Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah

Sarah’s Life

“Respecting the Local Customs”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, entitled Chayei Sarah or “Sarah’s life,” begins by mentioning the death of the Matriarch Sarah, and how Abraham mourned for her passing:

“Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (Genesis 23:1-2).

Even though the title of our parashah is “Sarah’s life,” the bulk of the narrative is actually devoted to the events that follow her death. As the beloved wife of Abraham, often regarded to be among the principal matriarchs of the faithful followers of the One True God, she is held in high esteem throughout the Scriptures. The respect shown to Sarah has been given not only for her godly qualities, but also for her character traits. The author of Hebrews mentions Sarah as an important figure of faith, as she and Abraham were seeking a country and city that reached beyond this Earth:

“By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:11-16, NIV).

Examining Chayei Sarah, we find that we are at a period in time when the life of Sarah comes to a climax. As the wife of Abraham, Sarah had witnessed and participated in an extraordinary series of events with a man to whom God chose to guarantee special promises. He took his responsibility very seriously, and although his imperfections and lack of patience had resulted in a premature copulation with the handmaiden Hagar, resulting in the birth of Ishmael—at the ironic suggestion of Sarai—his true love and partner for life was undeniably the faithful Sarah. Now as she predeceases him, Abraham desires only the best available burial site (Heb. qever)[1] in the land that he was promised by God.

At her death, Abraham and Sarah were residing in the environs of Hebron in Canaan, which was then dominated by the Hittites. Noah said that descendents of Canaan would be “slaves” or “servants” (Heb. evadim) to the descendents of Shem:

“When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:24-27).

As a result of this word, some from the local Hittite population, including the elder servant Eliezer of Damascus, were certainly included among Abraham’s many servants. Whether the Hittites were literal “slaves” of Abraham and Sarah or not is important, because there is certainly an indication that they had an innate recognition that Abraham was a blessed man of the Creator God, to whom they needed to defer a great deal of respect. Read the following statements of honor that were bestowed upon Abraham by his neighbors at the time of Sarah’s death:

“‘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” (Genesis 23:4-7).

By referring to Abraham as “my lord” (Heb. adoni) and declaring that he was “the elect of God among us” (NJPS), it is apparent that the indigenous population understood that Abraham had a unique connection with the Almighty. You also might note that Abraham treated his neighbors with great respect, declaring that he was a sojourner,[2] bowing before them and honoring the local inhabitants. This mutual respect pays great dividends as Abraham elicits his good will to secure a revered burial site for his beloved Sarah. There is no indication that Abraham was trying to “convert” his neighbors, except those who had become a part of his household, to join him in the worship of his God. Apparently, this “stranger” who crossed over the Jordan and became the first Hebrew (cf. Genesis 12:1-3),[3] conducted his life in such an exemplary manner that he gained a degree of admiration from his neighbors. This is a worthy example to pass on to us as his spiritual descendants, who likewise worship his God, and who should be conducting their lives properly in whatever environment we happen to live.

Obviously, the natives were aware of the great wealth that Abraham had accumulated during his lifetime. But the status achieved through wealth did not affect his treatment of his hosts in their native land. Abraham was still humble and respectful enough to display sincere humility, by deferring to many of the local customs and accepting their norms for conducting affairs. The blessing of assets consisting of flocks and servants indicates that he had received great tangible favor from the Almighty. But what is most admirable—and certainly recognized by the Hittites—was his genuine respect for others no matter where they stood in society. This attitude is confirmed many times throughout his life, especially when we are given glimpses of his interactions with Eliezer.

In an interesting exchange of comments, the negotiations were such that Abraham utilized the favor of the local people to approach the owner:

“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’” (Genesis 23:7-9).

We then see that when Ephron heard the initial open-ended offer, he tried to save face in deference to Abraham’s favor among the locals, by back-handedly stating that he would make the transfer of ownership as a gift to the “prince of God” (Heb. nesi Elohim; Genesis 23:6, ESV):

“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’” (Genesis 23:10-15).

In a clever, but apparently customary way, Ephron with witnesses present was able to place a price on the property without directly asking for compensation. Even though the price was a ridiculously high sum, Ephron was able to appear magnanimous, while still establishing the amount. But Abraham, knowing the local customs, understood in his grief what was being communicated. Without hesitation, he weighed out the purchase price before witnesses and consummated the transaction:

“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” (Genesis 23:16).

Four hundred shekels of silver may not sound like a tremendous amount of money given Abraham’s means, and so we should not be surprised to see how later Jewish interpreters attempted to exaggerate this a bit. The Talmud describes that these were large shekels that had the weight of 2,500 ordinary shekels (b.Bava Metzia 87a). According to this, the price that Abraham really paid for the burial cave of his wife was one million ordinary shekels of silver.[4] This interjection does seem a bit extreme, but we cannot totally blame various Jewish Sages for wanting to emphasize “Abraham’s love for Sarah,”[5] as the burial site of Abraham and Sarah is one of the three holiest sites in Judaism, along with the site of the Temple and Joseph’s tomb.

Even if four hundred shekels is all that was paid, this is a considerable sum of money for such a small plot of real estate that would only be used for one purpose. But Abraham had his priorities right, and we can conclude from the lack of negotiations and hesitation, that the Lord wanted this generous sale recorded for future generations to consider. Incidentally, He was also responsible for the prosperity that Abraham enjoyed in order to come up with the required sum!

As we consider the life, death, and final burial place of Abraham and Sarah this week, we have some serious things to consider concerning our own personal faith and how we interact with others. If we are relative outsiders in a community of people, will we show them respect and defer to some of their local customs? In Messiah Yeshua, we are told that one’s ethnicity or social background do not matter (Galatians 3:28). We have the important responsibility as members of the Body of Messiah to be generous to others, and if necessary, even show respect to “the pagans” we encounter just like Abraham did. Do we do this? Do we demonstrate the goodness of the God we serve through our attitudes—even if we may be shortchanged or even “shafted” sometimes?

The rewards for us demonstrating the good character of God in the world are not just being blessed by Him in our lives today. It especially includes our knowing that the ultimate blessing will come when His Kingdom is restored and the rule of Heaven comes to Earth, something that the Patriarchs eagerly anticipated:

“And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:15-16).

May the Heavenly City always be our focus as we seek to serve the Lord and testify of His goodness until the end of our strength and days!


NOTES

[1] The Hebrew term qever and its related verb qavar, are to be differentiated from Sheol, which regards “a subterranean place, full of thick darkness (Job 10:21, 22), in which the shades of the dead are gathered together” (H.F.W. Gesenius: Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, trans. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], 798), in which there is some degree of consciousness (cf. Isaiah 14:9ff).

[2] Heb. ger-v’toshav anokhi immakhem (Genesis 23:4).

[3] The word for “Hebrew” is Ivri. As B.J. Beitzel notes, “It is suggested that ‘ibrî derives from the root ‘br, ‘cross over, go beyond’” (“Hebrew (people),” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. et. al., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 2:657).

BDB, 720 states that Ivri comes from the root word ever, meaning “one from beyond, from the other side,” “used to distinguish Isr[aelites] from foreigners,” or “from beyond the Jordan,” which has generally come to mean “one who has crossed over.”

[4] Nosson Scherman, ed., et al., The ArtScroll Chumash, Stone Edition, 5th ed. (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2000), 109.

[5] Ibid.

V’yeira

V’yeira

He appeared

“Difficult and Hesitant Questions”

Genesis 18:1-22:24
2 Kings 4:1-37 (A); 4:1-23 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, V’yeira, gives us yet another peek into the exemplary life of the Patriarch Abraham. Strong emphasis is placed on how he conducted his life and handled some of the major challenges among the people he encountered. In our reading, we see how the Lord appeared to Abraham in the form of three men, announcing to him how Sarah will have a son,[1] and we are informed from this episode how hospitality is a hallmark of Abraham’s character. Abraham has such an intimate relationship with God, that he feels comfortable enough to implore Him for mercy for any righteous inhabitants living among the perversion found in Sodom and Gomorrah.[2] After the judgment issued upon Sodom and Gomorrah,[3] Abraham’s migrations in the Negev desert and ultimate settling in Beersheba are chronicled, with details about his interactions with Abimelech.[4] During this time, we are told about the birth of Isaac and his circumcision on the eighth day,[5] Sarah’s laughing reaction to the birth,[6] and Sarah’s issues with Hagar the mother of Ishmael.[7]

One of the most significant scenes witnessed in V’yeira is the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18), commonly called the aqedah[8] in Jewish theology. This is often highlighted by commentators because it is probably the most trying test issued to Abraham by God. Believers in the Messiah of Israel obviously make a connection between Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac, and our Heavenly Father offering up His only Son, Yeshua, for the sin of humanity (cf. Hebrews 11:19). As you can imagine, there are some important things that you can meditate and reflect upon as you study the Torah this week.

These various scenes are certainly instructional, as we should focus our attention on Abraham’s life experiences, and consider to what degree we are affected or influenced by them. One particular issue encountered in V’yeira this week is a bit providential, as we read about the figure of Lot and the Divine judgment enacted upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why is the scene of Sodom and Gomorrah so important? I believe it is important to consider this week, primarily because of what is currently transpiring in our world. This week there is presently a dispute over a planned Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem (12 November, 2006). Here in the United States, we have heard allegations issued against an American congressman and a prominent evangelical pastor, associated with homosexual discrepancies. Recognizing the fact that we really are having to read about Sodom and Gomorrah, you have to wonder if God is trying to get our collective attention about an issue that affects every human being. When the Lord originally told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28), this was intended to occur between one man and one woman coming together in a monogamous marriage relationship (Genesis 2:24).[9] Anything that skews this, be it men and women engaged in homosexual activities—or even unmarried men and women engaged in heterosexual activities—undeniably mars the Creator’s original intent.

Within modern Israel, the forces of evil are working overtime to discredit, denounce, and disgrace—if not eliminate—what is supposed to be a Torah-centered Jewish culture. The challenge, of course, is that the State of Israel was largely founded by secular Jews, whose main concern was to establish a country run by Jews and for Jews,[10] but whose laws are not always informed by either the Torah or Jewish religious law and tradition. Homosexuality is not a crime in modern Israel, unlike Ancient Israel.

The debate over whether or not the homosexual community in Israel can rally this week occurs in proximity to us reading not only about the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, but the reasons why God thought it necessary to decimate the two cities. In a country that upholds the Hebrew Scriptures as some basis for its existence, what does this say about the Israelis? To an extent, it says that people who live in Israel are no different or any less sinful than those living in the Jewish Diaspora, or anyone else on Planet Earth for that matter. The homosexual issue is fairly black and white when we read about it in the Scriptures, without room for any shrouded “gray” opinions. God does not mince any words when He declares that homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). As much as we may believe that the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) has atoned for the sin of homosexuality (cf. Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:12)—and that God loves homosexual people—it is still absolutely unacceptable.

The more you review the history of humanity, and in particular the Bible, it is reasonable to conclude that every generation from Adam and Eve to the present has a degree of wickedness and perversion—which continues to be passed down and compounded generation after generation. Consider the fratricide of Cain (Genesis 4:8), the devolution of man’s reason to always think evil that precipitated the Flood (Genesis 6:5), the rebellion of Nimrod at Babel (Genesis 11), and many other sins and crimes against the Creator that are too numerous to list. While many sinful activities are often only manifested in the form of negative or mean-spirited attitudes, from one person or group of people toward another—physical sins which merit some kind of high penalties or capital punishment understandably get our attention. Certainly, when the world of humankind is devastated by an ecological disaster like the Flood in Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32), or cities like Sodom and Gomorrah are laid waste by a sudden catastrophe like in V’yeira, the need to recognize their significance cannot be overstated!

When we start reading Genesis 19 and the actions that take place in Sodom, with Lot and the angels who visit him (Genesis 19:1-3), what immediately jumps out at us is how sexually decrepit a society like Sodom really was. No one’s privacy, especially in the most intimate of areas, is at all respected.[11] The angels as newcomers go to Lot’s house, and people from all over the city encroach on Lot’s dwelling—demanding that they be sent out to them for their physical indulgence:

“Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them’” (Genesis 19:4-5).

It is difficult to imagine that all from the city gathered to have relations with “the strangers.” The Hebrew describes this as kol-ha’am m’qatzeh or “all the people from the extremity” (YLT). Whether this represents all of those in Sodom going to Lot’s house, or those from all sectors of Sodom is unimportant. The fact of the matter is that when the messengers arrived at Lot’s house, word got out that some visitors were in town, and this spread all throughout the city. A huge mob of sexually debauched men were ready to encroach upon them, screaming “Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them!” (NLT). Even if we disapprove of homosexual activities today, most gays and lesbians in the Twenty-First Century do not act like this, and tend to maintain a high degree of sensibility.

As bad as the sinful behavior was in Sodom, Lot had not been tempted to become a homosexual during his time in the area, unlike most of the people. This is noted by a comment that comes forth from the lusting crowd as Lot prepares to protect his guests:

“‘Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ But they said, ‘Stand aside.’ Furthermore, they said, ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.’ So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door” (Genesis 19:8-9).

Lot’s relatively new residency in Sodom allowed him to still be considered an “alien” or “foreigner” (HCSB)[12] in the community. Despite the threat of physical harm against him, Lot stood his ground and protected his visitors. Oddly, Lot was willing to sacrifice his two virgin daughters to the mob, rather than allow his two visitors to be sexually violated. Whether he actually would allow them to take his two daughters, or that this was a cue from him to God’s messengers standing by to employ some supernatural powers, cannot be known. The homosexuality of Sodom was so bad, though, that Lot’s daughters were refused.

The morning after Lot protected his visitors, they told him that the city would be judged. Lot was to take his family away from the city in order to avoid certain death and damnation along with the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. At this point, we find that “righteous Lot” actually hesitated before departing[13]:

“Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.’ Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’ But Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’ He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar. The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar” (Genesis 19:12-23).

We find that Lot not only hesitated when warned to flee, but that the messengers actually had to grab his hand and the hands of his wife and daughters in order to lead them away from the city. How could “righteous Lot,” who so bravely protected these two angels from certain gang rape by the men of Sodom, been reluctant to leave Sodom? We might think that despite the obvious perversion of the Sodomites, Lot had become comfortable or tolerant of their abominable acts. Maybe he just had too much property and holdings in the city to easily leave. Or, is there something else we can conclude from the account of Genesis 19? Here we find that when the messengers arrive in Sodom, they find Lot in the gate:

“Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground” (Genesis 19:1).

The fact that Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom is significant. In ancient times, the gate of a city was where the elders or leaders of a community customarily spent their time discussing various political, economic, judicial, military, and various other matters. Of course, in the Ancient Near East all of these matters were closely entwined, as many cities were generally responsible for protecting themselves from marauders from without, and dissension from within. Here at the gate, the well being, and if necessary, the survival of the city was debated and discussed, with decisions agreed upon and implemented.

Since the text mentions that Lot was actually sitting at the city gate of Sodom, it is fair to conclude that Lot was among the leading or influential voices of the city. It is possible that in some way Lot was trying to reform Sodom—in spite of the difficulty—by his testimony of the Living God that he served. No doubt, Lot would have naturally received some respect among his peers from the incident that had transpired a number of years earlier, when Sodom was overrun by the allied kings, who plundered the city (Genesis 14). One notable event took place after Abram had rescued Lot and his family from the ransacking armies. Abram told the king of Sodom that his God was responsible for delivering Lot:

“The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.’ Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share’” (Genesis 14:21-24).

Whether this testimony to the king of Sodom elevated Lot in the estimation of the Sodomites is not known, but the record remains that Lot was among those gathered at the gate of Sodom when the angels arrived. I think that it is possible that Lot was doing his best to communicate the holiness of the Most High God to his neighbors (even if he did make mistakes like trying to give his two virgin daughters to the mob). Perhaps Lot already had a history of demonstrating a degree of righteousness when he was condemned for being a judge over the Sodomites (Genesis 19:9). He certainly advocated heterosexual unions, as his daughters were betrothed to the young men of Sodom (Genesis 19:12). When you combine these insights with the fact that Abraham’s request for salvation for the righteous of Sodom (Genesis 18:27-32), resulted in only Lot’s family being spared, we see compiled together something that is both encouraging as well as sobering. Lot was surely considered “righteous,” but he definitely had made some serious errors. Let us not forget how the very reason that Lot ended up in Sodom was so there would be no division with his uncle (Genesis 13:8-12).

There is certainly a great deal of drama witnessed from what transpires in Genesis ch. 19, the scene of the angels going to pull Lot and his family from the sinful locus of Sodom, followed by God’s judgment via fire and brimstone. We immediately think that Lot living in this town has made him one who was totally compromised with the world and its ways. To a degree, Lot certainly was. But we need to temper this with recognizing how ultimately, the Apostle Peter actually refers to Lot as a righteous man, who personally suffered because of the lawless activities he saw occur around him:

“[A]nd if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:7-10).

From the Creation of the world and the Fall of humanity, there have been significant problems with “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Sin manifests itself on many different levels, but the scene of something like Sodom and Gomorrah, and its homosexual roots (cf. Romans 1:20-32), are not easily forgotten. While there are any number of severe sins to be considered, all worthy of extreme judgment according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), what we read about in V’yeira is to be taken as a sign of a much more severe judgment to come to those who are unrepentant (2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7; cf. Revelation 21:8).[14]

How do Messiah followers today react to this, who largely live in Western societies where traditional sexual mores are being assaulted on so many different levels? How are we to respond to the growing number of men and women who proudly declare to willing media outlets their sexual preferences? While the Scriptures testify that this is not a new thing among humans, what should we be doing in the various “gates” where the Lord has us uniquely positioned?

The only answer I can give you—beyond maintaining our own personal integrity—is to simply point people to the eternal redemption that is found only in Messiah Yeshua. We must demonstrate this by our faithfulness to the Lord and to His ways every day. Our behavior must be impeccable. Our prayers should be for the salvation of those who are turned over to the lust of their flesh, rather than to harshly condemn their actions. Consider some of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, living in the midst of a culture that looked quite favorably on homosexual and lewd heterosexual activity. He urges restraint in how we may judge and condemn other people:

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4).

Let me recommend that we do not judge or eternally condemn the homosexuals in Jerusalem, or the congressman or pastor of recent note—or anyone for that matter engaged in any unacceptable sexual activities (gay or straight). We need to instead pray for their salvation, deliverance, and complete repentance.

The fact is, my friends, each one of us at one point or another in our lives, has at the very least had inappropriate sexual thoughts (cf. Matthew 5:28). Some of you have been involved in pre-marital sexual activities, have been caught in an extra-marital affair, or may have had issues involving pornography. If we look at gay and lesbian sin as somehow being worse than unacceptable heterosexual activities, then we have not at all been fair. Furthermore, even if we have been relatively sexually pure in our lives, this does not mean that there might not be other areas which need improvement. If we are sexually pure, but we are thieves or swindlers, we have still violated God’s Law and are condemned by it. If we are faithful in the marriage bond, but treat our spouse with verbal contempt and abuse, we have broken Torah.

Consider the list of sins summarized by the Apostle Paul, which litters every sector of human culture all over the globe—in both ancient times and up until today:

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32).

These sins and their commensurate penalties should cause us all to seriously pause for a moment and make sure that we have our accounts in order with the Lord. Too frequently in today’s Messianic community, the only sins that tend to stir people can be when we think of various Christians who do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath/Shabbat, the appointed times of Leviticus 23, or eat kosher. The sins that got First Century Jews stirred up about the pagans around them were actually those of idolatry and lewd sexuality (Wisdom 14:12; 2 Maccabees 6:4). Is it possible that in desiring to see “Torah” restored to God’s people, some of today’s Messianic teachers and leaders have an unbalanced emphasis? Are we not to be appropriate beacons of upstanding behavior in all areas of life?

The very fact, that in our time many formerly conservative Christian denominations and churches have embraced the homosexual agenda,[15] has been a cause for many individuals to return to a spiritual foundation in the Old Testament or the Tanakh. While there have always been Christian theological traditions which have respected the Law of Moses for ethical and moral instruction, today’s Messianic movement has the unique capacity to give such Believers much more in terms of their Hebraic Roots, and in really living like our Jewish Savior Jesus and His Apostles. How might Messianic Believers like you and I be positioned, either now or in the near future, to answer their questions as they are convicted by the Holy Spirit that they need to commit themselves to a faithful reading of Moses’ Teaching every week?

I urge you to take this before our Heavenly Father in prayer, as He refines you for some important service in the days to come!


NOTES

[1] Genesis 18:1-16.

[2] Genesis 18:17-33.

[3] Genesis 19:1-29.

[4] Genesis 20:1-18; 21:22-34.

[5] Genesis 21:1-8.

[6] Genesis 21:6-7.

[7] Genesis 21:9-21.

[8] Cf. Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Treasury, 2004), 1105.

[9] Cf. Mark 10:7-8; Mathew 19:5; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31.

[10] If you have never done so, do be sure to read through, at one point or another, Theodor Herzl’s seminal work, The Jewish State (1896).

[11] It is useful to remember that while there was a high degree of homosexuality present in Sodom and Gomorrah, many of those who were homosexual were probably bisexual, at least for the purposes of having children.

[12] Heb. verb gur.

[13] The verb appearing in Genesis 19:16 is mahah, appearing in the Hitpael stem (intensive action, active voice), meaning “hesitate, tarry, delay” (HALOT, 1:552).

[14] For an analysis of the false teaching known as annihilationism, consult Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), and the article “Why Hell Must Be Eternal” by J.K. McKee.

[15] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website “Romans 1:26-27.”

Lekh-Lekha

Lekh-Lekha

Get yourself out

“Go Forth and Receive Blessings”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Perhaps one of the most often quoted and well known Torah passages, about the unique relationship between the Eternal Creator and Abraham—often considered to be the “father of faith” (cf. Romans 4:11-16)—is found in the opening passage of the parashah we are considering this week:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran” (Genesis 12:1-4).

Here in the command to “Go forth,” Abram is called out of the relative luxury of Ur, as he is one who was firmly embedded in the local culture with his extended family. We get the impression that he was a well-to-do businessman, living in a city adjacent to the lower Euphrates River (modern-day Iraq) as it flowed into the Persian Gulf.

Without any apparent or recorded hesitation, Abram was commanded by the Holy One to leave his home and relocate to a more remote location, at the age of seventy-five and without a physical heir to his estate. When we encounter God’s request as Bible readers, we think that this must have been met with some skepticism, or at least curiosity. Yet, Abraham responded obediently, and for the next century from the Torah’s record (cf. Genesis 25:7), it is abundantly clear that Abram/Abraham was a unique man whose impact upon the future generations of those who have sought the Creator is immeasurable in human terms.

Great lessons for God’s people today can be appropriated as we read about and significantly consider the exemplary life exhibited by Abraham. Throughout his experiences with God, he was asked to simply follow Him, and step out in complete and total trust and faith. Unlike those of later times, who had the collective wisdom and communal history of hearing about how the Lord had interacted with their people in the past, Abraham was having to chart unknown territory. God simply interjected Himself into Abraham’s life, and he had to place his total confidence into this unseen Deity. The Holy One was undoubtedly testing Abraham’s heart to confirm that he was going to be entirely loyal to Him. His wholehearted belief in the words and promises of God is summarized in how his trust (Heb. verb aman) was considered to be righteousness:

“Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. And He said to him, ‘I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it’” (Genesis 15:6-7).

This critical juncture in Abraham’s life describes that he absolutely believed in the Almighty and took Him at His word. His confidence to recognize that the Creator had his best intentions in mind, in transplanting him from his home country to a relatively unknown and unseen Promised Land, had to be immense. It is not like when any of us has to move from one city to another city, or one region to another region, when already we have a fairly good idea about the place we are relocating to. Abraham knew nothing about where he was going, except what God had told him. He heard the voice of the Lord and believed without any hesitation.

Time and again throughout the course of history, followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have had to respond to whether or not they are truly going to serve Him. They face various tests and trials permitted by Him, as they are forced to demonstrate their loyalty and obedience to the Lord and His ways. The examples of how this works are seen throughout the Scriptures, and are too numerous to list—but just about everyone who has expressed a belief in God has had to go through some kind of testing at one point or another in their life. The challenge for each of us is to simply pass the tests, just like Abraham—because having to repeat a test because of unbelief, or even disobedience, is never something that anyone wants to do. Therefore, it is critical for God’s people to develop an inherent faith component that gains encouragement and fortitude from examples like that of Abraham.

In Genesis chs. 15&16 we read about how Abram’s trusted servant Eliezer of Damascus will not be his heir,[1] the agreement struck with God between the animal pieces,[2] the cohabitation with Hagar giving birth to Ishmael,[3] and God’s announcement that Sarah will give birth to a son.[4] Genesis 17:1-8 summarizes what has become known as the Abrahamic Covenant, including God’s promises to multiply Abraham’s seed, making him fruitful, and giving Him the Land of Canaan for perpetuity:

“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.’ Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’”

Genesis 17 is doubtlessly loaded with so many things to digest, that all I can do is stand amazed at its future implications for the generations that followed! When we study the life experiences of Abraham, and the others who came after him, I am greatly encouraged that I am doing the right thing when I consider what the Torah teaches me about faith. The author of Hebrews later asserts how Believers in the Messiah of Israel have a tremendous cloud of witnesses behind them in history, whose previous life examples are to serve as a testimony of how we are to continue the legacy they began:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Yeshua, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

The life of faith is not often something easy for any generation to demonstrate. Even today, knowing that the Savior has come and has been sacrificed for human sins, each of us still has to step out in total confidence and place ourselves in the Lord’s hands. As important as it is to live forth the proper actions of faith, it is ultimately our belief in Yeshua’s accomplished work at Golgotha (Calvary) that ultimately reckons us righteous:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).

When the Sages considered an appropriate Haftarah selection for this Torah reading, they focused on some words from the Prophet Isaiah. Here, in another often known and beloved passage, Isaiah speaks about how God provides strength and vigor to those mortals who look to Him for deliverance. God’s people are to wait upon Him, as they seek after Him for provision and steadfastness:

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:27-31).

I find this to be a beautiful passage, which gives those pursuing God hope that there is a way and a time for everything! May we be found trusting, faithful, and patient when we need to go forth in order to receive the blessings of our faith and obedience to Him. Perhaps more importantly, may we be able to pass on a positive legacy to those who come after us, that they should likewise seek the Lord in all things.


NOTES

[1] Genesis 15:1-6.

[2] Genesis 15:7-21.

[3] Genesis 16:1-6.

[4] Genesis 16:7-16.