Parashat Lech Lecha - October 28th

לך לך Lech L’cha

Parasha - Genesis 12:1 - Genesis 17:27

Haftar - Isaiah 40:27 - Isaiah 41:16

 

Genesis 12.3: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”

The Messiah is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; he is the promised blessing for all nations. He will heal the curse of sin.

“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith. . . . Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’ — that in Messiah Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. . . . Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many; but, referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ which is Messiah. (Galatians 3.8-9, 14-14, 16)

While “seed of Abraham” can refer to the nation of Israel, the word “seed” can also refer to a single individual (Genesis 4.25; 2 Chronicles 17.11, 12). The focus of attention in Genesis is ultimately on an individual who is the spearhead of Abraham’s seed, the one before whom the nations will bow down (Genesis 49.8-10). For this reason the apostle Paul emphasizes that the promise of a seed is given using the singular form of the word. Since all the families of the earth will be blessed through this seed, Abraham will be the father not only of Israel but of “a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17.4; 28.3; 35.11; 48.4).

[LM]

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Some have seen this blessing and promise to Abraham as God showing “favoritism” to Israel. However, scripture makes it clear that there is a far bigger goal in view here. The initial letter vav should be understood here as “in order that in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

At this point in human history—and as a vital part of the plan of salvation—God is making a choice. In this blessing he is revealing the man from whom he will bring the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3.15), the very same seed/descendant who will deal Satan a mortal blow. There can be no doubt, then, that God has, as it were, drawn a circle around Abraham and his descendants and made them a walking goal, the goal of all of human history. For this reason we see in God’s blessing of Abraham an indication of the necessity to protect him and his descendants from the attempts of Satan to annihilate them.

[BSI/vk]

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Acts 3.24-26 also sees Genesis 12.1-3 as connected to the Messiah: “And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came afterwards, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

[BSI/rp]

 

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To three men the Blessed Holy One said “ask me”: Abraham, the Messiah, and Solomon. Even though it is written that God said to Abraham, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield” (Genesis 15.1), Abraham said, “You have given me all I have asked, except for one thing; you have not given me a seed” (Genesis 15.3). God said to him, “Look toward heaven” etc. (Genesis 15.5). Why did God say, “so shall your descendants be” if he did not also show him Isaac’s sign in the stars, a sign called “ko” (thus, here), just as it is said, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the lad will go yonder” (to ko, Genesis 22.5) “for do not the lad and I see Isaac’s sign in the stars”? (Abraham was dealing with astrology signs.) And why did he tell them, “we will worship and come back to you”? Abraham had a prophetic word that both he and Isaac would return safely from the altar.

 

Similarly, why did he say “we will go to ‘ko’ unless Abraham had a prophetic word regarding the very place where he bound his son Isaac, the place where in the future the priests would bless, standing and spreading their hands to bless Israel with “ko,” as it is said, “thus (ko) shall you bless the children of Israel” (Numbers 6.23)?

 

Similarly, why did he say to them, “Sit here with the donkey,” unless he had a prophetic word about the location of the Temple, as it is said (Psalms 132.14), “This is my resting place for ever; here I will dwell.”?

 

God said to the Messiah (who is coming soon to redeem Israel), “Ask of me,” as it is said (Psalms 2.7-8), “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’” The Messiah answered, “What pleasure do I have from kingdoms, since I am anointed for war?” as Zechariah prophesied of him, “and they will mourn for him as for an only son” (Zechariah 12.10). “What pleasure do I have from kingdoms and riches if I am to be overcome in the future? I ask only that you give me life.” The Blessed Holy One said to him, “What you have asked has already been given you. Before you rose up, your father David prophesied of you (Psalms 21.4), “He asked you for life; you gave it to him, length of days for ever and ever.” And you will receive not only life but also riches, property, and glory.” When the Messiah comes, there will be no more kingdoms in the world, they will all die, as it is written (Zechariah 14.7), “there shall be continuous day (it is known to the Lord), not day and not night,” a day that ends between two worlds.

(Midrash Zuta, Song of Songs (Buber), Parashah A)

 

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[Gen 12.1-3] These verses constitute a huge step in God’s plan of salvation for all humanity. In Gen 3.15 we have learned that the redeemer will come from the Seed of the Woman, the one who will bring the ultimate victory over Satan, death, and separation from God. In these verses we learn through whom this Messiah will come, through the Seed of Abraham. In this one “all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

However, at the same time, by giving this, God is effectively drawing a circle around Abraham and his seed, turning them into a target! Satan now knows whom he needs to focus on and get rid of in order to avoid his own defeat. History shows that Satan indeed did not miss opportunities to try to destroy his nemesis. God knows this, but he does not just abandon Abraham and his seed to the destructive power of Satan. He provides for Abraham’s preservation. This protection is found in verse 3: “ I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse, in order that in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” This is not a grandfatherly gift because God happens to like Abraham. It is far more than that. It is a strategic move to accomplish God’s plan of salvation. This protection of Abraham and his seed is for the sake of all the families of the earth.

[VK]

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The phrase “families of the earth” can remind us that we have all come from the earth, we are but dust. It is only through God’s grace and plan of salvation that we are taken out of the earth and made sons and daughters of God, people who have an eternal inheritance in heaven. Through the Seed of Abraham we become citizens of heaven.

 

Genesis 12.11-13: “As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife.” Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.’”

God’s covenant with Abraham is eternal (Psa 105.8-11). God does not regret his callings! We may be very surprised to read how Abraham is just a fallen human being when he lies to Pharaoh about his wife. Still, we read that he returns to Canaan as if nothing happened, and with even greater wealth. God does not regret his callings. This is the same with the people of Israel. They fell and still fall but God’s promises and salvation are by grace alone! He is not surprised!

We also never read that Abraham fought with the local inhabitants of the land because God had promised him the land. He did not need to take the land by force. He is assured and confident that in the right time, God will provide all that he promised. We too must be confident and not be shaken by every piece of news about the land. God will fulfill his promises in the right time.

[VK]

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Genesis 13.8-9: “Then Abram said to Lot, ‘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.’”

It is not uncommon to hear our people ridicule Yeshua’s teaching of turning the other cheek (Matt 5.38-39). However, in this parashah when the land is too small for Lot and Abram, it is Abram, the one to whom God promised the land, who is willing to let Lot choose the part of the land he wants. Abram has faith in the promise of God and so can say confidently to Lot, “the land is before you.” He is not worried, and is, as it were, turning the other cheek to Lot. It is important to Abram—even more important than God’s promise of the land—that he not fight with his brother! He is willing to give in order to avoid strife and confrontation. It is not because Lot is right but because he is a brother.

In verse 7, immediately before Abram’s act of peace, it is written that the Canaanites and Perizzites were in the land at that time. Why is this important enough to be mentioned at this point? It is important because Abram was a representative of the living God, and his life bore testimony to God’s character. When Abram arrived in the land, the same statement appears in 12.6: “At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” The first thing Abram did was build an altar to the living God (12.7). His action gave the local people a testimony of the true God and how to worship him. Now, as he returns to the land from Egypt, how could he be a faithful witness of the living God if he  is fighting with Lot? We read in the New Testament that it is through our love that we testify to our Lord (John 13.34-35). It is not by our nice and wise words that people will be convinced but by living our testimony of the love of the Messiah.

[VK]

 

Genesis 14.18-20: “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, maker 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.”

The appearance of Melchizedek comes as a surprise. We do not know where he came from, nothing about his earthly roots. Chapter 7 of the epistle to the Hebrews sheds some light on this unique character, as does Psalm 110. We discover that this character at the least symbolizes the Messiah and may even be the Messiah himself. He is a priest of the most high God and, by the meaning of his name, a righteous king.

We read (vs 17) that in fact it was the king of Sodom who was coming to Abraham, so we would expect the scripture to describe the encounter between Abraham and Bera, king of Sodom. But now the narrative changes, and there is the surprising intervention of this priest who symbolizes the Messiah. But he does not just drop in for some routine chat with Abraham; instead this “priest of the most high God” serves Abraham bread and wine. Who better than the Messiah knows the significance of bread and wine. They symbolize his body and blood, his self-sacrifice as high priest, indeed the new covenant itself. Here we already see God’s promise of a new covenant, a promise made to Abraham, who is the father of those who believe, not only among physical Israel but also those who will believe from among the nations. It is this new covenant that is the basis of Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham.

Here, as in other places, we see that names of some of the characters can shed light on the story. We have already mentioned Melchizedek and Abraham (father of a multitude of nations). The name of the king of Sodom is Bera (possibly meaning “with evil”), that of the king of Gomorrah Birsha (“with wickedness”). Surely these names are appropriate for those whose kingdoms were so full of evil and wickedness that God is going to destroy them from the face of the earth. Does Bera perhaps represent Satan? And before this evil king goes to meet Abraham, God sends Melchizedek, priest of God, from the heavenly tabernacle, to give Abraham a blessing and word of a new covenant.

After Melchizedek blesses Abraham, he seems to disappear from the picture, and we return to the meeting between Abraham and Bera. The exchange between them (vs 21) is full of meaning. Bera says something that may seem good on the surface, even generous; but it has an additional meaning: “Give me the people, and take the goods for yourself.”

Was Bera, the king of Sodom, really someone who loved people so much and was generous on top of it? Evidently not. Bera symbolizes Satan, whose top priority is to destroy our souls. Satan wants souls (nefesh, the very word Bera uses), and he is ready in exchange to give all that the world can offer, as long as we give him our soul. Abraham’s answer is full of divine inspiration, and it does not honor Bera very much, as Bera’s royal status would have required. We might expect Abraham to say, “Thank you very much, but no.” However, Abraham’s answer puts Bera in his place and gives glory to God. This reminds us of Jesus’ temptation by Satan. He wanted to give Jesus everything he wanted, on the condition that Jesus would obey him, that is, give him his soul.

[BSI/vk]

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Genesis 15.1-21: The meeting with Melchizedek is immediately followed by God’s covenant with Abraham. This “covenant between the pieces” was a kind of agreement between two parties. Certain animals were cut into two pieces, which were set down with some space between them. The two parties then made an agreement and passed between the two halves of the animals. This act was a declaration that if one of them broke the agreement, he brought on himself the penalty of death. In fact he was saying, “I bring on myself death, just as these animals died, if I do not keep my part of the agreement.” (see Jeremiah 34.18-20). Such a covenant demanded ultimate commitment.

Naturally, we expect that, as one of the parties to this agreement, and as the father of the nation of Israel and a multitude of nations, would pass between the pieces. But that is not what happened. God’s plans and thoughts are higher than ours. His thoughts are not ours and he does not do to us according to our own deeds.

At the critical moment, God causes Abraham to fall into a deep sleep. Abraham is present at the making of the covenant, indeed he is the one who laid down the pieces, but he takes no part in the ceremony.

We read that a smoking fire pot passes between the cut pieces. This is the presence of God himself (just as God walked with Israel through the desert in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire). What this means is that God is in fact saying that he knows that Abraham and his seed will not keep the covenant, and he himself is ready to take on himself their punishment and pay the price for breaking the covenant. He is ready to give himself, to die on behalf of Abraham and his seed. So we see here a revelation of the gospel that will later be fulfilled in the Messiah. God himself will pay the price for us with his own life.

[BSI/vk]

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Genesis 15.10-11: Some Jewish sources have seen in these vultures a symbol for the Messiah. “’The vultures came down on the carcasses’— this is King Messiah, who will bring down carcasses after carcasses. Abram drove them away. This means, he caused them to repent, as it says, ‘I [Abraham] will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord (Zephaniah 3.9).’” (Pesikta Zutrata, B’reshit 15.11). This identification with the Messiah was evidently because of the bird’s strength and speed. Isaiah prophesied the activity of the same bird in Isaiah 46.11, where strangely the bird of prey is called God’s counselor: ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country.

 

We are reminded of the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9.6, “his name will be called … Counselor.” Because of the use in both passages of the word counsel/counselor, Rabbi David Kimchi understood Isaiah 46 (and by extension Genesis 15) to refer to the Messiah: “My master my father interpreted this verse of King Messiah, and he called him ‘vulture,’ because he will fly swiftly when his time comes” (Radak on Isaiah 46.11).

[TS]

We are also reminded of a strange thing that Jesus said about himself: “Wherever the body is, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24.28; Luke 17.37) Is it possible to see here an allusion to the covenant of Genesis 15?

[BSI/rp]

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Haftarah: Isaiah 40.27—41.16

The parashah also makes a reference to birds of prey, but it is a very positive one. In Isaiah 40.31 we read “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles [literally, vultures], they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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