Are they Hebrews? so am I
The nation of the Jews were called Hebrews, not from Abraham, as some have F23 thought, through ignorance of the Hebrew language, which will by no means admit of such a derivation and etymology of the name; wherefore the Jewish writers never make mention of this opinion as among any of them; had they took their name from Abram or Abraham, they would rather have been called Abramires or Abrahamites, and not Hebrews; besides, Abraham himself is called an Hebrew, ( Genesis 14:13 ) and to be so called from himself, and not denominated from some other person or thing, can never be imagined, it would be most absurd and ridiculous; to which may be added, that the apostle in this verse makes mention of being the seed of Abraham, as a distinct character from that of Hebrews: others have been of opinion that the name is derived from (rbe) , "Habar", which signifies, "to pass over"; and was occasioned by one or other of the following events; either from Abraham's passing over the river Euphrates, when he came out of Mesopotamia into the land of Canaan, and so was called Abram, (yrbeh) "Hahibri, the passer over", or the Hebrew F24, and so his posterity were called after him; or from the posterity of Canaan, who, after the confusion at Babel, settled in that part of Asia which lies between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean sea, and from them called the land of Canaan; and who were called by the Chaldeans, from whom they separated, and by the neighbouring nations, Hebrews, or passers over, because they passed over the river Jordan; and so Abraham passing over the river Euphrates to them, and learning their language, and continuing there, he was called an Hebrew also, and his posterity after him F25; or from Arphaxad, or Heber, passing over the river Tigris or Euphrates, and settling in the land of Canaan F26; but it is not likely that a nation should take its name from such an event: others think it a more probable opinion that Abraham was so called, and hence his posterity after him, from the name which the Canaanites gave to Mesopotamia, from whence he came; calling it Heber Hannahar, or the country beyond the river: just as we call foreigners Transmarines, or people beyond sea; and of this opinion were some of the Jewish writers F1; but not Mesopotamia, but Canaan, is called the land of the Hebrews, ( Genesis 40:15 ) . The more commonly received opinion with the F2 Jews is, and which is most likely, that they are so called from Heber, the father of Peleg, in whose days the confusion of languages was made, and what is now called the Hebrew language being the first and original one, was retained in him and in his family; hence Shem is said to be the father of all the children of Heber, ( Genesis 10:21 ) that is, the Hebrews, as the same people are called the children of Israel from Israel, and the children of Judah from Judah, and sometimes they go by the name of Heber, as in ( Numbers 24:24 ) when as the Assyrians are called Ashur, from whom they have their name, so the Hebrews are called Heber, from whom they take their denomination: and it should be observed, that this is not only a national but a religious name, and those people were called so, because they were of the faith as well as the descendants of Heber; so Shem was the father of others, but in a peculiar manner the father of the children of Heber, because the religion he professed was continued with them; and so Abraham is particularly called the Hebrew, not only because he descended from Heber, but was of the same, religion; and so his posterity, not in the line of Ishmael, but of Isaac, are so called; and not as descending from Isaac in the line of Esau, but of Jacob; and hence it was not lawful for the Egyptians to eat bread with the Hebrews, not because they were of another nation, but because of another religion, ( Genesis 43:32 ) . It seems that these false apostles were Jews, since it is not denied by the apostle, but granted; they were some such like false brethren as those who came from Judea to Antioch, and disturbed the church there, ( Acts 15:1 ) and whereas they boasted of their being Hebrews, the descendants of the ancient patriarch Heber in the line of Abraham; the apostle was able to match them in this, and asserts himself to be an Hebrew too, which he could do with the strictest truth, for he was an Hebrew of the Hebrews, he was an Hebrew by father and mother's side:
are they Israelites? so am I.
The Jews were called Israelites from Israel, a name which was given to Jacob their ancestor, upon his wrestling with an angel, and prevailing over him; and was accounted an honourable one, or title of honour; for the people of Israel were they whom God chose for a peculiar people to himself above all others, brought them out of Egypt, fed them in the wilderness, and led them through it, and settled them in the land of Canaan, and bestowed upon them special and peculiar privileges; see ( Romans 9:4 Romans 9:5 ) . The Jews are very extravagant in the praise of Israelites; they not only make them the favourites of God, beloved of him, because called children, and had the law given them F3, and extol them above all mankind; (See Gill on Romans 3:9) but they even make them equal to the ministering angels, and say they are pure from sin as they, especially on the day of atonement F4, yea, more excellent than they F5: in this also the apostle could answer them, for he was of the stock of Israel, and of the tribe of Benjamin, a son of Jacob, or Israel; and was an Israelite indeed, as Nathanael, for all are not Israel that are of Israel:
are they the seed of Abraham? so am I:
of this the Jews mightily boasted; see ( John 8:33 ) they reckon themselves, even the poorest among them, as the nobles and princes of the earth F6; and even other people have been fond of being reckoned of the stock of Abraham, as particularly the Lacedemonians,
``Areus king of the Lacedemonians to Onias the high priest, greeting: It is found in writing, that the Lacedemonians and Jews are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham:'' (1 Maccabees 12:20,21)The Jews make a merciful disposition to men to be a sign and evidence of being of the seed of Abraham F7; but in a spiritual sense, an interest in Christ, and faith in him, denominate men to be truly Abraham's seed, and heirs of the promise: this is to be understood here in a natural sense, and of being of Abraham's seed in the line of Jacob, for otherwise the Ishmaelites and Idumeans were of the seed of Abraham; but they were his seed in that line in which the promised seed, the Messiah, was to come; though this was of no avail, without having the same faith Abraham had, and believing truly in Christ, as his spiritual seed do, whether they be Jews or Gentiles; however, the apostle was equal to them in this respect; he was of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, and above them in another, in that he was of Abraham's spiritual seed by faith in Christ Jesus.
F23 Artapanus apud Euseb. praepar. l. 9. c. 18. p. 420. Ambrosius sive Hilarius in Phil. iii. 5. & alii.
F24 Hicronymus in Ezek. c. 7. fol. 183. B. Theodoret. in Gen. Qu. 60.
F26 Ar. Montan. Canaan, c. 9. Vid. Sigonium de Repub. Heb. l. 1. c. 1. p. 16.
F1 Bereshit Rabba, sect. 42. fol. 37. 3. Vid. Jarchium in Gen. x. 21. & xiv. 13. & Aben Ezram in Exod. xxi. 2.
F2 Joseph. Antiqu. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 4. Targ. Jon. in Gen. x. 21. Sepher Cosri, par. 1. sect. 49. fol. 24. 2. R. Nehemiah in Bereshit Rabba, ut supra, Aben Ezra in Gen. x. 21. & xxxix. 14. & in Exod. i. 16. Kimchi in rad. (rbe) .
F3 Pirke Abot, c. 3. sect. 14.
F4 Pirke Eliezer, c. 48.
F5 lb. c. 47.
F6 Misn. Bava Kama, c. 8. sect. 6.
F7 T. Bab. Betza, fol. 32. 2.