My spiritual children have wrestled this week with health issues, been harassed by neighbors, faced economic distress, and been interrupted and forced to intervene on behalf of family who have acted in ignorance. If you have likewise been tested and tried this week, welcome to parsha Vayera! But, the good news is, that in every instance, Vayera! God was faithful, and “He appeared”!
In this week’s Torah portion, we see more in practice of what the Jews believe to be the primary reason that Abraham was chosen to be the father of their faith: hospitality and loving kindness. Sitting in the door of his tent on what the Jewish sages interpret as the third day after he circumcised himself and all of the men in his camp, Yahweh “appeared” to him. (Gen 18:1) We read that Abraham “lifted up his eyes” and “looked” and “behold” three men stood before him. The use of these three words indicates, to me, that Abraham could hardly believe his eyes.
Abraham, a Godly Servant
As with any surgical procedure, on this third day, Abram’s discomfort would have been at its worst. Yet, the Scripture says that “he ran” to greet them; “he bowed” before them and begged them to allow them to serve him; “he hastened” to instruct Sarah to bake unleavened bread; “he ran” to carefully select a “tender and good” calf to be served to his guests; and he made it known that it needed to be prepared quickly. Notice that Abraham did not remain sitting and did not call a servant from his tent door, though there were many surely ready to do his bidding. Notice also that Sarah baked the bread herself. Yeshua said, “Whoever would be first, must be last, and a servant of all.” (Mark 9:35).
Jewish commentary suggests that Yahweh healed Abraham on this “third” day, demonstrating the His desire for Abraham’s children to visit the sick and infirm and pray for their healing. That brings to mind the story of Yeshua healing Peter’s mother-in-law, whereupon “she immediately rose up to serve him.” (Mat 8:14-15) With the view in mind that the “deeds of the fathers are portends for the children,” perhaps we should also consider Hosea’s prophecy to Ephraim, the scattered House of Israel, “After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:2)
The LORD’s many manifestations to Abraham
In any event, this visit was the fifth time that the LORD had manifested Himself to Abraham. Let us quickly review the events. The first, according to Stephen’s testimony before the High Priest, was prior to Abram and Sarai leaving Ur, when Abram was 75 years old.
And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ (Acts 7:2-3).
The second appearance was at Shechem, just after Abram and Sarai entered Canaan.
There the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” (Gen. 12:7)
The third manifestation was after the defeat of the five kings from Mesopotamia, when Abram rescued Lot and his family and received the blessing from Melchizedek (Gen 14).
“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.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall 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 15:1-6).
Renewing the Covenant
Subsequent to this event, ten years after first receiving the promise of offspring and being convinced that she was unable to conceive, Sarai pressed Abram to take Hagar as a wife. Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old. Another thirteen long years went by without a word, and then, suddenly, Yahweh “appeared” to Abram again:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be tawmeem [blameless, spotless, whole, complete], that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 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. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Gen 17:1-8)
As we have discussed in previous weeks, tawmeem is the description the Bible uses to describe Noah, who was “tawmeem [perfect, blameless] in his generation.” It is used to describe David several times, and Job (Job 1:1) as well. God commands the children of Israel to be tawmeem and cautioned them that the tawmeem would not be removed from the Promised Land.
“You shall be tawmeem [perfect, blameless] before the LORD your God.” (Deut 18:13)
“For the upright will inhabit the land, and the tawmeem will remain in it.” (Prov 2:21)
Tawmeem is used to describe the Passover lamb in Exodus, as well as numerous and various offerings in Leviticus, and including the Red Heifer in the book of Numbers, all of which point to Yeshua, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29) It is used to describe the work of “The Rock” on earth.
“The Rock, His work is tawmeem [perfect, blameless] for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.” (Deut 32:4)
“The Rock,” according to Paul, is none other than Yeshua. (1 Cor.10:4)
The apostles urge Yeshua’s followers to be tawmeem, to walk in maturity in the whole counsel of the word of God, rightly dividing it by the Spirit of God, and, therefore being capable of applying its principles to everyday life in order to avoid life’s pitfalls and the snare of the fowler.
The command for Abraham to be tawmeem came AFTER he fell into the trap of making Hagar his wife.
“Wherefore, beloved, … be diligent that you may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and tawmeem [blameless, perfect].” (2 Pet 3:14)
Paul’s writings are filled with injunctions for believers to be tawmeem, especially deacons, pastors, and teachers who are responsible for leading, overseeing, and counseling the flock.
“…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless….” (Eph 1:4) “…so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Phil 1:10) “…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” (Phil 2:15) “And let them [pastors, overseers] also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove blameless.” (1 Tim. 3:10) “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” (Col 1:22) “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. (1 Thes 2:10)
John reports in the book of Revelation that the 144,000 are “blameless.” (Rev 14:5) The command for Abraham to be tawmeem applies likewise to the seed of Abraham, for Yeshua said,
“If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham!” (John 8:39).
A New Name
At this fourth appearance of Yeshua to Abraham, much as He did with Adam, God breathed new life into Abram and Sarai. By the letter “hey” being added to their names, I believe they were “born again” at this moment and filled with the Holy Spirit, for the sound of this letter is like breath being exhaled and means “behold!” When Yeshua breathed on them, He transformed their names from “exalted father” to “father of a multitude” and from “princess” to “noble woman.” But, more importantly, the breath of God transformed and rejuvenated their spirits and bodies, including their reproductive organs. At this same visit, Abraham was instructed Abraham in the covenant of circumcision; and, we are told, “that very day” Abraham circumcised himself, Ishmael, and all of the men in his household.
What’s more, God also informed Abraham on this momentous day that Sarah would give birth to a son whose name would be Isaac, through whom His covenant with Abraham would continue. Isaac means “laughter;” and, in fact, the overwhelmed and astounded Abraham “fell on his face and laughed.” (Gen 17:17) These things portend much for Yeshua’s followers, the children of Abraham, but we cannot get to it into it in this lesson.
Yeshua and Abraham
We come now to this week’s reading where Yahweh “appeared” with two angels in the guise of men. The Scripture reports,
“[Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. (Gen 18:2)
Abraham’s first thought must surely have been that he was dreaming. But, as “the men” came closer, behold! There was the LORD Himself among them! No doubt, Abraham rubbed his eyes and exclaimed to himself, “But, it can’t be HIM! Why, He was just here three days ago!”
I have to stop here to recall the unbelief of the disciples when, three days after His crucifixion, Yeshua appeared to them.
When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O LORD [Hebrew: Adonai], if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.” (Gen 18:3)
The Hebrew word “Adonai” is used in Scripture only in cases when God is being addressed. If Abraham had been addressing mere man, he would have used the term adoni, as when Sarai calls Abraham “my lord,” verse 18:12.
When the food was ready, Abraham “stood” while his guests ate. (Gen 18:8) The sages reasoned that the bread, which had to prepared quickly, must have been unleavened and, therefore, points to the season of Passover, which would be instituted at Sinai. It seems to me that Abraham’s standing is another hint, for the Israelites were commanded to eat the first Passover meal, “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste.” (Exo 12:11)
After the meal, Yahweh spoke in Sarah’s hearing.
The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Gen 18:10-14)
Perhaps the LORD asked Abraham why Sarah had laughed to remind Abraham that three days ago he had had the same reaction! The news is just too big, too astounding, and too overwhelming! But, immediately upon the astonishing declaration that within a year Sarah would bear a son and before the couple could even congratulate each other, the heavenly visitors stood and resolutely began walking toward Sodom. Duty first, Abraham accompanies them and listens as Yahweh the Son poses a question of the other guests:
And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. (Gen 18:18-19)
Here Abraham is pictured as the Bride. “For I know him” is a term of intimacy and “the way of the LORD” is a euphemism for the marriage contract, or “ketubah.”
The Wickedness of Sodom
In sharp contrast to the hospitality offered in Abraham’s tent, which according to Jewish commentary was open on four sides throughout the day in order to receive guests, Sodom’s wickedness is depicted in rabbinic literature as not only failing to offer hospitality, but of legalizing theft and cruelty to travelers, especially the poor and foreigners, even down to killing its own citizens who would try to intervene on their behalf. Even the sexual perversion of these cities was, according to the rabbis, for the express purpose of keeping people out who appeared to be of insufficient means so as to benefit the society, and who were therefore, potentially, threats to their high standard of living. The prophet Ezekiel appears to confirm this information:
“As I live, says the LORD….Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: pride, plenty of bread, and careless ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before Me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” (Eze 16:48-50)
Some cities in the United States have taken measures to keep the homeless from their streets.
- The Huffington Post reports that a 90-year-old man was arrested for feeding the poor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in violation of an anti-feeding law that passed last week. The article also reports that similar measures are being taken in more than 30 U.S. cities.
- In Houston, groups need written consent to feed the homeless in public, or they face a $2,000 fine.
- Organizations in Columbia, South Carolina must pay $150 for a permit more than two weeks in advance to feed the homeless in city parks.
- In Orlando, an ordinance requires groups to get a permit to feed 25 or more people in parks in a downtown district. Groups are limited to two permits per year for each park.
But, thank God, numerous activists, like the 90-year-old man, have been willing to violate these laws and be arrested in order to bring attention to the increasing poverty of the nation and the increasing efforts of our citizens to ignore it.
The Works of Abraham
The depravity of Sodom’s culture accentuates the righteousness of Abraham, of whom it is written,
“Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Gen. 26:5)
This is another way of saying that Abraham was tawmeem. “The way of the LORD,” the bridal contract, specifically urges kindness to strangers and concessions for the poor, therefore instructing how to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That should ring a bell and bring to mind the parable of the Samaritan who paid for the care and lodging of a man who had been left for dead on the road to Jerusalem, ignored by Levite and priest. Yeshua castigated the religious leaders for such hypocrisy.
“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did!” (John 8:39)
Graciously, Yahweh informs Abraham of His intent in regard to Sodom and Gomorrah:
And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great; and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near….(Gen 18:20-23)
An amazing picture begins here to unfold. In the same spirit in which a devoted wife, deeply concerned about her husband’s decision and reputation, might confront him privately, Abraham challenges God!
Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen 18:23-25)
Do you hear the protective voice of the Bride? Can you hear the Help-Mate explaining to her Husband that His reputation is in jeopardy?
And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” (Gen 18:26-28)
Do you see the humility of Abraham? Abraham, despite his tremendous wealth and blessings, counted himself as absolutely nothing. And, do you see the scepter extended to the Bride, even as King Ahasuerus extended it to Esther? (Est 8:4)
And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”
“Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. (Gen 18:28-33)
Intimacy with The Treasured Possession
Let’s delve into the phrase “…when He had finished speaking to Abraham.”
The word “finished” [H3515] can also be translated as “accomplished” or “fulfilled.” The word “to” [H413] can also be translated as “near” or “with,” denoting intimacy. The word translated as “speaking” [H1696] can also mean “commune,” also denoting intimacy. So, perhaps the verse could read:
And the LORD went on his way when He had accomplished or fulfilled His intimacy with Abraham.
Amazing! When Abraham drew near, Yahweh also drew near in intimacy to accomplish HIS PURPOSES! This is the intimacy that Yahweh desires with His “am segulah” [treasured possession]. We will look deeply into the idea of “drawing near” when we reached the book of Leviticus, as we study the purpose of the prescribed offerings.
Abraham returned to his tent in confidence, assured that he had prevailed with God. That is exactly what “Israel” means: “one who has power with God” or “prince with God.” This is why Abraham was chosen to be the progenitor of Israel, the “am segulah” or treasured possession of the Most High God. The one who kept the commandments of God knew the King’s scepter was extended to him, and therefore, boldly embraced the opportunity to intercede. When he was finished, having done all else, Abraham “stood” in faith, fully confident that Yahweh would do what was right.
Lot – a righteous man who suffered ‘blindness’
We now come to the primary object of Abraham’s intercession. “Lot” means veiled. Without a doubt, Lot’s veiled eyes could not see what Abraham’s saw. Unable to comprehend the natural progression of life in a lawless society, Lot intentionally chose to expose his family to the wickedness of Sodom rather than submit to a life of faith as a simple shepherd. Perhaps he was influenced by his wife, whose fate was to be turned into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed the order not to “look back” upon Sodom. (Gen19:26)
The apostle Peter viewed Lot as a “righteous man [who] lived among them day after day… tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard.” (2 Peter 2:8)
“Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD?” (Isaiah 42:19)
There is a blindness that prevails over many of God’s people; but, according to Isaiah, at the end of days, when they come up to Mount Zion, it will at last be removed.
The word translated as “the covering” is the same as Lot’s name, according to Brown, Driver, Briggs Lexicon, and is the only time the word is used other than as Lot’s name.
When Lot saw the angels, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth, emulating his uncle. Also to his credit, he pressed them to stay in his house, he rushed to prepare a meal, including unleavened bread, a sign of the Passover that Lot and his two daughters would experience that night.
Before the household could sleep, the men of Sodom surrounded the house and demanded the visitors, “that we may know them.” Lot tried in vain to argue with them and when they nearly knocked the door down in their insistence, he offered his own daughters to them instead (Gen 19:8). Such is the reasoning of a man who would choose to reside in Sodom. Note that at no point do we hear Lot crying out to the LORD to help him; but, thank Heaven, “God remembered Abraham.” (Gen 19:29)
The intercession of the Bride was not in vain. The angels pulled Lot safely into the house and secured the door, while the evil men outside, struck with blindness, still continued frantically to get inside.
Then the angels said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” (Gen 19:12)
So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting. As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.. And…he lingered…” (Gen 19:14-16)
Note the contrast between Abraham and Lot. We see no shred of hesitation or procrastination in Abraham, who, when he hears the voice of God, quickly moves to obey.
The angels seized Lot, his wife, and two daughters by the hand, “the LORD being merciful to him,” and brought them outside the city. By this time, Yeshua Himself has rejoined the two angels and, strangely enough, Lot recognizes Him and converses with Him!
And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, Adonai [used only in reference to God]! Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. (Gen 19:17-19)
Lot’s veiled eyes still cannot believe that the King of the Universe knows what is best for him and his family! Instead of quickly obeying, human reasoning prevailed as it did on the fatal day he “chose for himself” Sodom.
“Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” (Gen 19:20-23)
Note that the LORD is restrained from destroying the wicked cities until Lot has been saved! Such is the power of the Bride’s intercession!
“Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” (Gen 19:24-25)
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. (Gen 19:29)
But, for some reason, “[Lot] was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.” (Gen 19:30)
The carnage may have been so great that the daughters believed they were the only people left upon the earth. Like their father, they resorted to human reasoning rather than exercising faith in God. Parents, be very sure that your example is far more powerful than your instructions!
And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” (Gen 19:31-32) Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. (Gen 19:36-38)
We noted in parsha Lech Lecha that had it not been for this ugly incident, Ruth the Moabitess, great-grandmother of King David, and Naamah the Ammonitess, righteous wife of Solomon and mother of Rehoboam, would never have been born, and therefore, neither would their righteous offspring King David, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah! To carry that line of thinking even further, what is even more astounding is that Messiah Himself was contained in the loins of Lot, brought forth through the lines of these two [former] gentiles whose ancestors were conceived not only in incest, but whose descendants would become two of Israel’s greatest enemies! Oh! The unfathomable grace of the Most High God!
Moved on by the Ruach
Sodom being destroyed, Abraham pulled up stakes and sojourned for a time in Gerar. Jewish commentary says it was a populous place with plenty of opportunity to make disciples. In Gerar, Abraham and Isaac would say that Sarah and Rebecca were their sisters. Both times God showed Abimelech the truth and both times the wives were returned to their husbands undefiled. Here Abimelech’s citizens would hassle both Abraham and Isaac over their wells, and, here, Isaac would sow and reap one hundred fold.
The reason for this great harvest, according to Yahweh Himself, is very explicit: “because Abraham obeyed My voice, kept My charge, and kept my statutes, commandments, and laws” (Gen. 26:5). I urge you to read this account for yourself!
Parents! Be very sure that your offspring will reap rewards from either YOUR faithfulness and obedience, or your Unfaithfulness and DIS-obedience to a thousand generations!
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (Deut. 7:9)
The year rolled around to the “mo’ed” that God had promised.
“At the mo’ed [pronounced mow-AIDE] I will return to you, about this time next year and Sarah shall have a son.” (Gen. 18:14)
Strong’s Concordance defines mo’ed as an appointment, a set time, a specific time or season, a meeting, a Feast, again hinting at Passover. The first time this term is used is on the fourth day of Creation.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for mo’edim. [plural form of mo’ed] (Gen. 1:14)
We have seen various hints of the season of Passover to this point. But, there is one more thing to consider. Our parsha makes it very clear it was the faithfulness of Abraham that preserved Lot and his family, rather than Lot’s own righteousness. Likewise, at the Passover in Egypt, it was the faithfulness of the fathers to paint the blood on the doorposts and eat the Passover lamb that preserved their firstborn sons from the Death Angel. Therefore, Lot’s salvation also points to the Passover in Egypt.
From these things, we can begin to understand that God not only has a calendar, He purposefully arranges events to fall on certain days. Isaac’s miracle birth at the season of Passover portends the birth of the nation of Israel at the Red Sea at the Exodus. God told Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22).
Interestingly enough, John the Baptist’s miracle birth to the aged, barren Elizabeth, also occurred at Passover. This can be determined by the priests’ course of duty established by King David. Zechariah served in the course of Abijah; nine months later John was born. It was while Zechariah was on duty in the Temple that the angel Gabriel foretold John’s birth. John’s name means “beloved.” His miracle birth heralded the emergence of the One of whom the Father would call, “My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The Joshua generation crossed the Jordan at Passover, entering the land of Israel after emerging from the “womb” of the wilderness. So, in addition to the lamb and unleavened bread, the themes of Passover are wombs, barrenness, wilderness, deliverance, and LAUGHTER! We will talk more about God’s calendar as we proceed through the Torah this year.
Back to our sidrah, can you imagine Abraham’s and Sarah’s joy upon hearing Isaac’s first cry? Or holding their very own squirming newborn at their old age? Can you imagine Sarah’s delight in her quickened 90-year-old-breasts brimming with nourishment for her hungry babe? Do you think she LAUGHED? No doubt the camp echoed with shrieks of joy and laughter as word of the birth passed from tent to tent. No wonder God said, “His name shall be LAUGHTER [Isaac]!
And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Gen 21:6-7)
Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born. Abraham circumcised his son when he was eight days old, exactly as God had commanded him. (Gen 21:4-5) Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. (Gen 21:8) According to rabbinic sources, Shem and his son Eber, Abraham’s grandfather, were guests of honor. Picture the music and dancing of the nomadic peoples. Imagine the tantalizing smells of mutton and beef roasting, vegetables and bread baking. Picture trays laden with pomegranates, figs, and grapes, almonds and pistachios. Visualize joyous guests in colorful robes. Imagine ancient Shem, now 500 years old, at the height of the festivities, take the child of perhaps three- or four-year-old onto his lap and, lifting his withered but holy hands, bless the name of Yahweh and then prayerfully speak the priestly blessing over Isaac:
“May Yahweh bless you and keep you. May Yahweh make His face to shine upon you. May Yahweh lift up His countenance upon you and grant you shalom.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
Can you imagine Shem’s gratitude to live to see “the promise” fulfilled in his day? It brings to mind another aged soul, who also waited “for the consolation of Israel.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:25-30)
Hagar and Ishmael
However, not everyone shared in the joy of the great celebration. Hagar and Ishmael, who was by now perhaps sixteen or seventeen years old, could surely see on this great day, in light of the attention being lavished on Isaac, that any prospects that they ever had of being the beneficiary of Abraham’s wealth and influence had completely vanished. The great party served only to provoke their jealously and displeasure until it was uncontainable. Ishmael also laughed; but his variety reeked of mockery and derision born out of Hagar’s insolence toward Sarah–and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Do whatever Sarah says, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” (Gen 21:9-13)
As with Cain, the firstborn son was enraged by God’s favor upon his brother. Perhaps, God had to remove Ishmael as a hedge of protection for both boys to prevent the natural course of Ishmael’s anger ending in premature death for one or both.
Determined to obey despite his deep love for Ishmael, “early the next day,” Abraham sent Hagar and her son away. This had to have been an extremely hard lesson. When we “help God,” and get ahead of Him, the result is often that we end up with an “Ishmael” who will mock and impede the true plan and purposes of God. The only remedy is to break the ungodly tie and effectively untie God’s hand of mercy.
In despair, Hagar wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. When the water was gone, she placed Ishmael under a bush, sat down to watch her son die, and wept, forgetting the LORD’s promise that came to her when she was pregnant, that Ishmael would have offspring without number. This time, the LORD responded to the “voice of the boy.”
And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt. (Gen 21:17-21)
As the author of the Eastern Bible Commentary puts it, Ishmael was not cut off from the mercy of God. Nor did God ignore Abraham’s prayer, “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” (Gen 17:18) The choice to do right and be blessed, even today, presents itself to every individual, every tribe and tongue.
The commentator goes on:
“The Arabs, the fiery sons of the desert… have carved their name deeply upon the history and the faith of the world. But sensuousness and lawlessness are everywhere the stamp of the Ishmaelite. With high gifts and some generous qualities, such as attracted to his eldest boy the love of Abraham, their fierce animal passion has been the curse of the sons of Hagar… Ishmael stands forth as the type of the carnal man. On outward grounds of flesh and blood he seeks inheritance in the kingdom of God [and, this writer would add, the land of Israel]; and with fleshly weapons passionately [seeks to take it by violence].”
Gave His Only Begotten Son….
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. (Gen 22:1-3)
Even in this most difficult trial of all, not a whit of procrastination is seen in Abraham. Receiving clear understanding of the LORD’s instruction, though most certainly not His purpose or the result, Abraham rises early the next morning, places the wood (foreshadowing Yeshua’s cross) upon Isaac, and proceeds to travel to Mount Moriah (Hebrew: Moriyah, “chosen by Yah”).
On the third day, foreshadowing Yeshua’s resurrection, Abraham “lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” “The place” [Hebrew: ha makom] where Isaac would be offered up is none other than the site of threshing floor that King David will later purchase from Oman (1 Chron. 21:25), and where his son Solomon will later build the glorious Temple.
What must have gone through Abraham’s mind in that three day journey? Did he argue with God? Did he wrestle? Did he try to wiggle, at least on Sarah’s account? What on earth will she think?
“Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Gen 22:5)
Note the certainty of Abraham’s faith. “I and the boy will… come again to you.” Abraham’s faith in the promises is firm. His seed WILL be as the sand of the sea and the stars in the sky. Nothing could sway him; both he and Isaac will return home.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Heb 11:17-19)
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (Gen 22:6-8)
How Abraham’s heart must have been pierced when Isaac said, “My father!” According to several timelines, Isaac was 37 years old. This was no small child whom Abraham would place on the altar.
“So they went both of them together.” The word translated here as “together” is a forceful word that literally means “unitedly.” Abraham and Isaac picture here the complete unity, the utter “UN-dividedness”, the “echad” (oneness), of Father and Son.
Isaac’s faith in his father ran as deep as his father’s faith in God. He did not flinch or struggle, for surely he could have overcome his aged father. Isaac’s eyes were on his father, whom he knew would do right. Isaac freely offered himself.
And so it was for Yeshua at his appointment with Calvary. He set his face toward Jerusalem and all of the suffering it would entail; because he remembered the promise and His eyes were on His Father, blessed be His glorious name! From His cross, the Seed of Abraham looked not to His suffering, but to the ultimate third day, when His Father will also “raise us up and we will live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:2)
Seeing While being Tested
This, then, is the key to facing any trial of faith. It is to look in the distance and “see.” It is to focus on the promises and to be willing, with Abba’s instruction, to give up what appears to be yours presently, including possessions, livelihood, position, family, and homeland, as well as anything to which you think you may be entitled in the future. It is to be willing, if Abba directs, to let go of every “right,” whether by birth, inheritance, education, career, or governmental authority in order to take hold of the “pearl of great price.” (Mat 13:46)
On the other hand, faith of the kind that Abraham possessed is ready, at a moment’s notice, to take on any role, any project, any assignment that the LORD may direct, no matter how under-qualified or over-qualified you see yourself. It is willing to go anywhere, at any time, and to meet with anyone. It takes on Abraham’s mantle, to “run” to offer help to the neighbor or stranger, to continually be an advocate for the orphan, the widow, the poor, the needy. It is prepared at any time to quickly prepare or assemble a meal or meet a financial need. It intercedes constantly and is willing to be used as an answer to prayer. This kind of faith teaches by example “the way of the LORD,” and is therefore, “the light of the world.”
Consider, for a moment, Abraham’s ten trials.
1. The command to leave his homeland and family
2. Encountering famine in Canaan
3. Sarah being abducted by Pharaoh
4. The battle to rescue Lot and his family
5. Sarah’s proposal to give Hagar as a wife to Abram
6. Being told his descendants would be enslaved 400 years
7. Circumcising himself at ninety-nine years old
8. Sarah being abducted by Abimelech
9. Expelling Ishmael
10. The command to sacrifice Isaac as an olah, burnt offering (Gen 22:2)
As children of Abraham, we can be assured that we will also be sorely tested. The purpose of testing is to prove to us, not God, whether our faith is real or merely lip service or intellectual assent. In the Parable of the Sower, Yeshua identifies those lacking true faith as those who fall away when testing comes.
“And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” (Mark 4:16-17)
James, brother of Yeshua, and leader of the first century Messianic congregation in Jerusalem, explains that the testing of our faith develops perseverance, which leads to our becoming tawmeem [whole, complete, spotless, blameless].
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete [tawmeem], lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
James goes on to say that such testing is a blessing, because, in the end, when we have overcome, we will “receive the crown of life.” (This “crown” may actually be the tiara of the Bride.)
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)
The “ten days” allude to Abraham’s ten tests. If we are being tested, it is because, like Abraham, we have been called and chosen, and, therefore, we have been given eyes to see what the “Lots” of this world cannot. Our calling is not to live peaceful, comfortable, trouble-free lives. It is so that, through our trials, we can grow and become tawmeem so that we can take on the role of the Bride to intercede for our nation, for the nation of Israel, and for our world.
As such, we are truly the most blessed people who have ever lived on the planet and we must boldly, urgently, and frequently draw near to the throne of grace to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” When we do so, we are assured He draws near to us to fulfill His purposes.
Until next week, shalom!