Saturday 20 October 2018 11 Cheshvan 5779
Parashat Lech L’chah
Bereshit / Genesis 12:1-17:27, Isaiah 40:27-41:16
Being a Man of Faith
In the Midrashic literature, the rabbis teach about the pivotal significance of God’s reign. The Kingdom of Heaven signifies God’s redemptive power and His rule over our lives encompasses the authority of the Torah. By the time the people of Israel had arrived at Sinai and received the Ten Commandments, they had already experienced the divine deliverance of God and His protection. Take for example what the rabbis say according to the Mekilta de-Rabbi Yishmael 20:2.
Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael 20:2
“I am the L-rd your G-d”: Why were the ten commandments not stated at the beginning of the Torah? An analogy: A man enters a province and says (to the inhabitants): I will rule over you. They respond: Did you do anything for us that you ould rule over us? Whereupon he builds the (city) wall for them, provides water for them, wages war for them, and then says: I will rule over you — whereupon they respond: Yes! Yes! Thus, the L-rd took Israel out of Egypt, split the sea for them, brought down manna for them, raised the well for them, brought in quail for them, waged war with Amalek for them, and then said to them: I will rule over you — whereupon they responded: Yes! Yes!
Rebbi says: (The thrust of “your [singular] G-d”) is to apprise us of the eminence of Israel, that when they all stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they were all of one heart, to receive the kingdom of Heaven with joy. And, what is more, they all stood security for each other (for observance of the mitzvoth.) And not only over what was revealed alone did the Holy One Blessed be He appear to them (in Arvoth Moav, viz. Devarim 29:9) to forge a covenant with them, but even over what was concealed, as it is written (Devarim 29:28) “What is hidden (is known to) the L-rd our G-d, and what is revealed is for us and for our children forever” — this, by way of saying: Over what is revealed we will enter into a covenant with you, but not over what is concealed, so that one not sin in secret and the congregation be bound thereby.
What we find here is a community of people seeking to do the will of God by receiving the kingdom of Heaven with joy at the foot of the mountain of Sinai. God’s mercy drew them to His presence and place of worship, and allowed them to enter into a covenant relationship by faith. Remember that God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, not because of any merit they had but purely because he made promises that He had made to the Patriarchs. Therefore, their deliverance from the Egyptian oppression was by faith and not by works.
The New Testament teachings about the nature of God are firmly rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures and by what we find here in the parallel rabbinic thought. The Jewish background of early Christianity provides for us a rich perception of the significance of God being One in faith and practice (the application of God’s Word). This is how Abraham lived his life. He taught others about God in heaven and added to his number those who would believe in the One true God.
We read that God said Abraham was accounted righteous because of his faith and faithfulness to God’s command in his willingness to teach others (i.e. his children) and to speak of God’s mercy to those around him. (Bereshit / Genesis 15:6 - “And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith”)
In the beginning of Parashat Lech Lecha, the Lord God who is One, calls to Abram to go to a new land and He promised Abram that he would become a great nation, and many children would be born unto him. These promises begin with the opening verses of this week’s Torah Portion in
Bereshit / Genesis 12:1-8.
12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you;
12:2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’
12:4 So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 12:5 Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.
12:6 Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land.
12:7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.
12:8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.
12:9 Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. (NASB)
When the Lord God Almighty began working with Abram, God gave him a command and an amazing promise. The command was “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Bereshit / Genesis 12:1). This promise of God had multiple components, including the promise of many descendants, fame, divine protection, and through his descendants he would be a blessing to all people. Abram’s children and grand-children would also reap the same benefits and inheritance (see Hebrews 11:9).
This multi-component blessing causes us to refer to the blessings as promises. This is how Paul understood these things according to Galatians saying, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made” (Galatians 3:16).
The Rabbis go on to say the following concerning the opening verses of the Torah portion and Abram being a blessing to the nations.
Chizkuni, Genesis 12:2
“as a result, you will become a source of blessing.” We find a parallel to this expression in Isaiah 19,24: ”on that day I will set up Israel as a blessing in
the midst of the earth.”
According to Chizkuni, the blessing to Abraham is connected to Israel being a blessing in the midst of the earth referencing Isaiah 19:24. Part of God’s Plan for our lives is for us to live for the glory of God. The promises that God gives to Abram was that He was going to bless him and through him then all of the world. Paul wrote saying, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). The ultimate blessing is for the purpose of manifesting the glory of God in our lives. Matt 5:16 - "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Rambam comments that the Lord God commanded Abram to leave his country and to bless him without first requiring him to be a servant of God or to be perfectly righteous. The idea is that when we walk in God’s presence (walking
before Him) walking by His commandments, we are walking by His light and it is impossible not to see the dangers of lapses into sin in our lives. When determining to walk in God’s ways, it is impossible not to see our own mistakes. For example, it is impossible to walk with God and also be a liar, sinful, corrupt, adulterous, malicious, scheming, performing lashon hara (gossip), etc. Having the Spirit of God dwelling in our midst (in our hearts) it is impossible to walk with Him and practice unrighteousness. (read 1 John 3)
In Genesis 17, the Lord God told Abram “I am God Almighty: walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” At this point, the command came only to Abram. Later we read that Moshe gave this command to all of the people of Israel.
Yeshua the Messiah then brought this command to all of the world (Matt 5:48), to those who would believe in Him and obey the Gospel. Again, this is how Paul understood the Gospel and why he wrote what he did in Romans 16:25 “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen."
Paul speaks of the gentiles coming to the obedience that comes from faith. This is what Yeshua taught us about the Torah, and this is what Abraham did living a life that was consistent with what he believed. Abram had faith, and having faith, he answered God’s call on his life to go and to do what God wanted him to do.
A Jewish leader who lived not long after Yeshua, Joshua ben Korach, asked the question, “Why does the first section, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One’ (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:4) Precede the second section, ‘And if you will obey my commandments which I command you this day to love the Lord your
God ...’ Devarim / Deuteronomy 11:13)?”
This question asks why the Scriptures are organized in the way that they are in the sense that they form a liturgical prayer that is recited twice daily. Joshua ben
Korach answered saying, that the reason is for “the kingdom of heaven.” This answer is related to a man’s response, that first he is to take upon himself the kingdom of heaven, and afterwards he is to take upon himself the yoke of the commandments. This illustrates what God has done, He reached out to all peoples by His mighty acts of salvation, and has provided a way of life for the subjects of his kingdom.
This is the point of the Lord God calling Abram from the midst of his family and his land. HaShem called Abram to leave everything that he was accustomed to behind and to travel to another land.
The reign of God in a person’s life is realized when the power of God is manifest in one being willing to obey His word. Obedience to God’s way of life is the response of the Lord almighty living in us. The acceptance of the kingdom of heaven means to acknowledge that God is One, He is unique, and that we are to bear witness that there are no other gods. This is the power of God’s reign as illustrated in the life of Abram.
In a similar manner, Yeshua the Messiah focused upon God’s kingdom and reign as
a way of life. This is why Yeshua referred to Abraham so often in his teachings. (see John 8) In the Apostolic Writings, we read about Paul who taught the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ openly and unhindered. (Acts 28:31) Looking at what and how Paul taught in his epistles, we can see how he instructed everyone about the kingdom of heaven, how we are to accept the Lord into our lives, and of the power
of God that is found in suffering for the Lord while maintaining our faith in Yeshua God’s plan of redemption. Paul upheld the moral and ethical standard in the communities he established. His ethics were based upon his training as a Pharisee and his love for the Torah.
This is how the Torah and the Gospel message are connected. The kingdom of heaven is here in full force just as God and His power was present and in full force in the midst of the people in the Torah.
As people who seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven by faith in His Messiah, they
seek His reign over their lives, to obey His will, and for the move and power of God to overcome sin. All of these things are coupled to the concept of God’s sovereignty over our lives, and this comes by our making the conscious decision to ask Him into our hearts to be Lord over our lives. Entry to His kingdom comes by way of the Messiah,
to believe in Him and in what He did for us, and to walk in His ways just as He walked in the ways of God’s Torah and all those who went before him. These are the things we are being taught as we read the story and life of Abram, the man of faith.