Parashat VaYera - November 4th

וירא Vayera

Genesis 18.1— Genesis 22.4

Genesis 18.1-2: God appears to Abraham as three men: Many have seen an appearance of the Messiah in this story. After the men finish eating the meal he prepares for them, two of them go on to Sodom (and in 19.1 and 15 they are identified as two angels while still being called “men” in 19.10, 12, 16). While they go to Sodom, the text says (18.22) that Abraham continued to talk to the Lord. If the one who stays to talk with Abraham is the Lord, then how is it that he is called a man? This is not so strange if we consider that when the Messiah appears in the Tanach he is sometimes called a man. We may recall these passages:

Genesis 32.25, 31: “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. . . . So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’”

Joshua 5.13-14: “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, ‘What does my lord bid his servant?’”

So it may be that Abraham was speaking with the Messiah. We remember also that Jesus once spoke as if he had met Abraham (John 8.56-58).

[BSI/rp]

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Genesis 18.3: “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.” When Abraham speaks after the arrival of his three visitors, does the word “adonai” mean “sirs” or “Lord”? The rabbis said that this statement of Abraham was addressed to God. This is indicated by the qamats sign under the letter nun. In Genesis 19.2: “My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house,” the same word is pointed with the patah sign when Lot is speaking not to God himself but to the two angels. Throughout the Tanach, the pointing of “adonai” with qamats is used only of God. In some older editions of the Tanach, in the margin next to 18.3 is written “holy,” while in the margin next to 19.2 is written “profane.” From the Hebrew grammar in the continuation of the verse it is clear that Abraham is addressing only one and not all three.

[BSI/rp]

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Genesis 18.13-14: “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 wonderful for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Abraham had waited many years for a son, the fulfillment of God’s promise to him. Even though he already had a son, he was not the son God had promised. It is quite likely that Hagar and even Ishmael were sure that soon they would inherit all of Abraham’s property. It would be very natural for them to think that way: Abraham had no other son, and it was very unlikely that he would in the future. But “is anything too wonderful for God”?

We sometimes tend to understand this verse to say that there is nothing too difficult for God. However, the word yipale carries far more meaning than that. Actually it says that there is no miracle that God cannot do. That being the case, we naturally ask, What is a pele (miracle, wonder)?

We see in this story that pele describes the fact that God has the exclusive power to turn death into life! In the story of Abraham and Sarah he brings to the “dead” womb of Sarah; she knows that she is no longer fertile, and so she laughs (as Abraham had) when she hears the news.

It is significant that the word pele appears in places where the scriptures refer the restoration of the nation of Israel (Micah 7.12-15; Zechariah 8.8); indeed, we know that Israel’s restoration is described as resurrection from the dead (see Ezekiel 37).

The first name of the prophesied Messiah is pele (Isaiah 9.6), because this first title expresses his essential nature: to bring life! He it is who takes our death and in its place gives us life.

[BSI/vk]

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Genesis 19.32, 37: “Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring through our father. . . . The first-born bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day.”

The result of this union between Lot and his daughter would be the Moabite nation. Because Ruth, the great grandmother of David, was a Moabite, Jewish tradition referred this “seed” to the Messiah: “’Come, let us make our father drink wine, that we may preserve seed of our father.’ Rabbi Tanchuma said in the name of Rabbi Samuel: ‘The daughters said, “that we may preserve seed of our father.” It is not written “a son,” but “seed,” which is to indicate the seed which is to come from another place. And what seed is it? The King Messiah.’” (Bereshith Rabba, sec. 51, 8)

This Seed seems to appear again in the blessings Boaz receives from the people of Bethlehem: “May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the seed which the Lord will give you from this young woman” (Ruth 4.12).

The “seed” of Lot’s daughter was connected with that of Ruth, Rachel, and Eve because of the uniqueness of the seed in each case, indicated by the word acher. Eve named her son Seth because “God has appointed another seed for me” (Genesis 4.25). Rachel named her son Joseph because “The Lord shall add to me another son” (Genesis 30.24). Since Moab and Ruth are so obviously different, the sages added them to the list of the bearers of that different seed. Commenting on the blessing given to Boaz, “Rabbi Tanchuma said in the name of Rabbi Abba, ‘Preserve the seed of our father’—it doesn’t say ‘son’ but a ‘seed,’ who is coming from a different place. And who is he? He is King Messiah” (Ruth Rabbah 7).

[BSI/rp]

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Genesis 22.1-4: “After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ 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 upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, 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. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off.”

“I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm. That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it—unless it was for nothing that you believed. I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that the Messiah died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15.1-4)

Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. What a glorious truth! What an affirmation of the perfect completion of God’s program of redemption!

For a long time I was puzzled by Paul’s declaration that the Messiah was raised on the third day “as written in the Scriptures.” When I see such a statement, I want to know where it is written. But when I went to look for a place where it says Messiah will rise from the dead on the third day, I do not find it in any direct statement. Yes, Jesus made the comparison to Jonah in the fish for three days (Matthew 12.40), but that is hardly a direct statement about the Messiah, and if Jesus had not said it, we would not have thought of it as a prophecy of his resurrection.

The passage that, for me, comes the closest is in Genesis 22, the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. We remember that at the last minute God intervened, and Abraham sacrificed a ram instead of his son. Even so, Hebrews 11.17 states that “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac.” Even though Abraham did not physically kill his son in the end, in his heart—and in God’s eyes—he actually sacrificed his son. But when did he do that?

I think Abraham sacrificed his son to God when he decided in his heart to obey God’s command. That was probably during the hours after God called him. He slept on the decision that night, and got up early the next morning to go obey God.

The same passage in Hebrews (11.18) tells us that Abraham received Isaac back from the dead, so for Abraham Isaac was actually dead. But when did he get him back from the dead?

Abraham set out with Isaac for the land of Moriah, his son beside him but in his heart already given to God. Genesis 22.4 tells us, “On the third day Abraham saw the place in the distance.” The rest of the story, binding Isaac to the altar, and catching and sacrificing the ram, all happened on that day. Abraham received his son back from the dead on the third day.

In the same way, when God sent his only son to die, he received him back from the dead on the third day.

[BSI/rp]

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Genesis 22.13: “Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” Here we have the important fundamental principle of substitution. God provided a substitute, and what was done to the substitute was considered to have been done to the one who should have died. This will be operative throughout the sacrificial system, and it will be the basis for the final atonement in the blood of the Messiah, who was the complete and acceptable substitute provided by God for all who would accept it in faith.

Rashi comments on the phrase “in place of his son”: “Since it is written ‘he offered him as a burnt offering,’ and nothing is missing in scripture, what is meant by ‘in place of his son’? With his every act of worship, he used to pray ‘May it be your will that this is as if it was done to my son, as if my son was slaughtered, as if his blood has been sprinkled, as if he has had his skin removed, as if he has been burnt as incense and become ashes.’”

[BSI/rp]

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Genesis 22.16: “You have not withheld your son, your only son.” This phrase is repeated by Paul exactly in Romans 8.32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” This shows us that the story of Abraham sacrificing his son is a foreshadowing of the final sacrifice, when God will give his only son for our sins.

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Haftarah: 2 Kings 4.1-37

Shabbat Shalom!

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