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.

V’yeira

V’yeira

He appeared

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

“Testing Abraham’s Faith”


by Mark Huey

By the time our Torah examination turns to V’yeira, readers find that the life of Abraham, and his personal trials, are mounting. Having left the comfortable confines of Ur and ventured forth into the land of Canaan, and having gone into Egypt and returned—Abraham’s nomadic journey has finally seen him settled in the region around Hebron. Abraham’s close association with his nephew has been altered, as Lot chose to move his expanding herds to the plentifully watered valleys near the wicked city of Sodom. It is from this vantage point of overlooking the distant city that Abraham had an incredible encounter with the Living God, which affirmed his close and special relationship with Him. Perhaps the most challenging test of Abraham’s faithfulness to follow the Lord is seen in V’yeira, when he is asked to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise. It is noted very early in our Torah portion that Abraham had a very exclusive call on his life, and that God had chosen Him. Would Abraham be able to live up to such a calling?

“The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 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 18:17-19).

God chose Abraham, for a unique role to play for all who would follow after, because He foreknew that Abraham would set a standard for his descendants to emulate. As more details about Abraham’s direct contact with the Holy One are recorded, the incredible intimacy of his relationship with Him unfolds. What might we learn, as contemporary Messianic Believers, from Abraham’s life example? How much do we need our faith in God to be intensified from what we encounter?

Abraham Pleads

As V’yeira begins, Abraham experienced a supernatural encounter with the Lord. While Abraham wandered around his tent encampment, all of a sudden out of nowhere, three men appeared, who obviously had something special about them. We are not told whether there was some kind of holy aura seen or not, but without hesitation, hospitable Abraham humbly greeted them and honored them with a specially prepared meal to enjoy:

“Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, ‘My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by’” (Genesis 18:1-3).

In the course of the ensuing conversation as the meal was eaten (Genesis 18:4-8), the three inquired of Sarah’s whereabouts. It became evident to Abraham in the course of this encounter, that he had truly been communicating with God Himself. Earlier, when he had discussed the fate of Ishmael, Abraham had received a promise that Sarah would bear a child whose name would be Isaac (Genesis 17:19-22). When this promise was repeated, Abraham had to recognize that he was speaking to the Lord:

“Then they said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ He said, ‘I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?” Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah denied it however, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. And He said, ‘No, but you did laugh’” (Genesis 18:9-15).

Abraham knew that he was speaking to the Almighty God, who had given him the promises of descendants and land. As He prepared to depart, the Lord rhetorically asked whether or not He should inform Abraham about what was about to happen to the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah:

“Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?’” (Genesis 18:16-18).

After recognizing the fidelity of Abraham to Him and His ways of righteousness (Genesis 18:19), the Lord informed Abraham about the judgment that He was to unleash upon Sodom and Gomorrah:

“And the LORD said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’ Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD” (Genesis 18:20-22).

Having been informed that “their sin is exceedingly heavy” (LITV), Abraham was left standing in the presence of the Lord—surely with enough faith—to begin some kind of “negotiations” on behalf of any righteous people who might have resided in Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33). It was at this juncture that a glimpse into the expanding faith of Abraham is revealed to Torah readers. For, what ensued was that Abraham had enough faith in God and His mercy, to implore Him to suspend the intended judgment. Abraham most likely had his nephew Lot in mind, as we are informed later by the Apostle Peter that Lot’s righteousness warranted sufficient mercy for at least himself (2 Peter 2:6-8).[1]

At this point, let us pause for a moment and consider the faith of Abraham, and most specially his boldness to get into a negotiating session with the Lord God. Can you imagine the audacity—or at least the great courage—to actually suggest to the Creator God that He would judge the righteous along with the wicked? Abraham did say, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23)?

The thought of questioning the Lord seems somewhat daring to most of us, but have you ever gotten into a debate, or even just a “vigorous discussion,” with the Lord, in prayer, on a major issue? If you truly have faith in the Lord and look to Him for salvation, direction, and provision—is it not part of your thought process to spend time asking Him for not only your personal needs, but for the needs of others as well? If you are not seeking Him in your thoughts and prayer life, who or what are you communing with as your thoughts rotate throughout the day? Believers have been instructed by the Apostle Paul to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and also to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Being able to address the Lord with a degree of frankness, is something that those who know Yeshua are to surely be able to do. The author of Hebrews further elaborates,

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Faithful Abraham helped establish an important precedent, which true seekers of God, confident in their relationship with Him, should be able to follow. If we have established some level of intimate trust with the Lord in our relationship with Him, then we should indeed “approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence” (Phillips New Testament) when we need an answer for something important!

Lot and the Fall of Sodom

After Abraham pleaded with God for mercy to be shown on any righteous people who were living in Sodom, two angels arrived at the gates of Sodom to find Lot among the leaders of the city. Their supernatural nature was likely withheld from many, but Lot must have inherently sensed that there was something special about these two strangers. He immediately offered his home as a place for them to spend the night (Genesis 19:1-3).

When word got around in Sodom that Lot had two visitors, the men in town made their way to Lot’s house and demanded that they be given over to them, because “We want to have sex with them!” (Genesis 19:5, CJB). Lot pleaded with the mob to not act wickedly (Genesis 19:6-7), and even offered his two virgin daughters to them (Genesis 19:8), which does seem a bit out of place for someone regarded as “righteous” in 2 Peter 2:6-8. We are not given a great deal of information about Lot’s personal character, even though it was surely a contrast to those inhabitants of a city about to suffer catastrophe. Lot had some degree of “faith” in the One True God, even though it was not as strong or developed as that of Abraham.

The mob outside of Lot’s home prepared to break down the door (Genesis 19:8), totally given over to its fleshly debauchery. The angels manifested themselves at this point, blinding the sight of those in Sodom, and providing the means for Lot’s family to escape from the impending judgment of the city and its environs (Genesis 19:9-14). As Lot’s company departed Sodom, the angels specifically instructed them to not look back upon Sodom, or they would suffer the consequences. The scene is marked by Lot’s wife looking back and turning into a pillar of salt:

“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. Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:15-26).

Lot’s wife disobeyed the angels’ instruction and lacked belief—most probably having thought back on all of what was left behind at the home in Sodom—and she did not avoid looking back. For modern-day Believers in Yeshua, many of whom think that the End of the Age and His return are steadily approaching, He appealed to the example of Lot’s wife turning back on how many will surely turn away from the Lord when His judgment manifests:

“It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:28-33).

Yeshua is returning for a faithful group of people who have chosen to place their trust in Him, rather than in trying to preserve themselves and their possessions through their own mortal strength. The choice every seeker of God has to make is clear: one is either going to have faith (even if somewhat flawed like Lot), or have a lack of faith resulting in calamity and eternal punishment. These illustrations definitely give each of us something to seriously consider, while we meditate upon V’yeira.

Abraham and Abimelech The Birth of Isaac

At this point in V’yeira, an episode similar to the famine-driven sojourn of Abraham to Egypt is described. Abraham and his entourage relocated to the Negev desert area near Gerar, and while there they encountered another strong leader, who like the Pharaoh of Egypt, took Sarah into his harem:

“Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, ‘Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.’ Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, ‘Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? Did he not himself say to me, “She is my sister”? And she herself said, “He is my brother.” In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.’ Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours’” (Genesis 20:1-7).

Once again, Abraham employed the same tactic, to avoid problems, as he introduced Sarah as his sister (cf. Genesis 12). In this case, we see how God providentially interceded for the migrant couple, and revealed to Abimelech in a dream that Abraham and Sarah were married. Interestingly, it is shown how Abraham and Sarah were in agreement in their dealings to avoid any problems by saying that they were brother and sister. And, it was not totally untrue, either, for Abraham and Sarah were half-brother and half-sister to one another (Genesis 20:11-13). Even with some possible concern among readers today, that the presentation of themselves as brother and sister was deceptive, apparently Abraham and Sarah were allowed to use this strategy to remain alive. We see how in their encounters with Abimelech, they received additional wealth and freedom to settle in the area—and not only this, but we see how Abimelech himself was blessed by the Lord:

“Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. Abimelech said, ‘Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.’ To Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.’ Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife” Genesis 20:14-18).

After enduring this uncomfortable situation, the Lord’s promise that Sarah would conceive a child miraculously happened, and Abraham obediently named him Isaac or Yitzchak as instructed by the Lord earlier (Genesis 21:1-7; cf. 17:19). However, upon weaning Isaac, Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar’s son Ishmael erupted into a demand that Abraham cast him away. Sarah’s insistence greatly distressed Abraham, so the Lord intervened and comforted Abraham with the assurance that Ishmael would also become a nation, but that it would be through Isaac by whom his descendants would be named:

“The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.’ The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba” (Genesis 21:8-14).

The relationship between God and faithful Abraham was certainly maturing, as the experiences that He had with Him, as he followed His guidance, steadily built upon themselves. Nevertheless, at times it does appear that the Almighty had to speak directly to Abraham, to confirm the actions that he was to take. In this case, despite Abraham’s affection for Ishmael, he quickly followed God’s affirmation of Sarah’s demand. Hagar and Ishmael were sent toward the wilderness near Beersheba.

Apparently, Abraham and his entourage continued to graze their herds in the same area, as the text reveals that Abimelech was still in awe of Abraham’s blessings from the God he worshipped. In order to maintain peace among the various herders seeking water for their livestock, a covenant was made between Abraham and Abimelech by the wells of Beersheba:

“Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, ‘God is with you in all that you do; now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned.’ Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’ But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. And Abimelech said, ‘I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today.’ Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. Then Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What do these seven ewe lambs mean, which you have set by themselves?’ He said, ‘You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my hand so that it may be a witness to me, that I dug this well.’ Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for many days” (Genesis 21:22-34).

Our Torah portion affirms how Abraham was absolutely aware that it was ADONAI El Olam who had blessed Him. Abraham’s experiences of favor from his potentially hostile neighbors, and the significant grace and mercy displayed by the Holy One, were preparing him for the most significant test that he was given: the command of the Lord to offer up Isaac, the son of promise.

Abraham Offers Up Isaac

Turning to the final and perhaps most noteworthy test of Abraham that is often highlighted in this parashah, one finds the gut-wrenching command of the Lord for Abraham to offer up his beloved son Isaac as a sacrificial burnt offering. Abraham was obviously prepared for this ultimate test by all of the previous experiences and dealings he had, because without hesitation, Abraham obeyed the command, which to human or mortal reasoning does not make that much sense:

“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’ [hineini]. He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance” (Genesis 22:1-4).

By this time in Abraham’s walk of faith with the Almighty, he certainly knew His voice—and so when he called, he immediately responded with a resounding “Here I am.” This direct reaction is reminiscent of a future response declared by the Prophet Isaiah, when he heard the voice of the Lord asking for someone to declare righteous judgment to wayward Israel:

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me! [hineini shelacheini]’” (Isaiah 6:8).

Unlike the call of Isaiah to prophesy to the disobedient, Abraham was commanded to take his son of promise—Isaac, the one to whom all of the blessings spoken to Abraham would be placed—and sacrificially offer him as a burnt offering (olah) on a mountaintop that the Lord would designate.

Imagine what a perplexing request this must have been to Abraham. Had he heard God correctly? After all, if the promised son was to be killed, how would His blessings be passed down to future generations through his descendants? To the human mind, this makes absolutely no rational sense at all. Yet, by this time in Abraham’s walk with God, he was so dependent upon Him that he did not even question the command. Abraham simply set out early the next morning in obedience.

To better understand what Abraham must have been thinking, we often find ourselves turning to the Epistle to the Hebrews, to discover that Abraham had so much faith in God, that he believed that He could raise people from the dead in order to fulfill His promises:

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED’ [Genesis 21:12]. He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Abraham was totally confident that his God would fulfill His promises that He had made regarding Isaac, because he trusted in Him. If God had promised that Isaac would be the child of promise, and upon killing him Isaac remained stone dead, then God would be a total, faithless liar. But this is not what occurred.

Needless to say as this took place, the young lad Isaac was perplexed. After traveling for three days with Abraham and the servants, they arrived at the mountain together with fire and wood, but without a lamb for the offering (Genesis 2:5-6). When inquiring of his father, Abraham’s response to Isaac was that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice. Upon reaching the designated place, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood, and then bound his compliant son Isaac by placing him on the altar. Abraham was absolutely willing to slay his son, and at that moment the angel of the Lord called out his name in a voice which Abraham clearly knew. The interruption must have startled Abraham, because the stretching of his knife-wielding hand indicated that he was fully willing to sacrifice his son at the instruction of God:

“Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ And he said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’” Genesis 22:7-12).

The Lord recognized that Abraham was absolutely willing to offer his son Isaac to the Lord as a burnt offering. Surely in his mind, Abraham had already sacrificed Isaac, and only had to carry through with the physical action. As this event took place, and Abraham was told to not harm his boy, he saw a ram caught in the thicket. Abraham immediately realized that the Lord had providentially allowed a ram to get entangled near the altar, so that the provision of a substitute for Isaac was readily available. Without hesitation, Abraham aborted the sacrifice of Isaac, gathered the ram, and offered it up as the desired sacrifice:

“Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.’ Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice’” (Genesis 22:13-18).

Abraham was doubtlessly relieved that he did not have to slay his son Isaac, but he knew instead that it was the Lord who ultimately provided the substitute. After giving Him total recognition for providing the sacrificial ram, Abraham once again heard a reiteration of the covenantal blessings that God had made with him: in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth [b’zar’akha kol goyei ha’eretz] be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (ESV). Genesis 22:18 is certainly one of the most important verses in the entire Bible, as it carries a theme that resonates into the Apostolic Scriptures, as the Abrahamic promise of blessing has reached its pinnacle via the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) onto the scene of human history, and how all the peoples and nations of Planet Earth are to benefit from His sacrifice (Galatians 3:8, 16).

Historically in Judaism, this test of Abraham is referred to as “the binding” or the aqedah,[2] and it has been revered as one of the greatest tests that the father of our faith had to endure. For the multitude of saints who believe in Yeshua the Messiah, we recognize the binding of Isaac as a main foreshadowing of His sacrifice for us.[3] Yeshua endured the capital punishment, on the tree, which we are all worthy of because of our universal condition as fallen human sinners (Deuteronomy 21:23, Galatians 3:13). He absorbed this capital punishment onto Himself, so that in the post-resurrection era, those who acknowledge Him can receive forgiveness for their sins (cf. Colossians 2:14).[4]

By our faith, trust, and steadfast belief in Yeshua (Jesus), the “Seed” of Abraham who died, we are saved from the commensurate penalties of sin (cf. Galatians 3:16). As we each consider the diversity of events witnessed in V’yeira this week, may we believe and place our ever-present hope in all of the promises made to the Patriarch Abraham. In so doing, may we not only live like Abraham with extreme faith in our Eternal Creator, but know the True Seed of Abraham ever more intimately, our Savior the Messiah Yeshua!


NOTES

[1] “[A]nd if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and 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)” (2 Peter 2:6-8).

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

[3] Consult the relevant sections of the article “Answering the ‘Frequently Avoided Questions’ About the Messiahship of Yeshua” by J.K. McKee.

[4] Consult the FAQ entries on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Colossians 2:14” and “Capital Punishment.”

Lekh-Lekha

Lekh-Lekha

Get yourself out

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

“The Father of Faith”


by Mark Huey

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

The Lord Calls Abram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abram and Sarai in Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abram and Lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abram Reckoned as Righteous

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

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

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

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

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

The Conception of Ishmael

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

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

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

Abram and Sarai Renamed

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

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

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

Abraham Remembered

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

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

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

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


NOTES

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

[2] LS, 641.