By Sam Shamoun
A particular Muslim polemicist raised the following objection in response to the Christian understanding that the Hebrew word echad, which Deuteronomy 6:4 uses to describe the oneness of God, actually points to God being a complex or compound unity, as opposed to existing as a singular or absolute one:
“Both yachid and echad can both be used in the absolute sense and in the compound sense. Just like the word ONE in English. When the Hebrew says Abraham was one (echad) person does this mean Abraham is complex?”
Here are the texts which this particular Muhammadan had in mind:
“Hearken to me, you who pursue deliverance, you who seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for when he was but one (echad) I called him, and I blessed him and made him many.” Isaiah 51:1-2 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
“Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, they that inhabit those wastes of the land of Israel speak, saying, Abraham was one (echad), and he inherited the land: but we are many; the land is given us for inheritance.” Ezekiel 33:23-24
It is apparent that neither the Muslim, nor the Jewish polemicists from whom this objection was taken, have bothered to carefully read these texts that describe Abraham as echad, since these passages actually end up supporting the Trinitarian claim. Note carefully what the following reference actually says:
“Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; When he was but one I called him, Then I blessed him and MULTIPLIED HIM.” Isaiah 51:2 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Here we see that Abraham, though he was one, ended up becoming many. Now the readers may be wondering how could a man become a multitude if he is simply one.
The answer is found in the following texts:
“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of THEE A GREAT NATION, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto THY SEED will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.” Genesis 12:1-7
“And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to THEE will I give it, and to THY SEED for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it UNTO THEE. Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord.” Genesis 13:14-18
“ And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give THEE this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know THAT I SHALL INHERIT IT… And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto THY SEED have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” Genesis 15:7-8, 13-21
“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and THEE, AND WILL MULTIPLY THEE EXCEEDINGLY. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations OF THEE, and kings shall COME OUT OF THEE. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God… And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people SHALL BE OF HER.” Genesis 17:1-8, 15-16
In all of these passages, God promised to make Abraham a great nation by causing him to multiply exceedingly. God also swore to give Abraham the land, which he settled in as a stranger, as his inheritance forever. He further promised that not only would nations and kings come forth from him, but that he would also make Sarah his wife a mother of nations, from which kings would spring forth. And yet we know that neither Abraham nor Sarah ever inherited the land, but their descendants did so hundreds of years later, which is why God told Abraham that it would be his seed which would be given Canaan as their promised possession forever.
The same promise was given to Jacob:
“And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to THEE will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and THOU SHALT SPREAD ABROAD to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:10-17
Here God tells Jacob that he himself would spread across the east, west, north and south since all of that area would be given to him as his inheritance. This obviously refers to Jacob’s descendants whom God would later cause to spread forth in the entire land of Canaan in order to possess it.
What these examples show is that Abraham (and everyone else for that matter) stands in the place of all his offspring that would spring forth from him. Therefore, God could tell Abraham that he himself will inherit the land, or inform Jacob that God will personally spread him abroad throughout the entire region, because God was referring to their descendants that would come forth from their loins. As such, Abraham, who although he is one, represents a multitude of people that would spring forth from his body.
In other words, Abraham is one in a compound sense, not in a unitary, isolated sense, since he stands in the place of his offspring as their representative. This is why Abraham’s actions could be ascribed to his descendants or the promises, which his offspring were to later receive, could be attributed to him, since the one from whom the many came stands in their behalf as their federal head. This point is brought ought by the inspired author to the Hebrews:
“One might say that Levi also, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met Abraham.” Hebrews 7:9-10
Seeing that Abraham stood in the place of his descendants, his act of paying tithes to Melchizedek could be attributed to the Levites as well, since Abraham is their federal head who represented them in all he said and did.
This also explains why even the Muslim scripture itself calls Abraham an UMMA, meaning nation:
Lo! Abraham was A NATION (ommatan) obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the idolaters; S. 16:120 Pickthall
The Quran is merely echoing the Biblical teaching that a person doesn’t merely represent himself, but also his descendants that would spring forth from him. Note, for instance, what the following text says:
On that account: We ordained FOR THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - IT WOULD BE AS IF HE SLEW THE WHOLE PEOPLE: and if any one saved a life, IT WOULD BE AS IF HE SAVED THE LIFE OF THE WHOLE PEOPLE. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. S. 5:32 Y. Ali
Here we see the Islamic scripture recognizing that a person stands in the place of all of his offspring, which is why it is so heinous and evil to unjustly kill a human being since this doesn’t merely end the life of one human soul, but a whole multitude of lives that would have sprung forth from that single individual.
At this point the Quran is parroting the following rabbinic tradition:
We find it said in the case of Cain who murdered his brother, "The voice of thy brother's bloods crieth" (Gen. 4:10). It is not said here blood in the singular, but bloods in the plural, that is, his own blood AND THE BLOOD OF HIS SEED. Man was created single in order to show that to him who kills a single individual IT SHALL BE RECKONED THAT HE HAS SLAIN THE WHOLE RACE, but to him who preserves the life of a single individual IT IS COUNTED THAT HE HATH PRESERVED THE WHOLE RACE. Mishnah Sanhedrin, 4:5
Thus, according to Jewish tradition which is itself derived from the teaching of the Holy Bible, and which even the Quran accepts as correct, neither Abraham nor any other person is considered to be absolutely singular since a person doesn't just represent himself, but also stands in place of those who will descend from him.
How ironic that the very individual whom the Muslims pointed to, e.g., Abraham, in an attempt to refute the Christian position, actually ends up confirming the Trinitarian claim that echad can and does in fact refer to a complex or compound unity!
So much for the Muslim objection.