Lech Lecha – Go for yourself!

Torah Portion: Genesis 12:1 through 17:27
Haftarah Portion: Isaiah 40:27 through 41:16
New Testament Portion: Mat. 8:21-22, Acts 7:2-6, Romans 11:24-26, 1 Peter 3:5-6, Rev. 7:9-10

In the span of two weeks, we have traversed the first 2000 years of human history in which the world was created in seven days, Adam and Eve succumbed to the guile of Satan and were exiled from the Garden of Eden, the world became so wicked that the Creator repented that He had made humans, and sent a worldwide flood from which only Noah and his family were saved. 

Due to lack of time and space, we did not comment last week on Nimrod and the Tower of Babel.  It is necessary for us to now address this “mighty one on the earth,” as Nimrod plays a very important part in the call of Abraham.

Nimrod – the Rebel
Nimrod, sculpture by Yitzhak Danziger (Israeli, born Germany, 1916-1977)
Nimrod, sculpture by Yitzhak Danziger (Israeli, born Germany, 1916-1977)

Nimrod is described as “a mighty hunter before the LORD” (Gen10:9). This phrase actually means “in His face,” and is a euphemism for rebellion against Yahweh.

It is supposed that Nimrod was the first after the flood to build his own kingdom and make his own laws.

“The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” (Gen 10:10)

Shinar is another name for Babylon, the originator of every pagan idol and religious practice.

According to first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, the grandson of Ham was “mighty” in words as well as in battle.   Nimrod must have been quite charismatic, for Josephus reports he stirred people to oppose God.   He excited them to hold the Creator in contempt.   He persuaded his subjects to believe that success came from man’s own hand, rather than the providence of God.   He convinced them that he had the answers to their problems and he inspired them to put their confidence in him and to establish him as king over them.  Ultimately, the government by Noah and Shem morphed into tyranny, as men began to live in a state of dependence on his bureaucracy, rather than by faith in God.  With one out of six families in the United States currently dependent on food stamps, and one out of five dependent on Medicaid, we might ask if we have fallen prey to Nimrod’s ideals.

It was Nimrod’s idea, says Josephus, to construct the Tower of Babel, believing he and his followers could “ascend into Heaven.”  This is a telling phrase.  Isaiah was shown the destiny of another rebel who spoke those very words.  Some bible versions and commentators insist Isaiah refers to Lucifer himself.  In the end, it most certainly speaks of the serpent and all those who choose to bow down to him, including Nimrod:

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let his prisoners go home?’” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

Tower_of_babel wiki According to the Book of Jasher, when the Tower stretched high into the sky, Nimrod’s followers shot arrows into Heaven which fell back down covered in blood.  Nimrod’s conclusion was that all of Heaven was dead. Yahweh’s response to this nonsense was to confuse the languages, thereby causing the people to scatter.  (Gen 11:5-6).

The history of Noah’s family demonstrates that simply destroying the earth was not enough to erase evil.  Infected by the fall, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen 8:21)   God would allow evil to take its natural course.   However, in the face of evil, God would raise up a man who would teach his household, and eventually the nations, to overcome evil with good.   We come now to Abram, who eventually became Abraham.

Avinu Avraham – Father Abraham

According to several sources, Abram was born in the year 1948 after creation – extremely interesting in view of the fact that the modern state of Israel was born in 1948.

We discussed at length last week the strong probability that Abraham was mentored by Noah and Shem.  Abram was 58 years old when Noah, who lived 350 years after the flood, died. Shem survived Abraham by 30+ years, living until Abraham’s sons, Jacob and Esau, were about 52 years old.

Abram is the first in Scripture to be designated a Hebrew (Gen. 14:13).  The word Hebrew literally means “to cross over.”  Abraham indeed crossed the Euphrates to go to Canaan; but, figuratively, to be a Hebrew means to come out of the thinking of Babylon.  That was exactly what Abraham did and why his belief was accounted as righteousness.

The fruit of Abraham’s belief, according to the Creator’s own testimony, is that “Abraham good_works_are_the_fruitobeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Gen. 26:5).  This verse and its companion in the New Testament opened my eyes and changed my life in the year 2003.  Yeshua rebuked the religious leaders of His day, saying, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39).  The “works of Abraham” are none other than the “good works prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10) that Paul discusses in the book of Ephesians.  Any “work” that God calls “good” must be in alignment with His instructions and principles found in Torah.  “Good works” magnify God, in contrast to “doctrines and traditions of men” which “make the word of God of no effect” (Mat 15:6)

We introduced the concept of being blameless last week and we will briefly review by saying that while righteousness can only be obtained by faith; it must be maintained by following God’s instructions. By believing God, Abraham was accounted righteousness. That is, without cost or work, Abraham became God’s child and was afforded the opportunity to “walk before Me and be blameless.” (Gen. 17:1). This is how we learn to be tawmeem and thereby become the peculiar people, the “am segulah”  [treasured possession] that God desired from the beginning (see Ex. 19:5-6, 1 Pet. 2:9) to be a light to the world.  To be holy is to walk in His statutes, ordinances, and commandments, which Yeshua summed up as “love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” (see Mark 12:30-31). These are the “works of Abraham.” (John 8:39) To do the “works of Abraham” is to be set apart from the world and set apart unto God. It is to be “in the world” but not “of the world.”

According to Jewish tradition, Abram was Nimrod’s nemesis.  As the story goes, Nimrod was warned on the night of Abram’s birth by signs in the Heavens of the birth of a son whose seed would possess the entire earth.  Nimrod demanded the newborn’s life; but Terah, Abram’s father and one of the king’s nobles, deceived Nimrod by handing over a servant’s child in his place and hid Abram in a cave until he was a youth.   According to the legend, Abram went to live with Noah and Shem before returning to his father’s house as a grown man.   Shem, “the ancestor of all those who lived on the other side” (Gen 10:21), as one Jewish translation puts it, found in Abraham a teachable spirit; but not all of Shem’s descendants walked with God.  It is a choice everyone must make.

Terah, Abraham’s father, was a maker of idols (Joshua 24:2).  The idolatry that his father practiced seemed so ridiculous to Abram that he set about, with great success, according to tradition, to humiliate the gods of wood and stone.   When Nimrod learned of this, he demanded that Abram be cast into a great furnace, where, according to legend, Abram walked around for three days before being released.

Obedience!!

Lech LechaApparently, God had been nudging Abraham for some time to “go for yourself!”   Lech means “go out” and lecha means “go in.”  Jewish sage Rashi translates lech lecha as “go for yourself”; but others have translated it “go to yourself” or “go for your essence.”

This is a paradox, according to Rabbi Trugman.  To finds one’s true self, one’s essence, one must leave one’s family, culture, and comfort zone.   We have to “go out” before we can “enter in.”   Yeshua said it another way,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35).

Abram left Ur “as God had spoken to him,” (Gen. 12:4 NKJV) along with Sarai, Terah, his father, and with Lot, his brother’s son. The company left the bustling port of Babylon, home to the moon god, Sin. They traveled as far as Haran, which boasted its own temple to the moon good; but apparently stopped there for a time.

Chapter 12 of Genesis begins by saying,

“Now the LORD had said, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. (Gen 12:1 NKJV)

A cursory reading of the Torah portion leads us to believe that Abram tarried in Haran until after the death of his father.   However, Adelle, in an online commentary, makes the following observation:

Terah was 205 years old when he died (Gen. 11:32). Terah was 70 years old when Abram was born (Gen. 11:26).   Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran (Gen. 12:4).   Therefore, Terah was actually 145 years old when Abram departed from Haran.

follow meAdelle points to Rashi’s observation that the wicked are considered dead even before they die.  Therefore, we must conclude with her that Terah’s “death” was actually of a spiritual nature.   Apparently, he could not bring himself to leave Haran and Abraham had to make the painful decision to leave him behind. This reminds me of the disciple who asked Yeshua if he could bury his father before becoming a disciple.   Yeshua answered, “Follow me, and let the dead to bury the dead.”  (Mat. 8:21-22)

Note that Abram and Sarai did not know WHERE they were to go.  They had to pack their belongings and head out toward the UNKNOWN.

A Great Nation

I must stop now to introduce a principle that the sages noticed about the life of Abraham.   What happened to him also happened to his offspring.   The rabbis put it this way, “The deeds of the fathers are portents for the children.”   We will talk more about that this week and in upcoming lessons.

I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great. And you shall be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:2)

God promised to make Abram into a great nation.  If we fast-forward to the Book of Revelation, we see the ultimate fulfillment of this promise.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)

According to several sources, fourth century rabbi Eleazar interpreted the words, “And in you shall the families of the earth be blessed (וְנִבְרְכוּ, venivrechu)” to teach that God told Abram that two good shoots would be grafted onto Abram’s family tree. Paul addresses this in Romans chapter 11:

For if you [former Gentiles] were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these [Jews], the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved… (Rom 11:24-26)

Rabbi Eleazar believed the “good shoots” were Ruth the Moabitess, great-grandmother of King David, and Naamah the Ammonitess, mother of Rehoboam, whose offspring included the righteous kings Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah.  While this is certainly true, there is, of course, a much bigger picture.  Yeshua instructed His followers to

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat 28:19-20).

The Faithful Teacher of Righteousness

Speaking of disciples, apparently Abraham was in Haran long enough to influence a number of people to not only convert; but to accompany him to Canaan:

And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan…(Gen 12:5)

It was undoubtedly these same “souls” who would accompany Abraham in the rescue of Lot’s family and possessions and who would later become circumcised, at Yahweh’s command.

Givet Hamoreh
“Givet Hamoreh” (Moreh hill) south of Mount Tabor

After a journey of over 500 miles, Abram reached the “oak of Moreh” in Shechem.   “Moreh” means “teacher” and lies between the twin mountains of Ebal and Gerazim where the children of Israel, just prior to crossing the Jordan would pronounce “the blessing” for obedience and “the curse” for disobedience (Deut 11:26-32 and 27:15-26).

Shechem is a place of lush vegetation almost too beautiful to describe, according to Smith’s Bible Dictionary.  Located in the region that Joshua would grant to the tribe of Ephraim, Shechem was assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21:20-21) as a place of refuge.  Shechem holds an important place in history.  Shechem is where:

♦ Jacob would purchase a piece of land from Hamor;

♦ Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, would be seduced by a man named Shechem;

♦ Simeon and Levi would pour out their wrath in revenge for their sister and kill all of Shechem’s family after being deceived into circumcising themselves;

♦  Joseph would be sent to search for his brothers (Gen 37:13) before he was kidnapped;

♦ Joseph’s bones would be buried after the Israelites returned from Egypt (Joshua 24:32);

♦ Joshua would deliver his last words (Joshua 24:1-25);

♦ and, finally, Shechem is the location of Jacob’s well where Yeshua met the Samaritan woman (John 4:5), who left her water pot and ran back to the village to exclaim, “Come and see a man who told me everything that I ever did! Can this be Messiah? (John 4:29)

But, Abraham was not shown the future of Shechem.  Of this fragrant valley he was only told, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Gen 12:7).  Thus Abram was informed that he had, at last, reached “the land that I will show you.”  There at Shechem, Abram built an altar to the God who was going to establish a teacher of righteousness in the land inhabited by Noah’s cursed grandson’s offspring. “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound!” (Romans 5:20)

Building an Altar

Abram’s next stop was Bethel, which means “House of God,” where Jacob, his grandson, would dream of a ladder stretching from Heaven to earth and declare, “This is none other than Bethel [the House of God]” and vowed, saying,

“If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Gen 28:20-22)

After twenty years of being harassed in Laban’s house, God would speak again to Jacob.

“I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.” (Gen 31:13)

After the incident at Shechem with Dinah, God would say to Jacob,

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” (Gen 35:1)

Jacob would first instruct his family,

“Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments” and then he built an altar and called that place “El-Bethel” [the God of the House of God].  (Gen 35:2)

Bethel is the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested during the days of the Judges (Judges 20:26-28). It is also the place where Jeroboam set up one of his two golden calves (1 Kings 12:29), which ultimately led to the division of Israel into the Northern and Southern kingdoms. But, of all this, to Abram, God was silent.

With Bethel on the west and Ai on the east, Abram pitched his tent in the beautiful and peaceful valley.   Ai is the place where, soon after crossing the Jordan, and after watching the walls of Jericho crumble, a contingent of Israelites soldiers would lose their lives because of the sin of Achan, who “coveted” a “beautiful cloak from Shinar” [Babylon], along with silver and gold that God had declared off limits, and hid it in his tent. (Joshua 7:1)  Joshua would order that Achan, along with all of his sons and daughters and all of their possessions, be stoned and burned in the Valley of Achor [weeping], with a large mound of stones piled up for a memorial.   Of these things, Abram was blissfully unaware; but, it wasn’t long before famine changed the landscape of Shechem in Abram’s day, necessitating Abram’s pulling up stakes and heading to Egypt.

Famine

Tissot_Sarai_Is_Taken_to_Pharaoh's_Palace“So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake” (Gen 12:10-13).

This event portends the famine in Canaan that will later confront Jacob and his family, making it necessary for his sons to travel to Egypt to seek food, and thereby intersect with the brother they had told their father was dead.  That Abram’s life was threatened, and Sarai’s was not, foreshadows Israel’s baby boys being thrown in the Nile while the girls were saved.

In Pharaoh’s house, the womb set apart for the promised seed would not be contaminated.  Pharaoh’s household was afflicted with a disease that made sexual intercourse impossible.  Pharaoh somehow discerned that the trouble was because Sarai was Abram’s wife.  He summoned Abram and confronted him and sent the couple out laden with livestock, silver, and gold (Gen 13:1-2).  This event foreshadows another Pharaoh who would send the children of Israel out of Egypt, laden with the riches, at the Exodus.

Of Sarai’s experience with Pharaoh in Egypt, Peter comments in regard to the safety of “holy women”:

“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:5-6)

Discord in the Mischpacha (Family)

When the family returned to Canaan, there was a noticeable shift in the atmosphere. Quarrels arose between Lot’s and Abram’s shepherds.  Abram, not willing for the Canaanites to witness the discord, proposed,

“Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you?  Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Gen 13:8-9)

Perhaps Lot had been very comfortable in Egypt.  Maybe it had made him long for Babylon.  Maybe he concluded he could no longer be satisfied to be a simple shepherd.  In any event, Lot’s response was to make a choice based upon human reasoning.

“And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt… This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself… (Gen 13:10-11)

Lot chose to live among the wicked of Sodom. After the separation from Lot, God spoke again to Abram.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.  Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you” (Gen 13:14-17).

The fullness of the promise would not come until Abram had obeyed Yahweh’s command to separate from his family.

“So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.”  (Gen 13:18)

Woodcut by Gustave Doré depicting the burial of Sarah in the cave
Woodcut by Gustave Doré depicting the burial of Sarah in the cave

Hebron is the place where Abram will later purchase a burial plot in which to lay his beloved Sarah after the binding of Isaac.  This Cave of Machpelah [“double tombs”] would also be the final resting place for Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, and Leah.

With the sound of war, Abram’s peace is again disrupted.  This time, he must rescue his nephew, Lot. Amraphel, king of Shinar, whom the rabbis say is none other than Nimrod, himself, along with Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and two other regents from Mesopotamia, attacked the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and their allies because they had dared to stop paying their taxes.  Quickly overcome, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled to the slime pits while their citizens and all their possessions were confiscated, including Lot and his family. (Gen 14:1-12)

Defending the Family

Abram’s response was to rouse his 318 trained men [surely his disciples] and tear off in hot pursuit.  Under cover of darkness and reminiscent of Gideon, the shepherd divided his forces so as to surprise the enemy with what must have seemed a large army.   With the help of God, and Abram’s allies, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, the enemy was soundly whipped, the captives and their possessions rescued.  To quote Matthew Henry’s Commentary, “never was any military expedition undertaken, prosecuted, and finished, more honorably than this one.”

While Abram could have made a surgical strike and rescued Lot alone, instead he rescued all of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, despite what he may have thought of their lifestyle. Abram understood the purpose of Torah: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”   And let us not forget, if Abram had sat on the sidelines, if he had chosen not to get involved in the fray, Ruth the Moabitess and Naamah the Ammonitess might never have been born, and therefore, neither would have been King David and the righteous kings Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah.  Selah!

A fanciful depiction of the meeting between Abraham and Melchizidek (Rennes)
A fanciful depiction of the meeting between Abraham and Melchizidek (Rennes)

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High.  And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”  And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”  (Gen 14:18-20)

Jewish commentators agree that Salem was the early name for Jerusalem and many of them identify Shem as Melchizedek the King of Salem.  We have already determined from timelines and charts that Shem outlived Abraham.  Therefore, it is not a stretch to believe that Noah passed the priesthood down to Shem.

Other commentators suppose Melchizedek [Hebrew: “King of Righteousness”] to be an appearance of Yeshua.  Whoever he is, this King of Righteousness did not hesitate to make it known that he was very pleased with Abram.  We must remember that Yeshua is a priest “of the order of Melchizedek,” (Hebrews 5:6-10, Heb 6:20, Heb 7:11) and, for that matter, so are we!

As soon as the armies from beyond the Euphrates limped away, the king of Sodom crawled out of the slime pits to congratulate Abram and offered his citizens’ possessions as booty.  But, Abram refused, saying,

I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’  (Gen14:22-23)

Abram could not be tempted by the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Perhaps in the aftermath of his victory Abram wondered whether Nimrod and company might return with legions to annihilate his small band.

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great’ (Gen 15:1)

God knew that Abraham needed to be comforted, reassured that he had done the right thing. Abraham responded by saying,

“O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” The Word of the LORD came to him and said, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son will be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “”Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:2-6)

This is the righteousness that grants entrance into the family of God and makes one holy, which we mentioned earlier.  Says Paul,

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”  But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:16-25)

The Covenant Promise Fulfilled

When Abram and Sarai had been in Canaan for ten years, Sarai offered Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, to Abram for a wife.  Abram “hearkened” to Sarai, as Adam had to Eve.  He went in to Hagar and she conceived.   But, nothing but evil can come from our silly ideas to “help God.”

“And Hagar looked at Sarai with contempt.” (Gen 16:4)

When Sarai complained, Abram told her to do as she pleased.  Sarai treated Hagar harshly and Hagar ran away to the wilderness.  As Hagar sat by a well, the Angel of the LORD came to her and comforted her,

The angel comforts Hagar. (Giovanni Lanfranco)
The angel comforts Hagar. (Giovanni Lanfranco)

“Return to your mistress and submit to her.  You have conceived and I will give you offspring without number.  You shall have a son, you shall name him Ishmael, he will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Gen 16:9-13)

Note the mercy of God to Hagar.  The “Angel” not only appeared to her; but made it plain that He cared for her.

At the age of 86, Abraham was finally a father. But, though Abraham surely rejoiced at his birth, soon his heart will be pierced, as we will see next week.

When Abram was 99 years old, God spoke to him again and said,

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Gen 17:1-2)

Abraham’s response was to fall on his face.   It had been twenty years since the covenant had been made.  He had heard nothing from God since Ishmael’s birth thirteen years ago.

“No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. (Gen 17:4-6)

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Gen 17:15-16)

God changed the names of the couple He handpicked to evangelize the world.

Original pictographic letter
Original pictographic letter “hey”, depicting the idea of ‘Behold!”

hey-pictograoph 2By adding the Hebrew letter “hey“, a picture of a window and which means “behold” as if to see something wonderful and astounding, God changed the “exalted father” to “father of a multitude” and the “princess” to a “noblewoman.”  The sound of this letter is “hah”, like the sound of breath being expelled.   Hence, we can say that at this point God breathed on them and they were “born again.”   Remember, He had told Abraham to “walk before me and be tawmeem [blameless].”   One can only do that in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And God said to Abraham,

“As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.  You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.  Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised.  So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen 17:9-14)

When God finished speaking, Abraham took Ishmael and all of the men of his company, and along with himself, circumcised them every one.

“That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised.  And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.“ (Gen 17:26-27)

“That very day,” without hesitation, Abraham carried out God’s instruction.  The men of his camp must have highly respected Abram to allow him to do such a thing; for there is not one hint of rebellion among them.

Torah often uses physical commands to teach spiritual truths. Ultimately, God was after the circumcision of the hearts of the children of Abraham, according to Moses:

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stiff necked. (Deut 10:16)

Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! (Deut. 5:29)

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (Deut 6:5-6)

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deut 30:6)

“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart.” cries the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 4:4)

It is only by the circumcision of our hearts that we will be willing to endure the discomfort, isolation, inconvenience, possible rejection and even persecution that we will encounter when we come out of Babylon and take Yeshua’s yoke upon us.  But those who dare to do so will soon find the blessed rest that He promises, even in the midst of turmoil.

Take My yoke [Torah] upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke [Torah] is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Thank you Father

Thank God He has breathed upon us, goaded us, corralled us, chastised us, listened to our complaining, wiped our tears, and cleaned up our messes!  Thank YOU Father that you have caused us to hunger and thirst for righteousness and we cannot go back to Babylon.  Thank YOU for choosing us and keeping us, for holding us close when we did not understand.   For giving us a cycle of readings each year that takes us higher up the mountain, thank YOU!  For patient teachers and faithful shepherds, for multiple translations of the Scriptures, and the time and desire to read your Word for ourselves, thank YOU!  Thank YOU for provoking us and shaping us and striving with us.  It is nothing we have done; it is purely your mercy.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:11-14)

Hallelu Yah!  We are truly the most blessed people on the planet.

Until next week, shalom!

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