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 – Lech Lecha Part 1 
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom. My name is Joseph Shula and we’re continuing the weekly study of the Torah portions that are being read in every synagogue around the world together with Brad TV. This is a major project. And this next Sabbath, we’ll be reading from Genesis chapter 12 and following, and I want to go back a little bit to the background of this event.
God Calls Abraham to Leave His Country
It is a major event in the Bible that God is calling Abraham and his family to leave their country, their family, their culture, their language, and essentially to go to a land that He doesn’t even specify in the beginning that they are to go to. He just tells him, get up and go – “get up and go to a land that I will show you.” Leave your father, your mother, your family, and go to a place that I will show you. No address is given to Abraham at the beginning. I think that this is a little bit funny, but it, it shows that – first of all, Abraham’s trust of God. And second of all, it shows a little bit of humor.
And God could’ve told him, go to the land of Canaan, the land of Canaan that has so many different nations that have flocked into that narrow space between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Girgashites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Philistines. Abraham would have said, oh God, just a second. Maybe you should send me in another direction. Send me to Switzerland, it’s a much better neighborhood. So God doesn’t tell him where. He says, go to the place that I will show you. Why? What happened between chapter 11 and chapter 12 of Genesis? I’ll tell you what happened. Humanity after the flood came for one family. Noah’s family, the survivors of the flood, that obeyed God and built a huge boat. A huge ship that housed in it all the species of animals and birds that lived on this earth, except for the fish and the animals that lived under the sea, under the water, all of the species, including humanity that lived above were wiped out in the flood.
Now this is another issue. The flood is another issue that I talked about last week, but I’m going to repeat this point. The biblical story of the flood is not the only story of the flood in the ancient world. We have Sumerian myths and Babylonian myths, and even myths from other continents in the world that tell a story very similar to the one of the flood. But that’s something that belongs to last week’s teaching. This week’s teaching starts a new chapter. God had condemned the world for these reasons. One is humanity that was united with the same language and the same culture had decided that they don’t want God to rule over them. They want to be independent. They wanted to have control of their own destiny, but they didn’t want God to be a part of their destiny.
So God consulted somebody like he did when he created man in the book of Genesis. At the beginning of Genesis, He says, “let us go down,” “us,” not “I,” go down. Let us go down and confuse the languages of the people.” Before that there were no Gentiles. We were all a part of the same human family, no nations. What comprised a nation is language, territory and a constitution or culture. So, when humanity was divided into languages and territories, nations were created, and all the human beings in the world were a part of this structure of nations. But they were all under a curse.
God Places Curse on Mankind
The curse that God put on humanity at the tower of Babel, divided them. They had been united but God divided them into nations. And the book of Deuteronomy chapter 32 verses 4 through 7, tell us that God divided the human beings, the human race, and allotted to each group, its own territory, not only its own language, but its own territory. And that created nations. Not only that, but in Deuteronomy chapter 4, verse 19, it says of God, that they didn’t want Him to be the ruler. To be their God, to be the one that, that sets the norm of what it means to be children of God, what it means to be under the authority of God.
And therefore He divided the nations up, at the tower of Babel and gave to each one, not only its own language and its own territory, but also what they’re going to worship. The stars and the moon and the sun and other elements and creatures of this world. But for, for Israel, for Jacob and his family, he chose that they are going to be his lot. And that was in chapter 11. In chapter 12, God calls Abraham and his family to leave, to leave their country.
All Nations of Earth to be Blessed Through Abraham’s Seed
And he gives Abraham and his family three blessings, three promises I should say. The first one is that He’s going to be with him and with his family. The second one is that through his family, through his seed, which at that time he didn’t have any seed yet, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. All the families of the earth.
The same promise is repeated several times in the book of Genesis. It’s repeated to Abraham several times, like in chapter 15 and then chapter 13 and in chapter 22, and then to Isaac in chapter 26 of Genesis. So this promise is not repeated one time. It’s repeated several times, by God, to Abraham and to Abraham’s seed more than any other promise in the Bible. And so he promised him a seed. He promised him a blessing from the seed to all the families of the earth, to all the nations of the earth. And he promised him the land and he gives the borders of the land. We’re going to get to it further down in the text.
Now together with Abraham, what a lot of our Christian brothers don’t realize, came to souls, which we had made in Harran. And the same chapter of chapter 12 of Genesis, the souls, which you made in Harran. Now in Hebrew to evangelize is to make a soul, nephesh, in Hebrew. To make souls. to gain souls, you can say instead of to make, to gain souls. Now, it’s interesting at the end of the book of Genesis in chapter 48 of Genesis, we read in the text chapter 48, verse 16, we read in the text that Jacob is telling Joseph and his sons, the following; “and the angel who redeemed me from all harm.” It means the angel, an angel of the Lord, or somebody sent by God who redeemed me from all harm. Bless these children, the children of Joseph, that they may be recalled or called in the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac.
And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth? Now the word multitudes in the Hebrew text is a very interesting word. The Hebrew is vague. The root is Dag. Dag is fish. The translators in this context of the Bible to other languages, didn’t understand the term. What does it mean that they would fish among the nations of the earth? They didn’t understand it. So they translated what is fish, fish multiplies? One fish can, can send thousands of eggs into the water and fish multiply. So they translated it multiply among the earth.
But this is the source of Yeshua’s statement to his apostles when he sends them to become fishers of men, like who? Like Abraham. It’s an interesting thing that, you know, most people who don’t know Hebrew and don’t understand the Hebrew Bible, miss because of the translations. So together with Abraham, came a multitude of people. The souls, which he had made, he had evangelized in Harran.
Abraham Evangelized Souls in Harran
That within itself is a very interesting issue. How many souls did he evangelize? How many people came with him from Harran together with Sarah, and Lot and his family, to the land of Canaan? Well, we have a story in, not in this portion, but in the portion following and chapter 14 of Genesis, that Lot had moved from the mountainous area of the center ridge that starts in the Jezreel valley, starts again south of Nazareth and ends up in Hebron, the central backbone of the land of Israel. They moved, Lot moved to the Dead Sea. What is today’s Dead Sea.
It wasn’t dead then. At that time, it was fertile, the most fertile part of the country. Lot moved with his flocks and with his shepherds and with his family to the most fertile part of this country, which was before it became a dead sea after the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah, maybe a kind of a huge nuclear event that turned the most fertile part of the land into the harshest desert in this part of the world, the Judean desert. So how many people came with Abraham?
How Many Did Abraham Evangelize?
That group that is called the souls, which he had made in Harran. How many people? Well, we know that in chapter 14, when Lot is captured by the five Kings that came from the area of Damascus from the north, Abraham chases to bring Lot and his family back, to save Lot and his family. He chases those five Kings and he has a small army. How many people? 318 men between the ages of 20 and 50. They’re the army age, those that could fight. He chases those five kings and rescues Lot and his family. 318 men, soldiers between the age of 22 and 50, which were a part of the people that came with him from Mesopotamia.
Well, men between the age of 12 and 20 and 50, usually in that area. And even today, most of them are already married with children. So, if you add to 318 men; soldiers, one wife each, and one child each, you arrive to a thousand people that Abraham evangelized in Harran in Mesopotamia. And they came down to the land of Nan with him. That’s why he never lived in the city. If it was a family of four or six or eight, they could have lived inside the city, inside the walled area.
No, he always lived outside the cities in along Moray and Ella named Monterey and outside of the city of Hebron and outside of the city of Scrim. That’s where Abraham lived in his own encampment. And the same continued with Isaac and with Jacob, they were not small families, the way we envisioned them. They were a tribe of people, even bigger than a normal tribe.
God Sends Abraham to Caanan
So, Abraham leaves the land that he grew up in. Look Ur, we know about Ur, what kind of city it was. Ur of the Chaldeans, which was in Iraq, sitting on the great rivers of the Euphrates between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, the Jordan river would look like a ditch compared to the Euphrates and the Tigris. Yeah. It would look like what the Americans would call a creek. Not, not a river, not even a river. They would call it a creek compared to the great rivers of Mesopotamia.
Imagine this Abraham leaves Ur which was like leaving New York or Mexico City or Sao Paulo, Brazil. Yeah. And he comes to this land, which is a total mess. It’s got all these nations, from Europe, Aryans like the Hittites and Perizzites and Gilgashites, and Amorites from Asia. And they’re all city states fighting with each other jockeying for control of this small piece of land. And he lands in this land. That is a total mess. I often joke and say, if God would have really loved Abraham and his seed, he would have sent them to Switzerland. It’s a much nicer neighborhood, greener country, plenty of water.
This is semi-desert land. And politically, it was a mess in the days of Abraham. And it remained a mess throughout the history of Israel. Our enemies have never, our neighbors have never accepted us. They didn’t accept us. They didn’t accept Abraham. They didn’t accept Ezra, or Nehemiah when they returned from the Babylonian exile. They haven’t accepted us up until today. So if God would have loved us, he would have sent us to Switzerland. But no, he didn’t. He sent us to this piece of land and he gave it to us in this Torah portion in chapter 13, verse 15 of Genesis. He gave it to us as a perpetual inheritance. Perpetual inheritance chapter 13, verse 15.
I’m going to read it to you from the Hebrew translation of the text, not from the king James, but from the Hebrew translation. I’m reading from chapter 14. I know chapter 13 from verse 14 on, “And the Lord said to Abraham after Lot had parted from him, raise your eyes and look out from there. Where you are to the north, to the south, to the east and to the west. For I give all the land that you see to you and to your offspring forever. And I will make your offspring, your children as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring too can be counted. Look at the promise, give this land forever to your offspring.”
Listen, I believe the Bible from Genesis chapter one, the first word in the beginning to the last words of revelation, chapter 22. Which also has to do with a promise of God, for Jerusalem, that, that new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven down to this earth, will be an eternal city for all the believers to be, you know, come there to worship God.
God Promises His People the Land Again and Again
So I believe the word of God tells Abraham here. And again, in chapter 15, and again, in chapter 22, and again, in chapter 26, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again. He repeats it to Jacob all the way down to chapter 28 of Genesis and all the way to the end of the book of Genesis. And again, through the prophets of Israel. Their brothers and sisters, this reading of the Torah, which I, again, want to encourage you to read the portions of the Torah that we are talking about. I’m only able to use 20 minutes, around 20 minutes to touch the highlights, but the details are great and very important.
So if I’m going to summarize what we said, first of all, God called Abraham to start a new nation that was not under the curse of the tower of Babel. A fresh nation. A nation that will restore all the nations back to God through Maschiach. Mashiach or Jesus Christ that sent his disciples at the end of his ministry, to all the nations, to do what? To teach them, to share with them the good news, and to teach them to observe everything that he, our Messiah and our Lord commanded them. That’s what the commission was to his apostles.
And that’s what they did. They spread around the world the teaching about the oneness of God and the participation of the Messiah in the divinity of God and the spread of God’s word all the way to the last Indians in the Amazon river valley. If you wish, to all the world, and we are going to continue these studies of the Torah together with Brad TV, and I want you to, you know, schedule your time to watch these presentations of the Torah, to think about them, to pray about them and to stand with us in Israel and with Brad TV that is taking this initiative to do this great project that will last a year. 54 or 55 sessions of these weekly presentations of the Torah portions. God bless you and Shalom from Jerusalem.
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Lech Lecha Part 2 
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom. My name is Joseph Shulam and I’m continuing together with Brad TV to go every week with a Torah portion that is read in every synagogue around the world, including in ours, synagogue of Jewish believers, disciples of Yeshua, in Jerusalem. These portions in the beginning of the book of Genesis are so important and so basic, for the understanding of the whole Bible, that one session of 20 minutes or about 20 minutes is not enough. So I’m doing a second session for the portion of Lech-Lecha, that starts in Genesis chapter 12, verse 1 and continues on, to the end of chapter 16.
This portion in which I talked about Abraham before, has in it some of the most important foundational issues of our whole Bible. From Genesis, all the way to Revelation, because Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel and the father of all the faithful in the world, is a central figure for the whole plan of salvation or the plan of redemption of mankind. So I have to do a second session for this portion of Lech-Lecha.
Abraham and Sarah Go Down to Egypt
Chapter 12 ends with this strange story that Abraham and Sarah and their team have to go down to Egypt because there is hunger in the land, there is drought and they go down to Egypt, and Abraham tells Sarah, “Listen, I will say that you are my sister because I’m afraid for my own life. You’re such a beautiful woman, Pharaoh or one of the Egyptian noble men may like you and take you and they would kill me. So I will say that you’re my sister”.
Of course, it’s not true. Scholars have tried to figure it out that she was his half-sister and that he was adopted by her parents, and all kinds of such stories that have absolutely zero foundation in the scriptures and of course, with God’s help Pharaoh receives information that she’s actually not his sister, but his wife, he doesn’t touch her. He doesn’t take her and he releases both Sarah and Abraham and gives them whatever they wanted and acts like a gentleman. So this is the first time this happens.
Abraham Deals With Lot
After that, we have the story of Lot. Here Abraham reveals his true character. Lot’s shepherds are taking advantage and taking the best land and the best place to take the sheep and to pasture them where the grass is greener and are basically pushing Abraham’s servants, Abraham’s shepherds and their flocks, to the side. So there is a feud between the two groups of shepherds. Here comes Abraham. He’s the boss, he’s the head of the family. Lot is a nephew that Abraham takes with him to the land of Canaan from Horan.
But Abraham acts magnanimous, kind, is not looking for a argument, is not looking for a fight. He says to Lot and to his shepherds, “You know what, choose whatever piece of land you want and whatever you want, I grant you the right to go there and live there and pasture there and raise your family there.” It’s a very kind, considerate, non-belligerent, looking for peace, move of Abraham and that is one of the glimpses that we have into his character, that we’re going to see it further down the road in Abraham stories, that he’s not a person that is looking for a fight. He’s not a person that says, “It’s my right, and I’m going to take my right and I don’t care what you say.” No. Abraham is the kind of person that would fit within Yeshua’s paradigm of who is a righteous man. He’s the one that turns the other cheek and this is something that most Christians don’t realize.
Abraham Has His Own Army
That Abraham was a very powerful person in our parashah in Lech-Lecha in chapter 14, when Lot is taken by the five kings from Syria, from the north, that come and plunder the land and take booty and take Lot and his family as slaves, and Abraham has 318 men between the ages of 20 and 50. All men who carry the sword. They’re all soldiers. They’re the people that in chapter 12, we heard about them. The soldiers which he had made in Horan and I have already mentioned this in the last teaching. To make soldiers is to evangelize them.
He convinced them that there is one God and that the idols are nothing but pieces of wood, silver, gold and marble and stone. And so they followed Abraham. Being between the ages of 20 to 50, they had families. You can do the math yourself. He takes the 318 men, chases the kings of the North, captures the booty that they took from the cities of the land of Canaan, takes Lot and his family and brings them back.
Abraham Blessed by Melchizedek
On the way back, he passes by Jerusalem or Salem and meets Melchizedek, Melchizedek comes out to the edge of town to meet him and blesses him with what we would call today, the Lord’s supper. He welcomes him with wine and bread. Honors him as an honored guest with wine and bread, and of course, Abraham tithes from all the booty that he captured from the five kings from the North, to Melchizedek and this becomes a major issue in the book of Hebrews and in the community of Qumran. So these are pictures of Abraham’s consideration. He’s a considerate man. He’s a man who thinks, a man who wants to do what is right. He’s a man who seeks peace with his neighbors, seeks relationship with his neighbors and doesn’t want to take.
Abraham Buys Burial Plot
Further down the road, we see about this negotiation with Ephron the Hittite in Hebrew and to buy the cave in which he will bury his wife and then himself and his children and grandchildren will be buried in that cave. So he doesn’t want it for free. He doesn’t want anything for free. He’s paying full price, whatever Ephron asks. That’s Abraham’s character.
But Abraham’s character also has flaws and one of the most formative or problimatic chapters in the whole Bible is chapter 15 of Genesis. And I will share with you my thoughts and ideas of chapter 15. God comes to Abraham and says, “More promises.” And Abraham says, “Listen, you know, I’m an old man. You promised me a son.” I’m rephrasing with my own words, “You promised me a son and I’m getting old and my wife is old and we don’t have a son.” Then comes verse 6 in chapter 15. It says, “Abraham believed God and God considered it, reckoned it, as righteousness.”
The story is very interesting. The Hebrew texts can go both ways. The grammar of the Hebrew texts can go that Abraham reckoned to God as righteousness and God’s faithfulness was in his heart, in his mind, in his soul, he trusted God and he reckoned God’s promise as righteousness and that’s why God blessed him. But you could read the same text in Hebrew, the other direction too. That Abraham believed God and God reckoned it as righteousness to Abraham and therefore God gives him this covenant. There’s only three such covenants in the whole Bible. It’s a covenant of suzerainty. That’s the professional, theological word for it, or sociological word for it.
Abraham’s Covenant Dream
God says to Abraham, in a dream, “Take animals, a goat, a sheep and other animals and cut them in half and I will pass, as a torch of fire between the two animals and I will ratify this covenant that I’m going to repeat to you, that I’m going to give you a son, a land and the blessing”. The same promises that he promised in chapter 12 but now this very ancient form of covenant is a one-sided covenant. A one-sided covenant is much stronger than a two-sided covenant because one side of the covenant, only one side can break it. The other side is the recipient of a covenant that he can receive but he can’t break. Only the person who gives this covenant, can break it.
Now we have a lot of Assyrian, Babylonian, Northern Eucharistic, the northern part of the Middle East, bordering with Northern Syria and Turkey, documents. They’re collected by Pritchard in ancient near Eastern texts and you find such covenants and the meaning of such covenants in the ancient near east. What’s the meaning? The meaning is this, the person who gives that covenant, the second one of its kind, the first one was the rainbow after the flood.
God one-sidedly promises, that the world will not be destroyed by water again. So this is a one-sided covenant, the same kind like what is being given to Abraham now. And what it means is that, if I don’t keep my word and if I break my covenant, may I be cut in half and burned. That’s the meaning of that vision. May I be cut in half and burned. I will keep my promise. I will keep my covenant. Come what may, I will keep my covenant. So this is a very, very formative thing.
Abraham’s Seed Will Serve as Slaves
After this covenant, He tells Abraham, “Yes, I promised you the land but it’s not going to be so soon that you’re going to come and inherit this land. Your seed, your descendants will go down and become slaves, serve another nation and after four generations, they will return to the land.” Which is a prediction of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson and all of his children going down to Egypt, living in Egypt, a period of close to 400 years or around 400 years and then taken out from Egypt miraculously, after 10 plagues upon Egypt and brought to the land of Canaan and inheriting the land of Canaan with Joshua and Caleb and the tribes of Israel. Moses stays on the other side of the Jordan. So, this portion of the Torah, Lech-Lecha. Torah portion in Hebrew is parashah and I’m going to start using this Hebrew word, parashah. Parashah Lech- Lecha, is a key parashah because of this story.
Abraham Repeats Same Sin
Now, the strange thing is, that this mistake, sin, the weakness of Abraham of telling that his wife, Sarah, is his sister, is repeated again with Abimelech, the king of Gerar, Northern Negev. Abraham didn’t, how should I say, didn’t learn from the experience with Pharaoh in Egypt and he repeats the same sin. Why is the Torah, why is the word of God, sandwiching Abraham? He’s on top of the mountain. Talks to God, God talks to him. He promises revelation, hallelujah, wonderful promises, a covenant, a one -sided covenant, the covenant suzerainty given to Abraham. Wow. And then immediately, boom. He sins. Boom. Second time, he sins.
Bible Heroes Are an Example of How Easy It Is to Fall
Why do you think that the holy spirit is revealing these things to us? I’ll tell you why. In my opinion,the holy spirit is revealing these things to us, to tell us, “Abraham is not a God. He’s a human being and human beings make mistakes, human beings, sin.” And that’s why through the power of the holy spirit, oftentimes, the greatest heroes of the Bible, Abraham, Moses, King David, they’re on top of the mountain, talking to God, God chooses them.
God reveals Himself to them. Hallelujah, praise God and then immediately after that, there is a falling, boom. They sin, which is telling us, “Hey, don’t worship these men. They’re like you, you’re like them and you can be on top of the mountain one minute but if you don’t pay attention and you’re not careful, you may fall. Even though a minute ago, you were on top of the mountain talking to God.”
Yup. Yup. So that’s my second lesson from parashah Lech-Lecha, for Brad TV. We’re going to continue, for the next week to another parashah that is called Vayeira. I invite you to come back, according to the schedule of Brad Television, and hear me teach about the next episodes of the book of Genesis and their importance. God bless you all.
Pray for Israel. Pray for your Jewish brothers in the faith in Israel and bless God every day and when you make plans, always say, the way we are commanded, God willing, I will go. God willing, I will do. The Arabs and the Jews, Orthodox Jews, say it all the time. The Arabs say, “In shaa alleh”, with Allah’s will. And the Jews says, “Beezrat hashem,” the same deal in Hebrew. Not about Allah, but the holy, mighty name of God himself. Shalom for now. See you next week.
Joseph Shulam: When God Says, “Go!” 
The reading this week is called Lech Lecha. It is the story of the birth of a new nation right after God confused humanity after creating nations by dividing peoples into languages and giving each new people their territory because of the building of the tower of Babylon that was created by the people in order to be free from God’s control over His creation.
Our reading this week is Genesis 12:1 – 17:27, It starts with a command from God to Abraham to Go to a place that is like the armpit of the ancient world, but God does not give Abraham an address where to go, who to see, until Abraham and his company have already left their home in Haran and gotten on the ancient Highway going toward Egypt.
God just tells Abraham, get up and go to the place that I will show you later! What a scary proposal to give an old man and his old childless wife. Abraham was a settled, rich man, well established in Haran.
Haran was a major city settled on the knee of the Euphrates River. By today’s standards Haran could be New Your City or Philadelphia, or if you wish, Seoul, Korea.
God tells an old man to leave and just go without giving him a specific address. This seems very demanding on God’s side: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.”
If it was me, I wouldn’t move one foot, unless I had a clear map with a specific address. I would say, “Lord, thank you very much for your kindness, but I am an old man, I have been a good evangelist and made hundreds of converts from idolatry to faith in you O Lord of Heaven and Earth, at least tell me where I am going! I have to leave behind my wealth, my family, home, culture in which I have grown up and just go!”
Although Abraham was an old man, something moved him, and he hears God’s calling to pack his wife and the “souls which he had made in Haran”, and start riding his super V-8 jackass toward an unknown place and an unknown destination.
On the way God adds a letter to his name and to his wife Sarai’s name, the letter “he” (pronounced “hay”). This Hebrew letter is an important letter because it appears twice in the Holy Name of God, “yod-he-vav-he”, which is spelled in English and most other Latin-based languages as Jehovah.
There is a sense of sanctification in this change of names that the Lord gives to Abram and Sarai. Abram becomes Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah.
If we are to read each Torah portion as a personal guide to our lives as well as instruction as to how to inherit eternal life, we would discover that the unfolding narrative in this Torah portion of Lech Lecha is a real bomb of consciousness – for our history as a people and our personal relationship with God and our national history as well.
This is the reason why Moses instructs the Israelite worshiper that comes to bring his first fruit and dedicate it to God to say:
“My father is a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous.” – Deut. 26:5 [NKJV]
Egypt here is the smelting furnace where God put Israel through years of slavery, a harsh and hard place that started as the garden of the Land of Goshen right on the banks of the mighty river Nile, but ended on the stone quarries for building the great monuments of Egypt’s cities of the dead!
What that worshiper who comes to bring his basket of first fruit to the Lord is saying is that life was not easy and in fact it was a very hard journey even for the father of our nation, the father of the faithful, Abraham, it was not simple.
He was a lost stranger and a nomad in a hostile land. However, in that harsh and difficult land and place is where Abraham and Sarah were tested and passed the test. Abraham packed his bags and was ready to roll…
I find in the story of Abraham a very strong and empowering message. Yes, you and I may encounter hard times.
Abraham faced a famine in Canaan, struggles to overcome family scandals, wars, relatives who went to live in the wrong place (Lot lives in Sodom), you may have to endure traumatic family issues.
He had to kick out his handmaid Hagar and his son Ishmael, but Abraham still kept going because that is how you learn who you truly are and what kind of faith you really have with the almighty God.
We only learn through trials and tests. Through our trials and tribulations we learn if we really have faith in the creator of our universe and are able to keep our faith and hold on to life now and eternally.
We have just a couple of weeks ago started a new cycle of Torah readings and are diving into Genesis from the beginning of the year 5782, in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic.
From reading the Torah and especially this portion of Lech Lecha I have a new perspective. I am stepping forward into uncharted territory for the good of myself, my family, and my congregation, and the nation of Israel, not to a position, but a new internal change in consciousness, for the first time the most important thing for me is to be a servant of God and people.
With the coronavirus changing our lifestyle totally I really feel as though I am leaving a “known and comfortable land” and venturing into a new unconventional and unpredictable difficult but strengthening land. The support from family, friends, congregants, and the larger worldwide community of the disciples of the Messiah is very heart-warming.
We know there are still challenges ahead, but we are moving forward with faith, treasuring each day and each brother and fellow traveler on the narrow path of faith, hope, and love. Torah is a teaching guide for our lives as a people, as a community, and as individuals.
At each stage in life, there are lessons to be learned, and if we turn to our holiest source, God’s Word, not in order to argue and strive over some theological minutiae, but to find in the Bible a guide to help us live through the storms with confidence and without fear crossing the bridge with clear sight, focusing on our true goal and reason for living, making life and ethical decisions based on God’s promises on the path of God’s command to Abraham, Lech Lecha, “Go into yourself!”
Go find yourself in this strange but wondrous and extraordinary life on God’s good earth, but its only our temporary home until we find ourselves in ourselves by being connected and guided by the creator Himself to return to ourselves by leaving our comfortable zone and following into our private land of Canaan!
That place where we encounter the Lord! Eternal life is in His presence!
The reading from the prophets and from the New Testament this Shabbat is going to be from Isaiah 40:27-41:17, and from the New Testament from Romans 4:1-25, Galatians 4:21 – 5:1.
Joseph Shulam: Put Your Trust in the Lord 
This week’s reading is from Genesis 12:1–17:27. This reading is called in Hebrew “Lech Lecha”, translated by the New King James Version as “Get out of your country.” If I would translate this phrase, “Lech Lecha,” I would translate it as, “You get yourself together and move out to yourself.”
This Torah portion has some of the most informative material for understanding the Lord and for understanding the place of Abraham’s seed in the land of Canaan (the Middle East), and in the greater world.
As you can see the purpose for which the Creator called Abraham was not only for Abraham’s sake and for Abraham’s seed’s sake. The reason why God chose Abraham and His seed is in order to bring a blessing, a reconciliation between all nations.
The blessing is to restore the nations and to rebuild their relationship with and faith in the almighty creator of Heaven and Earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Included in this reading in chapter 15, is Abraham’s encounter with the Lord, where the Lord Himself takes a very serious oath to keep His promises to Abraham and His seed.
The meaning of the dream that Abraham has in chapter 15, where the Lord cuts animals in half and walks through the animal halves as a flame of fire is that if I don’t keep my promises to you, Abraham, may I be cut in half and be burned.
This kind of oath is known in ancient Mesopotamia and it is the strongest possible oath, calling a curse upon yourself if you don’t keep your word! The reason why the Creator gives this total assurance to Abraham is because Abraham,
“…believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” – Genesis 15:6 [NKJV]
The faith of Abraham in God’s promises is beyond reason. It is a faith that has moved Abraham and Sarah his wife and a camp of hundreds of people that followed Abraham because he converted them from idolatry to faith in one God. The one God who created the world, the one God that keeps His promises.
Here is what the Lord said to Isaac about his father Abraham:
“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. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” – Genesis 26:3-5 [NKJV]
For many Christians this text is a revelation. Having faith, my dear brothers and sisters, does not give a person carte blanche to disobey or to be disobedient.
Obedience has always been important to those who exercise faith, trust, and loyalty in the Lord.
Of course this is not only an Old Testament paradigm. The same paradigm is all over the New Testament, from the teaching of Yeshua the Messiah in what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” to the parable of the fool and the wise man who build their houses, the fool built his house on the sand. The wise man built his house on the rock.
Yeshua says that the one who built his house on the rock is the person who hears and obeys. His house stands during the storm, the wind, the rain, and the flood. Here you have it from the apostolic letters:
“Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” – 1 Corinthians 7:19 [NKJV]
“…that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing.” – 1 Timothy 6:14 [NKJV]
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” – 1 John 2:3,4, 3:22 [NKJV]
I could bring another dozen such texts from the New Testament. I don’t want to be misunderstood. Salvation without faith is not going to happen.
Faith without obedience and observance of God’s commands is also not effective, because salvation is a process and not an ad-hoc occurrence. Of course everything has a beginning and the beginning of the process of salvation is faith, but after faith comes confession, and repentance, and baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:28ff).
Abraham is the symbol and father of the faithful, but we must not use Abraham as a justifier of disobedience to God and His commandments.
Of course one of the most significant indications of obedience that Abraham fulfilled in my opinion, is in our reading for this Shabbat, the circumcision as reported in Genesis chapter 17. Just think about this my dear brothers: Okay, leaving Haran with his family and going down to the land of Canaan was a big move of both faith and obedience.
“So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael…” – Genesis 17:23–26 [NKJV]
In my opinion, this act requires much more faith than just packing your bags and traveling to the land of Canaan. Abraham, a nonagenarian, is circumcised with a primitive knife at a time when iron had not yet appeared, only bronze is available.
Also there is no anesthesia nor antibiotics, you just cut, because God commanded it and God promised… In most Christian circles, having faith is essentially simply an agreement with or acceptance of some theological principle. It is at best an acceptance of some semi-rational idea that is called “faith.” Most Christians have never experienced persecution for their faith, or have had to sacrifice something as precious as their relationship with their family.
In the Bible faith means the kind of faith that Abraham had. Faith for Abraham and for all the faithful children of God in the Bible meant putting our total trust in the Lord and in His promises, leaving home and country and family if necessary if commanded so by God.
All the examples of faith that we have in the Bible and the list of the faithful characters in the Bible that is in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11, includes people who expressed their faith through the deeds of their lives.
Biblical faith is not a theorem formulated by some Christian committee of clergymen huddled in some dark basement of one of the Catholic Churches in order to force simple Christians to bend their ideas to fit the prison of the mind established by the church, so that the church can rule over them.
Historically, Protestant churches have been a little better than the Catholic Churches, but not much better. They too defined what “faith” is and who are the “faithful” in the relationship of the people to their church and mainly to their denominational doctrines.
Being faithful in the Protestant world means attending church, giving money to the church, and accepting and parroting the doctrines and teachings of your denomination.
When I read the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and even the New Testament apostles, the faith of these heroes of the faith would easily be considered as unfaithful and rebellious by most Protestant denominations.
Well, as you can see, the story of Abraham has inspired me to speak out and encourage each and every one of you to put your trust in the Lord God of Israel and in Yeshua and to be wise to hear and obey His commands as commands that are still relevant to us in the 21st Century.
I challenge you to go through the New Testament, and to write down or mark with something those commandments that are relevant for you and consider following and obeying the commands of Yeshua and those of the apostles.
Joseph Shulam: Abraham, the Evangelist 
This week’s portion is Lech Lecha, from Genesis 12:1-17:27, and the portion of the prophets that is read in the synagogues is from Isaiah 40:27-41:16. From the New Testament we read Hebrews 11:6-11.
The story of Abraham is one of the pivotal stories of the Word of God from Genesis to the end of Revelation. Abraham is a person who has influenced every aspect of our faith in God and in the Messiah, from the beginning of the story in Genesis 12:1 all the way to the end of the Word of God.
The question that I would like to expand on is what was in Abraham that made him such a center figure in our faith? In the Word of God? And in the eternal divine plan for the salvation of all mankind?
- We know so very little about Abraham’s roots and past. What do we know about Abraham before God called him to leave his home, his family, his nationality, his roots?
- The first thing that we notice in Genesis 11, after the fall of the Tower of Babel, is that there is a genealogy that leads up to the birth of Nahor, Abraham’s father, and the birth of Abraham. It was important for the Holy Spirit to tell us about Abraham’s birth and his father. Not every hero of the Bible is given his short genealogy. The question that we need to ask is why it was important to give us these names like Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, Nahor, and Haran. Abram was born in Syria (Mesopotamia), not far from the Euphrates River. Mesopotamia, Babylon, Ur, and Haran all were a major center of civilization. Ur was a major city just like New York, or Mexico City, or San Paulo, Tokyo, or Beijing. Haran was also a big city and a cultural center.
- The second thing that I would like to point out is that there was no idolatry before the Tower of Babel, and there were no nations before the Tower of Babel.
- Idolatry is connected with the establishment of nations.
- Nations are defined by language, territory, and culture.
- Nations and Gentiles were first mentioned only in Genesis 10.
- The third unique thing in this story of Abraham is that the land of Canaan was the worst place in the civilized world during the period between 1800 – 1400 B.C. Today many nations that are in trouble, like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and some nations in Africa, are looking to move to Europe, and from there to more prosperous shores. Canaan was the road to Egypt. Canaan was a province of Egypt. As the stories of Genesis point out, Abraham and Sarah go down to Egypt, Jacob and his children go down to Egypt. Egypt, like Europe today, stopped the flood of nations from Europe and Asia on their border in their almost forgotten colony in Canaan.
- Note the number of nations that stopped in the land of Canaan during the time of Abraham: Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, Jebusites, Hittites, Perizzites, and Philistines.
- Philistines came from Greece, Crete.
- Hittites came from Central Anatolia (Turkey of today).
- Amorites came from West Asia Minor and Northern Syria.
- The Girgashites are more mysterious, and we know that they stayed in the land of Canaan, Israel, until the Babylonian Exile. Some people think that they came from central Asia.
- Jebusites came from central Europe, probably Slavic, from the area of the Balkan.
- Perizzites are supposed to have come to the land of Canaan from the area north of Persia, maybe Georgia or Uzbekistan.
- Besides these nations on the West side of the Jordan River, we have on the East side the Ammonites, Moabites, Edum, and Amalekites who were nomadic in nation, and didn’t have a particular territory.
- The region of Canaan was a total mess. This is the reason why the Lord does not tell Abraham right in the beginning where He is sending him: “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1 NKJV) The Lord says to Abraham “to the land that I will show you.” In other words, I am not telling you where you are going, you start the journey, and I will guide you where to go. This is why it took more faith and courage for Abraham to leave his country, family, property, culture, and friends. I am sure that Abraham, like every other cultured wealthy person, knew well what Canaan was in his day.
- Abraham and Sarah didn’t have Canaanite servants. They had an Egyptian servant for Sarah. Abraham has Eliezer his old servant, who came with him from the “old country”.
- Together with Abraham and Sarah, with Lot and his family, came at least 318 men who were between the ages of 20-50. These are the men that joined Abraham in the chase of the five kings from the North, who captured Lot and his family from Sodom. If there are 318 men who are able to fight in Abraham’s camp, older than 20 years old, these men must have been married and may be each had one child. This would make the camp of Abraham near to 1000 people.
- Where did these people come from? They are the people that are described with these words: “Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So, they came to the land of Canaan.” (Genesis 12:5 NKJV)
- The phrase “the people whom they had acquired in Haran,” means in Hebrew “to evangelize, to do mission work”. This is the reason why Jacob says the following about Abraham and Isaac: “The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Genesis 48:16 NKJV) The word “multitude” in Hebrew is from the root “to fish.” The word “va-idgu” comes from the root “dag”, which means fish. Like a fish multiplies and lays thousands of eggs, so Abraham was the master evangelist who multiplied souls and took them with himself to the land that the Lord led him to, to the land of Canaan. He fished for men and brought his disciples from Haran to the land of Canaan. The size of his encampment was so large that they could not live in the cities of Canaan. Because of the size of the camp, they had always encamped outside of the cities Hebron, Beersheba, and Shechem.
Abraham was the person whom the Lord has chosen to be the root of faith that will bless all the nations of the world. Yeshua was the seed of Abraham, that was planted in the nation of Israel and in the Land of Israel, to accomplish what the Lord promised Abraham.
There is no Jew or rabbi that has spread the Torah and the prophets around the whole world other than Yeshua, the Son of God, who is the most well-known Jew and King of the Jews around the whole world. The Good News promised to Abraham for the families of the Earth was spread and taken to the ends of the Earth by that crucified Jew Yeshua.
Abraham is the father of many nations, not genetically, but through the faith in the One God whom Abraham obeyed, and became the father who defines what faith in God really is: “Go!”
Joseph Shulam: Abraham, a Life of Solving Problems 
The Torah portion of this Shabbat is Lech Lecha – from Genesis 12:1-17:27. It is long reading, but for me it is one of the most important portions of God’s Word.
After the dividing of humanity into nations, each with its own language, and its own territory and even with their own idols, God had to take out an insurance policy to make sure that one day humanity will again abandon idolatry and rebellion against Him as King of the Universe, and return to recognize God as the only Father of all living.
This insurance policy was Abraham and his seed, the seed that came from Isaac and Jacob. We see this insurance policy right in the first verses of God’s conversation with Abraham:
“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” – Genesis 12:1-3 [NKJV]
There are three promises that the Lord gives Abraham:
- I will make you a great nation.
- I will bless you and make your name great.
- I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.
These three promises are an inseparable part of the Lord’s calling of Abraham. You can’t take one or two of these promises out of the very calling of Abraham.
The three are a package that stands together. If one is not valid all three are not valid. There is no time limit to these promises of the Lord to Abraham.
Abraham receives the Lord’s promises and packs his bags to go to the unmentioned land that the Lord will show him. Later in the narrative, God tells Abraham that He is sending him and his family to the land of Canaan.
The land of Canaan, in those days, the beginning of what is called in archaeology, the Middle Bronze Age, maybe around the year 1850 BC, was a total mess. Most of the migration from North and from the East toward Egypt had to pass between the Mediterranean Sea, and the Jordan River was the only land bridge between three continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe. The migrants had to pass through the narrow bottleneck between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River in order to reach Egypt.
Egypt at that time was a wealthy empire, and the biblical narrative is a good witness of this because Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob and his sons, have to go to Egypt to get food for their family. Some nations got stuck on the way and settled in the Egyptian territory called Canaan. This is the reason that you find in the Bible that Canaan was settled, “by the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
Each one of these nations originated away from the land of Canaan, but migrated and settled in some city and created a state and marked territory. In other words, God sent Abraham to a bad neighborhood. Maybe Canaan in those days was the worst neighborhood in the world.
I often wonder why God did not send Abraham West rather than Southeast. Had Abraham gone West maybe Israel would be living in Switzerland now – it is a much better neighborhood. This call that Abraham received from the Almighty God, whose name since that time was modified to be “The God of Abraham”, changed history, and not only the family of Abraham.
One third of the world today consider themselves “children of Abraham”, at least by faith. Jews, Christians and Muslims look at Abraham as the father of their faith. It is also not hard to see the great blessing that Abraham and his seed have brought to the world.
The most important constitution in the whole human race is the Word of God/the Bible. One way or another, the Bible has shaped civilization – all civilization, not only Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
A few years ago, I was invited to come and teach in China, by the vice president of the province of Hubei in China. Mrs. Yoe was very kind to me, and we had a great discussion on the Bible.
Mrs. Yoe is a communist and an atheist. She did read the Bible and did have admiration for the biblical narrative. I asked her way she read the Bible and why she admired it.
Her answer was very simple: “It is the most important communist book for all workers in the world. It is the first place that says, ‘if you don’t work you don’t eat.’” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”)
The Word of God/the Bible came to the world and the nations through Israel, through the Jewish nation. The story begins with Abraham, and it is not an easy story to receive and to understand.
You would think that, with such wonderful promises, Abraham’s life would be smooth and easy. But immediately as Abraham arrives in the land of Canaan the problems start. The problems are not from outside of Abraham’s family, they are problems in the family.
Lot, his nephew that came with Abraham to Canaan, was greedy and wanted the best pasture land for his flocks and his shepherds. Abraham gave Lot a gentlemen’s treatment. In place of flexing his muscles and fighting Lot, Abraham gives Lot the land that Lot wants, the most fertile land in the Jordan River valley.
The end of Lot and his family does not turn out to be very good and prosperous. There was trouble with Abraham and Pharaoh concerning Sarah. There were problems with Lot when he and his family were captured by the five kings of the North and taken captive. There were problems with Ishmael, the son of the Egyptian handmaid Hagar.
In short, Abraham’s move to Canaan in obedience to God’s promises was not smooth sailing. In fact, it is a life of solving problems, one after the other.
With all this said, Abraham’s life was a life of faith and faithfulness to God and to His promises. I suppose that if Abraham was living today, he would probably get the Nobel peace prize, and he for sure would deserve it much more than some of the last Nobel laureates. It is not necessary to mention names. because you should all know about whom I am hinting even without the mentioning of their names.
Joseph Shulam: Abraham and God’s Promises 
This week the Torah reading around the world starts in Genesis 12:1. God is calling Abraham to leave his family, his country, his culture, and go to the unknown land. God is asking this of Abraham, who by that time was not just a small family, but a chief of a very big camp of people.
The words that start this parasha are “lech lecha.” This phrase is translated into English in the following ways:
- NKJV “Get out of your country”
- GOD’S WORD “Leave your land”
- KJV “Get thee out of thy country”
- NIV “Leave your country.”
In all the translations of “lech lecha”, the impression of this text is that this request is a strong command – a command that can’t be misunderstood.
During the two years that I was in high school in Dasher, Georgia, the church there was often singing a song, “Where He leads me, I will follow.” I quickly found out that either God is not leading these good people, or they can’t hear His commands, or they don’t really mean the words that they sing.
I suppose that both in synagogues and in churches, if you are singing, the words don’t really have a meaning. After all the attitude is – “it is only a song.”
However, for Abraham and his family, God’s command was clear, emphatic, and meaningful. The biblical text is very short and the staccato style is very clear in verse 4:
“So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him…” – Genesis 12:4a [NKJV]
What is most impressive to me is that there are no details of how long it took Abraham to pack his belongings, or how he and his family said “goodbye” to the relatives. Did he sell his property in Haran? There are no details, no narrative, just “so Abram departed…”
We know from the following texts that Abraham had a very big encampment, with hundreds of people working for him and fighting for him. Look at the following text from Genesis:
“Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.” – Genesis 12:5 [NKJV]
This is a very interesting verse. The phrase: “the people they had acquired in Haran” is actually a Hebrew idiom that means the “people that they have converted in Haran”. To “acquire souls (people)” means to evangelize.
The following verses tell us more about Abraham’s wealth and the numbers of people who followed him and his family:
“Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” – Genesis 13:2 [NKJV]
“Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” – Genesis 14:14 [NKJV]
Note that Abram had 318 trained servants, men who are able to go out to war, fighters. If half of these servants of Abram were married, that means that there would be another 158 people in his camp.
So, the picture that we ought to see is that Abraham was not a small tent-dwelling nomad dressed in Arab clothing, with 100 goats and 50 sheep. When Abraham left the great city of Haran, it was a very large group of people who followed him to this unknown destination, and were willing to fight on Abraham’s side.
The next thing that I want to share from this parasha is that, with all the argument and separation and strong feelings that Abraham had with Lot his nephew (when Lot and his family and the city of Sodom were in trouble), Abraham did not hold a grudge or act vindictive and say, “Lot and his family deserve this punishment.” “The work of the righteous is done by others.”
Abraham acted like a true disciple of Yeshua, long before Yeshua came on the scene of history. Abraham actually turned the other cheek and returned good to those who acted selfishly and without honor.
In this parasha God actually give His promise to Abraham and to his seed, the promise of the Land. This promise of the land is part and parcel with the two other promises:
“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2,3 [NKJV]
“…for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.” – Genesis 13:15 [NKJV]
How can you argue that Jews don’t have a right to live in this God-given land to Abraham the father of the nation of Israel? This promise is actually repeated many, many times in the Torah.
Here are a few of the places that this promise is repeated in the Five Books of Moses, please look up some more of these places: Gen. 15:7-18, 17:7-8, 24:7, 26:3-4, 28:4-13, 31:3, 35:12, 46:3, 48:4, 50:24; Ex. 6:8, 33:1; Lev. 20:24; Num. 14:8, 34:2-29; Deut. 6:10, 26:2-4, 31:20, 34:4; Josh. 5:6.
How can Christians around the world believe the lies and the manipulation of scriptures, and deny the right of the Jewish people to hold on to God’s promises to Abraham? All the promises of God are true, and so are also the promises of the Land. This of course does not mean that Arabs (the seed of Ishamel) can’t live side by side in peace with the children of Isaac and Jacob.
Please pray for the Land of Israel, and for both the Jews and the Arabs and their leadership to find a way to live side by side in peace and prosper, and bless the whole world.
Yehuda Bachana: Abraham, the Man of Faith 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
Parashat Lech Lecha
Shabbat Shalom, in this week’s Torah portion we find the famous verse:
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:6 [NIV]
Abraham is mentioned several times in the New Testament as a symbol of man’s faith, in James 2, Romans 4, Hebrews 11, and elsewhere.
Despite all these descriptions in the New Testament, the following verses show a response from Abraham that raises questions about his faith in God’s promise:
He [God] also said to him [Abraham], “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”- Genesis 15:7,8 [NIV]
Abraham’s request to receive proof or a sign of God’s promise preoccupies the Torah commentators. How could it be that the greatest believer in the world is seeking proof from God?
Did Abraham lack faith?
The commentators disagree on this question: Some say that he was caught in a moment of lack of faith, and in that moment he is punished, his descendants will go into exile in Egypt. These commentators are basing this on the immediate continuation of the conversation between God and Abraham:
Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” – Genesis 15:13 [NIV]
Before we completely negate this possibility we must remember that Abraham was a human being, like you and me.
Sometimes as believers, we read the Bible with a picture in our heads of these imaginary righteous sages. It’s as if they’re some special people made from unique material.
It is worth remembering that our father Abraham was made of the same material as we are, and like us, he was afraid. When he went down to Egypt, he was afraid that he would be killed because of his wife Sarah, so he told the Egyptians that she is his sister.
Even the matter of Hagar and her son Ishmael is not an easy subject. It’s difficult to explain exactly what went on there.
As you can see, Abraham was made of the same stuff as you and I.
Despite this, it is not for nothing that the Torah and the New Testament position Abraham as the symbol of faith. This tells us that it is unlikely that there was a failing, a lack of faith, and this leads us to look for other possibilities.
Abraham as a concerned parent
And other commentators give another interesting solution to this question. They raise the possibility that Abraham fears that perhaps his descendants over the generations will lose their way. And Abraham’s request is to know whether his descendants will be worthy of the promise, and if they will preserve their identity over the years.The same commentators say that Abraham seeks a sign that future generations will meet the conditions required for the fulfillment of the promise and the preservation of identity.
I think that this is the concern of any parent.
This idea corresponds to what was said in the covenant between the parts (the Abrahamic Covenant), which was made immediately after Abraham’s words, and it deals mainly with the descendants of Abraham. It emphasizes:
…“Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there… In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” – Genesis 15:13,16 [NIV]
The question arises: What is the connection between the promise of the land to the descendants, the enslavement in Egypt, and the sin of the Amorites?
I will begin with the enslavement in Egypt, and continue with the sin of the Amorites.
Abraham is concerned, just like any other parent from any other nation, that his exiled children will become assimilated amongst the other nations. That his children will integrate into the local culture and language. A generation born in another country learns and grows with the local children, becomes like them, and speaks in the local language.
It is very difficult to explain to the child that we have another faith, another religion, another ethnic identity.It’s hard to explain to a child that he or she does not belong here.
Indeed, research in this field shows that the percentage of assimilation is high in a place where there is no hatred, or where Jews are not isolated by their religion. For example, there is a high percentage of assimilation in the United States – not only of Jews, but of all the nations that are there.
On the other hand, in a place where Jews are being threatened or suffer from anti-Semitism, they adhere more closely to the Jewish religion and culture. Part of the reason for this is that even if they want to assimilate, that are not given the option to do so.
These commentators explain Abraham’s concern: the difficulty of preserving the uniqueness of his descendants in Canaan, which is ruled by the local people.
God gives the solution: Your descendants will go down to another nation, and there God will cause them to be different and separate, in a forced manner – through slavery. This condition of slavery, bondage, and harassment demonstrates to every descendant of Abraham that he or she does not belong to that place and they are different from its inhabitants.
The status of a slave will preserve their uniqueness as a separate people and lead the people of Israel back to the Promised Land.
And I think that on this matter God built a whole system designed to preserve our identity. Perhaps the kosher laws, the feasts, holidays, ceremonies, and customs were all created mainly to preserve our identity for generations.
Note that in all the feasts and holidays the children are at the center of the stage – children’s education is the top priority.
“Shema Yisrael” is perhaps the most familiar text for any Jew, and the essence of the Shema is:
“You shall teach them [God’s words] thoroughly to your children.”
Yeshua taught us,
“Let the little children come to me… for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14 [NIV]
The main question that arises throughout Passover is: why did God use ten plagues instead of one?
And the answer is – because of the children:
“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ …In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.'” – Exodus 13:8,14 [NIV]
We bring the children into booths on Sukkot to teach them about the Exodus from Egypt and about security in God.
We observe the Sabbath as a lesson to our children about the creation of the world, and as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt, as in the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer:
“…in memory of creation. The shabbat is the first among our holy days, and a remembrance of our exodus from Egypt.”
The kosher laws and the feasts also cause us to be different, and to not forget our ethnic origin. Another example is the period of the inquisition in Spain and Portugal, when Jews who converted to Christianity were forbidden to maintain a Jewish way of life.
Those who stood out, by breaking the rules and in doing so kept their Jewish identity, were the women. This is because they are those who kept the kosher laws, many of which involve food – and the woman is responsible for the home and the education of the children. She is the one who dictates the way of life in the home.
It was the woman who kept the lighting of the Sabbath candles – even if the candles were hidden in the closet, they existed and preserved the family identity. It was the woman who baked the matzo bread for Passover. It was the woman who kept a house clean of chametz (yeast) during Passover.
The New Testament teaches us that one of the roles of the woman is to run the house, and it is the woman who determines how the house looks, and how the family looks.
The connection between morality and the land
Let us return to the question of the connection between the promise of the land to the descendants, the enslavement in Egypt, and the sin of the Amorites.
In my opinion, in addition to the two previous interpretations, there is a warning here for generations, a warning for us even today. God makes the promise to Abraham at midnight, all the stars of the heavens and the earth to all his offspring after him, but God delays the application of the promise for 400 years, because:
“… for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” – Genesis 15:16 [NIV]
In other words, the inhabitants of the land have a quota of sins, and as soon as they reach that quota, the decree of the Creator of the Universe is applied.
Later on in the Bible, in Deuteronomy 2:20, we are reminded of previous occupiers of the region:
That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The Lord destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. – Deuteronomy 2:20,21 [NIV]
Moses says that the Ammonites inherited the land of the Zamzummites, and Israel inherited the land of the Ammonites. And there are other examples like this.
It is worth noting that there is a connection between the moral behavior of a people and the amount of time it has spent on its land.
God actually tells us, “You are not the first occupants ,” “You are warned.” This continues in the Bible with the Babylonian exile, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Aramites, and more. And there is a continuation that is not written in the Bible, but it is known and painful. Our land was taken from us and given to all kinds of conquerors – Greeks, Persians, Turks, British.
It all depends on the will of the Creator. And the will of the Creator of the world depends on the amount of sins and iniquities committed by the inhabitants of the land. Everything is conditional and everything depends on us. We have been warned.
What is the connection between the promise of the land to the descendants, the enslavement in Egypt, and the sin of the Amorites?
The promise of the land depends on the moral level of the people, and if they do not preserve morality, they will go into exile. But in any case, the ethnic identity of the people will be preserved, even in exile, be it for 400 years, 70 years in the Babylonian exile, or 2000 years in our time. But God will keep His promise to Abraham and will always give us the opportunity for repentance.