A Torah Foundation (Part II) – November 2017 OIM News


Update

November 2017

My how time flies! It is difficult for us to believe that fifteen years ago, on November 1, 2002, that Outreach Israel Ministries was born. This was a process involving a lengthy “gestation period,” which was initially conceived during a tour of Israel that Margaret and I took with Zola Levitt’s ministry in December 1994. It was there that the Holy Spirit communicated to us that our family needed to begin celebrating the Feasts of the Lord. We had each already participated in various Passover seders years earlier, and were acquainted with the Jewish Roots of Christianity—but this prompting was much more than just a recommendation to have some token attendance at a formalized meal for the sake of spiritual enrichment. Instead, it was a solemn invitation to learn more about our direct connection to our Savior, the Messiah Yeshua, who we both worshipped. In addition, since we had just traversed the same paths as the forefathers of the faith and gazed upon the same terrain they had during their lives, our hearts were ripe for more understanding of who we were as adopted children of the Most High (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). Providentially, this past month, while attending a conference of various charismatic Christians, we recalled the life-changing decisions we made in 1994-1995 that have altered the direction of our lives forever.

At that recent gathering, as we reflected back over twenty years to that time, we both concluded that it was a “crossroad” moment when we had two different paths to seek God before us. By His grace, we chose the path less traveled toward Messianic Judaism. In particular, I vividly remember in November 1994 a training jog, in preparation for another marathon run, when I was contemplating all the peer group pressure from the Charismatic Church we were attending to go to Toronto to experience the “Toronto Blessing” first hand. As I mulled this over and over in my mind, I heard in my spirit an almost audible “Jerusalem!” Immediately upon receiving this word, in my mind’s eye I envisioned the “pouring out of the Spirit” everyone was talking about in Toronto, instead being a direct pour on Jerusalem with a significant splash going to Toronto. By the time I jogged home I greeted Margaret with these words, “We don’t need to go to Toronto to receive a blessing, but instead, let’s go to Israel!” Her direct response was simply this: “If we are going to Israel, we need to go with Zola’s ministry. If we are going to tour Israel, we might as well be guided by a Messianic Jew.” Since I knew Zola from associations in Dallas, I called his ministry to find out when their next tour was scheduled, and five weeks later we were headed to Israel.

But even upon getting this inspiration to visit Israel and the gentle nudge to celebrate the feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23), it still took nine months to be led to a Messianic Jewish congregation, where we celebrated our first Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Even though we were not Jewish, we were certainly drawn back to the Shabbat services and within a few months of “triple dipping” (Friday Evening Erev Shabbat, Saturday morning Shabbat, and Sunday morning services at church), we concluded that the Holy Spirit was teaching us about the Holy One of Israel most effectively at the Messianic Jewish congregation:

“But the Helper, the Ruach ha-Kodesh whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you” (John 14:26, TLV).

In a few months, we were taking the new member’s class and introduction to Hebrew. Before long, our family was totally integrated into the assembly with our daughters learning Davidic dancing and John getting very interested in eschatology and other theological subjects. Needless to say, as we gaze back upon those early days and the intervening years, we are delighted that the Lord led us to what we have been doing for the Messianic community of faith ever since!

Initially upon the inception of Outreach Israel Ministries, we discerned a need to help and aid the issues being faced by evangelical Believers, like we ourselves had been, who were being led into similar understandings. We wanted to make sure that we were all focusing on Yeshua and His ways, in a loving, balanced, and academic manner. After John McKee’s undergraduate studies were complete in 2003, he then matriculated at Asbury Theological Seminary in 2005 to hone his skills in Hebrew, Greek, and Biblical exegesis, and received a Master’s in Biblical Studies in 2009. As a result, our teaching abilities were immeasurably enhanced. Today in 2017, via Messianic Apologetics, and as we survey the future of the Messianic community, we know that we have a significant calling to be a voice of stability to the diverse Jewish and non-Jewish people whom God has called into this special move of His Spirit. Our ongoing efforts are focused at making sure that the difficult questions and issues people are facing get addressed!

This month’s lead article continues where last month’s left off, with Part II of “A Torah Foundation.” It finishes by addressing many common passages that are used to claim that the Torah or Moses’ Teaching has no more relevance for God’s people today. You should find this a very concise and useful summary—and it should definitely also increase your interest in further studies of the Scriptures!

We want to especially thank those of you who have faithfully supported our efforts over the years. We continue to need your financial support in order to dedicate the time and energy required to continue in the work that the Lord has assigned us. We particularly need many of you to sign up for a regular monthly contribution via PayPal at www.outreachisrael.net. In the past month, the Messianic Apologetics website at www.messianicapologetics.net has completed its full server transfer, with all articles restored. We have also added a new Messianic Apologetics podcast, which we encourage you to subscribe to via iTunes and Google Play.

Finally, the U.S. continues to have a variety of issues that are spreading division and strife on many different levels. It is our prayer that God will use each of these circumstances to draw people unto Himself, and that hurting and confused people will turn to the Messiah for salvation, hope, and restoration. Father, we need your love, healing, and peace!

“ADONAI bless you and keep you! ADONAI make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you! ADONAI turn His face toward you and grant you shalom!” (Numbers 6:24-26, TLV).

Blessings, Mark Huey


A Torah Foundation

PART II

by J.K. McKee

Last month’s lead article, A Torah Foundation—Part I,” addressed the components of the weekly Torah portions, the Tanach as the Bible of Yeshua, and began to address common Scripture passages used to claim that the Torah is not important for born again Believers today.

“A Torah Foundation—Part II” finishes the list of Scripture passages, incorrectly employed to claim that God’s Torah is irrelevant for His people.

Romans 11:6: “Grace is no longer on the basis of works”
It is a common misunderstanding among many contemporary evangelical people that grace was not present in the period of the “Old Testament.” Paul actually references a number of Tanach passages (1 Kings 19:10, 14, 18) in emphasizing how God’s gracious choice has always allowed for a remnant of righteous. The statement, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (NASU) should be taken as a logical argument, demonstrating how God’s grace has always been present in all time periods, not that there was once a time when grace could be actually earned from human works.

Romans 14: “God does not care about what days people celebrate or what food they eat”
The information in Romans ch. 14 is often applied to matters of adiaphora in contemporary religious settings today, such as the music people listen to or the movies people watch. In all probability, Paul’s instruction to the Romans about eating and sacred days (Romans 14:2-6) involved unnecessary criticism of those who would only eat vegetables at fellowship meal times, and not “common” (Romans 14:14, LITV) meat that others would eat, Biblically clean but not ceremonially acceptable to some. These people were not to be looked down upon. There is a long-standing alternative opinion that the religious “days” in view (Romans 14:5-6) were times of traditional Jewish fasting. If one should not be criticized for fasting on a particular day—likely remembering or memorializing a tragic event in Israel’s history—then one should surely not be criticized for not eating certain things at a communal fellowship meal.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20: “All things are now lawful”
A correct translation of Panta mou exestin 1 Corinthians 6:12 would be “Everything is permitted for me” (TLV). Numerous versions place this clause in quotation marks “ ”, reflecting the opinion of most scholars that this was a slogan used by a particular group in the Corinthian assembly. When Paul says, “‘Everything is permitted for me’—but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permitted for me’—but I will not be controlled by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12, TLV), he is actually cross-examining and refuting something said by a group of Corinthians; this is not reflective of his own personal beliefs.

1 Corinthians 8: “Paul permitted Gentile Christians to eat idol food, a clear violation of the Mosaic Law”
Paul did not permit any of the Corinthians to knowingly eat meat sacrificed to idols, and was critical toward those who thought that they had the freedom to do so (1 Corinthians 8:9). He focused his admonitions heavily toward those who thought that given the supremacy of the One God, that it did not matter if they ate meat sacrificed to idols, given how idols were dead objects (1 Corinthians 8:4). Their actions could have had grossly negative consequences, as there were new Believers who once ate their meals as an act of reverence or worship to idols (1 Corinthians 8:7), and eating meat sacrificed to idols could cause them to relapse back into paganism (1 Corinthians 8:10).

1 Corinthians 9:19-23: “It is only necessary to keep the Old Testament law to convert Jews to Christ”
If Paul only taught that some adherence to the Torah or Law of Moses was necessary for Jewish evangelism, then Paul could rightly be accused of violating his own words about not bringing the good news in a manner of craftiness (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). When Paul communicates “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20a, NASU), among the other groups he lists (1 Corinthians 9:20b-23), this is best taken as a statement of rhetoric. Paul self-identifies with the position of the diverse groups in the First Century Mediterranean, in order to best communicate the good news of salvation to them. Paul never stopped being a Jew after coming to Messiah faith. But, there were certainly aspects of the First Century Jewish experience and recent history—among other groups’ experiences—that he had to be quite conscious of, in going to synagogues and declaring that Yeshua was the Messiah of Israel.

1 Corinthians 10:14-33: “Paul says to eat whatever is set before you”
The specific context of Paul saying to eat what is set before you, involves the acceptance of an invitation to eat at a non-Believer’s home (1 Corinthians 10:27). What is set before a Believer on his or her plate, is to be graciously received as a matter of the host’s hospitality. Should it become public knowledge that any meat had been offered to idols, then it is to not be eaten (1 Corinthians 10:28), as it would be a bad witness of one’s faith in the One God of Israel.

1 Corinthians 16:2: “The early Christians met on the first day of the week, a clear abolishment of the Jewish Sabbath.”
The reference to the Corinthians meeting “on the first of the week” has been traditionally approached as Sunday worship services replacing the seventh-day Sabbath. There have, at times, been some dissenting opinions from this, given how this meeting on the first of the week was specifically for collecting monies. This would not be a permissible activity for the Sabbath. Also, in view of the Biblical day beginning in the evening, it has been usefully proposed that what is in view is Motza’ei-Shabbat (CJB/CJSB), or a special time closing off the Sabbath on Saturday evening.

2 Corinthians 3: “The veil of the old covenant has been removed.”
The Old Covenant is specifically labeled by Paul to be “the ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7) or “condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9). It involves the Torah, at most, being delivered on lifeless stones, only able to condemn people as sinners. The supernatural work of “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 3:9) involves activity of Divine principles being written onto human hearts and manifest to others (2 Corinthians 3:3). This is language taken from the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 37:15-28, which speak of the commandments of God written by His Spirit onto new hearts of flesh. The reading of the Old Covenant ministry of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:14), the Torah operative for a non-Believer, should convict people of their sins. Unfortunately, a veil lies over the heart of many, especially Jewish non-Believers, when the Torah can only operate as Old Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:15-16). The veil that separated Moses’ face from Ancient Israel (Exodus 34:34) was not unlike the curtain separating out the Holy of Holies in the Temple complex—which was split in two at the Messiah’s death (Mark 15:38; Matthew 27:51; Luke 23:45). The veil over a non-Believer’s heart, prohibiting God’s salvation and sanctification to take place, is what is removed. The Torah no longer functions in a condemnatory fashion, but in principles imbued on a redeemed psyche by the Spirit.

Galatians 2:11-21: “By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
Whether “works of the law” is approached from its traditional vantage point of being “observing the law” (Galatians 2:16, NIV)—or “works of the law” is approached in association with various sectarian deeds involving formal proselyte conversion to Judaism (cf. 4QMMT)—justification comes only through belief in Yeshua the Messiah and what He has accomplished. Who we are as redeemed human beings is to be focused around the work of Yeshua, and not any human action. We are to obey the Lord’s Instructions as a result of the Divine work of Yeshua in our lives.

Galatians 3:12-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.”
Those who disobey God’s Instruction are cursed, and the Messiah’s death on the tree (Deuteronomy 21:23) is what merits those who believe in Him a redemption from the effects of sin. Obedience to God’s Instruction, however, is to bring with it a high quality of life lived on Earth (Leviticus 18:5).

Galatians 3:23-25: “The Law is our tutor to lead us to Christ.”
It is said, “Therefore the Torah became our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we might be made right based on trusting” (Galatians 3:24, TLV). Salvation does not come by any human actions involving the Torah. But, the Torah’s Instruction is to convict people of their sins, so that they might come to a point of realizing that only the work of Yeshua can provide salvation. The Torah’s pre-salvation role is one of instruction and harsh discipline, revealing the human limitations and faults of people

Galatians 4:8-11: “The Sabbath and Old Testament feast days are weak and worthless principles.”
Paul specifically told the Galatians, “but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?” (Galatians 4:9, RSV). The non-Jewish Galatians, in being errantly influenced to be circumcised as proselytes to Judaism to be truly reckoned as God’s own, were returning to practices they left behind in Greco-Roman paganism. Has Paul associated Biblical commandments in God’s Torah, such as those involved with the appointed times, and paganism, as being quantitatively indifferent? Or, in becoming formal converts to Judaism, did the Galatians feel that they could still participate in the Roman Emperor cult as good citizens? Alternatively, were the Judaizers/Influencers who had been persuading the Galatians, practitioners of any proto-Gnostic or mystical errors, with superstitions infused into their observance of their appointed times? A variety of interpretations are available at a reader’s disposal, all of which have been proposed in Galatians scholarship over the past few decades.

Galatians 5:1-4: “Those who try to keep the Law of Moses have fallen from grace.”
It is actually stated by Paul, “You have been severed from Messiah, you who would be justified by the Torah; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4, PME). This specifically involved non-Jewish Believers seeking some kind of right-status before God, originating in the Torah and not the Messiah. It also involved whatever commitments they made in undergoing formal proselyte circumcision, where one would make himself “a debtor to do the whole law” (Galatians 5:3, YLT), a negative condition to be sure. Born again Believers, reliant upon the work of Yeshua of Nazareth, are not to be debtors of any kind to perform the Torah, but are rather to fulfill its righteous requirements via the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit inside of them (Romans 8:4), something resultant of the justification they have experienced.

Ephesians 2:8-10: “We are saved by grace, not as a result of works.”
No one true to the Scriptures can deny the clear imperative, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV). Eternal salvation does not result from any human activity—be that activity general works, or actions in association with the Torah of Moses. Yet, it is also absolutely true, that “we are His workmanship—created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, TLV). Those who have received the salvation of Yeshua, are to walk in good works of obedience, serving as definite external proof of the internal change which has occurred within them.

Ephesians 2:14-15: “The Law was abolished in the flesh of Christ.”
The breaking down of the barrier wall (Ephesians 2:14) has frequently been interpreted by Christians, as meaning that the Torah of Moses had to be abolished in order to bring unity to Jewish and non-Jewish Believers. While there was a dividing wall present in the Second Temple, designed to keep pagans and non-proselytes out on threat of death (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 15.417; Wars of the Jews 5.194), such a wall is nowhere specified in the Torah itself. Some Protestant traditions, favorable to the moral instructions of the Law, conclude that Ephesians 2:15 is only speaking of ceremonial instructions of the Law, and not the Torah as a whole. The Greek clause ton nomon tōn entolōn en dogmasin specifies a kind of direction that has been abolished: dogma. This term appears nowhere in the Septuagint translation of the Tanach in regard to any Biblical commandments, but instead in regard to regal decrees of the Babylonians and Persians (Daniel 2:13; 6:8; Esther 3:9) or Jewish ancestral traditions (3 Maccabees 1:3; 4 Maccabees 10:2). What was abolished by Yeshua were various extra-Biblical dogmas or decrees responsible for erecting the barrier of the dividing wall in the Temple complex—passing themselves off as “Torah”—and resulted in an inappropriate spiritual culture where people from the nations were being kept out of God’s Kingdom, rather than being welcomed into it.

Philippians 3:2-11: “Righteousness is not derived by the Law.”
In spite of Paul’s significant Jewish pedigree (Philippians 3:5), he recognized that his human achievements were meaningless in view of Yeshua (Philippians 3:7-8). He emphasizes how as a Believer, that he be “found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the Torah, but that which is through the faithfulness of Messiah, the righteousness which is from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9, PME). Paul’s identity is centered and focused around placing his faith or trust in what Yeshua the Messiah has accomplished in being sacrificed for human sin. Messianic Believers today, who place a high emphasis on following the Torah, do so because they want to emulate the Messiah who followed the Torah—while steadfastly recognizing that their righteousness is to be found in His atoning work.

Colossians 2:14: “The Law of Moses was nailed to the cross of Christ.”
That something was nailed to the execution-stake or wooden scaffold of the Messiah, is clear enough from Colossians 2:14: “He wiped away the bill of charges against us. Because of the regulations, it stood as a testimony against us; but he removed it by nailing it to the execution-stake” (CJB/CJSB). Many have interpreted what was nailed to the execution-stake of Yeshua as the Torah of Moses in its entirety. Throughout Protestant history, though, many others have been more tempered in their conclusions. Instead of the Torah as a whole being “nailed to the cross,” the most frequent alternative has been to conclude that the capital penalties and condemnation of the Torah were absorbed onto Yeshua.

Colossians 2:16-23: “Christians are not to be judged for not keeping the Sabbath and Old Testament feast days.”
Unnecessary or unfair judgment of people, for what they do or do not do, is certainly not warranted from mature Believers. However, the statement “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Colossians 2:16, NASU), is directly connected to a false philosophy that denigrated the Divinity of Yeshua (Colossians 2:8-9), and involved self-abasement and asceticism (Colossians 2:18, 20-22). Torah instructions involving Shabbat or the appointed times are supposed to reveal a significant Messianic substance to them (Colossians 2:17), something which adherents of the Colossian false teaching were not able to comprehend. Frequently, Colossians 2:16 is read out of context with what the judging actually involved per the situation being faced: What did various Torah practices mean, when caught up in association with the false teaching or false philosophy?

1 Timothy 1:8-9: “The Law is not made for a righteous man.”
The verb keimai correctly means “to lie upon,” and appears in Yeshua’s teaching about the ax that is laid at the root of the trees (Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9). 1 Timothy 1:9 is correctly translated with “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners” (RSV). This is speaking of the penalties and condemnation of the Torah being used against those who violate it. Those who are redeemed in the Messiah do not have such harsh condemnation used against them.

1 Timothy 4:1-5: “Those who observe the dietary laws have committed apostasy against Jesus.”
The false teaching encountered in 1&2 Timothy, not only involved some kind of abstinence from eating meat, but also sexual relations (1 Timothy 4:3), as well as the errant belief that the general resurrection of the dead had already taken place (2 Timothy 2:18). True spirituality for initiates was believed to involve a return to a pre-Fall condition, where humans only ate a vegetarian diet and presumably did not engage in intercourse. The issue in 1 Timothy 4:3 involves a total abstention from eating all forms of meat, not the kosher dietary laws separating out clean and unclean meats.

2 Timothy 1:9: “Salvation is not according to works.”
“He has saved us and called us with a holy calling—not because of our deeds but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Messiah Yeshua before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9, TLV). People in today’s Messianic community who give an importance to the Torah for God’s people in the post-resurrection era, do so because of the need to live a life in accordance with His holiness resultant of their salvation—because human actions, deeds, or works cannot merit one eternal salvation.

2 Timothy 2:15: “The Word of God is to be rightly divided between the Old and New Testaments, Israel and the Church.”
While one needs to understand Holy Scripture in its ancient context(s) for sure, and recognize that Biblical books were not written directly to Twentieth and Twenty-First Century people, the KJV rendering of 2 Timothy 2:15 has led to some bad conclusions: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The idea that Holy Scripture needs to be rigidly split up, as it were, between the Tanach and Messianic Writings, is not sustainable. More modern versions correctly render the verb orthotomeō as “rightly handling” (RSV), “accurately handling” (NASU), “correctly handles” (NIV), or even “keep strictly” (REB).

Titus 1:14: “The Old Testament law is to be regarded as nothing more than Jewish myth”
The troublemakers on Crete are said to have been pushing “Jewish myths or…merely human commands” (Titus 1:14, TNIV). Is this actually to be regarded as the Tanach Scriptures, or instead something outside the mainstream? Given the later reference to “genealogies” (Titus 3:9; cf. 1 Timothy 1:4), various exaggerations and embellishments on various minor characters in the Tanach, for which fringe branches of Ancient Judaism offered much speculation and lore, is more likely in view.

Titus 3:5-8: “He did not save us according to our deeds, but according to His mercy”
God indeed does save people according to His mercy, and not according to their deeds or works. This takes place “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5, NASU). Yet, it is also true that the promise of the New Covenant is that God will cleanse His people from their sins, and by His Spirit supernaturally empower them to keep His commandments (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Titus 3:9: “We are not to be concerned about obedience to Jewish laws”
Titus 3:9 actually says, “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about Torah, for they are unprofitable and useless” (TLV). For the circumstances addressed in Crete, this involved an irresponsible usage of the Torah, as a responsible usage is to reveal and condemn sin (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Hebrews 4:1-10: “Jesus is our Sabbath rest now”
There is little doubting that for those who have received salvation in the Messiah, that they do experience a rest from the guilt incurred by sin. Surely, however, given the future realities to be anticipated in salvation history, the institution and significance of the seventh-day Sabbath should not be haphazardly dismissed. The complete Sabbath rest that is to be experienced by born again Believers involves nothing less than the complete establishment of the Kingdom of God in eternity. Some Protestant theological traditions, while errantly thinking that the Sabbath was transferred to Sunday, have rightly emphasized that the Messianic rest of the future cannot be properly understood unless a Believer partakes of a day of rest once a week. The weekly Sabbath or Shabbat is to teach God’s people important principles about the rest of the Messiah—which we already partake of now via our salvation from sins, but which we are to anticipate more of at the culmination of the age.

Hebrews 7:11-12, 18-19: “A change of law has taken place, because it was weak and worthless”
Due to the sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah, “a change of the Torah” has taken place, but this is specified to involve “the priesthood being changed” (Hebrews 7:12, PME). The overall context of Hebrews 7:11-12 and 18-19 makes it clear that it is not the ethical code of the Torah, or even institutions such as the appointed times or moedim, which are in view of being affected some sort of change or alteration. Changes which have been affected to the Torah involve the Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices. The animal sacrifices could not provide permanent atonement and forgiveness for human sin, whereas Yeshua’s sacrifice could. Yeshua’s priestly service before the Father in Heaven is not Levitical, but instead is after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:11).

Hebrews 8: “The New Covenant makes the Old Covenant obsolete”
No one denies that the work of Yeshua the Messiah has inaugurated the New Covenant. However, Hebrews 8:8-12, includes the longest quotation in the Messianic Scriptures from the Tanach, that of the New Covenant or b’rit chadashah from Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is a mistake to think that the New Covenant has nothing to do with the Torah, when the promise includes the explicit word, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10, ESV). The transcription of the Torah’s commandments onto the hearts and minds of God’s people, for sure, can only come about because they have received Yeshua into their lives. It is also a supernatural work that can only take place via the sanctifying activity of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 10:1: “The Law was only a shadow of good things to come”
A Bible version like the New American Standard Update, which employs italics for words added, indicates how “only” has been added: “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.” The source text of Hebrews 10:1 says Skian gar echōn ho nomos tōn mellontōn agathōn, “For the law having a shadow of the coming good things” (YLT). While it is true that the Torah and its ordinance do include types and shadows of the substantive reality of the Messiah, the addition of “only” is intended to downplay the importance of those types and shadows. The Torah is incomplete without the revelation of Yeshua of Nazareth, but none of us can have confirmation of who He is, without knowledge of the Torah’s Instruction and expectations.

Hebrews 10:9: “God takes away the first covenant to establish the second”
The overall context of Hebrews 10:2-8 makes it clear that the issue in view is the limitation of the animal sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood, compared and contrasted to the final sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah. As the author of Hebrews inquires, “The Torah has a shadow of the good things to come—not the form itself of the realities. For this reason it can never, by means of the same sacrifices they offer constantly year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers—cleansed once and for all—would no longer have consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices is a reminder of sins year after year—for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4, TLV). The issue in Hebrews 10:9, “He does away with the first in order to establish the second” (ESV), is restricted to the role of animal sacrifices in the atonement of sin.

Revelation 1:10: “The Sabbath has now been replaced with the Lord’s Day”
Various theologians have made the case, that per the subject matter of the Book of Revelation, that John did not receive his visions on “the Lord’s Day” or Sunday, as would be seen in the emerging Christianity of the Second Century. Instead, John received his visions on “the Day of the Lord” (CJB/CJSB, TLV).

Serving the Lord as a Messianic Believer

Today’s Messianic Believers, who are convinced of the validity of the Torah from the Apostolic Scriptures or New Testament, need to be consciously aware of how many of today’s Christians will look at their lives rather critically. Whether you  are a Messianic Jew or non-Jew does not matter here: such people will try to find what they perceive to be weaknesses in your life or faith practice, specifically as to whether or not Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is the central focus of your faith. Is the Messiah the focus of your faith? We have just examined many of the common verses that contemporary Christians will direct toward Messianic Believers, as self-justification for them not having to keep most, if any, of the Mosaic Law.

While we have offered some fair-minded answers for you to provide such critics, keep in mind that Messianic examination and teaching on the Apostolic Scriptures need to go far beyond just having answers to passages that are commonly read as being anti-Torah. Many Messianics do not spend a great deal of time considering the important message and theology that the New Testament conveys to us. We have the definite responsibility as a Messianic faith community to truly regard the Apostolic Writings as being a part of “all Scripture” (2 Timothy 3:16) too, and not exclusively spend our time focusing on the Torah and Tanach, as can be commonplace in some sectors. If we do not have a high regard for the value and integrity of the Messianic Scriptures, then today’s Messianic community will be neutered not only from understanding the continuing plan of salvation history—but most of all from accomplishing the Heavenly Father’s objectives in restoring a sense of sanctified obedience to the Body of Messiah.

Toldot

Toldot

History

Genesis 25:19-28:9
Malachi 1:1-2:7

“Generational Faith”


by Mark Huey

By the time Torah students arrive at the sixth parashah of Genesis, Toldot, it should be obvious the Holy One is determined to communicate the efficacy and blessing of knowing and following Him, and walking in His ways by faith, as modeled by Abraham. However, because the human tendency inherited in Adam (Romans 5:12) is to be independent of God, it has been the challenge of every generation to hopefully pass on, to each succeeding generation, a trust and belief in the One True God. With this goal in mind, one can understand why the Almighty chose Abraham to be ultimately regarded as the father of faith. In our prior reading it has already been noted that Abraham would exemplify faith in God, and then instruct his progeny to follow after Him as well:

“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:19).

As the Toldot portion commences, the emphasis has turned from describing the lives of Abraham and Sarah, to the succeeding generation which consists of Isaac and Rebekah, the couple chosen to continue the faith relationship with the Almighty Creator God:

“Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife” (Genesis 25:19-20).

Recall from Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) last week, that after the death of Sarah, Abraham was very concerned about finding a suitable wife for the beloved Isaac. In order to assure that the faith he had in the Lord God was not jeopardized by allowing Isaac to marry one of the local, pagan Canaanite women, Abraham had commissioned Eliezar to journey to upper Mesopotamia to find a wife from his close relatives (Genesis 24). And so, Isaac was united in marriage to Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel, son of Nahor (Genesis 22:23). The critical marital and spiritual relationship between Isaac and Rebekah was established, so that the faith of Abraham would be transferred to the next generation. God’s promise to Abraham, regarding Isaac receiving His blessings, is confirmed in Toldot, when the Lord appeared to Isaac, who had to move to Gerar to contend with a regional famine:

“The LORD appeared to him [Isaac] and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws’” (Genesis 26:2-5).

We see here how God not only chose Abraham because He knew that Abraham would instruct the members of his household to obey and follow Him, (Genesis 18:19), but that Abraham himself followed the instruction given to him by God (Genesis 26:5). The example of a faith demonstrated by actions pleasing to the Holy One is why Abraham is known throughout Scripture as the father of faith (Romans 4:12). The key for any succeeding generation, since the time of Abraham, has been to pass on an example of faithful obedience to one’s children and grandchildren.

From the onset of our parashah this week, one is reminded of the critical principle for parents to help guide their children in the selection of spouses. Abraham had a great responsibility to pass on his faithful relationship with the Holy One to his son Isaac, who had already witnessed and participated in the act of worship at Mount Moriah, and had seen Abraham’s God provide a sacrificial ram (Genesis 22). Now that his mother Sarah was gone, Abraham wanted to be certain that Isaac would follow in his walk of faith with the Almighty One. By securing Rebekah as a wife from his relatives, who had some knowledge of the same God as he, Abraham was minimizing potential conflicts in beliefs that might arise as Isaac and Rebekah began to start their own family. This practice of choosing a wife with similar beliefs should be noted, because later on in this reading, one finds Isaac and Rebekah following the same pattern for Jacob.

Before addressing their similar decision, it is interesting to note that the ongoing influence of Abraham did not end when Isaac and Rebekah married. Abraham continued to live on, until he gave the bulk of his possessions to the beloved Isaac (Genesis 25:7). The larger family likely lived in close proximity, perhaps in the same encampment as was the custom in that era. For the start of Isaac and Rebekah’s marital union, Abraham was an influence on them, able to dispense the wisdom and knowledge he had received during his life pursuing God to his family.

Rebekah’s Pregnancy

For the first season of their marriage, Isaac and Rebekah did not have any children. The aging Abraham was likely aware of his lack of grandchildren, and could have wondered why Rebekah remained barren. Such a wait for children would have reminded Abraham of the excruciating delay for Sarah’s pregnancy with Isaac. But without going through, once again, all the trials that tested and honed Abraham’s faith—Isaac’s walk of faith was different, as is the case with every generation. Instead of having a miraculous birth at a time beyond normal child bearing ages like Abraham and Sarah had, we are simply told how Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, and she conceived. When it is recorded that Isaac prayed to the Lord and she conceived, such good news would have encouraged everyone around them:

“Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, why then am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.’ When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:21-26).

In this part of Toldot, one finds that both Isaac and Rebekah had a maturing faith relationship with the Lord, as modeled by Abraham who preceded them. Both followed in the faithful footsteps of Abraham, as the Lord was sought for requests after twenty years of barrenness. First, Isaac prayed to the Lord regarding Rebekah, and she conceived—but the pregnancy was complicated. So, Rebekah inquired of the Lord about the struggle in her womb, and the Lord answered with much more than a reason for the discomfort. Specifically, Rebekah was told that she had twins who would eventually become two nations, and that in time, one nation would become stronger than the other. Most significantly, Rebekah was told how the older would serve the younger:

“Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).

This must have been a somewhat confusing answer from the Lord to Rebekah, because ancient customs gave birthright privileges to the firstborn son. Rebekah had to be perplexed about the statement that the “older shall serve the younger,” because this was contrary to tradition. But, our Eternal God is not at all confined by any sort of human traditions, as demonstrated in the treatment of Ishmael and Isaac. Despite the fact that Ishmael was technically the firstborn son of Abraham with the handmaiden Hagar, the Lord had specifically told Abraham that Isaac was the son of promise and not Ishmael (Genesis 17:18-21). After Isaac was born, Abraham obeyed the Lord when he sent Ishmael away (Genesis 21:11-14).

Rebekah had certainly heard about the trials of Abraham and the blessings that were to be inherited by Isaac, from her different interactions with her husband, and likely also her father-in-law. To understand what the Lord had revealed to her about her twins, and most specifically the word that the “older shall serve the younger”, she must have thought that God was going to eventually bestow the blessings of Abraham upon the second born son, like He had done with Isaac. We discover that from her later actions, it appears that this specific word from the Lord about the struggling twins in her womb, profoundly influenced some of Rebekah’s future decisions. The text does not indicate whether Rebekah shared the response she received from the Lord with Isaac, or anyone else, although it could be reasonable to conclude that she did. After all, hearing a verbal response from the Lord was special and rare. The excitement of sharing such a word with others, would be tough to avoid.

The Birth of Esau and Jacob

Regardless of what was or was not shared by Rebekah with her relatives, a prophetic glimpse, of what was eventually to come between the two brothers, is found when the younger son Jacob exited the womb while holding the heel of his brother Esau. This caused his parents to name him Jacob or Ya’akov, meaning either “heel holder” or “supplanter”[1]:

“Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:25-26).

This is an early peek at what was to take place later in the lives of Esau and Jacob, as the word to Rebekah was beginning to manifest itself through their birth delivery and naming process. In due time, it became evident over the formative years that these two youngsters were obviously different in their approaches to life. The older and stronger Esau was noted for his hunting skills, as he became a man of the field, regularly contributing to the bounty of game for the communal meals. On the other hand, the younger Jacob was considered a peaceful man, who spent most of his time in and around the tents rather than venturing out after game:

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents” (Genesis 25:27).

After learning that Esau devoted his time to hunting and Jacob preferred spending time around the tents, there is a specific statement inserted in the text that indicates the affection preferences that Isaac and Rebekah had toward their two maturing sons:

“Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:28).

From this statement, coupled with what we see later when Isaac continued to have a voracious appetite for well-cooked game (Genesis 27:3-4), it is noted that Isaac loved Esau because “he had a taste for game.” Apparently, Isaac’s affinity to satisfy his palate was a lifelong part of his personality, but this does not diminish the faith that Isaac had in the Holy One. After all, Isaac had seen God provide a ram when Abraham was about to sacrifice him, and there is every indication that Isaac followed in the ways of the Lord as established by his father.

When Isaac’s love for Esau is contrasted with Rebekah’s love for Jacob, one wonders why this was the case, with such specific preferences given. Perhaps Isaac “loved” Esau because he was a strong and skillful hunter, able to provide game from the field. Was Isaac proud of Esau’s abilities? On the other hand, perhaps Rebekah was more inclined toward the seemingly weaker Jacob, because he tended to hang around the tents, engaging in conversations with others? In addition to watching her sons mature, Rebekah had to be influenced by the direct communication she had received during her pregnancy. There is little doubt that she was witnessing the fact that one would be stronger, but most critically the emphatic word that “the older shall serve the younger.” From the unique birth and naming of the twins, Rebekah was harboring in her heart what she had heard the Lord say about the destiny of these two sons. Eventually we will find that Rebekah was bound and determined to make sure that the younger son would receive the blessings of Abraham.

The Birthright

Did Esau and Jacob have an opportunity to get to know their grandfather Abraham, for at least part of their lives? Our Torah portion is silent on this matter, but it does seem possible that they interacted with their grandfather at least a few times. It is certainly not difficult to imagine that while Esau was out perfecting his hunting skills, his younger brother Jacob was sitting around the tents engaging in conversations with those in the household. Even if Abraham was deceased by this time, Jacob would have surely been able to interact with various servants and laborers who had been impressed by his grandfather. This would all have given Jacob the impression that his grandfather Abraham was a man blessed by the Creator, who was then able to bless his father Isaac (cf. Genesis 25:5-6).

One of the defining moments of this parashah is seen when Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, for a bowl of lentil soup. A reader can conclude that while Esau devoted his time to mastering his hunting skills in order to please his father Isaac’s taste for game, Jacob spent his time in the tents with his mother Rebekah. As this transpired, to what extent was the word she received, “the older shall serve the younger,” steadily taking shape? Which of the two sons was more involved in the affairs of the family?

Having listened to the call and blessings that were bestowed upon Abraham, and then inherited by Isaac rather than going to the firstborn Ishmael, might have struck a chord with Rebekah. After all, she was a godly woman married to a faithful man, and she was definitely concerned about the generational blessings. Perhaps her noted love for Jacob (Genesis 25:28b) continued to blossom, because early on in his life, she was the first to recognize that the blessings of Abraham and Isaac would be bestowed upon the more spiritual leaning Jacob, and not the fleshly Esau. It is conceivable that because of all his time spent in tents, Jacob had some kind of inclination for the blessings of God that had been bestowed upon Abraham and then Isaac. This would naturally lead to a desire for the birthright blessing of the firstborn as he matured into a young man.

While the timing of the encounter for the trade for the birthright is not noted, Jacob had to have been primed by his understanding of the importance of the birthright, to take advantage of Esau when an opportunity presented itself—or this trade would never have even been contemplated by Jacob, and certainly never consummated:

“When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me’; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:29-34).

What is recorded here is a back and forth negotiation between Esau and Jacob, for the birthright privileges. Obviously, Esau was a man more inclined to the carnal nature, as the interchange ended with a resounding statement that Esau despised his birthright. Esau had not spent the time he should have in the tents, being better informed about the blessings that were bestowed upon his family by the Almighty One. But Jacob was certainly aware of the blessings, and it is obvious by his actions that he desired to be the birthright heir to the blessings. Hence, when Esau was famished from his hunting expedition, Jacob cleverly took advantage of his hungered state to offer a bowl of lentil soup for his birthright. Esau overreacted by stating that he was going to die, totally disregarding his birthright, by trading it in for some “red stuff.” Jacob was clever to get Esau to verbally swear his birthright over to him, as payment for the soup. Clearly, Jacob valued the birthright, and from God’s perspective, it appears that the transaction was considered valid, because years later, even Esau admitted the validity of the trade (Genesis 27:36).

While we are not specifically told at exactly what age the birthright was transferred to Jacob, it was before a famine that forced Isaac and Rebekah to move their family, entourage, and livestock to Gerar. What we are specifically told is that Esau despised his birthright, and did not regard the birthright of the firstborn as something of great value to him. Esau was confident that his father Isaac loved him because Isaac had an appetite for the tasty game that he hunted. This preview into the personality of Isaac, reveals that for his lifetime, he certainly had an inclination to satisfy his palate. When he thought that his final days had arrived, he called Esau to hunt one final meal for him:

“Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, ‘My son.’ And he said to him, ‘Here I am.’ Isaac said, ‘Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die’” (Genesis 27:1-4).

What would happen, as a result of Esau going out to hunt game for his aging father—would have significant reverberating effects throughout history. Jacob, at the insistence of his mother, would make his move to formally receive the family birthright.

The Blessing of Isaac

The disappointment of Esau’s marriages to two Hittite women (Genesis 27:34-35) must have impacted Isaac and Rebekah, because they had to be reminded of the great lengths that Abraham had taken to bring them together. Isaac did not know that he would continue to live after the encounter which is witnessed (Genesis 35:28), but as this transpired and he steadily became blind, Isaac did want to get his affairs in order by blessing his firstborn son Esau.

When reviewing the scene of Genesis 27, we can wonder whether or not Isaac was thinking clearly. Extending his blessings to Esau, would include passing along the blessings that Isaac had received from Abraham—yet Isaac and Rebekah were already concerned about the choices Esau had made with his two wives from the Hittites. This would have surely presented challenges, in terms of passing along the faith of Abraham to their descendants. Isaac certainly recognized that Esau was far more interested in hunting for game. How serious would Esau be in managing the affairs of the house, as his brother Jacob did associate himself in tents?

As Rebekah was listening to Isaac’s request, she realized that if there was ever a time to intervene, this was the time. Rebekah was aware of the great lengths that Abraham had taken after the death of Sarah to make sure that his beloved Isaac found a suitable wife, from some relatives with whom they shared something in common. She had to have remembered that she had sufficient faith in the Lord to leave the comfortable confines of her family, and venture forth to Canaan to become the wife of Isaac. Additionally, she had heard the voice of the Lord speak to her when she inquired about the difficulty of her pregnancy. By this time in her life, with Isaac having watched Esau and Jacob grow up, she knew that Esau was definitely the stronger of the two sons. But most assuredly, she recalled that ultimately, according to the word of the Lord, the “older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). Without any apparent hesitation, she chose to boldly redirect the blessings of Isaac from Esau to Jacob, the son she believed whom the Lord God intended to bless with the extended blessings of Abraham:

“Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, “Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death.” Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.’ Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, ‘Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.’ But his mother said to him, ‘Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.’ So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob. Then he came to his father and said, ‘My father.’ And he said, ‘Here I am. Who are you, my son?’ Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me’” (Genesis 27:5-19).

While Rebekah might have known from the Divine word she received when the twins were in her womb, and known that the birthright had been secured by Jacob years later—there was still considerable deception involved in getting the aged and near blind Isaac, to bestow his blessings on whom Isaac thought was his oldest son Esau. But for whatever reasons, Rebekah justified her desire to have Isaac bless Jacob. Rebekah was so sure of her plan, that she was willing to receive any of Isaac’s curses if the scheme were discovered by her husband and turned into a rebuke. Was Rebekah’s faith in the Lord and what He had spoken to her years earlier being tested? Not only was she manipulating the interaction with Isaac and Jacob, but she was also placing Jacob in a position where he could be cursed rather than be blessed. Additionally, this scheme required Jacob to deceive his father Isaac multiple times, by first declaring that he was Esau, then by stating that God had accelerated the capture of the game for the meal and finally, when asked a second time whether he was indeed Esau, we see that Jacob lied again:

“Isaac said to his son, ‘How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?’ And he said, ‘Because the LORD your God caused it to happen to me.’ Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.’ So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. And he said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ And he said, ‘I am.’ So he said, ‘Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.’ And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Please come close and kiss me, my son.’ So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed; now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; may peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you’” (Genesis 27:20-29).

The level of deception to receive the blessing of Isaac was risky, because Jacob could have been issued a curse rather than a blessing. Isaac did know that he was a recipient of the blessings of Abraham (Genesis 26:3-5), but it was his own responsibility to make sure that the blessings given to him were passed on to the appropriate son. It appears that Isaac desired to pass on the blessings to his firstborn Esau, something that the Lord did not want to happen. And we know how Rebekah had received a word from the Lord that the older would serve the younger, and based on her observations of her twin sons, she was bound and determined to make sure that Jacob received the blessing of Isaac and not Esau.

The episode of Isaac blessing Jacob is always a difficult episode for us to contemplate, because we always wonder why Rebekah and Jacob had to resort to deception to get Isaac to bless Jacob. One might logically ask, “Where is the faith in Rebekah and Jacob to trust God, rather than manipulate Isaac?” Obviously, the Lord could have had the blessings come to Jacob in a different way, such as Esau dying and Jacob having to be blessed as the only surviving son—but it is instead seen how Isaac blessing Jacob is treated as legitimate. And surely, if God did not want Jacob to receive the blessings, He certainly could have had Isaac discover the deception, or later have had Isaac annul the blessings he issued when finding out that he had blessed Jacob instead of Esau. But since neither of these occurred, one has to conclude that this is the way the Lord ordained the transfer of the blessings.

Isaac bestowed a blessing on Jacob, which in essence affirmed the prophecy that “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23), when saying, “May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you” (Genesis 27:29). Following this, Jacob departed and Esau entered the tent with the meal he had prepared from the game he had hunted. Isaac quickly discovered that he had been deceived by Jacob, and the news that he had blessed Jacob and not Esau shook him to the core of his being. In addition to this, we also see how Esau was quite perturbed that the blessing of the firstborn was now upon Jacob, as he emoted with bitter weeping. Esau truly wanted the blessing of Isaac, but since Isaac had already spoken the blessing over Jacob, it became irrevocable, and Isaac was unwilling to alter the blessing. Esau begged for a blessing, and so Isaac did bless him, but with the acknowledgment that the older would serve the younger:

“Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, ‘Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.’ Isaac his father said to him, ‘Who are you?’ And he said, ‘I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.’ Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, ‘Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.’ When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father!’ And he said, ‘Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.’ Then he said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.’ And he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’ But Isaac replied to Esau, ‘Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?’ Esau said to his father, ‘Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.’ So Esau lifted his voice and wept. Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, ‘Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you will break his yoke from your neck’” (Genesis 27:30-40).

After reading these passages, one might wonder why Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau had to go through what must have been a traumatic ordeal as these blessings were being relayed. For myself, all I can say is that we each must recall how God knows the beginning from the end. He is sovereign and knows the heart intentions of people. God knew from before the birth of Esau and Jacob, that Esau was going to be a man of the flesh, and that Jacob was going to be much more compliant regarding His ways. It was going to take a while, and some unseemly deceptions were required to orchestrate the blessings of Isaac upon Jacob, but this was all a part of God’s plan. Confirmation is seen when Esau uttered threats that upon the death of Isaac, he was going to kill his brother Jacob (Genesis 27:41). This prompted Rebekah to suggest that Jacob go east to her brother Laban’s, to her original home (Genesis 27:42-46).

The marriage of Esau to two Hittite women greatly displeased Rebekah (Genesis 27:46). From her own life experience, she knew how critical it was to be wed to someone of common background. So the general pattern established by Abraham when he sent Eliezar to find a wife for Isaac from his relatives, began to repeat itself. Jacob compliantly obeyed the request of his father Isaac and mother Rebekah, and traveled back eastward, so that he would not be tempted to marry a wife from the local pagans. Once again, maintaining the generational faith of Abraham was most important to Rebekah, and now Isaac—as he understood that God had ordained Jacob to receive the blessings of Abraham. By sending Jacob to where Rebekah’s brother Laban resided, Isaac and Rebekah were taking every measure they knew to insure that the faith of Abraham would be preserved for future generations:

“So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.’ Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau. Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take to himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he charged him, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,’ and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Paddan-aram. So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth” (Genesis 28:1-9).

As a final act of disrespect and defiance, Esau, knowing that it displeased his father Isaac and mother Rebekah, instead secured a wife from Ishmael.

Generational Faith

So what have we learned from Toldot? God is very concerned that faith in Him is transferred to future generations, even if the transference of such faith does not follow traditional norms and customs regarding birthrights. We have seen how a specific word from the Lord, given during a troubled pregnancy, can impact an entire family. Rebekah did demonstrate a faith in the Lord, and the belief that she heard from the Lord about her twin sons, prompted her to make decisions as she watched the children mature into older men. She was most concerned about the heritage of faith she had witnessed in Abraham, and in her husband Isaac, which was to be continued by the next generation. As a result, she took questionable actions to help Jacob secure the firstborn blessing from Isaac, regardless of the potential consequences. Then after the blessing of Isaac was transferred to Jacob, both Isaac and Rebekah agreed that Jacob was to find a suitable wife from their relatives. From all of this we can conclude that it is imperative that each generation take actions to assure that the faith of Abraham be instilled in their successors (Genesis 15:6; cf. Romans 4).

How do we intend to pass the promises of God onto our successors today, as Messianic Believers? We might look at some of the actions seen in Toldot with some skepticism, noting at them and wondering why God did not punish those who were fleshly-minded, or deceivers. This is where we have to remember that the Lord enacts His plan for His Creation using flawed, normal people. In many ways, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs had more flaws than some of us living in the Twenty-First Century. And at the same time, these same Biblical characters have fewer flaws than we do. The key with any generation that seeks after the Holy One is that we are to learn from those who have preceded us—so that we can each aim steadily closer to perfection and excellence. For those of us who recognize that the culmination of the Abrahamic promise has been manifested in the Messiah Yeshua, our ability to learn via the power of the Holy Spirit, should be greater than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Too frequently, though, those who have preceded us are shown to have more faith, in spite of some of their errors and misjudgments.


NOTES

[1] Cf. BDB, 784; J. Barton Payne, “ya‘ăqōb,” in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:692.

Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah

Sarah’s Life

Genesis 23:1-25:18
1 Kings 1:1-31

“Abraham’s Distinctive Faith”


by Mark Huey

The recorded testimonies of the life of Abraham and Sarah come to a close in this week’s parashah, Chayei Sarah. Our reading begins with a description of the death and burial of the Matriarch Sarah, and closes later with the death and burial of the Patriarch Abraham. In the balance of our Torah portion, the actions of the faithful servant Eliezar are detailed, as he was commissioned by Abraham to find a suitable wife for his beloved son Isaac, from his relatives in Haran after Sarah passed away.

Isaac finding an appropriate wife is a major theme of our reading, yet it is given to us surrounded by descriptions of the life examples of Sarah and Abraham. So, before turning to the search for a wife for Isaac, it is important that we understand how Abraham and Sarah both had a unique faith in the Almighty God of Creation. They each knew that the Holy One had chosen them for a special mission in life. They were each bound and determined to perpetuate their relationship with God through their descendants. For modern-day followers of this same Almighty God, adhering to their examples of faith is crucial, for continuing the acknowledgment that this loving Heavenly Father is the only One any human being can turn to for direction, guidance, provision, and indeed salvation. The Prophet Isaiah declared how those seeking the Lord are to look to the example of Abraham and Sarah:

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was but one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him” (Isaiah 51:1-2).

We each must recall that the struggles, tests, and trials of Abraham and Sarah were designed by God to make them the preeminent examples of what it truly means for any person having lived since to walk by faith. God’s intimate personal interaction, with this revered couple, assured them that they were indeed called by Him for a very unique mission. Throughout their lives as they sojourned in hostile territories, they inevitably turned to the Lord God for direction and provision. And obviously, in the trials any of us face, so must we turn to the same Lord God.

One way to avoid a great deal of difficulty in life, which Margaret and I have taken from Chayei Sarah, and have tried to pass down to our own children, is the theme of avoiding becoming unequally yoked with others. The Lord desired this couple, Abraham and Sarah, to avoid entanglements with their contemporaries who worshipped other gods. They knew from the challenges they endured with Egypt’s Pharaoh, the king of Sodom, Abimelech, and the sons of Heth, that their belief in Him might be compromised if they succumbed to the ungodly religious influences and lifestyles they represented. Most importantly, they did not want their child Isaac to be susceptible to the pressures and wicked ways of a pagan Canaanite society, so it was essential that he marry someone with a wider degree of commonality, than from among the local population where they had relocated.

Purchasing a Proper Burial Site

Abraham and his entourage had settled in the Hebron area at the time of Sarah’s death. Our Torah portion goes into some detail regarding how Abraham did not want to be beholden to his neighbors. Rather than accepting, as a free gift, a proper burial site for his departed wife, Sarah, there was an elaborate back and forth negotiation between Abraham and Ephron. This culminated with Abraham purchasing the cave at Machpelah:

“Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’ So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.’ Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.’ And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there.’ Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.’ Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard. So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth” (Genesis 23:3-20).

Here recorded in Holy Scripture is a real estate contract, with the terms outlined and consummated, with a transfer of a fair payment of four hundred shekels of silver. This transaction perpetually validated Abraham’s purchase of the cave, and also exemplified the principle that people of faith should avoid the possibility of being beholden to those who might use what could be considered a kind of “generous gift” against them. This was a philosophy that Abraham had adhered to earlier, when confronted by the king of Sodom upon returning with Lot (Genesis 14:21-24), as well as the agreement made with Abimelech when they resolved the water problems for their livestock around Beersheba (Genesis 21:22-34).

Securing a Suitable Wife

With Sarah properly laid to rest at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven, the challenge of finding a suitable wife for the forty year old Isaac (Genesis 25:20) confronted Abraham. Living in the Hebron region among the Canaanites was difficult, because the Canaanites did not serve the Living God whom Abraham and Sarah revered and honored. However, Abraham had learned earlier when he lived in Beersheba, that his brother Nahor, who had remained in the upper Mesopotamian region, had some children with his wife Milcah:

“So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. Now it came about after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, ‘Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor’” (Genesis 22:19-24).

The aged Abraham turned to his faithful servant, Eliezer of Damascus, who had most likely been with Abraham and Sarah since they had left Haran with some other servants, sixty-two years earlier (Genesis 12:5, 15:2). From the account that follows, it is apparent that Eliezer exhibited faith in the same God that Abraham worshipped. Abraham entrusted Eliezer with the charge to return to the upper Mesopotamia region, to find a wife for Isaac, from his relatives located there:

“Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every way. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, ‘Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac’” (Genesis 24:1-4).

Despite having served Abraham and Sarah for a very long time, and having marveled over the blessings God had bestowed upon them, Eliezer was still concerned about this critical mission to find a wife for Isaac. While participating in the intimate Ancient Near Eastern ritual of making a covenant by placing a hand under the thigh, Eliezer received an admonition from Abraham, as Abraham reiterated the promises God had made to him regarding his son Isaac and their descendants. Abraham’s faith never waivered, because he inherently knew that God was with him and that Eliezer would succeed in his mission. Encouraged by Abraham’s faith, Eliezer swore that he would venture forth to find a wife for Isaac:

“The servant said to him, ‘Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?’ Then Abraham said to him, ‘Beware that you do not take my son back there! The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, “To your descendants I will give this land,” He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.’ So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter. Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor” (Genesis 24:5-10).

From this point forward in the narrative, the description of Eliezer’s mission unfolds. But, it is interesting to note that during the early stages of Eliezer’s search, he often deferentially referred to the Lord as Abraham’s God, despite the fact that it is apparent that Eliezer obviously had a belief in the same God as his master Abraham:

“He said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, “Please let down your jar so that I may drink,” and who answers, “Drink, and I will water your camels also”—may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master” (Genesis 24:12-14).

Throughout the excursion, Eliezer displayed total dependence and faith upon the Lord to help him fulfill his mission. When he arrived at the spring used by the residents around Nahor, he implored the Lord to grant him success for the sake of his master Abraham. As a number of young girls arrived at the spring, Eliezer asked the Lord to have the girl destined to be Isaac’s wife respond favorably to his request for water. Providentially, the girl who responded was Nahor’s granddaughter Rebekah, who was closely related to his master Abraham:

“Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar.’ She said, ‘Drink, my lord’; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, ‘I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.’ So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the LORD had made his journey successful or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?’ She said to him, ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.’ Again she said to him, ‘We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.’ Then the man bowed low and worshiped the LORD. He said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers’” (Genesis 24:15-27).

Note that during this encounter around the spring, Eliezer silently observed the actions of Rebekah, and subsequently bestowed upon her some gold jewelry as he waited to find out some details about her family. Upon learning that she was the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah and Nahor, he was elated because from the many years he had served Abraham and Sarah, he obviously knew that these were their relatives (Genesis 22:20-24). With such knowledge, Eliezer bowed low and worshipped the Lord. His mission to find a wife suitable for Isaac was off to a good start. However, he did not want to kidnap the young maiden, but instead, desired for her to willingly return with him to become the wife of Isaac.

Rebekah’s Relatives

When Abraham’s servant encountered Rebekah’s family, her cunning brother Laban is introduced. Laban had taken note of the gold jewelry given to his sister (Genesis 24:30), and so he went to the spring to ask Eliezer to come to their communal household to stay, and have his fellow travelers and camels watered and fed (Genesis 24:31). Despite the hospitality rendered by Rebekah’s relatives, Eliezer was on a mission for his master Abraham. Before he ate, Eliezer relayed the commission of Abraham, along with the progress that had been made at the spring with Rebekah to Laban and their father Bethuel (Genesis 24:34-48). After repeating the testimony, both Laban and Bethuel acknowledged that the matter was from the Lord, and that He had spoken, having indicated that this family worshipped the same God as Abraham and Eliezer. When Eliezer received this affirmation, coupled with the statement that Rebekah was to be the wife of Abraham’s son, he bestowed gifts upon both Laban and her mother:

“‘So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left.’ Then Laban and Bethuel replied, ‘The matter comes from the LORD; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.’ When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the LORD. The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother” (Genesis 24:49-53).

At this point, Eliezer relaxed and spent the night, but his mission was not yet complete. He had the permission of Rebekah’s family, but there was an attempt to delay their return to Canaan. In the morning, Eliezer requested to leave with Rebekah, but her brother and mother asked that she stay for ten days before departing. Faithful Eliezer was relentless. He wanted to return immediately with the prospective wife for Isaac, so to comply with his wishes, her relatives asked if she wanted to go. The response was a resounding yes, so she was released with her nurse and a wonderful blessing for her and her future descendants:

“Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night. When they arose in the morning, he said, ‘Send me away to my master.’ But her brother and her mother said, ‘Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go.’ He said to them, ‘Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.’ And they said, ‘We will call the girl and consult her wishes.’ Then they called Rebekah and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ And she said, ‘I will go.’ Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men. They blessed Rebekah and said to her, ‘May you, our sister, become thousands of ten thousands, and may your descendants possess the gate of those who hate them.’ Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed” (Genesis 24:54-61).

Rebekah Marries Isaac

Upon returning to the region where Abraham and Isaac were encamped, the mission to find a wife for Isaac came to a beautiful conclusion. Abraham’s desire to find a wife who knew and worshipped the same God he served, was completed. Our Torah portion conveys the union of Isaac and Rebekah, in terms that indicate their suitable match:

“Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev.  Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. She said to the servant, ‘Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?’ And the servant said, ‘He is my master.’ Then she took her veil and covered herself. The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:62-67).

At one hundred and thirty-seven years of age, Abraham established a principle for his descendants, regarding how followers of the Creator God should approach entanglements with those who do not know or worship Him. Abraham was unwilling to be beholden to the residents of Heth, when it came to finding a gravesite for his beloved Sarah. But even more critical, he was making sure that any life partner for his beloved Isaac was from a family who knew the same God. Abraham, and even Sarah, knew the unique call that was upon Isaac, and that through him, all of the blessings promised to Abraham would be manifested. In order to assure a continuance of those blessings, Abraham was compelled to find a wife who was suitable for Isaac. By choosing faithful Eliezer as his trusted agent to accomplish his intention, Abraham confidently knew that God would honor His promises to Isaac.

Abraham’s Final Days

According to the balance of Chayei Sarah, Abraham lived for thirty eight more years after Isaac was married to Rebekah. It is during this period of his life that he fathered six more sons with Keturah, so that the promise that he would be a father of a multitude of nations could continue to be fulfilled (Genesis 17:4-5). The principle to preserve those following the distinctive faith, which Abraham had in the Lord, was evident, even as his death approached. It must be remembered that Abraham knew that the son of promise was his beloved son Isaac, whom he had with Sarah. Abraham also understood that the blessings he had received were to be passed along to Isaac and his descendants. Prior to dying, he gave the great bulk of his possessions to Isaac, after he had bestowed some gifts upon his other six sons, and sent them to the land of the east to avoid even greater sibling rivalry that was already evident between Isaac and Ishmael, his son by Hagar:

“Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim and Letushim and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah and Epher and Hanoch and Abida and Eldaah. All these were the sons of Keturah. Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east. These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife. It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi” (Genesis 25:1-11).

Paradoxically, when Abraham died and was buried in the cave of Machpelah, the proceedings were attended by both Isaac and Ishmael, after their half-brothers had been sent away. The animosity between these two sons had not abated because of Ishmael’s unique birth, and the Lord’s promises to Abraham regarding Ishmael’s future descendants (Genesis 17:18-20). Distinctions were to exist between the descendants of Isaac and Rebekah, and Ishmael’s descendants, because Ishmael took a wife from Egypt with her beliefs in other gods (Genesis 21:20-21).

Despite the blessing of many children, Ishmael did not receive the blessing of marrying a wife who had belief in the God of Abraham and Sarah, whom Isaac received when Rebekah became his wife. There has been a millennia-old conflict that has ensued between followers of the God of Abraham and Isaac, and those who have claimed the line of Ishmael as being the line of blessing. Such people seem to have inherited the rebellious traits of Ishmael, which have been passed down for generations:

“The angel of the LORD said to her further, ‘Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Genesis 16:11-12).

Abraham’s Distinctive Faith

When we consider the life example of Abraham and his wife Sarah, it is clear to me that the two of them had a rather distinct faith in the Holy One. Having left the pagan culture of Ur, and having ventured by faith into the Land of Canaan, they understood how critical it was to keep their focus on the Lord God who had chosen them for their special mission to be a blessing to humanity. Through the trials and tests of life, they learned to trust in the Almighty, but also knew that the lures of the world and the temptation to be entangled with others serving different, false gods, were to be avoided. The principle of being equally yoked to others of like mind—especially as it concerns life partners—is discernable in the decisions they made, and is most noted in the search for Isaac’s wife. Years later in the Book of Deuteronomy, the principle, to not be unequally yoked, is graphically defined by using the example of not yoking an ox with a donkey when it comes to plowing soil:

“You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Deuteronomy 22:10).

This theme of avoiding entanglements, with those who do not know the Lord, is more specifically addressed by the Apostle Paul, who warned the Corinthians about the perils of being bound together with unbelievers:

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Messiah with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE [Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27]. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,’ says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN [Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34, 41]; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

While reflecting upon some of the decisions made by Abraham as he was approaching the end of his life, as noted in this week’s Torah reading, perhaps it would be beneficial for you to contemplate where you are in your own walk of faith. Are you mindful of the distinct faith that you have in the Creator God, through the redeeming blood of the Messiah Yeshua? Are you diligently striving to avoid being bound with unbelievers in your daily affairs? Are you praying for godly spouses for your children and grandchildren? Are you working to pass on your faith to your children and sharing it with others, who, like Eliezer, might be a part of your immediate surroundings in the family, neighborhood, or at work?

There is much to be thankful for as we all consider just where we are in our walk of faith. Perhaps now the words of Isaiah 51:1-2 mean so much more as we consider the lives of Abraham and Sarah? May we, by faith, pursue righteousness as we seek the Lord—and avoid being bound with those who do not believe—just like the distinctive faith of Abraham.