In the age of the earth controversy, some who support a young-earth view assert that the Hebrew word yālad—which is translated as “beget” in the King James Version—always refers to a direct father-son relationship in Genesis 5, 10, and 11 and other genealogical passages. In an earlier series of articles we discussed that yālad implies only an ancestral relationship, not necessarily a parent-child relationship. This allows for gaps in the genealogical records in the Pentateuch.
Our research has been questioned based on the form (similar to the English concept of verb tense) of yālad. In Genesis 5, 10, and 11, the form of yālad used is called a hiphil, which means the subject is either directly or indirectly causing the result of the verbal action. In this article we confirm that yālad in the hiphil describes an ancestor-descendant relationship that is not necessarily a direct father-son relationship. This conclusion is derived from applying to yālad the same principle of interpretation employed with biblical Hebrew words in general: that the surrounding narrative is key to proper interpretation. In the case of the genealogies, the narrative reveals the nature of the relationship between the one begetting and the one being begotten. Taking Noah as an example, the use of yālad in the hiphil form indicates direct causation when he begets Ham, Shem, and Japheth. However, yālad in the hiphil by itself shows only that Ham, Shem, and Japheth are related to him in a direct line of descent; the surrounding narrative is what reveals that these are father-son relationships.
To further demonstrate the validity of our argument, we’ll examine two narratives that provide examples of yālad in the hiphil used to describe an ancestor-descendant relationship. In both of these cases, a direct father-son relationship is without question impossible. The texts will be examined in reverse historical order.
The setting of the first narrative—recorded in Isaiah 38–39 and 2 Kings 20—is the time Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah, which took place around 701 BC during the latter part of King Hezekiah’s reign. (This includes the famous story of when God sent an angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in the night.) The biblical record of this period also describes Hezekiah’s illness and the visit of emissaries from Merodach-Baladan (aka Marduk-apla-iddina II), king of Babylon. The historical order of these events is a matter of debate among scholars, but it seems certain that they center around the year 701.
The third event is of importance to this discussion. The Babylonian king appears to have sent emissaries to Hezekiah to enlist his aid in fighting against Sennacherib. Isaiah describes it as follows:
Hezekiah was pleased, and showed them all his treasure house, the silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil and his whole armory and all that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his house nor in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them. (Isaiah 39:2, NASB, emphasis original)
Isaiah confronted the king and pronounced judgment upon him for his foolish actions. Note the last part of this prophetic message.
“Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon; nothing will be left,” says the Lord. “And some of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget [yālad in the hiphil], will be taken away, and they will become officials [sārîsîm] in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (Isaiah 39:6–7, NASB, emphasis original)
A casual and uncritical reading of the text would suggest that these “sons” were Hezekiah’s immediate biological offspring because the phrase “who will issue from you” is juxtaposed with yālad in the hiphil. Thus, the crucial question is the identity of the “sons” who will become officials in Babylon.
Isaiah’s prophecy was not fulfilled until a century later when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon made three raids against Judah dated 605–604 BC (cf Daniel 1:1–4), 598–597 BC (cf 2 Kings 24:10–16), and 588–586 BC (cf 2 Kings 25:1–21), respectively. Historical records of the first raid describe it in such a way that it appears to begin the fulfillment. According to Babylonian texts, specifically the Chronicle Concerning the Early Years of Nebuchadnezzar II, Nebuchadnezzar “marched unopposed through the Hatti-land; in the month of Šabatu he took the heavy tribute of the Hatti-territory to Babylon.” To a Babylonian, the Hatti-land (land of the Hittites) included Judah. This raid is probably the raid mentioned in the book of Daniel:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. (Daniel 1:1, NASB)
When Babylonians returned home from such raids, they carried back treasures and prisoners. In the ancient world these might be dedicated to the pagan temples and/or to service in the king’s palace (temple and palace were closely related in the minds of these people). The book of Daniel continues:
The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials [sārîsîm], to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking (Daniel 1:2–4a, NASB, emphasis added)
This is the first known instance of the Jewish royal family being taken to Babylon and made into officials (sārîsîm) in the Babylonian court. In the two subsequent raids, all of Jerusalem’s treasures were removed and the city utterly obliterated. Together, these three raids fulfilled every aspect of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Hezekiah died around 687 BC; Jehoiakim was his great-great-grandson. Therefore, the royal “sons” taken captive as youths were probably great-great-great-grandsons of Hezekiah. Yet the text clearly says they were begotten (yālad in the hiphil) by Hezekiah. We emphasize that, in this case, yālad in the hiphil is in the same form as yālad in Genesis 5 and 11.
It is absolutely clear from this example that yālad in the hiphil does not necessarily imply a parent-child relationship, but rather it represents a general ancestral relationship.
Moses’s Farewell Address
Let us now move to a Mosaic text from Deuteronomy to verify that Moses—who we believe was the author of the Pentateuch—held the same understanding of yālad in the hiphil. An example is found in Moses’s farewell address:
When you become the father of [yālad in the hiphil] children and children’s children and have remained long in the land... (Deuteronomy 4:25a, NASB)
In this verse, yālad in the hiphil obviously refers, at least, to grandchildren as well as children. Again, yālad is in the same form as in Genesis 5 and 11, verifying that in Mosaic literature yālad in the hiphil does not necessarily imply a parent-child relationship.
From these two examples, together with our earlier articles, it can be concluded that large gaps are possible in the genealogies in Genesis 5, 10, and 11. We welcome thoughtful response to this article.
Daniel J. Dyke, MDiv, MTh
Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary 1981 and currently serves as professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.
Dr. Hugh Henry, PhD
Dr. Hugh Henry received his PhD in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as Lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.