Torah Reflection 03
Lekh - L’kha (get yourself out of here)
Genesis 12:1 to 17:27
Just as Noah was a man of great faith, we are now introduced to the person God anointed to be the head of the one family to whom the rest of the Scriptures relate. Dr. Marvin R. Wilson, in seeking to expound the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, wrote much about him in his outstanding volume “Our Father Abraham”. A good read for those interested in the roots of our faith.
He was Abram, son of Terah, citizen of Ur of the Chaldeans. Terah took Abram and his wife Sarai (who had no children) and Abram’s nephew, Lot, intending to travel to Canaan. But they got no further than Haran in what is today, Syria. It was there that Terah died. (Legend has it that Terah made and sold idols for a living. It is speculated that this is how Abram abandoned the family idolatry and sought a new faith. He certainly was a man who heard from God and understood what he heard.)
It is a little known fact that Noah was still alive for almost the first 60 years of Abram’s life, and the lives of Abram and Shem (Noah’s son) overlapped for over 150 years. And that provides a possible answer to the question as to how Abram knew about YHWH Elohim doesn’t it? Neither Noah nor Shem would have remained silent about their experience of God. Turn back to Genesis 9: 25-27 and understand the way the Canaanites bore the curse (Hebrew “A’rar”) which Noah placed on them. In the event, we do know that God spoke directly to Abram, and Abram not only heard God’s voice, but he was obedient to it. His destination? The cursed nation of Canaan!
Read the promises God made to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3. They are staggering in scope and content, and I can only imagine that Abram was overwhelmed at the thought. But in verse 3, the English language uses the same word, “curse”, in translation of two different Hebrew words. “A’rar” which is a ‘bitter curse’ for the first, and “Qalal”, for the second, meaning ‘treating one lightly’ or ‘treating with contempt, or disregard’.
So now we get a glimpse of things to come. Abram is sent by God to the nation which was ‘bitterly cursed’ by Noah. There he is to establish a family,(nation), blessed by God, but with the added promise of ‘bitter curse’ on anyone (nation) who treats that family of Abram lightly, or with contempt. And if there is doubt in anyone’s mind, we read in Genesis 12:6 that Abram came to the place (known today as Nablus) called Shechem, which is built in a valley. High above Shechem is the township today called. Elon Moreh. It was there, with a commanding view of the surrounding area, that God appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” (I have had the personal experience of standing on the heights of Elon Moreh. To the North, Mount Hermon. East is the Jordan and beyond. South is the Negev. And west is the Mediterranean. It is a LOT of land, substantially more than that which is called Israel today.)
So Abram travelled through the land. He eventually, due to severe drought in the land, ended up in Egypt where he had that amazing encounter with the Egyptian Pharaoh over the identity of Sarai as his wife. (Rabbinic literature also identifies Sarai as a half sister to Abram) A consequence of this encounter with the Pharaoh seems to be that Abram acquired significant wealth in terms of silver and gold besides sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels and servants. Thus it was that Abram and his entourage returned to Canaan, specifically to the area near Bethel where he had earlier set up an altar of worship to God.
Some time later, Abram and his nephew Lot went their separate ways and that’s a whole new story. Read it in Genesis 13 and 14. Abram moved further south and dwelt near Hebron. Lot got into trouble with four local kings and lost his possessions, which Abram recovered and in the process met with the mysterious ‘Melchi Tzedek”, of whom much is written. (but not here!)
The remainder of our reading is pivotal to our faith as believers. It is here that we come to terms with God’s salvation plan for mankind. It is where Almighty God puts His credibility at stake, so to speak, by making that unconditional covenant promise to Abram, by which an elderly, barren woman, Abram’s wife Sarai, would give natural birth to her only son. It is a staggeringly challenging proposition. How easy it is today to take it all for granted because we know the end of the story .. BUT before it happened!! That’s a different matter. Genesis 15:6 says “And he (Abram) believed in the LORD, and He (the LORD) accounted it to him for righteousness.” Faith is counted as righteousness by Almighty God. And today, it is faith that God actually did what He promised to do which is counted as righteousness to those who believe and trust His word.
It is a measure of the enormity of what God requires of us in faith to read the account of how Sarai (and Abram) sought to give God a ‘helping hand’ in this, resulting in the birth of Ishmael. Abram was 86 years old at this time. And it was another 14 years before the child of God’s promise, Isaac, was born.
Genesis 17 gives us the account of the conversation God had with Abram as He was about to fulfil His promise of providing a naturally born child to him. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah. At the same time God promised to establish His covenant with the as yet unborn Isaac, and his offspring, in perpetuity. LORD, give us faith to trust you, as did Abraham, that it may be counted as righteousness to us.