Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #3: Lech lecha (Get yourself out)
B’resheit (Genesis) 12:1-17:27
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 40:27-41:16
B’rit Chadashah: Romans 3:19-5:6
The story of Avraham. Most individuals who are or were Christians prior to being called out by the Ruach to Messianic Judaism of us remember learning about “Father Abraham” of whom even Christians claim ancestry. There are cute little songs about him and plays addressing the life of Abraham and Sarah. But very little if any of the true meaning of the story was taught for a couple of reasons. The first is that most folks who have come out of Christianity never hear the true story from the Hebrew and few are told that Avraham was neither a Jew nor Christian. He was the first to “cross over from an idol worshipping society to a man who was called out to follow the One True G-d: the G-d of Israel. Christian clergy typically know little about the Hebrew language, customs, and the fact that YHVH/Yahshua then as now expects those who call themselves true believers to follow His commands and statutes. Even Abram, later named Avraham (father of many nations) was commanded to keep the Covenant G-d made with him. Although many Christians claim Avraham as their ancestor, the Christian doctrine departs significantly from the way Avraham lived his life.
The story of Abraham is one in which we see the first example of a man actively searching for G-d. we are not given privlege on exactly what brought him to the point of searching for G-d as he was brought up in Ur , the son of Terach who was sold idols in the province of Ur in Mesopotamia. But being surrounded by idolatry the life of Avraham provides the perfect situation for us to see how we are to respond to a similar situation in our time. G-d preordained that Avraham’s and Sarah’s lives would serve as an example to the rest of the world of how to respond to G-d even when we cannot physically “see” Him and how to deal with conflict, fear, and even death. First, let us take a look at some of Avraham’s trials and see how we can glean strength, knowledge, and wisdom from the interaction between him and G-d.
The first trial mentioned in Scripture is in the first passage of our parashah, the command that Avraham put his family and his past behind him and follow G-d’s directions to a new land. Try to imagine how you would feel if this happened to you. A test from G-d is always one that forces an individual to choose between G-d’s will (His Torah) and his own human nature or understanding of what is right. This is the crux of the teaching; overcoming human nature (fears, selfishness, self-will) in submission to G-d even when we cannot see the road ahead to the “prize.” It was a supreme test of Avraham’s faith and trust to leave his homeland and his father, and eventually offer his son Isaac who was chosen by G-d as the son of promise against all human logic before G-d provided a suitable offering in the ram (Chap. 22).
Why did G-d put Avraham through the multiple trials described in our parashah? These trials and Avraham’s response, along with the interaction between him and G-d shows the world how we are to react and obey G-d. The extreme pressures associated with these trials illustrates the fact that we can overcome and be victorious with G-d’s help (Matt. 19:26). Trials and tribulations that are presented to us also offer the opportunity to glorify G-d and teach us more about our deepest selves. G-d will never impose or allow any trials that we cannot overcome (1 Cor. 10:13). Making the right choices enables us to ascend another rung in the ladder towards a closer relationship with our G-d. We will ultimately be rewarded for what we actually did and not just a good intention that never came to fruition. This process is definitely not easy, but G-d knows what we can handle. The challenge is for us to lean that we can handle anything with G-d’s help and not worry about our perceived limitations.
It is never easy to pull up roots suddenly; especially when you don’t know where you are going. We see some of the struggles of many who are going through this today; Ukrainians displaced in a war situation, and folks who live in a large condominium complex in south Florida. These folks were given two hours to move their belongings out and find another place to live due to the dangerous condition of their building. But to add to the difficulty for Avraham and Sarah, as they journeyed to Canaan, they would always be separate from the surrounding society. This is another lesson for us. We must resist the temptation to become comfortable with what we see around us; an easy non-accountability pagan lifestyle such as Lot chose to follow. The word used to depict this separateness of Avraham is Ivri , meaning “from the other side.” This literally means he came from the other side of the Euphrates but on a deeper level of understanding, Avraham was on one side of morality and spirituality, and the rest of society was on the other. People who strive to follow G-d’s Torah must be ready to be isolated, ostracized, and shunned. This is a progressive process that will only get worse until Yahshua returns. Human nature dictates doing whatever it takes to be popular, including assimilation, compromise, and participation in behaviors we know to be against G-d. Avraham and Sarah were given the challenge to go into the world but to remain separate from it, just as we are today. Note that at this point, Avraham was still known as Abram and Sarah was known as Sarai. G-d changed their names to include their spiritual change and His presence in their lives (Chapter 17:5 and 15).
There is often a question about Avraham’s level of spirituality when it would appear that he lied about his relationship to Sarah when they reached Egypt. Recall that Avraham told the Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister, rather than his wife so that “it will go well with me for your sake, and so that I will stay alive because of you” (Gen. 12:13). Looking back on Sarah’s genealogy and the rabbinic literature such as the Talmud, we find that Sarah was identified with Iscah, daughter of Abrahams’s deceased brother Haran, so that Sarah turns out to be the niece of Avraham and the sister of Lot and Milcah. In other literature, Terach is said to be Sarah’s father also, making her Avraham’s sister. Whatever her actual relationship to Avraham, there is still debate about whether Avraham’s faith wavered and if he placed Sarah in possible harm’s way. G-d’s intervention in the matter (Gen. 12:17) provides us a comforting reassurance that even though we “mess up” and try to solve problems with our finite understanding, G-d is in charge and will intervene for His glory and our ultimate benefit, no matter the perceived outcome. This example also illustrates that our spiritual growth is a process for every human, no matter their status. We have not “arrived” and will not finish the race until our physical existence ends and the soul returns to G-d for its ultimate disposition at the end of the age.
The relationship between Avraham and Lot provides an illustration of how we are to deal with selfishness and greed on the part of others. Lot was a selfish man and ultimately chose to assimilate with the society in S’dom. His wealth and lust for more brought out the worst in him as it does in many people. There was arguing among the shepherds of Avraham and Lot about which area of pastureland was the best. Avraham wanted peace about the matter and understood the only way this could be achieved was to separate. Characteristic of Avraham’s hospitable nature, he allowed Lot to choose first which land he wanted. As G-d decreed that true believers (Israel) are to remain a separate people from pagan societies we note the separation between Avraham and Lot who assumed a less spiritual status as he became more assimilated into the pagan city and lifestyle. Although we live in the world to set the example of how we are to relate to G-d and man, we are not to assimilate into anti-Torah environments as did Lot, becoming of the world.
Chapter 14 provides other lessons for us today. The war of the kings in the region provide the backdrop for Avraham’s humble nature and his faith/trust in G-d for the sake of his nephew, Lot, even though Lot was selfish and disrespectful. When Avraham heard Lot was taken captive, he mobilized his trained men, greatly outnumbered as they were to save Lot. He recovered the goods that had been taken but not the spoils to which he was entitled. However, this he said to the king of S’dom; “I will not take so much as a thread or sandal thong of anything that is yours; so that you won’t be able to say,’ I made Avram rich.’ I will take only what my troops have eaten and the share of the spoil belonging to the men who came with me- ‘Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre; let them have their share” (Gen.14:23-4). Therefore, Avraham demonstrated his integrity by refusing personal gain and showing that he was only interested in saving Lot and not depriving others of their entitlements. Reflect for a moment on how employee-employer relationships could improve if employers had this attitude and employees had the devotion and loyalty of Avraham’s troops. Finally, we see how Avraham established the system of tithing later commanded by G-d of all of our first fruits in 14:18-20. Malki-Tzedek king of Shalem alludes to Yahshua as the “cohen of El’Elyon (G-d Most High).
In Genesis Chapter 17, we learn of the spiritual and physical conflict that will last until Yahshua returns. This is the conflict between good and evil; Isaac(laughter) and Ishmael (G-d will hear/pays attention). Ishmael is the progenitor of the Arab people. The Angel of Adonai said to Hagar who was the Egyptian maid servant of him Yishma’el (G-d pays attention) because Adonai has paid attention to your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man, with his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, living his life at odds with his kinsmen.” This is the issue between the Israelis and Arabs today. The Arabs believer Ishmael was the son of promise, in direct contradiction to G-d’s own words in Chapter 17:19-21. Just as Avraham could not establish peace between himself and Lot, peace between the Arabs and Israel will not become a reality until Yahshua returns (Ezekiel 35-6; Rev. 3:7-22; Obadiah). Edom, the nation descended from Ishmael will be annihilated and destroyed.
Two other tests given Abraham not covered in the parashah are the offering of Isaac and the death of his beloved Sarah. Avraham’s response to these ultimate tests as a continuation and of Avraham’s spiritual journey will be covered next week, providing us the example of how we may overcome such significant tests of our faith and trust in YHVH/Yahshua.
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 40:27-41:16
Avraham was called out of his familiar worldly surroundings on a path of spiritual growth to an ultimate destination in the land G-d showed him. This haftarah continues this theme, encouraging true believers (Israel) to maintain optimism in the midst of trials and battles; exile and persecution. This response to difficulties is in direct contrast to our typical response to such maladies. That is continuing in anti-Torah behaviors and encouraging others to participate just as we see today with the incessant push to make people accept behaviors completely contrary to G-d’s Torah; homosexuality, secular humanistic teaching, pagan/idol worship in the form of pagan traditions and celebrations such as Easter and Christmas. Israel (True believers whether Jew or Gentile) are to ignore these promptings with the confidence that G-d will triumph. Although true believers defined by Yahshua himself in Romans 1-3, John Chapter 14, and Revelation remain the minority and may seem irrelevant, G-d assures victory over our enemies in the end.
Isaiah speaks to Judah and Israel, admonishing them for their doubt in G-d’s infinite strength, unknowable understanding, power and promises to His people that those who place their hope in Adonai will be renewed, strengthened, and invigorated. He reminds them that G-d has chosen them to serve Him and has taken them from the ends of the earth just as He did Avraham. G-d’s people need not be afraid or distressed because our G-d is ever present to protect and strengthen us; to lead us to victory, and destroy or enemies, the enemies of G-d. We are reminded that he is the G-d of Israel; our Redeemer!
B’rit Chadashah: Galatians 3:15-18
“Brothers, let me make an analogy from everyday life: when someone swears an oath, no one else can set aside or add to it. Now the promises were made to Avraham and to his seed. It doesn’t say, “and to seeds,” as if to many; on the contrary, it speaks of one- ‘and to your seed’- and this “one” is the Messiah. Here is what I am saying: the legal part of the Torah, which came into being 430 years later, does not nullify an oath sworn by G-d, so as to abolish the promise. For is the inheritance comes from the legal part of the Torah, it no longer comes from a promise. But G-d gave it to Avraham through a promise.”
The a above narrative is a small excerpt from a more extensive teaching by Sha’ul (Paul) to the Messianic community at Galatia about the need for the laws of the Torah and the conceptual framework surrounding those laws. That is, that the laws were not abrogated through Yahshua’s sacrifice; past sins were forgiven (Rom 3:25; 2 Pet. 1:9) and the imputed sin we were all destined to spiritually die for through Adam’s disobedience to G-d’s command concerning the forbidden fruit. This did not and does not erase all future sins once we are reconciled to G-d through acceptance of Yahshua as G-d and His sacrifice/kippur/covering for this universal sin. If we are to be considered part of Abraham’s seed, by default we are to accept the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and follow His laws, regulations, and statutes. Sha’ul is telling the Galatians that legalistic observance of G-d’s Torah is only half the process of salvation. “Gal. 3:7-8 states “be assured, then, that it is those who live by trusting and being faithful who are really children of Avraham. Also, the Tanakh, foreseeing that G-d would consider the gentiles righteous when they live by trusting and being faithful, told the Goyim [nations] will be blessed. So then, those who rely on trusting and being faithful are blessed along with Avraham, who trusted and was faithful.” This duality of trusting and being faithful means the true believer carries the testimony of Yahshua (is reconciled to G-d through His faithfulness to the point of crucifixion) and guards the commands of Hashem (follows the legalistic aspect of G-d’s Torah. This is the Seven-fold Witness found in the Book of Revelation, defining a true believer. There is no other way.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart