Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #4: Vayera (He Appeared) B’resheit (Genesis) 18:1-22:24
Haftarah: M’lakhim bet (2 Kings) 4:1-37; 4:1-23
B’rit Chadashah: Luke 17:26-37; Romans 9:6-9; Galatians 4:21-31; Messianic Jews (Hebrews) 6:13-20; 11:13-19; Ya’akov (James) 2:14-24; 2 Kefa (2 Peter) 2:4-10
In this Parasha we witness the Akaida (binding). It is the most difficult test Abraham must face. He is to offer up his only son, the son of promise as a whole sacrifice his son, Yitzhak (Isaac), upon the Mount of G-d.
How old was Yitzhak at the time of his impending sacrifice? We can determine his age this way. Sarah gave birth to Yitzhak at age 90 and she died at age 127. If we subtract 90 from 127 Yitzhak was 37 years of age. At this age he easily could have overpowered Abraham, but we see him obediently submitting to his own sacrifice. This should tell us something of his character, Torah Observant and also we see the whole drama of the Akaida as a shadow of our L-rd Yahshua‘s sacrifice for us. Even the age of each individual is similar.
What was the purpose of such a test? G-d knew that Abraham would sacrifice his son if He requested it. After all, G-d is all knowing and does not need proof of man’s loyalty or love. So why was Abraham put thorough such anguish?
It may be that G-d was testing him for our benefit. G-d shapes and refines us by having us overcome certain personal obstacles. G-d knows that we can pass the test, but we must face the test so that WE know we can overcome obstacles and adversity in our paths.
When a child is born he is born with the potential to learn the difference between right and wrong. But if he doesn’t have to face any problems then he will never develop this ability to choose. Whenever we have a choice and we choose good instead of evil we not only pass the test but we become better and more secure people.
So how can a person know if he or she has the potential to pass the test?
In “Ethics of the Fathers” (3:18), Rabbi Akiva says that man is loved by G-d because G-d made man in His image, but the fact that G-d let man know he was created in His image shows even greater love for man. By letting us know who we are, G-d showed us our potential. One who is created in G-d’s image can reach unbelievable heights. By testing us, G-d helps us realize our potential so that we can become better people.
What we must remember is that G-d does not test someone unless that someone can pass the test. So, no matter how tough it may seem, if we stretch our limits we can pass the test.
Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1
In our Parashah, angels tell Abraham, “Just like you’re alive today, you will be alive next year…”
In the Haftarah, we find the same phrase is used by the prophet Elisha. As he passed through Shunam, a woman saw him and invited him into her house. This woman, although of meager means, convinced her husband to build Elisha a room in their attic, to make the holy man more comfortable.
Elisha wanted to pay her for her kindness. He discovered that the woman wanted only one thing in life, a child. He told the woman, “Just like you’re alive today, you will be alive next year, and you will embrace a child.”
This story connects very well with this week’s Torah reading, Not only is the prophecy similar, but the same exact phrase is used in both cases!
B’rit Chadasha: Romans 9:6-9
6 Not as though the word of G-d hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
8 That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of G-d: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. [KJV]
Chapters 9–11 of the Book of Romans contain the New Testament’s most important and complete discussion of the Jewish people. In them G-d promises that “all Israel will be saved” (11:26) and commands that Gentile Christians show the Jews G-d’s mercy (11:31). In the face of what these chapters teach, every form of Christian antisemitism stands condemned; and every claim, whether by Jews or Christians that the Gospel is not for Jews collapses.
Since Sha’ul’s ministry was to Gentiles (1:5b–6&N, 11:13), perhaps some people thought he would no longer be interested in the Jews. Therefore in this verse he affirms in three different ways the sincerity of his great grief over Israel’s failure, as a people, to honor their Messiah. Actually, even as an emissary to the Gentiles, whenever he came to a new place he brought the Gospel “to the Jew first” (1:16&N, Ac 13:5&N)
Verses 2–4 The anguish Sha’ul experiences as he considers Jewish rejection of Yahshua shows him following in the footsteps of Moshe Rabbenu. When Israel apostatized and built the golden calf, Moses prayed, “This people has sinned a great sin and have made themselves G-ds of gold. Yet now, if you will forgive their sin—and if not, blot me, I pray, out of your book which you have written” (Exodus 32:32).
G-d’s answer to Moshe was, “Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore, now, go; lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel will go before you” (Exodus 32:33–34). This angel has been identified with Yahshua the Messiah himself (see Yn 1:14, Ac 7:30), and the book is none other than the Book of Life (Rev. 20:12). Every Rosh-Hashanah and Yom-Kippur the synagogue liturgy calls for Jews to pray that their sins will be forgiven and their names written in the Book of Life; Revelation 20:15 says that those whose names are not written in it will burn eternally in the lake of fire and sulfur.
Thus Moshe, like Sha’ul after him, was willing to be under G-d’s curse if it would help his fellow Jews.
3 My brothers, my own flesh and blood, the people of Israel. Sha’ul is not speaking of all Jews but only of those who have not come to trust in Yahshua. “If five of your sons are faithful and two are not, you may cry, ‘Woe is me, for my sons are unfaithful!’ ”
4b–5 The tragedy of Israel’s present apostasy is compounded because Israel has so many advantages over Gentiles. This subject was broached at 2:17–20 and again at 3:1–2, 9. Now Sha’ul lists eight advantages Jews have.
(1) They were made G-d’s children, stated explicitly at Exodus 4:22 and understood throughout the Tanakh. The Greek word used here for “children” is the same as the one used to describe believers in Yahshua at 8:15.
(2) The Sh’khinah was with them. The usual rendering, “theirs was the glory,” does not capture the Jewish flavor of Sha’ul’s remark. “Sh’khinah” is a word used in the Mishna to mean “the glorious presence of G-d” which was visible in the pillar of fire and smoke in the wilderness (Exodus 13:31, 33:9; Numbers 12:5, 14:14; Deuteronomy 31:15), and which was present in the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:36–38) and in the Temple (Ezekiel 1:28; 3:23; 9:3; 10:4, 18–19; 11:22–23; 43:2–5; 44:4). Having G-d visibly present was an obvious advantage to the Jewish people in helping them become aware of his work and ways. See MJ 1:2–3.
(3) The covenants are theirs, not only those with Avraham (Genesis 17) and Moshe (Exodus 19–24), but also the refreshed, renewed Covenant (Jeremiah 31:30–36) inaugurated by Yahshua (Mt 26:28). G-d made the Covenant with Israel, although its terms extend to include Gentiles.
(4) The fourth advantage consists of two parts. First, the Torah itself, containing G-d’s very words for the guidance and edification of the Jewish nation, had been its constitution for more than 1,300 years when Sha’ul wrote (by comparison, America’s has been in force for just over 200 years).
But second, and more important, is the actual giving of the Torah. This was the formative event which, together with the Exodus from Egypt, has shaped the destiny of the Jewish people through history. In that moment when G-d gave the Torah to Moshe on Mount Sinai, the divine and eternal met the human and temporal in a way equaled only by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Yahshua the Messiah himself (see Yn 1:17). Note that the refreshed, renewed Covenant too has been “given as Torah” (Heb.8:6).
(5) The Temple service was not merely a daily reminder to the Jewish people of G-d’s concern for them, but was also G-d’s provision for their spiritual survival and continued existence, cleansing them from sin through the sacrificial system (see notes at 3:20, 3:25, Mt 26:28, Lk 1:6, Ac 13:38–39, Heb. 9:22) and maintaining them until the Messiah came.
(6) The promises of redemption, reconciliation and ultimate victory through the Messiah were made to Israel—for the Tanakh is nothing if not a record of G-d’s promises to the Jewish people.
(7) The patriarchs are theirs. Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya‘akov founded the nation and received the aforementioned promises; and G-d’s faithfulness to them guarantees the fulfillment of those promises (see 2C 1:20, Mt 5:5 and references in its last paragraph). Non-Messianic Judaism traditionally banks on their upright behavior (“the merits of the Fathers”) as being advantageous to them, though this is not the point here (but see 11:28–29). Also note that Esau is not mentioned here. This is because of G-d’s plan for his line which diverts from the expected equality of the brothers through the same parents. This subject is for another study but is worth mentioning at this point.
(8) Finally, from them, as far as his physical descent is concerned, came the Messiah. This is no cause for chauvinistic pride, since the Messiah is for all mankind and not Jews only; yet it is a great honor and advantage which one would not have expected the Jewish people to ignore. Also, since He is over all (Isaiah 9:5–6), 1Cor 15:27–28, Co 1:15–19)—which means that He is in charge of everything, and therefore greater than all seven previously named advantages—all the more should Israel have heeded and accepted Him.
Praised be Adonai forever (compare 1:25). This is the language of a Jewish b’rakhah (blessing); in Hebrew it would be “Barukh Adonai l’olam va’ed.” In Jewish liturgies a recital of G-d’s attributes or deeds, such as here, elicits a blessing; for example, the Aramaic “B’rikh hu” (“Blessed be he”) in the Kaddish.
Amein. As at 1:25, this word instructs the congregation hearing Sha’ul’s letter being read aloud to affirm the b’rakhah with their own “Amein,” just as “V’imru, Amein” (“And say ye, Amein”) serves the same function in the Kaddish.
There is a debate over the meaning of the last half of v. 5. A literal rendering of the text, without punctuation (because first-century Greek had none), is: “… and from whom [came] the Messiah the according to flesh the [one] being over all G-d blessed unto the ages Amein.”
There are three possible interpretations:
(1) The whole phrase describes the Messiah himself, stating that he came from the Jews and “is over all, G-d, blessed forever. Amein.” If this understanding is right, we have one of the relatively few statements in the New Testament that the Messiah is G-d (verses widely agreed to have this import are Yn 1:1 taken together with Yn 1:14, 10:30 and 20:28; other verses state or imply it less directly). One can understand the desire of Christians to find Scriptural support for affirming Yahshua’s divinity. But although such a strong and surprising theological statement—especially shocking to Jews—would enhance Sha’ul’s argument, it begs more than simple expression without any explanation whatsoever; for any Jewish hearer of the letter would immediately have so many questions that he would be unable to concentrate on Sha’ul’s following discussion. Furthermore, it makes the “Amein” irrelevant, since it no longer is a congregational response to a b’rakhah.
(2) At the other extreme, in which no part of the phrase describes the Messiah, is the rendering, “and from them, physically, came the Messiah. Forever praised be G-d, who is over all. Amein.” Although much of chapter 9 deals with G-d’s sovereignty, that is not the subject of what Sha’ul has just been speaking about, so that there is no obvious reason to bless G-d at this point specifically for his being “over all,” even though it is true.
(3) My own position, expressed in the translation, is that the phrase first speaks of the Messiah as being over all. After this, G-d is to be blessed forever for having chosen a people for himself and given them these many advantages, crowned with the advantage of having the Messiah, who is in charge of everything, be one of their number.
6a But none of this means that the Word of G-d has failed. This completes the explicit statement of the problem Sha’ul is dealing with in chapters 9–11—“In the case of the Jews, has the Word of G-d failed?” (See 9:1–11:36). But the question is raised in a way that anticipates the happy conclusion, “No, it has not failed.”
6b–29 The first of the three major parts of chapters 9–11 (see 9:1–11:36) asks whether G-d is in any degree at fault for Israel’s currently rejecting the Messiah. This is the logical place to start, for it was the questioning of G-d’s ability to fulfill his promises that raised the issue. The passage establishes—on the unshakable ground of G-d’s sovereignty (vv. 19–23), justice and mercy (vv. 14–18)—not only that the promises apply to but a limited “seed” (vv. 6–13) or “remnant” (vv. 27–29) of Israel, but also that at least some of them apply to certain Gentiles who never were part of Israel (vv. 22–26).
6b The Word of G-d has not failed; rather, the failure has been on the part of those from Israel who are not truly part of Israel. In his earlier discussion of this same issue at 2:28–29, Sha’ul was speaking of individual Jews. Here, where his focus is on the Jewish nation as a whole, in its capacity as G-d’s people, Israel (on this important term, see 11:26a), he introduces the concept of the faithful “remnant,” an idea which pervades the Tanakh (see vv. 27–28, 11:1–6). In fact, the Tanakh warns that in certain cases of disobedience a person may be “cut off from among his people” (see Acts 13:38–39). That the notion was accepted in non-Messianic Judaism can be inferred from the fact that in the Mishna the well-known statement, “All Israel has a place in the world to come,” (Sanhedrin 10:1, quoted more fully at 11:26a) is immediately followed by a list of Israelites who have no place in the world to come.
It should not be thought that G-d is quick to cast away his sons, meaning the Jewish people (Exodus 4:22). Keeping in mind 8:14–15, 9:24–25 and 11:1–6, consider this passage from the Talmud:
“Abaye and Raba interpret the verse, ‘You are sons of Adonai your G-d … ’ (Deuteronomy 14:1) in this way: ‘When you behave like sons you are called sons, if you do not behave like sons you are not called sons.’ This is Rabbi Y’hudah’s opinion. Rabbi Me’ir said: ‘In both cases you are called sons, for it is said, “They are stupid sons” (Jeremiah 4:22). Also it is said, “They are sons in whom there is no faith” (Deuteronomy 32:20); also, “… a seed of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly” (Isaiah 1:4); and also, “It shall come to pass that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living G-d.’ ” (Hosea 2:1(1:10))’ Why quote so many verses to make the point? So that if you say, ‘They may indeed be called sons when they are stupid but not when they lack faith,’ you are faced with the verse, ‘They are sons in whom is no faith.’ And if you say, ‘They may be sons and lack faith, but if they serve idols they are not called sons,’ there is the verse, ‘… a seed of evil-doers, sons who deal corruptly.’ And if you say, ‘They may be called sons when they deal corruptly, but not good sons,’ then listen: ‘It shall come to pass that in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are sons of the living G-d.” ’ ” (Kiddushin 36a)
7–9 G-d decides what his promises mean and how they are to be carried out. Although the phrase, “seed of Avraham,” seems self-explanatory, G-d decided that what is to be called your “seed,” for purposes of the promise, will be in Yitzchak, not in Yishma’el, of whom the same word, “seed,” is used in the following verse of the Tanakh, Genesis 21:13, but not in connection with the promise. (Some Muslims claim that the Land of Israel belongs to the Arabs on the ground that they are “Abraham’s seed” through Ishmael. These verses of Romans, in passing, refute that claim.)
This week I am relating some amusing tales from the Midrash of the sages. The one that follows seems to me like a folk tale and purports to explain how wicked the people of Sodom really were.
It goes this way. In the middle of the city, the people of Sodom placed four beds of varying length. When a stranger came to town, the townspeople would tell him to lie down in any bed he liked. If the visitor chose a bed that was too short for him, the inhabitants would chop off his legs so that he was exactly the size of the bed. If he chose a bed too long for him, six men would grab his head, arms, and legs, and stretch him until his limbs were torn apart. Is it any wonder these people were destroyed?
I don’t think we have to look to fanciful tales to understand why Sodom was destroyed for scripture specifically tells us why.
Another is about Sarah telling Avraham to send Hagar and Yishma’el away. Avraham refused until G-d told him to listen to Sarah. From this the sages tell us that we learn that Sarah was superior to Avraham in prophecy, for she could tell that Yishmael would be a bad influence upon Yitzhak, even if Avraham couldn’t.
Perhaps that is so, but before bestowing titles and offices upon anyone we should first look at the motivation behind their actions. In this case we should examine Sarah’s dislike for her maidservant and her desire to insure Yitzhak’s preeminence, even though he is not the firstborn. We know from scripture that her desires were in line with G-d’s plan, but bestowing a prophetic office upon her may be a bit premature and if such a title took, without more substantial evidence, who knows where she might have lead Abraham and the people.
“And behold three people are coming to him.” (18:2)
The commentaries agree that the “people” referred to here, were not flesh and blood, but angels. In fact, the numerical values of the Hebrew phrase v’hinay shloshah, “And behold three” comes to 701. It is also the same numerical value as the phrase, “These are Michael, Gavriel, and Rafael,” three well know angels.
Could the number three also relate to the Complex Unity of YHVH Elohim?
Rabbi Tamah Davis