TorahScope: Lekh-Lekha

Lekh-Lekha

Get yourself out

Genesis 12:1-17:27
Isaiah 40:27-41:16

“The Father of Faith”


by Mark Huey

By the time one turns to the third Torah reading, Lekh-Lekha, the recorded story of humanity indicates how the Almighty God has had direct contact with certain noted individuals. Despite the fact that considerable history is covered in a relatively short space (Genesis chs. 1-11), we see that after the scrambling of the languages to encourage migration (Genesis 11:7-8), there remained a growing population in Mesopotamia. As Genesis 11 closes, the genealogical trails recorded narrow down to one chosen family, and eventually one individual in Abram/Abraham, who will dominate a great deal of the Scriptural message for future generations (Genesis 11:27-32). Noting the significant amount of faith demonstrated by Abraham, the Apostle Paul would call him in the First Century, “the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).

The Lord Calls Abram

Abraham and his family were natives of the Mesopotamian city of Ur (Genesis 11:28), located in what is today Southern Iraq. Located adjacent to the Euphrates River, Ur was undoubtedly an important commercial center, which received a wide amount of trade extending down into the Persian Gulf. While Lekh-Lekha informs us of how Abraham’s family, presumably including his father Terah and others, had some kind of connection with the Creator God—it is also true that idolatry was rampant in their native land. As Genesis 11 concludes, we find that Terah, his son Abram with wife Sarai, and grandson Lot, departed Ur and moved northward, ultimately settling in Haran on the way to Canaan (Genesis 11:31). Why they settled in Haran is unknown, but it was here where Terah died and left his oldest son Abram with his estate, and perhaps the inclination to continue the journey to Canaan with his wife and nephew.

It is at this juncture that the account turns dramatically to the voice of the Lord commanding Abram to leave not only his country, but his relatives and his father’s house, in order to journey to a special land that He was going to show him:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1-3).

At the time of this command from the Lord, Abram was seventy-five years old and childless (Genesis 12:4-5). He had been an obedient son in leaving Ur. The Lord obviously had His eye upon Abram, and when this dramatic communication came, he must have been overwhelmed with fear. Not only was Abram commanded to leave all of the comforts of his country, but he was given a significant blessing that has been repeated numerous times down throughout the ages (i.e., Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8).

Can you imagine hearing this list of blessings from the Creator God? Here was a seventy-five year old man, who was living in what seems to be a remote part of upper Mesopotamia, who heard that the Almighty was going to make him—a childless husband—into a great nation (l’goy gadol, Genesis 12:2). On top of promising Abram many descendants, God said that He would bless Abram, and make his name great, in order to be a blessing to others. Also stated is how those who blessed Abram would be blessed, and that those who cursed him would be cursed. Perhaps the most important remark made is v’nivreku b’kha kol mishpechot ha’adamah, “and all the clans of the earth through you shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, Alter). In spite of the complications of his being reared in Ur, with its many temptations and having seen many other gods worshipped, Abram knew who this One God was, and heeded His word when it was delivered.

Upon hearing the audible voice of God, and the incredible blessings communicated, Abram was required to exercise some faith or trust in this promise. Abram not only embarked on his journey forward from Haran with his wife Sarai, nephew Lot, and their accumulated possessions—but upon arriving in the Land of Canaan, we see that the Lord appeared to him with another promise, which is that his descendants would be given this land. Abram’s response was to build an altar and worship the Lord, confirming how he was dedicated to the Creator God and wanted his fellow travelers to recognize his faithfulness:

“Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:5-8).

Abram and Sarai in Egypt

Upon arriving in the land of Canaan, the faith that Abram had demonstrated in God began to be tested. Almost immediately, Abram had to survive a regional famine (Genesis 12:10), which required him to actually relocate to Egypt in order to find food for his entourage. While in Egypt, Abram had to contend with the possibility that the Egyptian Pharaoh would admire the beauty of his wife Sarai, and want to include her in his harem. This dilemma caused Abram to take some measures that seem somewhat contradictory to him being a man of faith, indicating that Abram did have a few faults:

“Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.’ It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house” (Genesis 12:9-15).

Departing Canaan, after all of the promises delivered from the Almighty, had to be difficult. After all, God had dynamically affirmed to Abram significant promises to give his descendants such territory. They arrived in Canaan, there was a famine, and to complicate matters, the only known source of food was in Egypt. The customs of the Egyptians were known to Abram, who feared that knowledge of his marriage to Sarai was going to jeopardize his personal survival. Rather than introduce Sarai as his wife, Abram chose to refer to her as his sister, being less than honest. One might justifiably ask why a man of God would subject his wife to such an ordeal.

It is detectable that there was a lack of trust on the part of Abram, in telling Sarai to say that she was his sister. While the ruling Pharaoh thought that Sarai was only Abram’s sister, he was treated well and was given livestock and servants from him (Genesis 12:16). We further see how a plague hit the Pharaoh because of him keeping Sarai, who then found out that Sarai was Abram’s wife. Consequently, Abram and his company were escorted out of Egypt (Genesis 12:17-20).

To many modern-day followers of the Holy One, the actions of Abram in Egypt are quite perplexing. The person commonly regarded to be “the father of the faith,” was not sternly admonished for his decisions in the Scriptural text. Did God condone Abram’s actions in telling Sarai to call herself his sister, considering the real possibility of Abram’s execution by Pharaoh? While speculation has surely been offered over the centuries by both Jewish and Christian readers, the key promise delivered by God (Genesis 12:1-3) would undoubtedly have to override whatever human or mortal actions might intervene. It would be fulfilled no matter who would try to stop it. Abram would have multitudes of descendants. If he were killed by the Pharaoh, then it would prove that the Creator God was untrustworthy.

Still, one can only imagine the conversations that took place as Abram and Sarai, after the uncomfortable situation in Egypt, journeyed back east toward the Negev and Canaan (Genesis 13:1). They might have had additional wealth and an expanding entourage of servants (Genesis 13:2-4), but there was still a growing faith and trust in the God they served that needed to develop further.

Abram and Lot

Upon Abram’s return to the place of the altar he had originally built (Genesis 13:3), he must have worshipped and praised the Holy One for guiding him and his family through the famine ordeal. But another challenge was looming. With the additional wealth and expansion of herds belonging to both Abram and Lot, the herds needed to be separated so that both growing families could find sufficient grazing land. Rather than the elder Abram choosing where to ultimately settle, and sending Lot on his way, Abram elected to let his nephew have the choice on where he desired to raise and graze his herds (Genesis 13:5-12).

Abram had to have absolute trust in the Lord, as he deferred to Lot’s decision on where he wanted to relocate. Lot was naturally attracted to the lush and abundantly watered land in the valley of the Jordan. But, Abram was totally content in Lot’s decision, because after all, God had promised the land of Canaan to his descendants. As Lot moved himself to Sodom, there is a narrative prompt informing readers how “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD” (Genesis 13:13).

As Abram and Lot went on their separate ways, and Abram began to establish himself within this new land—the only major remaining challenge was the thought of descendants and for him and the aging Sarai. As the two of them got older, the likelihood of the two of them bearing children was becoming an issue. So to perhaps ease some of their concerns, the Lord once again confirmed to Abram that he was doing the right thing. The Promised Land would be theirs for perpetuity, and they would have great numbers of descendants:

“The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.’ Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 13:14-18).

After hearing about the magnitude of his descendants, and surveying the land through its length to breadth, Abram decided to relocate from his perch along the heights between Bethel and Ai, to further south to some land near Hebron (Genesis 13:18). Upon arriving in his new location, faithful Abram acknowledged the blessings of the Lord, and built another altar to worship and praise Him. After having received God’s blessings of favor in the land, surviving through a famine in hostile Egypt, being sent back to Canaan with additional wealth, and resolving the growing disputes with Lot’s herdsmen—Abram was now in the area where he ultimately would reside and be buried. Yet, Abram would be significantly tested, as his nephew Lot encountered trouble in Sodom.

Wars in the Middle East are not just a recent occurrence, but have been present throughout history. A regional conflict erupted between various local kings, with the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah caught up in the fighting (Genesis 14:1-9). In the midst of the fighting, the two cities were vacated (Genesis 14:10) and looted by the invaders (Genesis 14:11). Lot was actually one of those who was taken prisoner, as he was living in Sodom. Upon hearing about Lot’s capture, faithful and loyal Abram took rescuing actions to save Lot and his family from certain demise:

“They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people” (Genesis 14:12-16).

Despite difficult odds, the aged Abram saw that an expedition, or in modern-day terms a “strike team,” was assembled to go rescue his nephew. Obviously, Abram did not need to risk his own life and those of his companions to save Lot—but by faith in the Lord, and displaying some skill, Abram not only defeated the marauders, but returned to Sodom with some booty and prisoners of war (Genesis 14:16). At this point in our Torah portion, we see a definite peek into the faithful heart of Abram:

“Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ He gave him a tenth of all. The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.’ Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share’”” (Genesis 14:17-24).

Interestingly, the king of Sodom, and the king of Salem, Melchizedek, went out to greet Abram upon his return. The contrasting actions of these two kings is indicated by the disposition of their hearts. The reluctantly grateful king of Sodom wanted some of the spoils of war, but requested only the prisoners, seemingly being generous in not wanting the goods taken. Abram was not impressed, as he simply requested that those who fought be rewarded with a legitimate division of the spoils taken.

On the other hand, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, was obviously a follower of the One True God, the same as Abram. It is understood by Abram’s response to the praise bestowed upon the Most High God, that he knew how he and Melchizedek both honored and worshipped the same God. By giving Melchizedek a tenth of his spoils, Abram established a precedent for what developed into the process of the tithe to be given to the Lord. Abram did not want to be yoked to the wicked king of Sodom in any way, but instead, wanted all to know that his allegiance, praise, and worship were to the Lord, the One who had led him on his successful expedition to rescue Lot. As we can see, the faith of Abram was becoming more apparent as revealed. Abram’s special relationship with the Holy One was becoming obvious to all in the region.

Abram Reckoned as Righteous

Following the rescue of Lot, the nagging problem of what to do about children still remained for Abram and Sarai. This couple did not have a physical heir, and the biological clock was surely continuing to tick, as their servant Eliezar of Damascus was the only recognized heir. Had not God promised a physical heir? If so, would this even be possible at such a late stage in their lives?

God was surely pleased with Abram’s handling of the various testing events he had experienced. In His mercy to Abram, He saw that the concern of children for Abram and Sarai was unrelenting. Upon returning from the encounters with the two kings, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision, and specified much more than the surety of Abram having a physical heir. Abram is stated to have been reckoned righteous because of his belief in the Holy One:

“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.’ Abram said, ‘O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.’ Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:1-6).

The word of Genesis 15:6, “And he trusted in HASHEM, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (ATS), is one of the most important verses in the entire Bible for understanding the relationship of people to their Creator. In Genesis 15:6, the verb aman is employed, which in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice) is defined by CHALOT to regard “rely upon (God)” and “believe in” Him.[1] The Septuagint rendered this with the verb pisteuō, “to trust, trust to or in, put faith in, rely on, believe in a person or thing” (LS).[2] While it is most common to see Genesis 15:6 rendered with some form of “believe” in English Bibles, it is not outside of the realm of possibilities to render it with “have faith.” It is upon this critical verse, Genesis 15:6, that James and Paul would both appeal to emphasize a life of trust in the Heavenly Father (James 2:23; Galatians 3:6; Romans 4:3, 20-22).

One of the biggest mistakes that many of today’s Christians can make, when encountering the Tanakh or the Old Testament, is thinking that it presents us with a God who demands that His people work to earn their salvation. While God surely does expect good works and actions of His people, the thrust of Genesis 15:6 is that belief/trust/faith in Him is what reckons a person righteous as one of His own. Abram was confronted with a situation, in being promised by God multitudes of descendants, where he must have had many doubts about it ever taking place. He and his wife were both elderly people! Yet, much of his human uncertainty had to have been overcome—as he placed himself entirely in God’s hands—because we are told how “Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6, NLT). The Apostles would later apply Genesis 15:6 to a life of required faith and trust that people must not only place in the Heavenly Father, but in His Son sent to die to atone for sinful humanity.

The Conception of Ishmael

Within Lekh-Lekha, we see how Abram and Sarai concluded that they would not be able to conceive a child, due to Sarai’s advanced age. Instead, Sarai recommended that Abram take her handmaiden Hagar to conceive a child. Perhaps, they must have thought, the physical heir from Abram’s loins need not come from Abram’s wife herself. So, the two of them resorted to a local, Ancient Near Eastern, pagan practice. And, while Abraham and Hagar were able to conceive a child, it notably resulted in Sarai despising Hagar:

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me’” (Genesis 16:1-5).

Was the act of Abram impregnating Hagar an act of faith, or of faithlessness? It is noted later that God would actually bless Ishmael (Genesis 17:20), and that from Ishmael would come forth a great nation. Yet in his letter to the Galatians in the First Century, the Apostle Paul would use the analogy of Hagar conceiving Ishmael, to dissuade the new, non-Jewish Believers from being circumcised as proselytes (Galatians 4:21-31). Abram impregnating Hagar has never had a great reputation in the Holy Scriptures, and it is a negative lesson from which all are to learn. Rather than Abram and Sarai waiting to let a child be naturally conceived via their normal sexual relations—they instead force things by having Abram impregnate Sarai, by which a less-than-legitimate child would be born. While Abram is indeed to be regarded as “the father of faith,” he was human and did not always act according to faith.

Abram and Sarai Renamed

Lekh-Lekha concludes as an eternal covenant was made with Abram (Genesis ch. 17), as the Lord once again appeared to and spoke to him. Abram was not only promised that from himself would come “a multitude of nations,” hamon goyim (Genesis 17:4, 5), but it is here when Avram was renamed Avraham or Abraham. Not only would a plentitude of descendants come forth from Abraham, but a child of promise would come forth from the womb of Sarai, renamed Sarah:

“Now 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 blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.’ Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’ God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations’…Then 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 indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before You!’ But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him’” (Genesis 17:1-9, 15-19).

A physical reminder, circumcision of the foreskin of the male sexual organ, would be issued upon those who would be the beneficiaries of the covenant cut between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:22-27). While physical circumcision is to be regarded as a badge of honor upon those who practice it, as it connects a man to the Patriarch Abraham—circumcision can also be a badge of dishonor, considering all of the unfaithful acts that can be committed with the male member. Both faithful acts to God, and less-than-faithful acts, are seen demonstrated by Abraham in our Torah portion. Both faithful and unfaithful acts have been demonstrated by those men in history who have been physically circumcised (cf. Romans 2:25-29).

Abraham Remembered

Lekh-Lekha is a rather comprehensive Torah reading, with many events witnessed that will inform those studying the remainder of the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Students receive an incredible overview of key trials that ultimately led the chosen Abraham, to be regarded as “the father of faith.” Abraham was uniquely selected by God for this role. While he had his faults, Abraham proved that he was a man who had to place great confidence in his Creator, as the challenges he faced steadily grew. Abraham has left us an example that has stood the test of time. The author of Hebrews lauds the faith of Abraham and Sarah, as they are noted as persons who acted upon the steadfast trust that they placed in the God who called them, not quite knowing what was going to occur or where they were specifically going:

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE [Genesis 15:5-6; 22:17]” (Hebrews 11:8-12).

As you have reviewed the testimonies of Abraham and Sarah, while these two were not perfect people, they did walk by faith and they are examples that we are to follow as Believers in Yeshua. This is because born again Believers, by faith, are to be those who look beyond this temporal realm to the eternal. Hebrews 11:16 says that “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

By contemplating the faith and actions of Abraham, we should each be inspired to walk in a manner that exhibits trust in the Lord, and a secure belief in the reliability of His Word and promises. A clear result of this trust are to be actions of obedience generated when we hear the voice of the Lord, and we serve Him in the world. Perhaps, as we edge closer and closer to the return of the Messiah Yeshua—which certainly requires great faith (cf. 2 Peter 3:4)—a few of us may demonstrate a faith of greater proportions than Abraham? If this is at all possible, then this would also mean that the mistakes made by Abraham must be quantitatively avoided.


NOTES

[1] William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), 20.

[2] LS, 641.

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