In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Chayei Sarah – Part 1 
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam. We’re continuing the study of the weekly portion of the reading of the Torah with Brad TV. I am encouraged by seeing the responses that are coming on Brad TV for this study of the Torah. It’s unusual, Jews have been reading the Torah for already for thousands of years.
And during each year, the Torah is read publicly in every synagogue from beginning to end. We started a few weeks ago with the portion of Genesis, and then we went to the portion of Noah, and then we went to the portion of Abraham Lech Lecha from Genesis chapter 12. And then we were in Vayera, Abraham continues with the circumcision and then with the sacrifice of his son, Isaac in chapter 22. And now we are in the portion that’s called in Hebrew, “Chayei Sarah” The Life of Sarah.
We’re in chapter 23 of the book of Genesis from verse 1. And the first thing we find out is that Sarah dies, old. She dies at, 127 years of age. This was the life of Sarah, that’s the first verse of chapter 23 of Genesis. Now, Sarah was the Matriarch. She came with Abraham from Babylon to Assyria, then to the land of Canaan and went through all the ordeals and the tests and the issues together with Abraham and his camp in the land of Canaan. So she is the Matriarch of our faith. Just like Abraham is the father of faith, she’s the mother of faith because she, like Abraham, walked with the Lord.
Even though everybody makes mistakes and Abraham made mistakes and Sarah made mistakes, but they walked with the Lord and they became models of faith, of hospitality, of hope, of tenacity, not giving up, no matter what. And now Abraham is faced with the need to bury his wife. Now I want you to remember, The promise, that God made to anyone more times than any other promise, is among the promises that he made to Abraham.
And from the promises made to Abraham, two of them are repeated. One is repeated seven times, and that is, that he is going to give him a seed from Sarah, a legal seed that will carry on, all the promises that God gave him. The second promise that is repeated in the Bible more times, even than the seven times, that the seed promise appears to Abraham, is the promise of the land, in the whole Torah. It’s repeated more than 20 times, in the book of Genesis alone, It’s repeated several times.
So, regarding the land, God tells Abraham in chapter 15 of Genesis to walk throughout the land, and wherever you walk and it’ll be yours. I’m going to give it to you. I’m going to give you the land of the Canaanites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hebrews, and the Jebusites, and the Hittites. Oh, that’s a big promise. Now Sarah dies, She gave birth to Isaac when she was 92 years old, now she’s dead.
Abraham Buries Sarah
Abraham doesn’t own one inch of the land, He has no land. He’s a Sojourner, a foreigner, a tourist, in the land that God gave him as an everlasting inheritance as an everlasting possession. And now he’s got to find a place to bury his wife? I want you to understand the dilemma that we are facing as Bible students and the dilemma that Abraham faced in reality. See, God promised, he promised to give him a seed, and it took many years of waiting, crying, praying, repeating, saying God, you know I’m going to die as an old man and I still don’t have a seed. And Eliezer, my old servant is going to be my heir.
That’s in chapter 15, where it says of Abraham that he believed God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness, a very important text also referred to in the new Testament. So now Sarah dies and not one inch of land is his legally, as a private possession. You have to have a lot of faith in God. You have to have a very close relationship with God to be able to sustain the stress, from having promises, repeated promises, promises after promises that God is going to give you the land. And the land borders are given to him.
And several different borders were actually given to him, from Dan to Beersheba, from the rivers in the north, from the Euphrates and the Tigris in the north to the river of Egypt and various borders are given to Abraham in the book of Genesis. But still, not one inch of land is in his possession, but he has to bury his wife. So in chapter 23 of Genesis, I’m going to read actually chapter 23 of Genesis, and I’m going to read from the beginning of chapter 23. For a few verses, just to put you in the picture.
Sarah lived 127 years. These were the years of the life of Sarah. So Sarah died in Kiriath-arba. Kirjath-arba, which is Hebron Today, it’s Hebron, actually today, dear brothers and sisters, we have two cities adjacent one to the other. One is a Jewish city, called Kirjath-arba like the text here in Genesis. And the Arab city, which is predominantly Palestinian , hostile to Israel and hostile to Jews in Hebron.
So Kirjath-arba, is the Hebrew name of Hebron. So they lived there, right next to Hebron, by the Oaks of Mamre, where the camp of Abraham was. And Sarah dies, he’s got to find somebody to sell him a piece of land. So he goes, to downtown Hebron, which was a Hittite city. The Hittites actually came from the central mountains of Anatolia, Turkey of today. Right on top of the mountain, they had their capital Hattusha. And archeological digs have been carried on and still new digs are being carried on right now, just as we speak. That’s where the Hittites came from.
And in the new Testament, that part of the country is called Asia minor. So Abraham comes to Hebron and goes downtown, among the sons of Heth, the Hittites. And these are his words, Verse 4 of chapter 23:
“I am a foreigner, and a visitor among you. Give me property, for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” – Genesis 23 verse 4 [NKJV]
The sons of Heth, I mean, I can picture it. I’ve been to Hebron, literally hundreds and hundreds of time inside and outside on the Jewish side, on the Arab side, in the marketplace, in the Casbah of Hebron. In fact, two years ago, we almost got kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists when we were on the Arab side, we were inside the Casbah and we almost got kidnapped. Luckily, we were smart enough to get away from there and avoid being kidnapped. So, it’s a dangerous place, even today.
So, the sons of Heth are sitting there, I can picture them sitting in the coffee shop there, drinking coffee, smoking their Nargila, their waterpipe, and talking. And here comes this Abraham, a strange old man, who is over a hundred years old, and says that, his wife has died, and that he needs to find a place to bury her. And that he wants to buy a place. The Hittites are not stupid. Hear us, my Lord, Ephron, the Hittite says to Abraham, hear us, my Lord, you are a mighty prince among us, bury your dead in the choices of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place that you may bury your dead.
Arabs Are Generous
Oh wow. It’s so Middle Eastern, even today, even today, if I were to go now to the old city, in Jerusalem, and visit some of my friends, and wanted to buy something from them. I can give you their names. I can give you the shops. Say, I want to buy something, not something cheap. Maybe some archeological artifact, maybe a glass jar, you know, from the time of Jesus, beautiful, complete, not broken. And I want to buy it as a gift. Let’s say for my wife, the merchant will, who knows me for many years would say, Joseph, what is it between me and you, we are friends, we are brothers, take it to your wife, share it as a gift from me and you together, for your wife.
I have to negotiate backwards and forwards to get to a deal where I can legally pay for it, and not feel obligated or indebted to my friend. That’s the situation here. If you want to learn how to do business in the Middle East, you have to learn it from our Arab neighbors, from friends, and sometimes brothers in the faith. So the Hittite, Ephron, tells him, you’re a prince among us. Realize Abraham has a huge encampment right outside of Hebron. And when I say huge, remember that in chapter 14 of Genesis, he had 318 soldiers between the age of 20 to 50, that rose up, chasing after the kings of the north to rescue Lot, and his family that were captured and taken up to the north past Damascus.
So if you have an encampment with 318 soldiers, and they’re between the age of 20 and 50, it’s likely that they’re married, and likely to have at least one child, so there already a camp of over a thousand people. And he was an evangelist, those are the souls which he made in Heron, to make souls in Hebrew is to evangelize. Now, certainly for short that is what missionaries do in Hebrew.
So we’re giving you the place, your choice, where you want to bury your wife. It’s yours, you can bury your wife there. But Abraham knows the Middle East well, He knows the people of this land, the seven or eight different nations that live here and jockey with one another and compete with one another and fight with one another. There’s nothing new in this place between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river. The Land of Israel.
Abraham heard this very magnanimous offer to take any place you want to bury. And he has to be magnanimous himself. So in verse 7 of chapter 23, Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth, and he spoke to them saying, if it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, listen to me and meet with Ephron, the son of the Zohar for me. That he may give me the cave of Makhpelah, which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me in full price as property for a burial place among you.
What We Learn From Abraham
What do we learn about Abraham here, that is very important for us today, especially for our generation, my generation, maybe even the younger generation? Abraham, before he went to negotiate with the Hittites, already knew exactly what he wants. He knew who the owner of the field is. He knew who the owner of the cave is. He already knew what the right price of it is, and he was already focused. He did his homework well, he focused on what he needed to do.
So he says, I want you, the sons of Heth of this community, of the Hittites in Hebron, to influence Ephron. He’s right there, Ephron is right there with them. To influence Ephron, you know, to help me to convince him, to sell me the cave of Makhpelah at the end of his field, specific place, specific product, and I’m willing to pay full price. That is a tempting offer by Abraham through the sons of Heth to Ephron. I’m willing to pay full price because in the Middle East, you’re never willing to pay full price. We haggle, we haggle.
Like my son one time brought down the price of a, handmade, embroidered Arab dress many years ago when he was about 10, 12, or 13 years old. He went with his mother and his sister to the Old City, and my wife liked this dress and the guy wanted $80 for it. That was many years ago, that was real money. Those were the prices at that time. Today, it would be several hundred dollars for a dress like that.
Anyway, my son who was a young boy, and he started to negotiate with the Arab merchant and brought him down to $8. He got a 90% discount. And in the end, my wife didn’t want the dress. The merchant was very, very angry, but you haggle, you negotiate, that’s how business is done in the Middle East. But Abraham is a gentlemen and he knows the character. And he understands the implications of what will happen if he asks for a discount, and what would happen after he bought the field and the cave. And after he died, what would happen? So he’s not willing to pay less than what the whole community witnesses.
It’s not a deal between him and Ephron. It’s a deal that he does publicly with the Hittite community in Hebron. And I’m willing to pay full price. Now, Ephron dwelled among the sons of Heth, and Ephron, the Hittite answered Abraham, Ephron was right there with all the people. He answered Abraham. No, my Lord hear me. I give you the field and the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you, bury your dead.
Abraham Won’t Take Land as a Gift
In other words, Ephron is saying, I’m giving it to you, feel free. You have all these witnesses, the sons of Heth, the community of the Hittites in Hebron, they’re witnesses. It’s yours. Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land, again, a second time, and spoke to Ephron within the hearing of the people of the land saying, if you give it to me, please hear me. I will give you money for the field, take it from me. And I will bury my dead there.
In other words, I’m not going to take it as a gift. I will pay for it. Ephron answered Abraham saying to him, my Lord, listen to me, The land is worth 400 shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? Bury your dead. Abraham heard Ephron and to make the story short, Abraham pays the 400 pieces of silver for that cave. Now, why is this so important? Because we have three different occasions, three different occasions in which this cave plays an important role. First of all, the burial of Sarah, which is here in chapter 23 of Genesis. And then we have it again in chapter 25, which is still a part of our weekly reading portion.
When Abraham dies, we read in chapter 25 verse 9, and his sons, the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael, buried him in the cave of Makhpelah, which is before Mamre in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar, the Hittite, the field, which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth. There, Abraham was buried with Sarah, his wife. In other words, the whole story is captured again, encapsuled in three verses in chapter 25 when Abraham dies.
You know, the purchase of the cave becomes an important incident for understanding Abraham’s character, and the character of the inhabitants of the land of that time. And this thing is repeated again, when Jacob dies, when Jacob dies, before he dies, he makes his son Joseph and Joseph’s sons swear, which I’m reading in chapter 49 of Genesis verses 29 to 32, where he says:
“Bury me with my fathers, in the cave, that is in the field of Ephron, the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.” – Genesis 49:29-32 [NKJV]
The point that we see in the burial of Sarah and in the burial of Abraham himself by sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and then Jacob, his grandson who is in Egypt, he dies in Egypt and he makes his children swear that they’re going to take him back from Egypt to the land of Canaan and bury him in the cave that was purchased from Ephron, the Hittite . That’s in Genesis 29 verses 29, I mean, 49 verses 29 to 32. There must be something very significant with this cave. Why? Because Abraham bought it with lap, with money, at full price that was asked without negotiation in public, in front of the sons of Heth in Hebron.
We Need to Learn a Principle From Abraham
He has what we call a taboo, a deed, a purchase deed that this land belongs to him. He paid for it. It’s very important. We have here now in the Land of Israel, essentially a war that has lasted more than a hundred years already with the Palestinian, the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians. And it’s over land, not only over land, but it’s also over land. We need to learn from Abraham, our father on this issue. Now we need to learn a principle from this text. We need to learn the principle from this text.
That great change is never the work of one generation, especially in the Middle East. And none of us will live to see the full fruits of our work, of our endeavors. This statement was made by one of the great rabbis, the ex-chief rabbi of great Britain. Yeah, none of us actually finish the work that we started. We depend on the next generation, especially when we’re talking about spiritual work, especially when you’re talking about, you know, building the community based on biblical principles and on faith in God and in Yeshua HaMoshiah, in the Land of Israel.
The next generation will see the fruits of the seed that you have planted in your youth. And I can tell you about Netivyah, this is the situation, I am already an old man. Soon, I’m going to be, in a few months, 76 years old. I started this ministry when I was in my twenties and now the next generation that was born and raised here, and even the grandchildren of people that I taught, and discipled are the leadership. And they are doing a much better job than I do. Now, all these portions of the Torah are long, They have so many important stories, so many different aspects to the text. And there are several chapters. And I only covered the one chapter of this portion. I may do a second, second a session for the same portion that will be broadcast in the same week, but God bless all of you.
And thank God that Brad TV is doing this project. It will enrich everybody. Anyone who watches these shows will be enriched. Enriched in his knowledge of the Bible and enriched in his understanding of how God works, and how we as human beings work. God bless all of you, Shalom from Jerusalem.
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Chayei Sarah – Part 2 
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom. My name is Joseph Shulam. These portions of the Torah that contained two, three, four chapters of reading, are so rich. The book of Genesis is one of the richest books of the whole Bible, and one of the most important books of the whole Bible, because it gives us foundation for everything from the creation of the world, to the relationship of God, with his children, with all of humanity, but specifically with the choice that he made of Abraham.
And so, we are continuing with the second session for this portion of the Torah that is called “The Life of Sarah, Chayei Sarah,” that starts in Genesis 23: Verse 1, and ends in Genesis 25: Verse 18, with the death and the burial of Abraham. But I only covered Chapter 23, so I want to cover the rest of this week’s portion, “The Life of Sarah”, that starts in Genesis 23:1 and ends at Genesis 25:18.
And uh, I want to go to the second important texts of uh, this portion of the Torah and that is Abraham’s biggest worry. He waited for decades, literally for decades, for God to fulfill his promise and he waited until the Sarah was 90 years old and he was a hundred years old when God finally kept his promise and gave Abraham a seed from Sarah: Isaac!
Sarah laughed. Isaac in Hebrew means to laugh. Sarah laughed when she heard the angels say, “Oh, you will have a child.” She said, “I am already finished my career as a woman that can bear children, and you’re telling me that I will have a chance?” She laughed. She had doubts. It was funny for her that she at the age of 90 will have a child, but she does. Isaac is born. Isaac is born and, uh when he’s 40 years old, he’s still not married. In the ancient world, that was very strange. Now, why was he not married? In the former portion, not in “Chayei Sarah”, in “Vayera”, we find out that Sarah wants to kick out Hagar and Ishmael. Hagar was her handmaid for years. She gave Hagar to Abraham to have a son and Ishmael is born from Abraham and Hagar.
And now, Sarah has a son, her own son, and uh, she wants Hagar and Ishmael to be kicked out. And she tells Abraham, Abraham says, “no, no, no, no way.” And then God intervenes, “I liked that very much”, and says, “Abraham, listen to your wife, Sarah. Kick out Hagar and Ishmael.” And the question is, why did Sarah want this? She wasn’t a mean woman. Why did she want to kick out Ishmael? Because she saw Ishmael playing around with Isaac. That is in last week’s portion.
And so there are concerns, Sarah is concerned for the development of Isaac as a man, because this phrase “playing around with” is a sexual phrase. Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph with playing around, the same word, letzahek, same root as Isaac: letzahek. So Ishmael was letzahek with Isaac, played around with Isaac. Sarah sees it and she says, “No, this boy, Ishmael, and his mother are getting out of here. We don’t want them around here.” But now, we are in the next portion in “Chayei Sarah” and we find out in Chapter 24 that Abraham is very worried. Before he was worried that he doesn’t have a son, now he’s worried he has a son, but his son is still not married at the age of 40.
So he says, “You know what? We sent Jacob to Laban, to Syria, to the north, to Haran, to bring a wife for Isaac. We sent Isaac there. Let’s bring a wife from there, from our family up north, for Isaac, also.” So he gives instruction to his old servant and loads him up with camels, with goods, with cloth from Egypt, with gold, with silver, with bracelets. We hear about this in Chapter 24.
Abraham’s Servant Goes to Get Wife for Issac
And this camel caravan, with this old man Eliezer, go up north to find a bride for Isaac and old wise man, Eliezer, devises a test. It says, “If I meet any girl, I’m going to test her to see what quality she is.” So he goes to the well where the shepherd girls come with the flocks and he sees this beautiful girl. He doesn’t know yet who she is. And he says, “Young lady, let me drink.” And in his mind, the test was if she says, “I will draw water for you to drink from the well, but I will also draw water for your caravan, for your camels, this will be the right girl.” It shows that she’s thinking, that she’s considerate, that she cares about people, and she cares about the animals, and she’s a shepherd girl, a working girl, that’s the kind of wife I want for Isaac.
And, she’s very young. So, he gets to the well outside of Haran and he sees this beautiful girl says like that Verse 16 of Chapter 24, “Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold a virgin.” No man had known her and she went down to the well, filled her pitcher, of water that means, and came up, and the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.” And she said, “Drink, my Lord.” Then, she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand and gave him a drink and when she had finished giving him a drink she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” Wow. I had that test and this girl passed the test.
Wow. The first girl he meets. But, it also happens to be the chief’s family. She’s from Sarah’s family. She’s a grand, I guess a grand grand granddaughter, of Laban. the brother of Sarah. So she gives drink to the camels, and when they finish drinking, the old man takes out a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel. Half a shekel would be, I would guess like half an ounce, maybe more, maybe an ounce of pure gold.
And he says, “Whose daughter are you?” and she tells him, and she invites him to her father’s house to lodge. And, the old servant of Abraham goes there and he negotiates for Rebekah! And the negotiation goes on and Laban is not going to let him go with Rebekah until he gets all the gold and all the gifts and all the silver and all the wealth that Eliezer brings with him as a dowry. Laban wants to get it so he’s holding the old man up. And then, in Verse 49 of Chapter 24, we read the following text: Verse 49 of, uh Chapter 24 of Genesis.
Now, the old man is getting worried and he is being delayed. He wants to take Rebekah back to the land of Canaan to the house of Isaac who is now the boss. Abraham died, his mother died, Sarah died. He’s the big boss, he’s 40 years old, unmarried. Very worrisome situation in the Middle East now, and then even more so in biblical times. And this is what Eliezer says to Laban: “Now, if you will deal with me kindly and truly, and deal with my master kindly and truly, tell me, if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left hand, that I want to go somewhere else, find somebody else. If you are fooling around, playing with me, and delaying me and delaying me and delaying me, and you’re not letting me take the girl to uh, the land of Canaan to marry Isaac, then, let me know.”
First Appearance of the Phrase “Chesed v’Emet” in the Bible
But, the phrase that he is used here in the English is, “deal with me kindly and truly with my master and with me.” This phrase in the Hebrew text is, “Chesed v’Emet.” Translated normally, “Grace and Truth”. But, in the Hebrew Bible, the phrase, exact phrase, “Grace and Truth”, appears at least 20 times in the psalms and in the historical writings, and in the Proverbs, it appears at least 20 times. This is actually the first time that it appears in the Bible in our portion, “Chayei Sarah,” Chapter 24, Verse 49.
Why is this so important, folks? It’s so important because we have this text that is totally misunderstood by Christians and the text appears in the gospel of John, Chapter 1. It appears in Verse 17. Grace and Truth. “Chári Kai Alítheia” in Greek. And in the Hebrew, it appears 20 times in the Old Testament, but never in the English King James and I don’t know about the Koreans. I apologize for my Korean brothers and sisters. I don’t read Korean.
Grace and Truth Came From Yeshua
It never appears in the Old Testament the exact same way, same translation, as in John Chapter 1, Verse 17, and why? The text says like this in Chapter 1, John 1:17. “The law was given through Moses and Grace and Truth came from Jesus Christ.” That’s Verse 17 of John, Chapter 1. So, the Christian translators were thinking, “How could grace and truth exist in the Old Testament 20 times, in the Torah several times, when Grace and Truth came from Jesus Christ?”
Grace and Truth Cannot Exist in Old Testament
And so, before Jesus Christ, there cannot be any Grace and Truth in the Old Testament. But, there is! Chesed v’Emet, there is! But already in the Septuagint, that is a pre-Christian translation into Greek, already then, they played with the translation, either then or sometime in the second, third, fourth, or fifth century AD. And, uh, the Hebrew is still the Hebrew. They couldn’t play with the Hebrew. The Hebrew was in the hands of the Jews, not in the hands of the Christians. So, what do we do? What does it mean?
Grace and Truth came from, not through, like the law came through Moses. It wasn’t his. He was an agent of the law. But Grace and Truth, the source of Grace and Truth, came from Jesus Christ. That’s what John tells us. But, what is Grace and Truth doing here? Grace and Truth means if you are dealing with me graciously and fairly, yeah? Truthfully, then let me know. And in Psalms, it appears in several Messianic Psalms, as well.
Maybe one place in some of the modern English translations, they kept it in one place: in the Messianic Psalm. But Grace and Truth are two conflicting elements. If I go to the market now over here Machneyuda in Jerusalem and I want to buy a kilo of walnuts and, I pay for a kilo and I get a kilo. That’s true. That’s true weight and fair dealing, yeah? However, if the merchant likes me and he puts in the bag, not one kilo, I pay for one kilo, but he gives me one kilo, 100 grams, bonus, that’s grace! You can’t have Grace and Truth co-existing at the same time, on the same occasion, except in Jesus Christ.
Grace and Truth Are Embedded in Yeshua
Because in Him, God’s grace and God’s truth are embedded in his preexistence to the creation of the world. They’re embedded in God’s program for redemption of mankind. They’re embedded in the character and in the mission of the Messiah that comes to fulfill our lack, our shortcomings, by His grace, and He therefore pays the full price for our redemption as human beings. It’s a big topic. I don’t want to carry on over this topic. Maybe, I’ll give a lesson on another occasion on Brad TV, dealing with this issue.
But for now, read the word of God. Every week, we will tell you what we will be reading in every synagogue and read the word of God. The next portion starts actually in Chapter 25 of Genesis, Verse 19. And again, it’s a very, very important portion and it’s called “Toldot.” The history, the genealogy of Isaac, of the history of events with Isaac, starts in Chapter 25, Verse 18. I suggest that you read from Chapter 23, Verse 1, and finish in Chapter 25, Verse 18 and keep up this way. You will read most of the Bible during the year. God bless all of you and bless Brad TV for broadcasting these teachings from Jerusalem. God bless you. Shalom.
Joseph Shulam: How to Keep Good Relations With Your Neighbors 
Our world is still plagued with the coronavirus and every week we read the Torah portion (Parashat Hashavua) and the portion from the prophets (The Haftarah), and as disciples of Yeshua we also read from the New Testament. This week’s readings are: Genesis 23:1-25:18, 1 Kings 1:1-31, Matthew 1:1-17; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57.
The Torah portion is called Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah. Although the parasha is called Chayei Sarah, we read in this portion about the death of Sarah. The most significant portion of this Torah reading on Shabbat is Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpela in Hebron.
If you visit Israel and want to see the Cave of Machpela in Hebron, it is possible to go to Hebron and see and enter into the tombs of Abraham and Sarah and Rebecca, and Isaac, and Jacob and Leah his wife.
The building on top of the Cave of Machpela was built by Herod the Great, the same Herod who had John the Baptist’s head served to his mistress according to her request. The building that stands on top of the Cave of Machpela is one of the oldest buildings in the world that is in continues use since around about 20 B.C.E.
The Cave of Machpela is considered a holy place since the days that Abraham purchased it from the Hittite Ephron who owned that plot of land and the cave was on his land.
The story of Abraham’s negotiation with Ephron the Hittite over the purchase of the Cave of Machpela is a true lesson in doing business in the Middle East. Let me analyze for you what is going on in this deal Here are some of the elements of Abraham’s behavior with the Hittites in Hebron.
First, who are these Hittites?
I must say that until the late 19th Century A.D. many of the Bible scholars and even historians of the Middle East didn’t think that there was such a nation as the Hittites.
The Hittites had an empire, a very powerful and highly-developed empire in midst of the Anatolian mountains. They flourished just around the 16th and 18th Century B.C.E. The Hittites were in competition and conflict with Egypt, that was a great empire at the same time.
The capital of the Hittite empire was Hettusa in northern Anatolia. The Hittite Empire reached its highest point of power in the 14th Century B.C.E. Like every empire, the Hittites had aspirations for expansion toward the land of Canaan and also had a conflict with Egypt.
In the land of Israel, the Hittites had some famous cities. Among the Hittite cities was Hatzor in the Galilee, seated on the main road leading north toward Mesopotamia.
Another Hittite City, Beit Yerach (The House of the Moon) was situated at the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Of course we learn from the story of Abraham that the Hittites were also settled in Hebron.
For us to understand what is going on in the days of Abraham in the land of Canaan we must remember that the land of Canaan was first of all a kind of less-important Egyptian province.
The Land of Canaan was the only land bridge between three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. The two main highways of the ancient world passed right through between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and even along the banks and the mountain crests on the other side of the Jordan river.
One of these two highways (roads) was called the Way of the Sea. The Way of the Sea went from Egypt north along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, up to mount Carmel that blocked the passage north, and there at the foot of Mount Carmel the Way of the Sea turned east across the Jezreel Valley, and at the foot of the Sea of Galilee crossed the Jordan River and went up to Damascus and on to Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Babylon.
The other highway came out of Egypt, going across the Sinai desert and across the Negev desert onward and to the east of the city of Arab, and then crossed to the other side of the Dead Sea and continued north along the Jordan River to Damascus and northward. In this narrow strip of land, that is between 40 to 80 miles wide we read in the book of Genesis of seven nations that held possession of city states in the land of Canaan.
Jerusalem was a Jebusite city, and there were areas of the land that were held by the Amorites, and other areas were under the control of the Girgashites. There were also the Philistines, who had five city states along the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, cities like Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza, Gath, and Ekron.
What does this mean to have in this small land so many diverse and different ethnic groups that jockey for supremacy and control with an eye toward Egypt? This is the stage that God sent Abraham to.
One of the messiest spots in the ancient eastern Mediterranean Sea. This is where God sends Abraham. This is the land that God gives Abraham and his decedents as an everlasting possession. This is the Land of Israel.
Let’s go back to Abraham our father. In chapter 13:15, and in more than a dozen other places, God promised the land of Canaan as an eternal possession to the seed of Abraham. Here are just a few examples of God’s promises of the Land to Abraham and his seed:
“…for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.” – Genesis 13:15 [NKJV]
“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7,8 [NKJV]
“Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father.” – Genesis 26:3 [NKJV]
“He remembers His covenant forever, The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac, And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel as an everlasting covenant, Saying: ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan As the allotment of your inheritance…’” – Psalm 105:8-11 [NKJV]
Here is what is special in this Torah portion! God had promised several times to Abraham that the land of Canaan is his and his decedents forever.
This promise is repeated several times in the book of Genesis and in the other books of the Torah and in the book of Joshua, and on through the prophets and even in the Psalms. Yes, we learn from this portion of the Torah that up until the death of Sarah his wife Abraham didn’t take possession of one inch of land that was promised to him by the almighty God as an eternal possession.
Now that Sarah his wife died he needs a place to bury his dead wife. But, Abraham does not claim the land that God has given him, he wants to pay for it, he wants to buy it at the full price, even above the full market price.
So, what do we have here in the Word of God from which we can have an important lesson in Middle East political science?
First Abraham approaches the Hittites of Hebron with great humility:
“I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” – Genesis 23:4 [NKJV]
Abraham approaches the Hittites, who are also settlers in this land far from their homeland in the mountains of Anatolia, with a humility that doesn’t reflect the fact that God has already four times promised him and his seed this land of Canaan.
He does not face the Hittites and say, “This is my land. The creator of the Universe the owner of the whole Earth gave it to me!”
He comes with great humility and says: “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you.”
Second, during these very Middle Eastern type negotiations with the Hittites, and with Ephron, Abraham doesn’t want to receive the land as a gift, and he doesn’t ask for a discount. Abraham insists on paying Ephron the Hittite what he asked, the full price.
In addition, Abraham knows the mentality of the local residents of Hebron, and he insists on carrying out this business deal in public so that there will be many witnesses of this transaction, so that there will be no question of the legality of this purchase.
Later on in the Bible we learn that Abraham and Isaac are buried in the same cave in Hebron. We learn that Jacob’s body is brought from Egypt to the Land of Canaan (Israel) to be buried in Hebron in the same cave. And we learn that when the children of Israel left Egypt and spent 40 years in the wilderness, they carried the body of Joseph with them and buried Joseph also in the same cave on the same land that Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite.
I think that there are some very valuable lessons in this Torah portion, stories that instruct us on how to do business in the Middle East and to keep the peace and good relationships with our neighbors. Of course, in the 20th and the 21st centuries that we live in these days, our neighbors have changed and the issues of honor and fair business have almost passed from this world.
So, there are lessons that we can learn from Abraham, and the patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, in respect to the land of Israel, but not enough to deal with the elements that live within our boarders these days. However, regarding private and personal relationships with our neighbors, if we learn to act like Abraham our father, we would most likely will find that not much has changed in the land of Israel, as regards relationships with our neighbors.
Here are the principles that Abraham is using in his dealing with potentially-hostile Hittite neighbors:
- Be humble and not haughty with your neighbors, who have a history of having a propensity to be violent and aggressive.
- In business, don’t accept gifts, because these gifts might cost you very much in the future.
- Do business always with witnesses, and as far as possible in public and not in secret.
- Don’t ask for a discount from your neighbors, because it might be interpreted as a debt that you will owe them in the next transaction.
- Pay the price they ask you if it is reasonable. If they want to take advantage of you, as your transactions with our neighbors ought to be in public and with a paper record and documentation, then don’t be shy to express your gratitude for the business but also demand the documentation and registration of all business deals that you do with our neighbors. It is more important to be friends and remain friends than to do some hanky-panky and make a few dollars, but make an enemy.
- Pray before and after such big business deals, like the purchase of land or a car from your neighbors. Ask God for help and to reveal to you the true honesty and sincerity of the neighbor that you want to do business with.
Joseph Shulam: Abraham Gets Down to Business 
The Torah reading this Shabbat will be Chayei Sarah, from Genesis 23:1 – 25:18, and the reading from the prophets is 1 Kings 1:1-31, and from the Gospels – John 4:3-14. The reason that this portion is called Chayei Sarah is because Sarah the wife of Abraham dies and is buried in Hebron in the cave of Machpelah. Sarah dies at the age of 127 years old. Isaac is now 37 years old, and is still not married. She dies in Kiryat Arbah, that is just outside of Hebron where Abraham is encamped.
Abraham’s camp was too big to be in the town of Hebron. Remember from chapter 14 of Genesis that Abraham had 318 men between the ages of 20 to 50. These men, in that age group, had to have wives, and probably children. If I add a wife and one child to each of these servants of Abraham it would be 954 souls.
These are the souls that Abraham made in Haran before he came down to the land of Canaan. What does it mean to “make souls” it means to convert them, to evangelize? Jacob on his death bed is speaking to his children and he says:
“The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil— Bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, And the names of my father’s Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.” – Genesis 48:16
The Hebrew words used for “teeming multitudes,” could be translated as “who will be fished upon the midst of the earth.” This is the source from which Yeshua appropriated the concept of making his disciples “fishers of men.”
Abraham was an evangelist. He “made souls in Haran” and these people followed him to the land of Canaan, as the Lord commanded Abraham. They too left their homes and left their families, and their birthplace, and followed Abraham, and without a doubt they too believed in the God of Abraham and did not worship idols like their forefathers did in Haran.
That is the reason why Abraham always encamped outside the major cities of Canaan. He did the same outside of Shechem, and outside of Hebron. It seems like he encamped with his large camp and the places where he encamped were marked with a large tree that all would recognize as being his address:
“Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.” – Genesis 12:6 [NKJV]
As you can see the Terebinth of Moreh is outside of Shechem (Nablus of today).
“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” – Genesis 18:1 [NKJV]
The terebinths of Mamre are outside of Hebron. Until this day there is a big terebinth in Hebron that the tour guides show as the place of Abraham’s encampment in Hebron.
If you want to do business with Arabs and some Jews of Middle Eastern backgrounds, you must study the negotiation between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite, the owner of the Cave of Machpelah.
First, who are the Hittites? They are an Arian people from the center of Anatolia (middle of modern Turkey). They had a very developed material culture (archaeological architectural elements prove this, and they worked with Basalt, a hard black stone that is found in the Golan Heights.
So, like Abraham they were not natives of the land of Canaan. There are no known natives of the land of Canaan in the book of Genesis. Every one that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had business with was from somewhere else. Jerusalem had Jebusites, and there where Hittites like those in Hebron and those living to the south of the sea of Galilee, as well as Perizzites, and Girgashites, and Amorites, and Philistines.
Well, Abraham comes to look for a burial place for his wife. He is a formidable leader with a big camp, and he wants a permanent burial place for his family. So, he comes to Hebron and it is obvious that he has done his homework and knows exactly what he wants, the place, the name of the place, and the market value. He gets up from the days of mourning for his wife Sarah and goes shopping for a place of burial in Hebron.
He tells the Hittites: “I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.” – As you can see Abraham does not “beat around the bush.” He is direct and gets straight to business, “sell me…” The signal is that “I am not here to ask for a favor, or charity from you. I am here to do business with you.” He already knows the name of the owner of the place – Ephron.
However, the Hittite culture much like the culture of today’s natives from the land of Israel, is seen here so very clearly. “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.”
The Hittites in Hebron already know who this Abraham is, “my Lord, you are the elect of God among us.” Literally they are saying, “you are a president, a prince, among us. Any one of us would be happy to give you our burial places to bury your dead.”
They are very gracious and generous to Abraham. However, Middle Eastern generosity should not be taken lightly, or it will cost you a whole lot of money in the end. Abraham knows this well and he responds: “If it is your wish that I remove my dead for burial, you must agree to intercede for me with Ephron son of Zohar.” As you can see Abraham is prepared and knows exactly what he wants.
Never do business in the Middle East unless you have done your homework and your research, well before you start. “Let him sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst.”
Abraham also states clearly that he is not in need of charity, “I am willing to pay full price. I am not interested in discounts or favors from you Hittites.” Notice that all this time Ephron is right there with the rest of the Hittites, he is a part of this whole conversation.
Now that Ephron heard Abraham, that he is willing to pay full price – Ephron pipes up!
“Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!’” – Genesis 23:10,11 [NKJV]
The key point here is what Ephron said: “I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead.” The offer to give Abraham the cave and the field for free means that the property is not really Abraham’s – he will have to be indebted to Ephron and his family forever.
If he wants to be buried with Sarah, next time it will not be a gift, it will be a totally different picture, and the price would be super high. So, Abraham carried out a clear and clean business deal, and the presence of the Hittite leaders now is only a benefit because they are witnesses to this kosher business deal.
Now Ephron has a clear path to state his price and he does:
“Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land.” – Genesis 23:12 [NKJV]
(A sign of acceptance and agreement with whatever price Ephron states. Because this is a public meeting with the Hittite people of Hebron, Ephron cannot be too greedy. He must function within the bounds of what is appropriate, or his own countrymen would look at him as a con man.)
After Abraham bowed this is what happened:
“…and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.’ And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.’” – Genesis 23:13-15 [NKJV]
“…and (Abraham) spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.’ And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.’ And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants. So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.” –Genesis 23:16-19 [NKJV]
This is valuable lesson when you do business or go shopping in the Middle East and Jerusalem is not an exception. When I say in the Middle East, I do not mean that only Arab merchants deal this way, Jews from Middle Eastern countries act the same, it is the local business culture.
However, if you develop sincere friendships with merchants in Jerusalem and have that friendship tested over time, you have a totally different situation, and trust is built far beyond anything that you will see in the West.
We see in chapter 24 similar dealings between Eliezer, Abraham’s servant who went up north back to Haran to find a bride for Isaac. Something was weak in Isaac’s relationship with women, and the reason is probably because of the sexual overtures that Ishmael had with Isaac when Isaac was a young child.
“Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing. She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out that slave woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’” – Genesis 21:9,10
The word “playing” here is sexual play, and you can see this word in the story of Joseph where the wife of Potiphar the Egyptian master of Joseph, accuses Joseph of “playing” with her (Genesis 39:14). The very same Hebrew word is used – “le-tzahek” (to laugh, jest).
Now it is clear why Sarah was so insistent on having Hagar and her son Ishmael immediately kicked out. And why she feared that Ismael was intending to destroy Isaac so that he would not receive the inheritance of Abraham.
Joseph Shulam: Price Negotiation in the Middle East 
This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18). There are some very significant events in this portion of the Torah, and of course the most important one is the passing of Sarah.
Abraham went to Hebron to buy a burial cave for the burial of his wife Sarah. The event of this land and cave for burial is very important for understanding the Middle East even today.
The way that Ephron the Hittite negotiated with Abraham is a lesson for anyone doing business in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern way is first to be very gracious and magnanimous, and even offer the “product” for free, because of supposed friendship. Ephron says:
“My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.” – Genesis 23:15 [NKJV]
First, Ephron offers Abraham to bury his wife in the Cave of Machpela for free. Second, Abraham understands that to get this major “gift” of the cave, to bury his wife Sarah for free, will turn out to be the most expensive exorbitant price. So, Abraham refused to get a gift from the “local” inhabitants in Hebron.
Third, Ephron now, without shame, announces the price of 400 shekels of silver. This is no little price in those days, in fact, it was a very exorbitant price.
However, Ephron, by being “very generous” and gallant to Abraham around his fellow Hittite citizens of Hebron, closes the option to haggle and argue about the price. Abraham could not now act less gallant or cheap to haggle with Ephron.
Today, in dealing with the Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem, it would not be unusual to have a very similar exchange with the local merchants. You enter into the shop. First, you are offered coffee or tea or a soft drink. You are received with warm hospitality into the shop.
After you get the coffee or tea or soft drink, there is very nice conversation about how much the Arab merchant appreciates Americans. Next, you are invited to look around the shop and the announcement is made how good the products are and how fair the price is.
Now you start feeling a sense of obligation because of the drink and the gracious reception. Next you look at something and you like it. The Arab merchant comes to you and says, “I will make a special price just for you!”
It is not really that the Arab merchant is making a special price just for you. In fact, the merchant now has prepared you to pay whatever he suggests. You now feel that you are disarmed from arguing and from haggling over the price. So, you pay up whatever special price was engineered just for you.
The other important story in this portion of the Torah is Abraham sending Eliezer, his servant, to find a wife for Isaac, his son. The test that Eliezer is devising for the young lady that he has to bring to Isaac is the following:
“Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.” – Genesis 24:14 [NKJV]
What did Eliezer want to examine in the young lady?
- Is she hospitable?
- Is she self-confident?
- Does she think ahead and examine the situation with foresight?
- Does she care about the animals, and not only for the human beings?
- Is she willing to work extra to show her generosity, and not ask for money or reward for doing the extra work for a stranger?
- Does the young lady have enough respect for her family not to make such important decisions on her own, but take the issue before her family? And she was sure enough of her status in the family that she was not shy or fearful to bring an old stranger home to meet her family.
These are some very important principles for anyone who has children and daughters that are ready for marriage, or growing up to become young ladies or young men.
Joseph Shulam: Sarah, the Most Liberated Woman 
This week the reading in the synagogues is called “Chayei Sarah”, the “Life of Sarah”, Genesis 23-25:18. It is the story of Sarah’s death and burial in the Cave of Machpela in Hebron.
Sarah stands out from every other woman in the Bible. She is a woman most involved in every aspect of her husband’s life and activity.
There is not one story in the life of Abraham that Sarah was not somehow involved in, and influenced the outcome of, every one of the events in Abraham’s life. She was really the most liberated woman, who was as important to the life and narrative of her husband Abraham as much, or even more, than anyone else in his life.
Read about the purchase of the cave of Machpela from Ephron the Hittite in Hebron. When you read the book of Genesis, please notice how involved Sarah is in every episode of Abraham’s life.
Yehuda Bachana: Eliezer’s Impossible Test 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This week we will talk about the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Chayei Sarah.
The main subject I want to talk about is the assignment that Abraham gives to Eliezer – to find a suitable wife for Isaac.
There is a winning combination here between Divine Providence and human wisdom. I want to focus on this.
As an introduction to this teaching, I would like to emphasize that our world is very complicated, we are complicated people. God knows exactly what kind of world He has put us in, and so He created us with common sense and reason. God created us with a good and healthy mind, with the intent that we would use it! And the combination of good sense and Divine Providence brings success and blessing.
Sometimes we have no choice, and we are completely dependent on God, other times we can use the wisdom that God has given us.
Eliezer’s Impossible Test
In chapter 24, Abraham has Eliezer swear that he will find Isaac a good wife. On one hand, there is no problem to find a family willing to give away it’s daughter to a person of means such as Abraham’s successor. (Note that Eliezer takes ten camels loaded with all kinds of good things.)
But on the other hand, a family who cares for it’s daughter’s well-being would not be happy to send her off to a faraway place, since the family will not be able to stand by her side when necessary.
This testimony can be seen in Laban’s parting words to Jacob:
“If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.” – Genesis 31:50 [NIV]
Laban is concerned that when Jacob will be in a different country with his wives – Laban’s daughters – he will not care to treat them well.
We must understand that this is the concern of every family. It’s difficult to send your daughter off to a faraway country without the possibility of supporting her. This means that it will be difficult for Eliezer to find the right wife for Isaac, and persuade the family to send her far off.
Eliezer understood the weight of responsibility and the difficulty of his assignment, and he asks Abraham:
The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” – Genesis 24:5 [NIV]
Abraham is opposed to the possibility of Isaac’s “emigration”:
“If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.” – Genesis 24:8 [NIV]
Abraham says that if the woman does not want to come to Canaan , then Eliezer is free from the oath, and he can find a local bride. The most important thing is that Isaac will not leave the Promised Land.
Eliezer understands that he has two jobs: the first one is to find a suitable wife for Isaac, and the second one is to convince her and her family to agree to marry a stranger who lives far away.
This story works on two planes – a spiritual one and an earthly one. Spiritual: to find a suitable wife. Earthly: to convince her family to send her, on her own, to a distant land to marry a stranger.
I’ll say it again: a family that is concerned about a daughter’s well-being will not be happy to send her off to a husband from far away – because the family could not stand by her side if necessary.
Eliezer had three options:
- At best, find a respectable family that is in dire financial straits, and is willing to send their daughter to a distant land in order to give her a chance for a better life.
- Another possibility is to find a greedy family that will be dazzled by Abraham’s great wealth, and will ignore any possible distress for the daughter (this is what actually happened).
- And the worst option would be to find a family that would be happy to get rid of their problematic daughter, because of her behavior or because her chances of getting married locally were slim to none.
I am sure that these questions bothered Eliezer, and in the end Eliezer decided that only God could find the right girl under these conditions. The problem is how to ascertain what is God’s choice when there is no explicit statement on the matter.
To ensure that God’s guidance is in play here, Eliezer comes up with an impossible test, with no real chance of working to find a suitable wife for Isaac:
“May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” – Genesis 24:14 [NIV]
Why would this be an impossible test?
First, she was a good girl from a good family. Good girls don’t go to draw water. There are slaves for this kind of thing, or they could use the barter system – they could trade a garment or a fabric in exchange for water.
Pumping and hauling water is very hard work, and unsuitable for a girl. A clay jar full of water on a girl’s shoulder is perhaps a romantic painting, but in reality it’s a hard job.
Second, the girl must approach a man. And before her there’s a strange man asking to drink water from her jar. A good girl would logically not talk with strangers, and she would not approach a man as to let him drink from her jar, as Eliezer spoke:
“Please give me a little water from your jar.” – Genesis 24:17b [NIV]
And the final demand of Eliezer’s test – that the girl willingly offered to water ten camels who had just finished a long journey, borders on absurdity. No girl from a good home would offer or initiate such hard labor. Perhaps a man of great strength would offer this option in return for decent wages, but not a girl.
How much water can a camel drink after a journey? The answer may surprise you – a camel can drink over 50 liters (13 gallons) in ten minutes. In other words, Eliezer is expecting this girl to volunteer to draw half a ton of water for his ten camels.
Even after this miracle occurs, it is written:
Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful. – Genesis 24:21 [NIV]
Why does Eliezer watch her closely? This girl fulfilled every condition he set…
Even after we receive a sign from God, it is necessary to make sure it is indeed from God. Eliezer still does not know if she is available for marriage, or if she’s engaged, or a slave girl, etc. Therefore he asks her who her father is and if her father has any place for lodging. The girl can answer this question if she indeed still lives in her father’s house and is a daughter and not a slave.
There are many who were tested in the Bible, such as Abraham, Job – even Yeshua.
In Matthew 4, Satan asks a hungry Yeshua to turn stones into bread, he puts Him above the temple and asks Him to jump as a test to the angels, Satan then shows the world to Yeshua and offers the kingdoms of the world in exchange for His bowing before him.
Yeshua meets all trials and tests and teaches us important lessons during the testing, with the climax being:
Yeshua said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” – Matthew 4:10 [NIV] (amended)
Divine Providence in Cooperation With Human Wisdom
Back to Eliezer – after the aforementioned test and the resulting answer, he makes use of his intelligence. Now we can see that Eliezer is clever. He begins by giving gifts to the girl. (Up until now we call her “girl”, but we know that this is “Rebekah”.)
…the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. – Genesis 24:22b [NIV]
Even before Eliezer introduces himself, he gives the girl lavish jewelry in order to create a comfortable atmosphere for conversation.
Eliezer figured the girl would run home and tell her family what had happened. Indeed it is written:
The young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. – Genesis 24:28 [NIV]
And as Eliezer figured, money did the job. Laban sees the gold nose ring and the gold bracelets, and he invites Eliezer over to the house.
Now we get to Eliezer’s speech at Rebekah’s father’s house: Look at Eliezer, he’s smart and he knows exactly what to say. First, Eliezer emphasizes that his master Abraham is rich:
So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. – Genesis 24:34,35 [NIV]
Eliezer describes in detail that Abraham is one of the richest men, and he goes on to say:
My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. – Genesis 24:36 [NIV]
This means that Sarah gave birth to an only child, and there will be no more heirs. Abraham has already given all he has as an inheritance to Isaac. After Eliezer ended the part indicating the great wealth of Isaac and his future wife, he turns to talk about his assignment, and the test that he set. He points to the fact that Abraham wanted a wife for Isaac from his own family:
“…if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you—then you will be released from my oath.” – Genesis 24:41 [NIV]
Eliezer is saying that they’re the first option, he is under an oath to go to their home first. But if they’re not interested, he’s free from the oath.
Eliezer ends his speech with this statement:
“Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.” – Genesis 24:49 [NIV]
Eliezer’s speech is clever. He presents great wealth, alongside a clear threat: “Either you show kindness and faithfulness and send your daughter, or I’m free to go.”
It is clear to us that this marriage was ordained by God, but Eliezer understood that marriage requires the consent of Rebekah’s family. And as for every earthly family, economics is a top priority. So Eliezer acted and spoke accordingly, and like in many other places in the Torah, God’s help works in cooperation with human effort and wisdom.
The big question I’m left with after this story is: how can I know what God’s will is without having an explicit statement? And where do I stand in relation to Eliezer’s test? Does this test apply to me today as well?
Take for example the test of Gideon’s fleece – where Gideon asked to lay a fleece out where it would be dry while everything else around it would be wet, and vice versa, where the fleece would be wet and everything else around it would be dry.
Surprisingly, we find other similar tests in the Bible and the New Testament. Consider this verse:
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. – Proverbs 16:33 [NIV]
The purpose of this is to clarify God’s will. By casting lots to find out, for example, the culprit of a specific crime, or if a person is worthy of an important public office.
I will note a few instances of casting lots in Scripture:
- Saul casts lots and finds out that his son Jonathan sinned by inadvertently breaking the vow of fasting.
- The sailors in the book of Jonah cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
- Joshua casts lots and finds that Achan brought disaster upon Israel by violating God’s covenant not to take devoted things.
- The division of the land into tribes and regions was done by casting lots.
- When an apostle was chosen after the death of Judas, he was selected by casting lots.
- By casting lots, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was chosen to sacrifice incense in the temple, as a priest.
Today, the vast majority of the Sages of Israel claim that we can’t rely on casting lots, or similar signs and tests, in matters of injustice. I think so too.
And yet, I believe that God indeed puts signs before us even today.
In conclusion From Eliezer’s test, and his wise conduct after the test, I am clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that God works in cooperation with our human effort and wisdom.