The focus of our studies this week has been Par’sha Lech L’cha, containing the the one-hundred and twenty-six verses between B’reshith 12.1 and 17.27. Lech L’cha means go for yourself and in this par’sha we begin learning more about a man we were briefly introduced to at the close of last week’s par’sha: Avram ben Terach.
Avram was a remarkable man, though he never ruled over a nation or led major armies into battle. There was, of course, the time he successfully attacked five armies with only three-hundred eighteen of his own servants. There are no miracles attributed to him and though he was the focus of many prophecies, he is not remembered as a navi himself. So what made this man such a unique character in the Torah?
The answer to that lies in an old adage: dead fish go with the flow; only live fish swim against the current. Avram became the first ivri - the first Hebrew. Ivri is from the shoresh עבר that means to cross over to the other side or to move to a different condition. Avram made the decision to answer Y-H-V-H’s call and leave a world steeped in idolatry for a different way of life - one Yah Himself promised to bless.
In verses two and three of chapter twelve Y-H-V-H promises Avram, I shall make you a great nation, and bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing! And I shall bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you. And in you all the מִשְׁפְּחֹת mishpachot (families) of the earth shall be blessed. This is an often-quoted passage and one that has brought comfort and hope to people of many nations over the years. Y-H-V-H has promised to bless those who bless the people of Avram, but there is more to this promise than meets the eye. What happens if you live in a nation, or among a people, who choose not to bless, but to curse, the seed of Avraham? Will you suffer because of them?
Fortunately, the Hebrew text provides the answer. In this passage, Y-H-V-H promises to bless those who bless the seed of Avram. Those is translated from מְבָרִכֶיךָ m’va’ri’ce’cha, which is plural - not singular. All those in a nation or a people are blessed when they choose to bless Avraham and his seed. On the other hand, the curse is upon him who curses Isra’el. Him is from m’qa’lel’cha ,מְקַלֶּלְךָ which is singular. Based on the Hebrew text it appears that only those within a nation or people who choose to curse the people of Avraham endure the curses. That being the case, those who live in a nation that chooses to no longer bless Isra’el - which is the seed of Avraham - can be protected from the curses if they choose to continue to bless Avraham and his seed.
But the blessings and curses referred to in this passage are for those who have chosen to not become a part of the seed of Avraham. They are either blessed or cursed according to how they treat the people of Avraham. This obviously doesn’t apply to the Avraham’s people - Isra’el - since we are the ones that are either being blessed or cursed. And according to Sha’ul, those who are of faith are the sons of AvrahamGal. 3.7, referring of course to those who are of the same faith and obedience as Messiah Y’hoshua. So what does Y-H-V-H expect of us? How do we get our blessings?
The answer, of course, is by accepting His sovereignty over us, accepting the atonement He provides through the Messiah’s sacrifice and then by guarding and doing His commandments. And if you have ever wondered what guarding and doing His commandments is like, Avraham’s life provides an answer.
At the age of 75, Y-H-V-H called Avram to leave Charan and go to a land He would show him.12.1 We learned in last week’s par’sha that Terach, his father, had taken Avram, Sarai and Lot out of Ur-kasdim to Charan, but evidently that had been at Y-H-V-H’s command. Later, in B’reshith 15.7, Y-H-V-H told Avram, I am Y-H-V-H, who brought you out of Ur-kasdim, to give you this land to inherit.
Avram listened to the voice of Y-H-V-H and set out from Charan. The Hebrew text uses the word yi’lech יִּלֶךְ, which means to walk or to progress step-by-step toward a goal, which is what Avram was doing. He was moving toward a goal. Even if he didn’t know what that final goal was, it was enough for him to simply answer Y-H-V-H’s call and follow Him. Verse five uses an interesting phrase in stating that Avram took Sarai, Lot, all their possessions and the beings they had acquired in Charan. Beings is translated from נפשׁ, souls, and acquired is from the shoresh עשׂה which means to create or to make. Since only Y-H-V-H can create souls, it is very probable that this verse refers to the people in Charan that Avram had witnessed and had decided to join themselves to the Elohim of Avram and make the journey with them.
Once he arrived in the land of Kena’an, Y-H-V-H did more than just speak to Avram. Because Avram had trusted and obeyed Him, Y-H-V-H now appeared to him in the land. Again, the Hebrew text makes this clear, using the word yi’rah יִּרָא - to look, to see and understand. In fact, verse seven uses this word twice to emphasize the fact that Y-H-V-H not only appeared to Avram, but that Avram recognized Who he was speaking to him.
And Y-H-V-H had a reason for appearing to Avram: it was to give him a promise. Yah told the patriarch, to your seed I give this land.vs.7 Not just to his physical descendants (toldot), but to his seed (zera זרע); those who would join themselves to the Elohim of Avram and produce the same fruit that Avram produced throughout his life.
From Shekem Avram moved to the mountain east of Beyth El and pitched his tent there. This was the first time we read that Avram called on the Name of Y-H-V-Hvs.8, though we are not told why he chose to call on His Name at this particular time. The first time this phrase is used is in B’reshith 4.26, when, during the days of Enosh, it was begun to call upon the Name of Y-H-V-H. Once again, however, we are not told why the people of Enosh’s generation began to call upon His Name, but the timing may give us a clue.
The passage in B’reshith occurs between the time when sin began increasing on the face of the earth and the revelation of Y-H-V-H’s plan to redeem mankind in B’reshith chapter five. To me, this suggests that as Enosh and the people of his generation had realized how widespread sin was becoming and they began to call out to Y-H-V-H, the Name representing His attribute of mercy.
The use of this same phrase as Avram settled in the area of Beyth El may suggest that Avram had also witnessed sin spreading throughout the land of Kena’an. When he did, he began to call on the Name of Y-H-V-H on their behalf. Of course, almost five hundred years later Y-H-V-H commanded the Israelites who would settle the land to completely destroy seven nations in Kena’an because of their idolatry and sin - perhaps the same sin that Avram had witnessed as he entered the land.
Sometime later the land of Kena’an was struck with a famine, leading Avram to make the decision to take his family and go into Mitsrayim. Realizing that Sarai’s beauty would draw a lot of attention - attention that could get him killed - he asked Sarai to tell everyone she was his sister. When Pharaoh learned the truth, he told Avram to take Sarai and leave Mitsrayim, but by this time Avram was very rich in livestock, silver and gold.13.2
He and Lot returned to the area of Beyth El, but soon discovered that the land would not support all their possessions. Avram and Lot separated, with Lot deciding he preferred to settle in the plain of the Yarden that was similar to Gan Eden at the time. Avram settled in the land of Kena’an, but trouble soon followed.
A war developed between three kings of the north and five of the kings of the cities in the land Lot had settled in. Y-H-V-H later destroyed four of these cities because of the multitude of their sins: Sedom, Amorah, Admah and Tseboyim. During the battle Sedom and Amorah were defeated and ransacked and Lot, his family and the other families were taken captive. Avram gathered 318 of his own servants, pursued the armies and rescued Lot, all the people and their livestock. It was on his return from this successful battle that Avram met Malki-tsedeq, sovereign of Shalem.
Avram’s rescue of Lot and the others exemplified the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself - once again demonstrating how Avram always guarded Y-H-V-H’s charge: His commands, laws and Torot.26.5 Having again demonstrated his loyalty and obedience, we find in chapter fifteen that Y-H-V-H came to Avram, but this time in a vision. In this vision He promised our patriarch that He was his shield and that Avram’s reward is exceedingly great.15.1 In this vision, Y-H-V-H brought Avram outside in the middle of the day and told him to look up and count the stars - something that should have been impossible the daylight hours. Y-H-V-H told Avram that his seed would be like the stars of the heavens - which man is unable to count. Avram believed Y-H-V-H and it was accounted to him as righteousness.
This promise was sealed in what we know today as the Covenant Between the Parts, but the covenant also came with bad news. Avram’s seed would be enslaved as sojourners in a foreign land for four hundred years, but the nation that enslaved them would be judged. Afterward, they would go out with great possessions. This covenant included a promise to Avram’s seed that they would one day inherit all the land from the river of Mitsrayim to the great river, the River Euphrates - the land of the Qeynite, the Qenizzite, the Qadmonite, the Hittite, the Perizitte, the Rephaim, the Amorite, the Kena’anite, the Girgashite and the Yebusite.15.18-21
Chapter sixteen tells the story of the birth of Yishma’el along with Sarai’s unfavorable response to Hagar’s pregnancy. Avram was eighty-six years old at the time and we aren’t given any more details about his life for the next thirteen years.
Then, in chapter seventeen, when Avram was ninety-nine years old, Y-H-V-H once again appeared to him with a special call: I am El Shaddai - walk before Me and be perfect.17.1 Generations later, our Messiah issued this same call to those who accepted Him as Messiah, telling us to, Be perfect as (y)our Father in Heaven is perfect.Matt.5.48 A tall order, but not an impossible one. Father and Son both call on the people of Isra’el to stop sinning and be tamim, blameless - forgiven. This is exactly opposite of what many believers are being told today - which is that it is impossible for a man not to sin. People are actually teaching others something that blatantly contradicts what Y-H-V-H Himself has declared.D’varim 30.11-14 Such people are on very dangerous ground. How arrogant will man become before Y-H-V-H once again intercedes?
In chapter seventeen Y-H-V-H promises Avram that he will become the father of many nations although He has placed Isra’el above all the peoples on the earth.Sh’mot 19.5 Y-H-V-H established this covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be Elohim to you and your seed after you. To reflect Avram’s new status, Y-H-V-H changed his name to Avraham and sealed this covenant he and his seed are to guard as an everlasting covenant with a very special sign. All the men of Isra’el are to be circumcised and any male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, his life shall be cut off from his people - for he has broken his covenant with Y-H-V-H our Elohim.17.10-14
As the par’sha concludes, we learn that Y-H-V-H also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah because kings of peoples were to be from her.17.16 Avraham pleaded on Yishma’el’s behalf, but Y-H-V-H was clear: Sarah would bear him a son and it would be through their son that the covenant would be passed on to generation after generation.
So, at ninety-nine years old, Avraham circumcised himself, his son and all the men of his house - those born in his house or purchased with silver from a foreigner (a בּן־נֵכָר). As next week’s par’sha opens we find that Avraham’s obedience once again resulted in a visit from Y-H-V-H continuing the pattern that began when Avram obeyed Y-H-V-H’s call to leave his father’s house in Charan and go to a land He would show him. This is a precedent that is often overlooked by many today.
There is a world of difference between being someone of the nations who is either blessed or cursed according to whether they bless or curse the seed of Avraham and those who are of the seed of Avraham. While other nations are blessed or cursed based on their treatment of us, we are blessed or cursed based on our obedience to Y-H-V-H and whether or not we listen to the Messenger He has sent to us: His Son, Y’hoshua ben Y-H-V-H.
Regardless of what the rest of the nations do - whether they bless us, curse us or just ignore us -we are called to walk before El Shaddai and be perfect - blameless. Whether other nations bless us or curse us, whether they accept our witness and teaching regarding His Messiah and His commandments or not, does not change our call to be like Avraham and to produce the same fruit he produced. What was he like?
He was called to walk before our Father and be perfect, so are we.17.1 & Matt. 5.48
He was called to guard Y-H-V-H’s charge: His commandments, laws and Torot26.5 So are we.
He was called to acquire souls for our Father’s kingdom,12.5 so are we.
He was commanded to be circumcised or be cut off from his people.17.10-14 So are we.
Sarah was called to be faithful and trust Y-H-V-H.17.16-21 And so are women today.
Avram commanded his children and those in his households to guard the way of Y-H-V-H and to do righteousness and right-ruling18.19 and so are we.
As you can see, there is a great deal of difference between the people of the nations of this world and those who are of the seed of Avraham - which is Isra’el. But in reading Torah it’s not hard to understand that it is man’s choice, not Y-H-V-H’s will, that there is more than one nation on the face of the earth. All are invited to come out of the world, to t’shuvah and walk before Him blameless, having only one law for the native born and those grafted-in. But the sad truth is that not everyone will make this choice.
For those who choose to remain among the nations, they must be careful of their treatment of the seed of Avraham if they wish to be blessed by Y-H-V-H. And for those who count themselves as the seed of Avraham, we must be careful of our walk and our obedience to His commandments, laws and Torot - even the least of them - if we wish to dwell in His blessings.
Where are you? Are you seeking His blessings by blessing the seed of Avraham, or are you the seed of Avraham seeking His blessings by obeying His every command? Some would say it doesn’t matter, as long as He is blessing them, but they haven’t read the rest of the story. They don’t even realize what they are missing out on.
8 Cheshvan 5775
1 November 2014