Lekh-Lekha

Lekh-Lekha

Get yourself out

Genesis 12:1-17:27
Isaiah 40:27-41:16

“The Father of Faith”


by Mark Huey

By the time one turns to the third Torah reading, Lekh-Lekha, the recorded story of humanity indicates how the Almighty God has had direct contact with certain noted individuals. Despite the fact that considerable history is covered in a relatively short space (Genesis chs. 1-11), we see that after the scrambling of the languages to encourage migration (Genesis 11:7-8), there remained a growing population in Mesopotamia. As Genesis 11 closes, the genealogical trails recorded narrow down to one chosen family, and eventually one individual in Abram/Abraham, who will dominate a great deal of the Scriptural message for future generations (Genesis 11:27-32). Noting the significant amount of faith demonstrated by Abraham, the Apostle Paul would call him in the First Century, “the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).

The Lord Calls Abram

Abraham and his family were natives of the Mesopotamian city of Ur (Genesis 11:28), located in what is today Southern Iraq. Located adjacent to the Euphrates River, Ur was undoubtedly an important commercial center, which received a wide amount of trade extending down into the Persian Gulf. While Lekh-Lekha informs us of how Abraham’s family, presumably including his father Terah and others, had some kind of connection with the Creator God—it is also true that idolatry was rampant in their native land. As Genesis 11 concludes, we find that Terah, his son Abram with wife Sarai, and grandson Lot, departed Ur and moved northward, ultimately settling in Haran on the way to Canaan (Genesis 11:31). Why they settled in Haran is unknown, but it was here where Terah died and left his oldest son Abram with his estate, and perhaps the inclination to continue the journey to Canaan with his wife and nephew.

It is at this juncture that the account turns dramatically to the voice of the Lord commanding Abram to leave not only his country, but his relatives and his father’s house, in order to journey to a special land that He was going to show him:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1-3).

At the time of this command from the Lord, Abram was seventy-five years old and childless (Genesis 12:4-5). He had been an obedient son in leaving Ur. The Lord obviously had His eye upon Abram, and when this dramatic communication came, he must have been overwhelmed with fear. Not only was Abram commanded to leave all of the comforts of his country, but he was given a significant blessing that has been repeated numerous times down throughout the ages (i.e., Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8).

Can you imagine hearing this list of blessings from the Creator God? Here was a seventy-five year old man, who was living in what seems to be a remote part of upper Mesopotamia, who heard that the Almighty was going to make him—a childless husband—into a great nation (l’goy gadol, Genesis 12:2). On top of promising Abram many descendants, God said that He would bless Abram, and make his name great, in order to be a blessing to others. Also stated is how those who blessed Abram would be blessed, and that those who cursed him would be cursed. Perhaps the most important remark made is v’nivreku b’kha kol mishpechot ha’adamah, “and all the clans of the earth through you shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, Alter). In spite of the complications of his being reared in Ur, with its many temptations and having seen many other gods worshipped, Abram knew who this One God was, and heeded His word when it was delivered.

Upon hearing the audible voice of God, and the incredible blessings communicated, Abram was required to exercise some faith or trust in this promise. Abram not only embarked on his journey forward from Haran with his wife Sarai, nephew Lot, and their accumulated possessions—but upon arriving in the Land of Canaan, we see that the Lord appeared to him with another promise, which is that his descendants would be given this land. Abram’s response was to build an altar and worship the Lord, confirming how he was dedicated to the Creator God and wanted his fellow travelers to recognize his faithfulness:

“Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:5-8).

Abram and Sarai in Egypt

Upon arriving in the land of Canaan, the faith that Abram had demonstrated in God began to be tested. Almost immediately, Abram had to survive a regional famine (Genesis 12:10), which required him to actually relocate to Egypt in order to find food for his entourage. While in Egypt, Abram had to contend with the possibility that the Egyptian Pharaoh would admire the beauty of his wife Sarai, and want to include her in his harem. This dilemma caused Abram to take some measures that seem somewhat contradictory to him being a man of faith, indicating that Abram did have a few faults:

“Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.’ It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house” (Genesis 12:9-15).

Departing Canaan, after all of the promises delivered from the Almighty, had to be difficult. After all, God had dynamically affirmed to Abram significant promises to give his descendants such territory. They arrived in Canaan, there was a famine, and to complicate matters, the only known source of food was in Egypt. The customs of the Egyptians were known to Abram, who feared that knowledge of his marriage to Sarai was going to jeopardize his personal survival. Rather than introduce Sarai as his wife, Abram chose to refer to her as his sister, being less than honest. One might justifiably ask why a man of God would subject his wife to such an ordeal.

It is detectable that there was a lack of trust on the part of Abram, in telling Sarai to say that she was his sister. While the ruling Pharaoh thought that Sarai was only Abram’s sister, he was treated well and was given livestock and servants from him (Genesis 12:16). We further see how a plague hit the Pharaoh because of him keeping Sarai, who then found out that Sarai was Abram’s wife. Consequently, Abram and his company were escorted out of Egypt (Genesis 12:17-20).

To many modern-day followers of the Holy One, the actions of Abram in Egypt are quite perplexing. The person commonly regarded to be “the father of the faith,” was not sternly admonished for his decisions in the Scriptural text. Did God condone Abram’s actions in telling Sarai to call herself his sister, considering the real possibility of Abram’s execution by Pharaoh? While speculation has surely been offered over the centuries by both Jewish and Christian readers, the key promise delivered by God (Genesis 12:1-3) would undoubtedly have to override whatever human or mortal actions might intervene. It would be fulfilled no matter who would try to stop it. Abram would have multitudes of descendants. If he were killed by the Pharaoh, then it would prove that the Creator God was untrustworthy.

Still, one can only imagine the conversations that took place as Abram and Sarai, after the uncomfortable situation in Egypt, journeyed back east toward the Negev and Canaan (Genesis 13:1). They might have had additional wealth and an expanding entourage of servants (Genesis 13:2-4), but there was still a growing faith and trust in the God they served that needed to develop further.

Abram and Lot

Upon Abram’s return to the place of the altar he had originally built (Genesis 13:3), he must have worshipped and praised the Holy One for guiding him and his family through the famine ordeal. But another challenge was looming. With the additional wealth and expansion of herds belonging to both Abram and Lot, the herds needed to be separated so that both growing families could find sufficient grazing land. Rather than the elder Abram choosing where to ultimately settle, and sending Lot on his way, Abram elected to let his nephew have the choice on where he desired to raise and graze his herds (Genesis 13:5-12).

Abram had to have absolute trust in the Lord, as he deferred to Lot’s decision on where he wanted to relocate. Lot was naturally attracted to the lush and abundantly watered land in the valley of the Jordan. But, Abram was totally content in Lot’s decision, because after all, God had promised the land of Canaan to his descendants. As Lot moved himself to Sodom, there is a narrative prompt informing readers how “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD” (Genesis 13:13).

As Abram and Lot went on their separate ways, and Abram began to establish himself within this new land—the only major remaining challenge was the thought of descendants and for him and the aging Sarai. As the two of them got older, the likelihood of the two of them bearing children was becoming an issue. So to perhaps ease some of their concerns, the Lord once again confirmed to Abram that he was doing the right thing. The Promised Land would be theirs for perpetuity, and they would have great numbers of descendants:

“The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.’ Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 13:14-18).

After hearing about the magnitude of his descendants, and surveying the land through its length to breadth, Abram decided to relocate from his perch along the heights between Bethel and Ai, to further south to some land near Hebron (Genesis 13:18). Upon arriving in his new location, faithful Abram acknowledged the blessings of the Lord, and built another altar to worship and praise Him. After having received God’s blessings of favor in the land, surviving through a famine in hostile Egypt, being sent back to Canaan with additional wealth, and resolving the growing disputes with Lot’s herdsmen—Abram was now in the area where he ultimately would reside and be buried. Yet, Abram would be significantly tested, as his nephew Lot encountered trouble in Sodom.

Wars in the Middle East are not just a recent occurrence, but have been present throughout history. A regional conflict erupted between various local kings, with the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah caught up in the fighting (Genesis 14:1-9). In the midst of the fighting, the two cities were vacated (Genesis 14:10) and looted by the invaders (Genesis 14:11). Lot was actually one of those who was taken prisoner, as he was living in Sodom. Upon hearing about Lot’s capture, faithful and loyal Abram took rescuing actions to save Lot and his family from certain demise:

“They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people” (Genesis 14:12-16).

Despite difficult odds, the aged Abram saw that an expedition, or in modern-day terms a “strike team,” was assembled to go rescue his nephew. Obviously, Abram did not need to risk his own life and those of his companions to save Lot—but by faith in the Lord, and displaying some skill, Abram not only defeated the marauders, but returned to Sodom with some booty and prisoners of war (Genesis 14:16). At this point in our Torah portion, we see a definite peek into the faithful heart of Abram:

“Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ He gave him a tenth of all. The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.’ Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share’”” (Genesis 14:17-24).

Interestingly, the king of Sodom, and the king of Salem, Melchizedek, went out to greet Abram upon his return. The contrasting actions of these two kings is indicated by the disposition of their hearts. The reluctantly grateful king of Sodom wanted some of the spoils of war, but requested only the prisoners, seemingly being generous in not wanting the goods taken. Abram was not impressed, as he simply requested that those who fought be rewarded with a legitimate division of the spoils taken.

On the other hand, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, was obviously a follower of the One True God, the same as Abram. It is understood by Abram’s response to the praise bestowed upon the Most High God, that he knew how he and Melchizedek both honored and worshipped the same God. By giving Melchizedek a tenth of his spoils, Abram established a precedent for what developed into the process of the tithe to be given to the Lord. Abram did not want to be yoked to the wicked king of Sodom in any way, but instead, wanted all to know that his allegiance, praise, and worship were to the Lord, the One who had led him on his successful expedition to rescue Lot. As we can see, the faith of Abram was becoming more apparent as revealed. Abram’s special relationship with the Holy One was becoming obvious to all in the region.

Abram Reckoned as Righteous

Following the rescue of Lot, the nagging problem of what to do about children still remained for Abram and Sarai. This couple did not have a physical heir, and the biological clock was surely continuing to tick, as their servant Eliezar of Damascus was the only recognized heir. Had not God promised a physical heir? If so, would this even be possible at such a late stage in their lives?

God was surely pleased with Abram’s handling of the various testing events he had experienced. In His mercy to Abram, He saw that the concern of children for Abram and Sarai was unrelenting. Upon returning from the encounters with the two kings, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision, and specified much more than the surety of Abram having a physical heir. Abram is stated to have been reckoned righteous because of his belief in the Holy One:

“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.’ Abram said, ‘O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.’ Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:1-6).

The word of Genesis 15:6, “And he trusted in HASHEM, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (ATS), is one of the most important verses in the entire Bible for understanding the relationship of people to their Creator. In Genesis 15:6, the verb aman is employed, which in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice) is defined by CHALOT to regard “rely upon (God)” and “believe in” Him.[1] The Septuagint rendered this with the verb pisteuō, “to trust, trust to or in, put faith in, rely on, believe in a person or thing” (LS).[2] While it is most common to see Genesis 15:6 rendered with some form of “believe” in English Bibles, it is not outside of the realm of possibilities to render it with “have faith.” It is upon this critical verse, Genesis 15:6, that James and Paul would both appeal to emphasize a life of trust in the Heavenly Father (James 2:23; Galatians 3:6; Romans 4:3, 20-22).

One of the biggest mistakes that many of today’s Christians can make, when encountering the Tanakh or the Old Testament, is thinking that it presents us with a God who demands that His people work to earn their salvation. While God surely does expect good works and actions of His people, the thrust of Genesis 15:6 is that belief/trust/faith in Him is what reckons a person righteous as one of His own. Abram was confronted with a situation, in being promised by God multitudes of descendants, where he must have had many doubts about it ever taking place. He and his wife were both elderly people! Yet, much of his human uncertainty had to have been overcome—as he placed himself entirely in God’s hands—because we are told how “Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6, NLT). The Apostles would later apply Genesis 15:6 to a life of required faith and trust that people must not only place in the Heavenly Father, but in His Son sent to die to atone for sinful humanity.

The Conception of Ishmael

Within Lekh-Lekha, we see how Abram and Sarai concluded that they would not be able to conceive a child, due to Sarai’s advanced age. Instead, Sarai recommended that Abram take her handmaiden Hagar to conceive a child. Perhaps, they must have thought, the physical heir from Abram’s loins need not come from Abram’s wife herself. So, the two of them resorted to a local, Ancient Near Eastern, pagan practice. And, while Abraham and Hagar were able to conceive a child, it notably resulted in Sarai despising Hagar:

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me’” (Genesis 16:1-5).

Was the act of Abram impregnating Hagar an act of faith, or of faithlessness? It is noted later that God would actually bless Ishmael (Genesis 17:20), and that from Ishmael would come forth a great nation. Yet in his letter to the Galatians in the First Century, the Apostle Paul would use the analogy of Hagar conceiving Ishmael, to dissuade the new, non-Jewish Believers from being circumcised as proselytes (Galatians 4:21-31). Abram impregnating Hagar has never had a great reputation in the Holy Scriptures, and it is a negative lesson from which all are to learn. Rather than Abram and Sarai waiting to let a child be naturally conceived via their normal sexual relations—they instead force things by having Abram impregnate Sarai, by which a less-than-legitimate child would be born. While Abram is indeed to be regarded as “the father of faith,” he was human and did not always act according to faith.

Abram and Sarai Renamed

Lekh-Lekha concludes as an eternal covenant was made with Abram (Genesis ch. 17), as the Lord once again appeared to and spoke to him. Abram was not only promised that from himself would come “a multitude of nations,” hamon goyim (Genesis 17:4, 5), but it is here when Avram was renamed Avraham or Abraham. Not only would a plentitude of descendants come forth from Abraham, but a child of promise would come forth from the womb of Sarai, renamed Sarah:

“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.’ Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’ God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations’…Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before You!’ But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him’” (Genesis 17:1-9, 15-19).

A physical reminder, circumcision of the foreskin of the male sexual organ, would be issued upon those who would be the beneficiaries of the covenant cut between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:22-27). While physical circumcision is to be regarded as a badge of honor upon those who practice it, as it connects a man to the Patriarch Abraham—circumcision can also be a badge of dishonor, considering all of the unfaithful acts that can be committed with the male member. Both faithful acts to God, and less-than-faithful acts, are seen demonstrated by Abraham in our Torah portion. Both faithful and unfaithful acts have been demonstrated by those men in history who have been physically circumcised (cf. Romans 2:25-29).

Abraham Remembered

Lekh-Lekha is a rather comprehensive Torah reading, with many events witnessed that will inform those studying the remainder of the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Students receive an incredible overview of key trials that ultimately led the chosen Abraham, to be regarded as “the father of faith.” Abraham was uniquely selected by God for this role. While he had his faults, Abraham proved that he was a man who had to place great confidence in his Creator, as the challenges he faced steadily grew. Abraham has left us an example that has stood the test of time. The author of Hebrews lauds the faith of Abraham and Sarah, as they are noted as persons who acted upon the steadfast trust that they placed in the God who called them, not quite knowing what was going to occur or where they were specifically going:

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE [Genesis 15:5-6; 22:17]” (Hebrews 11:8-12).

As you have reviewed the testimonies of Abraham and Sarah, while these two were not perfect people, they did walk by faith and they are examples that we are to follow as Believers in Yeshua. This is because born again Believers, by faith, are to be those who look beyond this temporal realm to the eternal. Hebrews 11:16 says that “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

By contemplating the faith and actions of Abraham, we should each be inspired to walk in a manner that exhibits trust in the Lord, and a secure belief in the reliability of His Word and promises. A clear result of this trust are to be actions of obedience generated when we hear the voice of the Lord, and we serve Him in the world. Perhaps, as we edge closer and closer to the return of the Messiah Yeshua—which certainly requires great faith (cf. 2 Peter 3:4)—a few of us may demonstrate a faith of greater proportions than Abraham? If this is at all possible, then this would also mean that the mistakes made by Abraham must be quantitatively avoided.


NOTES

[1] William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), 20.

[2] LS, 641.

Noach

Noach

Noah

Genesis 6:9-11:32
Isaiah 54:1-55:5 (A); 54:1-10 (S)

“A Resting Faith”


by Mark Huey

Perhaps one of the most compelling testimonies of faith and belief in God, witnessed from the opening chapters of Genesis, is the life of Noah. The example of Noah, in association with the disastrous judgment of the Flood brought upon the world, is something from which we all need to take significant instruction. While the tests and challenges faced by Noah have been praised and heeded by followers of the Creator God down through the ages since, our second Torah portion also records some significant unfaithful acts, of those many human beings who have rebelled against the Holy One and suffered the consequences of sin. These contrasting examples continually remind Torah students that there are two distinct paths people can choose to follow.

As we each contemplate the multiple centuries of early human history condensed into the chapters of Noach, it is critical to note that distinctions, between the faithful and the faithless, have never really changed to our present day. People will either have faith in the Almighty God, and follow His instructions and directions for living as communicated—or they will demonstrate a breach of faith, and disregard His instructions and directions for living. The consequences of what one chooses really do matter, because the final destiny of every person is determined by either his faith in the Almighty or his denial of Him. So, with these points already recognized as a premise, let us examine our parashah for this week with these sobering thoughts in mind.

Evil Always

The closing words of our previous Torah portion, Bereisheet (Genesis 1:1-6:8), describe the nearly complete dissatisfaction that the Creator God had with humanity, given how civilization had gotten progressively worse. The Lord decreed that He actually needed to blot out—exterminate—the human race because of its wickedness:

“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8).

It is difficult to imagine that the Creator God had this amount of grief over His creation of humankind, and that He was sorry that He had ever done it. What He had previously decreed as tov meod, or “very good” (Genesis 1:31), had now become something significantly riddled with wickedness and sin. Seeing that kol-yetzer machshevot l’bo raq ra, “all purpose (of) thoughts his heart only evil” (Genesis 6:5, editor’s wooden rendering), “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5, NIV). God was absolutely distressed about what had befallen human civilization, and drastic action had to be taken. Obviously, falling from the status of being “very good,” to God wanting to exterminate the human race, must have been very distressing.

As our Torah portion for this week opens, we see that there was one individual who found favor in God’s sight: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). What needs to be immediately recognized here is how the Hebrew chein or “favor,” was translated by the Greek Septuagint as charis or “grace.” There is certainly grace in the Old Testament! The favor or grace of God has always been a characteristic of Him.

Why was Noah (and his family of course) the only person who found grace in the sight of the Creator? In the narrative from Bereisheet last week, some information is given to readers about the birth of Noah, which appears to give us some clues as to the tasks the Lord intended him to fulfill. Upon Noah’s birth, it is communicated that his father Lamech named him Noach, because he was one who would be able to provide some sort of rest:

“Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son. Now he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed.’ Then Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years after he became the father of Noah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years, and he died. Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 5:28-32).

Why would Noah provide rest from how, “Out of the ground which the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:29, RSV)? Does this have to do with the promised seed that was anticipated to come (Genesis 3:15)? Does this have to do with the destiny that Noah was supposed to fulfill? If so, why did Lamech regard the ground as “cursed”? Did this come as a result of the Fall, or could it have been the result of human sin and how difficult life had become for those still seeking to follow the Creator God?

There are many questions that can be asked about why Noah was named Noah, as what Noah did is considered and probed by each of us from this week’s Torah portion. We need to stay away from far-fetched speculation or guessing, and stick to what is communicated to us about Noah’s character and belief. Noah was one of a select line of people, who in spite of the growth of sin throughout the world of humanity, remained in communion with the One True Creator. As Noah found favor or grace in His sight, he was regarded as righteous (tzadiq) and blameless (tamim), walking with Him. Because of Noah’s faithfulness to God and His ways, he was given what must have seemed to be an impossible task to fulfill. Noah would have the job of building an ark that would rescue the animals associated with humanity from the deluge, and he followed the instructions that God gave him:

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. As for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.’ Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (Genesis 6:8-22).

Reading what Noah was told, its implications for how human civilization had truly fallen into great evil, and how Noah obeyed—is truly daunting. There are definitely debates over what much of this meant for the participants, how the ark was built, and how the Flood actually took place as an ecological disaster, in contemporary Jewish and Christian theology. The main point, of course, is that sin had to be judged, Noah had to rescue what would survive, and above all how Noah—who among all the people of the world, still had faith in God—kept faith in God.

The Flood Arrives

The test of faith for Noah, in what God had commanded him, would have had to be extraordinary. Yet, Noah labored on the ark project with his sons, and presumably also his wife and their wives—possibly without any other help (Genesis 7:5-6). Noah faithfully obeyed the instruction of the Lord, and also had to endure the ridicule of his contemporaries, who no doubt chided him for what must have seemed to them an utter folly. In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is regarded as “a preacher of righteousness.” Even if this is rendered as “a herald of righteousness” (ESV),[1] with no verbal declarations really made—we can know that Noah’s actions in obeying God’s command that he build an ark, surely spoke for themselves. The author of Hebrews would attest in the First Century, how Noah was a great example of faith, as he had obeyed God and prepared the ark, and in the process he condemned the sinful world around him:

“By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Apparently, God in His infinite wisdom, chose to condemn the unbelieving world that had broken faith with Him, by Noah’s lengthy construction project. God wanted to show how keeping faith with Him is absolutely necessary, in order to be spared from His righteous and holy judgment. We see how after the Flood takes place, the waters recede, and Noah and his family were given the job of repopulating the Earth, that a special covenant was made between Noah and the Lord. Most notably, God promised to never judge the Earth again with such an ecological catastrophe as the Flood:

As a reward for Noah’s faithfulness, the Lord established a permanent covenant with Noah and his descendants. This, in essence, reiterated the covenant that was first established with Adam, but now had some additional statements regarding the preciousness of blood, prohibitions against murder, and promises to never flood the Earth again with a visible covenantal sign notable by the rainbow:

“And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man. As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.’ Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, ‘Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ And God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth’” (Genesis 9:1, 6-17).

Following the great disaster of the Flood, and given the job for humanity to literally “start over,” Noah, his sons, and their future descendants would never have to fear another flood of water destined to wipe out civilization. But in spite of the knowledge of the Flood, which would not only make its way into the record of Holy Scripture, but also many Ancient Near Eastern mythologies[2]—human civilization at large has had extreme difficulty remaining faithful to the Creator God, and staying away from the torrent of evil that caused the Flood in the first place!

The Tower of Babel

The narrative of Noach, while dominated by the account of the Flood, does continue on. Noah’s descendants had children, and they began to repopulate Planet Earth (Genesis 10). From God’s perspective, He desired humanity to expand around the globe, but there was still a problem present within the hearts of people. Would people keep faith in Him as the Creator, obeying His direction—or would people break faith in Him, following their own devices for living? The great contrast between the faithful and the unfaithful is evident in the testimony we see of Nimrod, who was a mighty hunter, and who founded his own kingdom (Genesis 10:8-10).

In the account of what transpired at Babel, the epitome of the unfaithfulness of fallen humanity is witnessed. Nimrod and his followers disobeyed God’s specific commands to populate the Earth, by not only building a great city, but making the effort to build a tower that would reach up into Heaven itself. God’s response to this action was to confuse human language, so that people would not be able to easily communicate with one another, and they would have no choice but to spread abroad into different linguistic and ethnic communities:

“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’ The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:1-9).

God was certainly not pleased with the actions of Nimrod and his cohorts. If they kept on building their great tower, the observation of the Lord was actually, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (NJPS). The building of a tower to reach up into Heaven, into the realm of the Creator, would mean what? Going into Heaven to demand a supernatural place of authority alongside of God? Going into Heaven to actually overthrow God? Obviously, either one of these was impossible to do, but human ingenuity and unity for rebellious activities against the Creator was epitomized by the Tower of Babel. So, God confused the languages of people, and forced those at Babel to disband and separate, spreading out across the Earth.

In the scene of the Tower of Babel, a definite example of faithlessness—demanding one’s own will in defiance of God’s will—is crystal clear. People can either keep faith in God, and obey His directions, or they can break faith with God and suffer the consequences. Our Twenty-First Century generation needs to surely heed the example of the Tower of Babel and what it represents for global unity, because we largely have no significant language barriers to overcome. The barriers and divisions we have are political, ideological, and economic. Yet, if human civilization were ever to put some of these aside, what might this communicate in terms of our relationship with the Creator? Obviously for people who are faithful to our Heavenly Father and the Messiah Yeshua, it is said, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). When it comes to those who are unfaithful to the Holy One, we see something more like, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed” (Psalm 2:2). Such will be what takes place when the antimessiah/antichrist finally arrives onto the scene of history.

The Days of Noah to Come

Naturally, many skeptics, in today’s faithless world, will disparage and ridicule the account of the Flood and the Tower of Babel, just like they will mock the account of Creation and the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. But, we need to take comfort in knowing that mocking God and His Word are to be expected, as the End of the Age approaches, and as Believers await the return of the Messiah. The Apostle Peter communicated,

“[T]hat you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’ For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:2-7).

Without wanting to read too much into Peter’s statements above, other than Peter describing how the account of the Flood has significant importance for those who will face the end-times, we can safely deduce that there will be a generation of supposed Bible Believers who will mock the message of Holy Scripture. These will be people who will assume that since life has gone on as it always has gone on, that there will be no Second Coming of the Messiah, and with it the complete arrival of the Kingdom of God on Earth. Just as the Flood came suddenly and swiftly, judging a generation of sinful people—so will the end-times suddenly and swiftly judge the final generation when it finally arrives. The Messiah Himself spoke of the days leading up to His return, as being like the days of Noah:

“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).

While sudden judgment will come upon the sinful world in the time leading up to Yeshua’s return, we should all be very mindful of how much of what occurred in the time leading up to the Flood will be repeated on some level. There is nothing more horrifying than considering the great evil that was perpetuated in human hearts and minds (Genesis 6:5-7). While in the pre-deluge society, people could probably have only killed other people with primitive weapons of war—today the stakes are immensely higher. The means to kill people are significantly more advanced and more lethal, as humanity does possess the legitimate ability to suffer self-extinction. Just this past Summer (2011), when my daughter Maggie was at her CORTRAMID training for the Navy, she spent three days aboard a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, with enough firepower to wipe out the population of half the United States. While an Ohio class submarine with Trident II missiles is intended to be a weapon of deterrence, under the careful control of a responsible government that will only launch nuclear missiles as a last resort—think about all of the rogue states and leaders and groups out there, who would love to have weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, given the prophetic reality that we read about in Scripture, such weapons will be used at one point or another by someone.

While each of us must have a steadfast faith in the God of Creation, to believe in His Word, that there was a real Flood that wiped out humanity in Noah’s day, and that we are to learn lessons for the end-times—how much faith do we have to display in recognizing that the Sovereign Lord Himself presently withholds the full force of evil from being unleashed on Planet Earth? Why has there not been a nuclear bomb detonated in a city, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? Why has there not been another 9/11 terrorist attack since 2001? Should we not be grateful for the level of “peace” that was present throughout the Cold War?

As we peruse the Torah this year, with the theme of faith in mind, there is no better admonition for us to consider, than how the Apostle Paul once said, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Yeshua the Messiah is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6). At some point in the future, and we are already seeing it grow today, the evil and sin of the world will reach a point like that manifested in the time of Noah. The people of the world will fall into the two distinct categories (1) of being faithful to God, and (2) being unfaithful to God. While there will surely be more than just the eight righteous who were spared from the Flood (1 Peter 3:20), the need for us to make sure that there are hundreds of millions of righteous people who possess faith in Yeshua is great!

Examine yourself and make sure that you are among the faithful! Make sure that you have a resting faith, in not only the written Word of God—but most importantly in the atoning work of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)! Be sure that you are faithful to the Lord, and that you can pass whatever tests are to come!


NOTES

[1] Grk. dikaiosunēs kēruka.

[2] Consult the article “Encountering Mythology: A Case Study From the Flood Narratives” by J.K. McKee.

Bereisheet

Bereisheet

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8
Isaiah 42:5-43:10 (A); 42:5-21 (S)

“Torah and Faith”


by Mark Huey

One of the many blessings bestowed upon people, within the Messianic community of faith, is the annual opportunity to return to a study of, and reflection upon, the many profound truths embodied in the weekly Torah readings. It is here within the Chumash or Pentateuch, that Messiah followers can consider the foundation of our faith, as we each seek to be faithful to the God of Creation, pondering His ways and acts for humankind. It is in these first five books of the Holy Writ, that God communicates, without reservation, not only His faithfulness to a chosen people—but most assuredly, the absolute need for His people to faithfully seek Him with all of their hearts and souls (Deuteronomy 4:29).

With a new Torah cycle now upon us, it is my intention to focus the attention of each of us on the critical element of faith (Heb. emunah; Grk. pistis), as first thematically witnessed within the weekly portions—and then obviously present in various important places throughout the remainder of Scripture. According to the author of Hebrews, who in Hebrews ch. 11 focuses on many of the faithful predecessors of our common belief, without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). This year’s Torah teachings will attempt to help the modern-day, Messianic follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who believes in the Messiah Yeshua and has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to increase his or her “measure of faith” (Romans 12:3) in the Lord in order to please Him. Hopefully, this enhancement in faith will result in promoting a greater usefulness for advancing His Kingdom, so that you will find yourself rewarded by Him via your trust and obedience.

For all people who trust in the God of Israel, the study of His Torah is something foundational to understanding the totality of the Holy Scriptures. Most assuredly, the basis for the remainder of the Scriptures comes from the certainty in the human heart, that In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).[1] This opening word to the Bible, speaks to not only a certain starting point in past history for the origin of the universe, but the undeniable fact that there is an Omniscient, Omnipotent God, who has made all things according to His intelligent design. Without affirming this conviction, based on faith in the supernatural act of Creation—much of which is beyond human intellect and comprehension—the balance of Holy Scripture would be nothing more than a collection of interesting stories and philosophical speculations, written and compiled from a variety of merely human authors.

Genuine belief in the Creator God and His revealed Word is essential to being a man or woman of faith! Without a steadfast confidence in the God of the Bible, belief in Him, and His plan for each of us and the world at large, is highly unlikely. Possessing faith in the LORD God, and in the Messiah He has sent, is imperative if we want to understand our destiny as human beings.

The Concept of Faith

It is critical for us to take a brief look at the concept of faith, and what it entails for us as the people of God. In order to do this, there might not be a better place in the Bible than the previously referenced Hebrews ch. 11, to see where a succinct definition of faith is articulated:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:1-3).

Here, it is stated how “faith means that we have full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see” (Phillips New Testament). Followers of God from antiquity past gained His approval by possessing faith in Him—but such “faith” is not a visible, tangible entity. Faith, rather, is intended to be an intense trust or belief implanted into the heart and mind, rooted within a hope that looks beyond the seen world, directed toward an unseen God who created the world. This is something that goes beyond the natural revelation of God in the Creation (cf. Romans 1:19-20), as it is something that each person is to possess as the trials and tribulations of life force us to mature in our relationship with Him, and in our reckoning of His ways and instruction. Faith in God includes an intrinsic desire to know Him as the loving Creator, who has wondrously fashioned everything that exists. In the view of the Apostle Paul, God has allotted to each of us a measure of faith:

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).

Hopefully, by considering the great examples of faith—or faithlessness—through our course of Torah study this year, God will mercifully increase the measure of faith that each of us has. In so doing, may true seekers of God learn more about Him, and be strengthened in order to more fully walk in His ways! May we also have some answers to the questions we have been asking of our Heavenly Father, in terms of how we are to serve Him and what we are to do, during our time here on Earth.

Adam, Eve, Belief, and the Fall

Without a doubt, it requires a certain amount of faith in God, to believe in the Creation account of Genesis chs. 1-2. God took six distinct periods or yamim,[2] in order to form our universe, including: the cosmos, our solar system, Planet Earth, its vegetation, sea and land creatures, and ultimately humanity. People today, who declare faith in the God of the Bible, give Him absolute credit for bringing into existence all that is seen on this planet, and in what lies beyond—and also what they cannot see in terms of microscopic objects and other dimensions. The pinnacle of God’s Creation is undoubtedly the man and woman (Psalm 8), who were made by God in His image (tzelem) to rule over the Earth:

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’…God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:27-28, 31).

One would think that living in the Garden of Eden, where God walked with the first man and woman (Genesis 3:8), and with the creatures and vegetation subject to their dominion—would have been sufficient reason for them to exhibit significant confidence in the goodness and provision of Him as Creator. The instruction given by God, to not eat of the Tree of Good and Evil, seems pretty straightforward and simple enough to follow (cf. Genesis 2:15-25). Yet as is known to each of us, the fact that there was a rule to follow, which forbade its fruit from being eaten, allowed the serpent to enter in and tempt Eve, who had been formed after Adam, and had fewer encounters with God than he did (1 Timothy 2:13).[3] When encountering the serpent, Eve reported how God has forbidden the tree’s fruit from being eaten, but she was taken in by the serpent’s crafty words—not having been informed enough by her husband as to the consequences of what eating the fruit will bring:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”? The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings” (Genesis 3:1-7).

When Adam and Eve both ate the forbidden fruit, they did not “drop dead.” Once they knew the intimate presence of God coming to them in the cool of the evening (cf. Genesis 3:8), but after eating the forbidden fruit, they found themselves “naked,” and they knew something had been spiritually altered. It was at this point that the first human couple’s belief, trust, faith, or confidence in God’s order was challenged. With the intimacy of knowing God in an incredibly personal way—what was going to happen now that God has been disobeyed?

As a result of disobedience, Adam and Eve had their eyes opened to the knowledge of good and evil. They were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and by being expelled from Paradise they were going to have to contend with new challenges that were not a part of their previous, privileged time. Curses were issued upon them. There would be pain in childbirth, and a battle of the sexes would erupt with a woman possessing an “urge” (NJPS)[4] for her husband, who would in turn dominate her. There would be difficulty in having to see vegetation grow, as outside of the Garden of Eden would be thorns and thistles. Most importantly, physical death would come, and the body would return to the physical elements from which it was hewn:

“To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.’ Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face You will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:16-19).

Rather than experiencing physical death immediately, Adam and Eve were instead expelled from God’s most intimate presence, in which they could receive eternal life and never-ending communion with Him. Cherubim and a flaming sword were stationed outside of the entrance to the Garden of Eden, preventing Adam and Eve from reentering (Genesis 3:21-24).

In reading through Genesis chs. 1-3, and with what happened with Adam and Eve after they both ate the forbidden fruit, one can certainly think that all hope was lost. Did not the first two human beings flagrantly oppose God, by disobeying God’s clear instruction? If people have a free will, could this not be taken as an indication that when God’s instruction is known, people will most always break it (cf. Romans 5:13)? To think that all hope was lost would be a bad conclusion to draw, because as God punished the serpent, there is a promise of a seed (Heb. zera) to come who would crush the serpent’s head:

“The LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).

Elsewhere in Scripture, we see that this Seed is none other than Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), in whom final redemption is found (cf. Galatians 3:16, 19). In fact, given the likely association of the figure of Eve with the false teaching that plagued many women in First Century Ephesus, is it any wonder why Paul would direct Timothy’s attention, saying how women “shall be saved through the child-bearing” (1 Timothy 2:16, YLT)? When the definite article in dia tēs teknogonias is translated, then a definite reference to the Incarnation of Yeshua—the One who is the Child-Bearing—can be detected, referring back to the Genesis 3:15 promise.[5]

Eventually in future history, the curses brought down upon humanity would be nailed to the cross of Yeshua (cf. Colossians 2:14), and the subsequent guilt of sin would be remitted for those who acknowledge and have faith in Him as Savior. Romans 5:12 still reminds each of us, though, how “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin…in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (TNIV). Those who do not receive Yeshua the Messiah into their lives, placing faith in His atoning action for us, still have to reckon with the problems introduced to humanity by the actions committed by Adam and Eve. For, Adam and Eve quantitatively demonstrated a lack of faith in what the Creator had explicitly told them to not do. Lamentably, for all of us as the subsequent offspring of Adam and Eve—an inclination to not place our faith or trust in what the Lord has told us, has been inherited. All people have sinned in Adam.

Cain, Abel, Disbelief, and Fratricide

While life was certainly more difficult outside the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve, they had plenty of time to consider their transgression and how their communion with God was disrupted, but not necessarily destroyed. In reading through the first Torah portion, we find that in spite of the disruption that had been introduced, the Lord continued to commune with them. Adam and Eve had to begin to populate Planet Earth, because even though life would be difficult, God had not rescinded His decree that humanity should subdue the world. So, Adam and Eve went about the tasks before them, and among their children, they had two sons named Cain and Abel:

“Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.’ Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (Genesis 4:1-2).

As these two sons grew up, Cain became a tiller of the soil, while Abel tended to flocks. Both of these sons presented offerings from their hard work to the Lord. We see that Abel’s offering of the first of his flock was accepted by God, but Cain’s offering was disregarded:

“So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell” (Genesis 4:3-5).

Many Christian readers think that the reason Abel’s offering from the flocks was accepted before the Lord, but Cain’s offering from the fruit of the ground was not accepted, has to do with how a blood sacrifice is necessary to cover sin, and it is obvious that plants cannot do this. Yet as we encounter later in the Torah, various grain and cereal offerings, as well as those of oil and wine, become an important part of the Levitical institution and in the Ancient Israelites demonstrating their thanks to God for His provision. The Lord would not have rejected an offering of plants simply because they were plants.

What might be more notable is how Abel presented “the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:4), and Cain only “brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3). This would mean that Abel gave God the finest of his flocks, and Cain may have given God some rather standard or even sub-standard produce.[6] Resultant from the Lord’s rejection of Cain’s offering before Him, Cain got rather angry, and He was warned against the urge of sin that he must see mastered and put down:

“Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire [teshuqah; urge, NJPS] is for you, but you must master it’” (Genesis 4:6-7).

Cain was not able to heed God’s warning to him, and because of this, we see the first recorded murder—a fratricide—in Holy Scripture:

“…And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Genesis 4:7).

While Cain had gone through some of the motions of offering up some of the fruits of his gardening efforts, he had clearly lacked some faith and confidence in the Lord to whom it was offered. On the other hand, when Abel brought a sacrifice from the firstlings of his flock, the Lord looked upon it with favor. Cain’s offering was not the best he could have offered. In the First Century C.E., the author of Hebrews observed how the faith exhibited by Abel to make a sacrifice to God, was considered an act of righteousness—and it was something that had a resonating effect down through the ages:

“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).

While there is likely to be discussion and debate over the difference of sacrifice offered by both Cain and Abel, the faithlessness of Cain and the faith of Abel were definitely contrasted in the reaction of Cain in murdering his brother. In a new world where their parents Adam and Eve had been cast out of the Garden of Eden, and where there were many unknowns with this family existing as the only human beings—the reasons of Cain for murdering his brother Abel are difficult to fathom. With relatively few people on the planet, it is hard to imagine a brother killing another brother. But such was the wickedness and lack of faith in the heart of Cain, which he succumbed to, as he let sin take control of his actions. While the judgment issued upon Cain was tough to bear (Genesis 4:8-16), the murderous precedent he set, for people murdering other people, has unfortunately not changed.

For those studying the Torah, reflecting on these two brothers—with one possessing faith in God, and another demonstrating extreme faithlessness—is critical for assessing exactly where our hearts are today, when it comes to us demonstrating our trust in the Almighty. What kind of offerings do we present before Him? When we serve the Lord, do we offer Him our very best, or do we cut corners in some way?

The Creator God is intently observing the hearts of people and their actions, as He may accept one offering but disregard another. In contemplating the reality of God evaluating every human heart, perhaps some introspection should arise within us, as we analyze the motivations behind our own offerings to the Lord and how we serve Him? Do our sacrifices come from the heart, or are they simply a rote expression of various traditions that have been passed down for millennia?

This brings to my mind some thoughts expressed by Yeshua the Messiah, when He was admonishing some scribes, while comparing the offerings of wealthy people to the heartfelt gift of a poor widow:

“And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:41-44).

Clearly as this example evidences, the Lord God is most concerned with the heart of those who claim to have faith in Him. He sees through the facades of those like Cain, or various wealthy people, who might be simply following ritualistic practices—be they sacrificial offerings or making a contribution out of their excessive resources. Nevertheless, despite the frailties of the human heart as it struggles with faith in the Creator God, we need to recognize that He forgives those who are deceived by the wiles of the Devil, and who turn to Him in repentance!

Enoch and Faith

Continuing through the Torah portion Bereisheet, there is a curious recognition of a later descendant of Adam and Eve, who apparently exhibited such a great amount of faith, that he was literally taken up (Heb. verb laqach) to God without having to endure physical death. This, of course, is the remarkable testimony of Enoch:

“Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:21-24).

Apparently, God was so blessed with the faith of Enoch, that he did not see death. That Enoch was a man pleasing to God, is affirmed by the author of Hebrews:

“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP [Genesis 5:24]; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God” (Hebrews 11:5).

Can you imagine the amount of faith that Enoch must have had? Here was a descendant of Adam, through the line of Seth (Genesis 5:1-24), who multiple generations later exhibited such a profound faith in the Almighty, that He was simply taken to Heaven. Without speculating too much on what this means or what Enoch did, Enoch is to serve as a great inspiration to those of us who look to the Creator God! For assuredly, if God regarded the faith of Enoch so highly, this being taken up would also occur to various other people in later Biblical history. We see something similar take place, in how the Prophet Elijah was ushered into Heaven via a chariot of fire:

“Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’ He said, ‘You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.’ As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven” (2 Kings 2:8-11).

The Prophet Elijah’s faith was lauded by James the Just, as he said,

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months” (James 5:17; cf. 1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-46; b.Sanhedrin 113a).

Elijah’s righteous faith was the same faith that all Believers in Yeshua are encouraged to maintain. Recall that along with Moses, Elijah appeared at the scene of the Transfiguration, when Yeshua was manifested to Peter, James, and John in all of His glory (Mark 9:4; Matthew 17:3; Luke 9:30).

“Torah and Faith”

What does this overview of faith, from the first Torah portion of Bereisheet, mean for us, as we will be examining the Torah cycle again for another year?

  • We must believe in the Word of God, as it has been recorded and preserved down through the ages.
  • We must believe that God in His infinite wisdom created the universe, and that all things operate according to His grand design.
  • We must believe that God created man and woman in His image, but that people do have a free will to respond in faith toward Him, or to respond without faith toward Him.
  • We must believe that through the actions of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the testimony of Enoch—people can choose to either trust in God, or disregard His instruction and endure the consequences.

Thankfully, through the preservation of God’s continuing revelation as witnessed in the balance of the Holy Scriptures, there is confirmation that He has not deviated one iota from His original design for Planet Earth and human civilization. God continues to allow people to be born, with a nature inherited in Adam, permitting each and every one to freely choose whether to walk by faith in Him, or to demonstrate a hollow trust in their own efforts.

The great news for those of us today, who recognize the significance of the redeeming work of Messiah Yeshua—the promised Seed of Adam and Eve destined to bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15)—is that faith in Him and His ultimate sacrifice is sufficient to overcome the curse of the sin nature. Messianic Believers study the Torah, because we know that by better understanding how we will frequently disregard God’s Law, we are all transgressors in need of a Savior (cf. Galatians 3:24). As Paul communicated to the Romans,

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Messiah died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Yeshua the Messiah, abound to the many” (Romans 5:6-15).

Genuine faith in Yeshua’s atoning work restores the intended relationship that the Father desires with each man and woman. Without reservation, let me say that if your faith in the Lord is weak, or if you find yourself relying upon your own good works or mortal abilities to gain favor with God—then you are being deceived by the same crafty serpent that originally deceived Adam and Eve. God requires faith in what He has done via His Son. When we receive the redemption offered in Yeshua, then we can manifest good works as a result of the faith in Him that we possess. As the Apostle Paul communicated to the Believers in Asia Minor,

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Messiah (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Messiah Yeshua. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Each of us as modern-day Believers in Yeshua must be able to learn from the examples of faith or faithlessness, as we read the Holy Scriptures—beginning with the trials and tribulations of our spiritual forbearers whom we encounter in the Torah. These illustrations have been preserved for us, so that we might incorporate the lessons that they provide us—and we can heed the appropriate warnings where necessary. Paul admonished the Corinthians with the following:

Now these things happened to them as an example [warning, RSV], and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:11-13).

Remember that our Eternal God is always faithful to His people: If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). While various temptations of this world might be keeping you away from a fervent desire to increase your measure of faith, recognize that by exercising your free will, you can choose to walk by faith—just as multiple examples of faith-filled saints have done down through the centuries. You do not have to fall prey to the lure of the enemy, and can do the right thing when you are tempted. In so doing, the Father will be greatly pleased!

However, it is always up to each one of us to individually exercise and expand our faith, by conscious study and reflection. Each of us must be reminded how, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Messiah” (Romans 10:17). It is my prayer that by hearing, your faith will be expanded in this next Torah cycle. Through such an expanded faith, may our obedience to God’s Word be manifested—in order to fulfill all of the good works that each of us was created to complete!


NOTES

[1] Heb. b’reisheet bara Elohim et ha’shamayim v’et ha’eretz.

[2] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), pp 398-401; Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 1:399-401.

[3] Editor’s note: Be aware of how the verb appearing in 1 Timothy 2:13, plassō, can mean “to mould and form by education, training” (H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994], 643), and that various Bibles do properly translate 1 Timothy 2:13 with “formed” (KJV, RSV, NIV, NRSV, ESV, CJB, TLV). If “created” (NASU) were intended in 1 Timothy 2:13, then the verb ktizō could have been used instead.

[4] Heb. teshuqah; cf. Genesis 4:7.

For a review, consult the article “Addressing the Frequently Avoided Issues Messianics Encounter in the Torah” by J.K. McKee, under the sub-section “Development and Advances of Gender Relations.”

[5] Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, eds., The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha, RSV (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp 1441-1442 note for us how,

“This much debated verse has also been translated (1) ‘she will be saved through the birth of the Child’ [referring to Jesus Christ], or (b) ‘she will be brought safely through childbirth.’”

[6] Cf. Nahum M. Sarna, “Genesis,” in David L. Lieber, ed., Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2001), 25.