November 2016 OIM News


OIM Update

November 2016

The last few months have been devoted to prayer, confession, and supplication unlike anytime in my life. For the first time since becoming a Believer, I truly considered the tragic possibility that the country where I reside was going to democratically choose socialism over the free enterprise capitalistic model that was envisioned by the formation of a constitutional republic based on Judeo-Christian principles back in 1787. For weeks on end, particularly as the Election Day approached, every morning as I entered into conscientiousness, I found myself crying out for mercy, mercy, and more mercy from our Heavenly Father. For lack of a better example, I frequently recalled the prayers recorded by the Prophet Daniel, as he recognized the timeline laid out by Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10) and interceded for his fellow Jews in Babylonian exile:

“So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem’” (Daniel 9:3-12).

Needless to say, I certainly do not believe it was my individual prayers which generated the electoral results—but instead the cumulative effect of the millions of other grieving saints, who likewise cried out to our Creator God with unceasing prayers. In so doing, many were led to confess their sin and the sin of their fathers, and plead and implore the Holy One for mercy and compassion (Leviticus 26:42). Thankfully by His grace, the Almighty One gazed down from His Heavenly throne and recognized that there were indeed, many more than the negotiated ten righteous souls of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33) residing in the United States, who could continue to fulfill God’s work to take the gospel of truth to the nations of the world.

Nevertheless, from my extremely limited perspective of being dangled over the potential abyss of living in a society substantially turned over to the evil inclinations of humanity—such was a frightening and I hope life altering experience for all those who claim to be a part of the Body of Messiah. Consequently in my moments of intercession, I was led to consider many of the Biblical and historical facts which led us to this critical juncture. I have tried to capture these things in this month’s lead article, “A Cultural Crossroad.” Hopefully, as we move forward and have been given a “line extension” in time to advance God’s Kingdom on Earth, the Messianic movement will continue to mature and flourish in anticipation of the Messiah’s return.

Finally, significant progress continues to be made with Messianic Apologetics expanding its outreach via social media. During the past year, J.K. McKee has made efforts to be quite active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. We appreciate your efforts of partnering with us via our ongoing Technology Fund, as we make upgrades to our computer equipment and abilities. The transfer of information from the old Messianic Apologetics website to the new WordPress based site will be completed by the end of the year. We are also pleased to announce that audio teachings are now available via a new Messianic Apologetics channel on both iTunes and Podomatic, which you can download via your iPhone or Android.

Until the Messianic restoration of all things…

Mark Huey


A Cultural Crossroads

by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

For those of us living in the United States, the past few months in anticipation of a national election and a new governmental leadership, have been extremely stressful. The free will choice of the American population, given the reported flaws of the final two candidates, created conflict peppered with angst, as well meaning people sought peace in their constitutional right to cast a vote. Personally, for the first time since the turbulent 1960s, I discerned the possibility that a dramatic cultural shift was about to take place. But unlike the naïve God-less teenager—who fifty years ago relied upon whatever the world system or “power of air” (Ephesians 2:2) was broadcasting into the airwaves to influence public opinion—my current perception was different. Instead, after almost forty years of pursuing the Messiah Yeshua with the indwelling Holy Spirit teaching and comforting my soul (John 14:16, 26; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7), I had been blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear the manifestation of spiritual warfare that the Spirit of God was revealing as Election Day approached. In my opinion, the continuation of the American culture, based on Judeo-Christian principles, was palpably threatened. Hence, I believe we were at a critical cultural crossroad—and my heartfelt concern for the future of our country, as the principal world power established to defend the relatively nascent State of Israel, was unlike any apprehension I had ever experienced before. As a result of the sleep-depriving anxiety—like millions of other Believers witnessing the same state of affairs—my primary reaction was to fervently pray for God’s mercy. As I searched the Scriptures and reflected on world history for how God intervened in other crucial times, the following verses came to mind occasionally—as my pleading, beseeching, and supplicating intercession grew:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua” (Philippians 4:6-7).

In addition to interceding intensely for the direction of our country, the annual trek through the Torah cycle providentially had the Book of Deuteronomy being studied during the waning months of the recent campaign season, along with the commemoration of the Fall high holidays. In many regards, the five books of the Torah of Moses can be considered to function as the written “constitution” of Ancient Israel. Deuteronomy or Devarim as the final book, incorporates Moses’ concluding summary and recapitulation of the statutes, laws, and regulations.

This year, when reading and studying through those summary passages—given the political electoral decisions being made in early November, and the real potential for what many were calling a “constitutional crisis” with certain results—the parallels between what was envisioned by the framers of the U.S. Constitution came to mind often. After all, when the founding documents, including the Constitution of the United States, were being drafted and adopted, a significant number of the framers and authors of those documents were influenced by Christian ethics and moral principles, with many being genuine followers of the Messiah. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit was evident in many of the hearts of those used to draft the provisions incorporated in the Constitution of the United States of America.

As a result, the generally agreed upon understanding about the fallen nature of humanity, was addressed by establishing a scheme of government which would incorporate balancing mechanisms to keep any one person from gaining too much power. For most assuredly, from previous experience and knowledge about world history, just about everyone in that era understood the universal principle later encapsulated in Lord Acton’s precise definition about power: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Hence, provisions were made in the U.S. Constitution that included what are known as “checks and balances” to prevent any one branch of government, or any one individual, from abusing the power that they were to receive.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of the Fall campaign was the much discussed realization that genuine corruption within the government of the United States had simply become a given among the ruling class. Light was finally being cast on the misdealing hidden in the darkness. Television commentators railed, articles and books were written, and movies and documentaries were produced—which all delved into many of the challenges that beset the candidates of the two primary parties vying for political power. One of the most ballyhooed claims dealt with what was being called absolute self-dealing and corruption by one of the candidates. The evidence of using power and position to enrich oneself was overwhelming, as the ability to prosecute the case was frozen by the judicial system. Nevertheless, the intensity of the campaign was in full bloom this past September.

As the 229th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution took place on September 17th, the Torah portion Shoftim was being considered. In Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9, I discovered one critical area that the framers of the U.S. Constitution did not include when they were drafting the articles for American governance. After all, the founding fathers of the late Eighteenth Century were essentially successful farmers, traders, professionals, businessmen, bankers, doctors, lawyers, or land owners—who did not necessarily envision the problem that money would or could create in the electoral processes of the early Twenty-First Century. For the most part, those involved in governmental activities considered it temporary service to the nation which had been created, and not a permanent status for life. Nonetheless, they did foresee the need to include a provision for impeachment that addressed the problem of bribery in the following oblique way found in Article 2, Section 4 Impeachment:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High crimes and Misdemeanors.

In other words, “bribery” was something that the framers of our Constitution knew the human heart was capable of falling into—along with treason, high crimes, and misdemeanors. Of course even today, the ability to prosecute someone for any of these misdeeds requires considerable legal arguments, to determine exactly what rises to the level of removal from office.

But as I pondered Shoftim portion, I wondered why there was not more consideration for how officials, magistrates, and judges can be so readily influenced by the bribes of others. Perhaps the founders could have been more explicit when it comes to the corruption that can result from monetary bribes, as noted in this passage that reminds us about how bribes pervert justice:

“You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).

The difference, found in the Torah, was that the judges and officers would be appointed by the various tribal leaders of Ancient Israel, rather than elected democratically as found in the American Constitution. But the universal principle found in the words that “a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous,” must be considered. This takes one right back to the fallen nature of humanity. Without getting into all of the details which have led settled law to the “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission” Supreme Court decision, suffice it to say that the ability for money (or wealth/mammon) to corrupt humans goes right back in the annals of time. In fact, in His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua addressed the choice that every person, regardless of whether they seek to be a ruler, judge, or public servant, must contend with in life. It all comes down to who or what every person is going to serve, which according to Yeshua is one of two masters:

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

Here in very succinct terms, Yeshua explains the great dilemma presented to every person who has ever lived—but most especially issues a challenge to those who would claim to follow Him. Consider the stark reality that if a person in a governmental position does not claim a relationship with the Risen Savior, which gives knowledgeable access to the Creator God—then their allegiance is either to self, or a plethora of other gods, with the misperceived security derived from the acquisition of wealth as a motivational force. But without judging another person’s heart on where he or she stands before the Almighty, observing the actions of a person versus what one says, should give a perceptive person a good idea about just who or what another individual is serving. This wise warning was mentioned by Yeshua, just after speaking about the choice of masters, with the reminder that His followers need to be self-critical in order to avoid hypocrisy:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

So with those words taken to heart, our prayers should be consistent for all who seek to rule over us in governmental positions. We are not to judge their motivations, but ask the Holy One to give them wisdom, discernment, and merciful hearts when it comes to making decisions that impact those under their authority.

This is why another passage in Shoftim made so much sense regarding what the Lord expected the kings of Israel to do when they were in power. Here, the Torah was very explicit on how Moses instructed the eventual kings of Israel to maintain their humility once they were elevated to rule:

“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’ He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

Of course, these instructions were for the kings of Israel who were beholden to the Torah of Moses. In the case of the American president, the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land. But if you take a brief look at this passage, you will note a few values that could be applied to any person who has been elevated to power over others, even in a constitutional republic based on democratic principles. In fact, some of these principles were discretely incorporated into the text of the Constitution, and others adhered to by many of the Presidents who have presided over the United States of America. These include:

  1. Choose a countryman or someone (born American, no foreign born leaders)
  2. Never return to Egypt or its ways (do not return to European monarchial systems)
  3. Do not take additional wives, and avoid interlocking treaties (ancient entanglement with treaties)
  4. Take money or increase wealth (avoid bribery)
  5. Write the Torah with the priests (understand the Constitution)
  6. Read Torah and its statutes daily (appreciate validity of established laws)
  7. Learn to fear the Lord (grave responsibility)
  8. Maintain humility (daily prayer seeking guidance from above)

As you can see, the influence of the Holy Bible had a profound impact on the formation of the American culture and the writing of the U.S. Constitution. I highly recommend you take the time to read an article by Stephen McDowell, entitled, “Noah Webster, God’s Law, and the United States Constitution: The Influence of the Bible on the Development of American Constitutionalism” (accessible online at: http://providencefoundation.com/?page_id=1948), and you can review the unique trail through the many historical documents, ultimately influenced by the Scriptures, distilled into the U.S. Constitution.

When reading through many of these documents, you will find just how close the American culture came to a critical crossroad which would have had incredibly traumatic consequences for the world we live in today. One quoted paraphrase that really caught my attention, was attributed to some post-presidency letters written by Thomas Jefferson regarding the ability for the young nation to prosper and thrive. In those correspondences Jefferson warned of the detrimental effects of a centralized government, combined with the corruption inherent in political circles. Upon reading these comments and references to them by various editorial writers, the state of affairs surrounding the recent election cycle generated serious concern for the direction our country was going to take. Attempting to weave in various prophetic statements found in the Holy Scriptures, just added to the parlor games being debated by God-fearing people from all spiritual persuasions. Needless to say, because I was more familiar with the Holy Scriptures, I focused my energies on prayer, appealing to God for mercy, and His compassion to a people and a nation that I believe still has a unique calling to stand with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Thankfully, by the grace of God, the result which occurred during this election cycle has given many hope for the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. Around our home, we have praised the Lord for what we have called a “line extension,” before the End of the Age trauma commences. Quite frankly, I have no good reason for understanding why the Holy One of Israel had so much grace toward His people, other than the cries for mercy! There is no doubt in my mind that there were untold millions of Believers who followed this Scripture to the letter:

“[A]nd My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Surely, millions of God-fearing Americans humbled themselves, and sought the face of the Almighty in fervent prayer. Many confessed their sin and turned from their wicked ways. As a result, the Holy One heard the pleas and cries from Heaven, forgave the sin, and is now in the process of healing our land, the United States of America.

The American cultural crossroad was upon us. We stopped, paused, considered the alternatives, and by the grace of God, chose to return to a path which adheres to Christian principles much more so than the other choice. Now it is time to pray for unity and healing between those who are diametrically opposed in the worldview that was chosen. And while we are at it, continue to pray for the protection of those in governmental leadership—so that the American culture, based on Judeo-Christian principles, will continue to stand with the State of Israel for the foreseeable future.

Let me close with some of the most poignant words regarding how the Creator God sovereignly places various governmental authorities over people, in order to ultimately accomplish His will for humanity. Here in his writing to the Romans, the Apostle Paul summarized how Believers as citizens of a society should conduct their lives. These are words that I have no doubt were certainly being considered when the U.S. Constitution was agreed upon:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet’ [Exodus 20:13-15, 17; Deuteronomy 5:17-19], and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18]. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Do this, knowing the time that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:1-14).

When you reflect on Paul’s words, in light of the cultural crossroad just reached and the path chosen—all who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because of faith in the accomplished work of the Messiah Yeshua should say without reservation: “Hallelujah!” We have seen prayers answered, and accordingly, need to take the reprieve as an opportunity to “put on the Lord Messiah Yeshua, and stop making provision for the flesh—for its cravings” (Romans 13:14, TLV)—so that we might instead further advance God’s Kingdom on Earth, until the Messianic restoration of all things…

Toldot

Toldot

History

“Generational Choices”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Over the past few weeks, Torah readers have witnessed several parashot focusing on the life of Abraham and his progeny. This week the saga continues, as some of the trials of Isaac are detailed. Interestingly, the title of “History” or “Generations” (Toldot) can give one pause to consider many of the realities, and perhaps uncertainties, of family growth. While we can notice how the descendants of Abraham began to multiply, we should take greater notice of how Abraham had passed on the knowledge of his relationship with the God of Creation and His promises to his progeny.

In Toldot, we clearly see how the Almighty was establishing His chosen people among the nations of the world through His choice of Isaac, and later Jacob. It is instructional for us to learn that, as modeled, how all of us make generational choices is critical for furthering the truths we have inherited through God’s blessings originally promised to Abraham millennia ago.

Last week, if you will recall, our Torah portion Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) actually concluded with a brief description of Abraham’s death and his burial, by what the text specifies as “his sons”:

“And these are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. And 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 [Yitzchaq v’Yishma’eil banyv] 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” (Genesis 25:7-10).

This is an interesting depiction of Abraham’s internment, because if you will recall, following the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah and had six additional sons:

“Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. And she bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah…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” (Genesis 25:1-2, 5-6).

Here we see the names of six additional sons, yet Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, and only gave gifts to his other sons (Genesis 25:6). This was a critical decision Abraham made as he was approaching his death. Abraham knew that God had promised the inheritance of the Land of Canaan to his son by his wife Sarah (Genesis 17:19, 21). Abraham also remembered that God had made some promises to Ishmael, in order for him to be fruitful and be a great nation (Genesis 17:19-21).

There are no recorded promises made to the other six sons, so when Abraham’s death approached, he gave them some gifts and sent them eastward. By the time Abraham died, Ishmael had probably already fathered many of the twelve sons that were expected (cf. Genesis 25:16-18). When you couple these grandsons with the six sons from Keturah, was Abraham at all concerned about a potential threat to Isaac and his children? Keep in mind that although Abraham was told by God that he would be fruitful (Genesis 22:17), the example of his lack of judgment in fathering Ishmael via Hagar is one that is not looked at that favorably throughout the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 4:25).

Even though Ishmael was present at the burial of Abraham, the fact that Abraham continued to favor Isaac, and gave all that he had to him (cf. Genesis 25:5), indicates that Abraham lived his final years in close proximity to Isaac and Rebekah, so that the inheritance of livestock and goods could be completed. Even though Abraham had a second family, as it were, with Keturah, preference was definitely made toward Isaac, the son of promise. I would submit that the most important thing in Abraham’s mind was to impart to Isaac and his children the special relationship that he enjoyed with the God of Creation.

The Next Generation

One of the main features of our parashah this week is how Isaac and Rebekah had to wait twenty years, before she became pregnant with the twins Esau and Jacob. Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah:

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

A few verses later we see that Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born:

“And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:26).

Having been married for twenty years, Isaac and Rebekah lived together childless. They also got to experience the stigma and disappointment of being childless, which in the Ancient Near East would often be viewed as something less than a misfortune. Even in more modern times, while some married couples may choose to wait a number of years before starting a family, they normally do not expect to have to wait two decades!

In many ways, Isaac and Rebekah having to wait was a repeat of some of the pain endured by Abraham and Sarah, as they waited a seemingly interminable amount of time before the birth of Isaac (cf. Genesis 18:11-12). Perhaps when the whole family got together, Abraham may have comforted Isaac and Rebekah with stories of how he and Sarah had to wait for Isaac to be conceived. If this took place, could they have been cautioned not to make the mistake of forcing God’s timing, as was the case with the pregnancy of Hagar that produced Ishmael (cf. Genesis 16:3)?

The Scriptures do not give us any great detail about what transpired during the two decades Isaac and Rebekah waited for their own children, but we do know that in God’s time, Isaac’s entreaties for a pregnancy were answered as Rebekah became pregnant with twins (Genesis 25:21). But, even after a twenty-year wait for children, Rebekah’s pregnancy appeared to have complications. From the very womb, the twins inside of her are said to have been struggling for dominance. Rebekah’s pleas to God were answered when He spoke to her about the situation:

“But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, why then am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger’” (Genesis 25:22-23).

In what appear to be some very intriguing words, Rebekah wanted to know why “the children clashed together[1] within her” (Alter). She received an answer to her plea from God, and many Bible readers—especially those who follow current events in the Middle East with the Israeli-Arab conflict—feel that Genesis 25:22-23 definitely informs them about this. Perhaps a bit more significant for the narrative here, Rebekah would have been relieved to receive an answer from the Holy One that the conflict she felt during her pregnancy was by His design, and not because of anything that she did. Similarly, if you have ever heard the voice of the Creator respond to one of your urgent pleas, then you are likely able to recall His response whenever you need guidance and encouragement.

In a moment of great stress, the Lord told Rebekah that within her womb were two peoples who were already struggling with one another. Can you imagine what she thought when she delivered her two boys, and the first one came out ruddy and hairy, with his younger brother actually grabbing the firstborn child’s heel?

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

Certainly as a follower of Abraham and Isaac’s God, she had probably heard about the curses that were first uttered to the serpent, Eve, and Adam in the Garden of Eden. Recall what God’s first promise of the Messiah to come actually was:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).

What was God communicating to His followers when He said that the seed of the woman would “bruise him on the heel”? In the scene of Esau and Jacob’s birth, the younger son being born held on to the heel of his older brother. Having just experienced the pain of childbirth, one can only imagine what Rebekah might have thinking. We may never know for certain what went through Rebekah’s mind, but we do know from the rest of the Biblical narrative that the line of Jacob eventually gave rise to the Messiah (Matthew 1:2ff; Luke 1:33). And as the Apostle Paul attests, women are to take special note of how they are to “be saved through the child-bearing[2]” (1 Timothy 2:15, YLT), Yeshua, a direct reference back to Genesis 3:15.[3]

Further on in Toldot, the twins are described in contrasting tones:

“When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:27-28).

We see an interesting picture here of the distinctions between these two children of Isaac and Rebekah, and how their parents treated them. Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” (NIV). On the other hand, “Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents” (RSV). It appears that Esau was the “stronger” of the two, or at least was more outgoing as a warrior/gatherer, while Jacob spent time in tents attending to various household chores.

As Esau and Jacob grew up together, Rebekah certainly witnessed the obvious differences between her two sons. The older son was a man after the flesh (cf. Hebrews 12:16), and the younger was inclined to remain at home. Within a period of time, a challenging dichotomy developed in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. It is stated that Isaac loved Esau, because he had “a taste for wild game” (Genesis 25:28, NIV). On the other hand, it is stated that Rebekah loved Jacob.

Rebekah had been given a very strong word from the Lord during her pregnancy that “the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23, RSV). She knew that Jacob was definitely more inclined to household responsibilities. She was living in the reality that Isaac, the firstborn son of Abraham and Sarah, was to receive the promises of God. She could definitely have thought that the promises to Abraham and Isaac were ultimately going to be bestowed upon Jacob, the younger of the twins. After all, she had imbedded in her memory: Was not the older to serve the younger?

Birthright Transfer

Continuing in the narrative of our Torah portion, we encounter more, which specifically informs us about the character of Esau and Jacob. A very unique event occurred, confirming how Esau was largely a mortal man after the flesh, with little concern for spiritual matters. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a meal. Even if Jacob’s intentions were not entirely honorable in this scene, Esau’s actions in agreeing to the transaction were neither wise nor responsible, either:

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

Some Jewish Rabbis think that this event took place at the time of Abraham’s burial,[4] but there is no direct Biblical evidence that indicates this as the specific time when Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. What should grab our attention a little more is why Esau agreed to sell his birthright for a meal. What does it mean when “Esau came in from the field and he was famished” because he says “I am about to die” (Genesis 25:29, 32)? Is this just because Esau was out hunting too much? Or had Esau gone out and committed some ungodly deeds, stirring up some problems for himself? Jacob was obviously at home conducting his affairs, and for some reason or another might had an inclination that if Esau were given the birthright, he might have either misused or squandered it.

In securing Esau’s birthright of the firstborn for a meal, Jacob was treating Esau in a manner consistent with a second meaning derived from his given name Ya’akov,[5] which can mean “supplanter” (Genesis 27:36). Here at this propitious moment, Jacob sold his brother a bowl of soup, knowing that Esau would give him his birthright:

Apparently, this transaction is considered by God to be valid, because Esau verbally swore to Jacob that the birthright was to be his (Genesis 25:33). How powerful can spoken words be, which reveal what is truly in one’s heart (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45)? Is it possible that Rebekah had revealed to her son Jacob, that as the younger his older brother would serve him? Or is it possible that while Jacob conducted his affairs in the family tents, that he decided he wanted to inherit the birthright blessings? He certainly knew the (irresponsible) inclinations of his twin brother Esau. Did Jacob have a plan of eventually taking the birthright from Esau? We do not know for sure. When Jacob offered a meal to his brother, Esau notably did not refuse, having readily (and stupidly) accepted the proposal for the exchange.

In the First Century, the author of Hebrews admonishes his audience why Esau could accept the exchange without any immediate reservations. Esau is specifically considered to be an ungodly and immoral man, who was quite foolish and who made a rash decision:

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17).

This view of Esau being a base man of the flesh is seen earlier in the works of the Jewish philosopher Philo. He describes Esau as an evil man, versus Jacob who was wise and who concerned himself with virtue:

“Now that the wicked man is destitute of a city and destitute of a home, Moses testifies in speaking of that hairy man who was also a man of varied wickedness, Esau, when he says, ‘But Esau was skillful in hunting, and a rude man.’ [Genesis 25:27.] For it is not natural for vice which is inclined to be subservient to the passions to inhabit the city of virtue, inasmuch as it is devoted to the pursuit of rudeness and ignorance, with great folly. But Jacob, who is full of wisdom, is both a citizen and one who dwells in a house, that is to say, in virtue. Accordingly Moses says of him, ‘But Jacob is a man without guile, dwelling in a house’” (Allegorical Interpretation 3.2).[6]

Although Jacob was by no means imperfect, it is ultimately Esau who is to be considered to be an immoral or godless person (cf. Genesis 28:6-10). Because Esau did not have a spiritual inclination toward his Creator, he despised his birthright (Genesis 25:34). Esau was willing to sell it to satisfy some momentary hunger or cravings. The ArtScroll Chumash perhaps validly notes, “For what did he give up his precious birthright?—for a pot of beans!”[7]

The Blessing of Isaac

A number of years later, with Esau and Jacob a bit older, Esau now had an interest in securing the blessings of his father Isaac. But as the narrative details, he had already been inclined to intermarry with some of the local women, and was a practicing polygamist:[8]

“And when Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34-35).

The marriages of Esau to Judith and Basemath were grievous for Isaac and Rebekah to witness: “they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (RSV). Probably realizing how Abraham’s servant had to be sent back to his home country to select a wife for Isaac (cf. Genesis 24:1-7), the two parents understood how important it was for their sons to at least try to marry someone who had a similar background. They knew that they had inherited the blessings via the marriage of Abraham to Sarah, and in their hearts they wanted the same blessings for their sons. But Esau had married local women, who were undoubtedly involved in the worship of other gods and other unacceptable practices. Yet, with this in mind, it is interesting that as Isaac was growing old, he was still inclined to give Esau a chance to receive his blessings (Genesis 27:1-4). Even if Esau had displeased his parents in his marriage choices, he still remained their son and they still loved him.

As Isaac’s eyes began to fail him, he thought he was going to die, and so in a last minute appeal to his son Esau, he made the request of one final savory meal: “prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die” (Genesis 27:4). Isaac does tell Esau that before he died, he wanted to bless him. Of course, as the record indicates, Rebekah overheard this request and she went into high gear to circumvent the bestowing of Isaac’s blessing on Esau (Genesis 27:5-14). She probably remembered the clear words from God “that the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23), and so now in a very premeditated way, Rebekah decided that she would intervene to see that Jacob receives the blessings of Isaac instead.

Without going into great detail, we should all know that the deception was successful and that Isaac blessed Jacob as he would a firstborn son (Genesis 27:15-29). In essence, the successful trade of the birthright status years earlier, had now come full circle as the firstborn blessings, usually designated for the one actually born first, was bestowed upon Jacob rather than Esau. Right after Jacob had stolen his brother’s blessing, Esau returned to prepare the meal his father actually wanted, so that he might receive the firstborn blessing (Genesis 25:30-31). Instead, he found out that he was too late (Genesis 25:32-34), and he cried out for restitution with a gut-wrenching plea:

“Then he [Esau] said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob [Ya’akov], for he has supplanted [aqav] me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.’ And he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’ But Isaac answered and said to Esau, ‘Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?’ And Esau said to his father, ‘Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.’ So Esau lifted his voice and wept” (Genesis 27:36-38).

Esau was crushed. He finally realized that he had not only lost his birthright to Jacob, but now the grand blessing of his father Isaac had also been taken away from him. His weeping was an indication of great human sorrow. In his mercy and love toward his son, Isaac did bestow a word upon Esau—but only after he realized that the blessing of Abraham, which he had inherited, was already passed on verbally to his son Jacob. Isaac was not about to change what had already been stated over Jacob and his descendants, and so he can only tell Isaac this:

“Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, ‘Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. And by your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.’ So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:39-41).

(I do not know about you, but I do not honestly know if I would have really wanted something like this pronounced over me…)

Generational Blessing

Realizing that it was Esau’s intention to murder Isaac (Genesis 27:42-45), Rebekah again decided that she knew best, recognizing how the best thing for Jacob was for him to relocate out of the region. She knew how she could get Isaac to agree to this. Rebekah implored her husband Isaac, blaming her frustration on Esau’s wives from the daughters of Heth, to send Jacob back to the old country to secure a wife from among her relatives:

“And Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?’ So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you; that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham’” (Genesis 27:46-28:4).

We see here from Isaac how the blessing of Abraham was bestowed upon Jacob: “may El Shaddai bless you, make you fruitful and make you numerous, and may you be a congregation of peoples[9]” (Genesis 28:3, ATS). Isaac himself did not know when he would again see Jacob, so he passed on this final blessing before Jacob left. Of course, no one at the time realized that Isaac would live to a ripe old age of 180, and that his two sons would have to reunite to bury him (Genesis 35:28-29).

Considering the Generational Choices

What have we learned, as we are reading about the early generations of the family chosen by God to be a major example of faithfulness toward Him?

First, we witness that the Lord challenges each generation with trials that are designed to test our faith. Whether it is waiting upon God’s blessing for opening the womb, or being sent into hostile territory to deal with the ravages of famine (Genesis 26:1ff), the ability to trust in God for His plan and provision is imperative. As we have seen in recent weeks, both Abraham and Sarah—and now Isaac and Rebekah—have dealt with these challenges in different and yet similar ways.

Next, we can see that each generation has some critical choices to make in order to help insure that the blessings of the Holy One are passed down to succeeding generations. We are modeled the concept of encouraging our children to marry spouses from people with the same faith and relatively familiar backgrounds, so they can have the best chance of marital success. Abraham did this for Isaac in retrieving Rebekah to be his wife (Genesis 24). In a like manner, Jacob was sent to Rebekah’s family to secure a wife (Genesis 27:46-28:2). By following this pattern, each successive generation made choices for their children that increased the probability that their descendants perpetuated the truths regarding the God of Abraham and His promises.

For those of us living today, it is our responsibility to heed the successes and failures of those who have preceded us, notably the examples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Sarah and Rebekah. Just like these spiritual forbearers, we should be ever conscious of the need to make good generational choices, as we are given responsibility for those who come after us. We should be positively influencing the future choices of our offspring. Among the many things this involves, is there anyone better equipped to advise and encourage the next generation about marital choices than the parents who raised them? Of course, in order to assist in this process, the one Torah commandment that deals specifically with the direct relationship between children and parents, should be inculcated into each successive generation:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12; cf. Deuteronomy 5:16).

May we all take an active interest in the lives of our children, and also other young people in the community of faith who look to us as mentors. Let us do so by not only giving them upstanding marital advice and council, but most especially exemplifying what it means to have a dynamic relationship with the God of Israel through His Son, Yeshua the Messiah. In so doing, it will not only be the faithfulness of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs that they are guided by, but most importantly the faithfulness of the One who died for our sins and has provided us full reconciliation with the Father![10]


NOTES

[1] Heb. ratzatz.

[2] Grk. dia tēs teknogonias.

[3] For further reading, consult the article “The Message of the Pastoral Epistles” and the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[4] Cf. Scherman, Chumash, 127.

[5] Cf. J. Barton Payne, “aqav,” in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:691-692.

[6] Philo Judaeus: The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, trans. C.D. Yonge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 50.

[7] Scherman, Chumash, 128.

[8] For a review of this subject in the Bible, consult the article “Is Polygamy for Today?” by J.K. McKee.

[9] Heb. qehal amim.

[10] Consult the article “The Faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah” by J.K. McKee.

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.”