[b-hebrew] Genesis 15: 4: bowels/me'ah vs. loins/chalats

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Oct 19 11:22:09 EDT 2007

Rev. Bryant J. Williams  III: 
You raise a fascinating issue regarding  Hebrew language when you write:  
"Genesis 15 is quite clear that a child from Abram's (Abraham's) own body  will 
be born (vss. 1-6)." 
Let me set forth the controversial issue  here regarding the exact Hebrew 
wording involved.  And then perhaps the experts in Biblical  Hebrew on this list 
(perhaps including you?) can help us understand the precise  meaning of two 
different Hebrew words. 
1.  Jacob/"Israel" is promised, unambiguously, that his heir will come from  
his "loins". 
"'[K]ings shall come out of thy  loins'".  Genesis 35:  11 
The Hebrew word used there for "loins" is "chalats":  cheth 
(het)-lamedh-tsade.  (Strong's  #2504) 
That is an unambiguous Hebrew word that means "loins".  Jacob could not adopt 
a boy who was not  Jacob's own blood descendant, because such an adopted boy 
would clearly, and  unequivocally, not be coming from Jacob's "loins"/chalats. 
2.  But when  Abraham is promised an heir at Genesis 15: 4, the unambiguous 
word chalats/loins  is not used.  Rather, here is what  Genesis 15: 4 says: 
"And, behold, the word of the LORD [YHWH] came unto him,  saying:  'This man 
shall not be thine heir;  but he that shall come forth out of thine  own 
bowels shall be thine heir.'"  Genesis 15: 4 
The word aptly translated there as "bowels" is  me'ah:  mem-ayin-heh.  
(Strong's #4578)  That Hebrew word literally means  "intestines" or "stomach".  A 
good  English translation, though using slang, might be  "gut". 
3.  Why isn't  Abraham unequivocally promised at Genesis 15: 4 that Abraham's 
proper heir will  come from Abraham's "loins"/chalats?  Why is ambiguous (or 
arguably ambiguous) wording used at Genesis 15:  4? 
4.  If  Abraham's heir comes from Abraham's 
bowels/gut/intestines/stomach/me'ah, does  that imply that Abraham's heir may not be coming from Abraham's 
loins?  Does the word bowels/me'ah at least  leave open the possibility that 
Abraham may end up adopting a close male blood  relative as his heir, who is not 
literally Abraham's own blood son?  If the author of the text wanted to rule  
out the adoption alternative, why doesn't Genesis 15: 4 then refer to  
5.  In fact,  I see Isaac as being Abraham's blood son.  But the point I keep 
making is that in my opinion, for many years Abraham  himself was not quite 
sure whether Isaac was Abraham's blood son or Abraham's  adopted son.  It may 
well be that  Abimelech never came near Sarah, but the text does not present 
Abraham as  knowing that. 
6.  I would  greatly appreciate any help the experts on Biblical Hebrew could 
give us as to  the meanings of chalats vs. me'ah in Biblical  Hebrew. 
I myself evaluate those two words as follows.  "Chalats" precludes the 
possibility of  Abraham adopting a close male blood relative as his heir.  "Me'ah", 
by contrast, leaves open (or  may leave open) the possibility that Abraham 
might end up adopting a close male  blood relative as his heir, especially if 
Abraham has first tried everything  possible to sire a son the regular way by 
Sarah, and Abraham makes sure his  adopted son will in due course marry a blood 
descendant of Abraham's father  (such as Rebekah). 
In sum, I myself see "me'ah" as being ambiguous on the  blood/adoption issue, 
whereas I see "chalats" as unambiguously being limited  solely to a blood 
7.  Based on  the precise (or imprecise) meaning of Biblical Hebrew, is it 
significant, or  irrelevant, that Genesis 15: 4 does not promise that Abraham's 
heir will come  from Abraham's loins/chalats, but rather says that Abraham's 
heir will come from  Abraham's bowels/gut/me'ah? 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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