due to a case of disobedience leading to war against them by the other tribes. They were reduced to a mere 600 men (see judges 20). Members of this tribe also sided with David during his pre-ruling years. They actually supported him in opposition to the king who belonged to their own tribe (see 1 Chronicles 12). These, along with other noted accounts, could be considered a point of boasting.
Fourth, he says that he is “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” The term “Hebrew” was first used of Abraham in Genesis 14:13. It signifies one who has “crossed over.” The name is derived from Abraham’s ancestor Eber who was probably the eldest generation of those who “crossed over” the river in a move away from the area of Babel. From there, a spiritual connection was made to the physical move. They eventually “crossed over” from idolatry to worshipping the true God. Thus, they were set apart from the other nations. The term “Hebrew” is used in the Bible to show a distinction between the people groups. There are the Hebrew people, and this group is contrasted to all foreigners. Even though Paul was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, he had, like his fathers, retained this identity. They remained apart from those around them in cultural and national identity.
Finally in this verse, he notes, “concerning the law, a Pharisee.” Not only was he a Jew who lived under the Law of Moses, he was the epitome of those who held to the law. The Pharisees were known to be the strictest adherents to the faith, and they meticulously lived out every precept as perfectly as they could. They went through intense studies of the law, even from youth, and they had built up a system of life that necessitated their absolute adherence to every fine point of the law and even beyond. Theirs was the leading group of “holy men” to whom everyone else looked to for their certainly notable lives. In Acts 23:6, he notes that he was not only a Pharisee, but he was “the son of a Pharisee.” He was of this tradition, and it went back even before himself.
Life application: Paul could surely boast in these things if they were worth boasting in. He possessed the highest connections to the social and religious life of the people from whom Christ came. Surely if anyone could merit God’s favor apart from the work of Jesus, it would be this guy. But to Paul, only Christ mattered. Where is your boast? In what are you placing your hopes?
Lord God, if I possess the greatest intellect; if I have a voice even of the finest singers on the planet; if I were an actor who played his parts better than any other ever could; if I had both fame and fortune; if I owned the largest tract of land; or if I ran the largest company on the planet… how nifty; how great. But without Christ, not one of these things means diddly. All will return to the earth, and everything we revel in will pass on to another. Help us to think clearly. As believers in Christ, we have the greatest riches of all. Hallelujah for eternal riches which are found in Him alone! Amen.