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: Abraham, the Evangelist [2019]

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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 [2018]

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:

  1. I will make you a great nation.
  2. I will bless you and make your name great.
  3. 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.

Netivyah | Parashat Lech Lecha | Abraham and Lot divided the land | Bible Pictures with brief descriptions by Charles Foster, published in 1897, Philadelphia, PA

Abraham and Lot divided the land (Bible Pictures with brief descriptions by Charles Foster, 1897)

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 [2016]

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 [2017]

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.

In conclusion:

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.

Shabbat Shalom. 

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.