Studies in Torah

Genesis 18:1–22:24: Abraham learns faith in God despite his trust issues

Do we trust God in His promises? We can come up with all sorts of ideas about God. But if we don’t really trust Him and His leading, why bother following? These are questions tackled in this discussion on the Torah portion וירא Vayera (“and He appeared”), covering Genesis 18-22. Abraham is shown to have trust issues up to his great test of faith. At that point, he sees something. This passage is all about the Promised One — the Mashiakh (Messiah) — represented by Abraham’s son Yitzkhak (Isaac).

We have to start out with the right beginning, otherwise we will not get to the right end. A sore point for people who believe that all that exists just comes from what exists is that everything has to come from something. The real source if what we see in Gen. 1:1. What is the authoritative proof? You have to trust God. If you believe otherwise, you are trusting in another source other than God. Where you start shows you where you end.

What we have been going through from the beginning, we are learning about where God intended the world to go and how God is working to bring the world to the goal He established.

Dining with the Deity

God meeting man in person is a big event. Adam, Eve, Enoch, even Cain to some degree, had direct contact with God. We also see how Noach met with God, Terah and Abraham also received God’s instruction. All these events are very special.

As we come into Genesis 18, this happened after Abraham’s circumcision. God speaks to Abraham and tells him that he will have a child with Sarah. Not just any child, but a child who would be a great man and a progenitor of kings and nations.

Abraham laughed outwardly but Sarah laughed inwardly. God makes note of all of it and that is why God chose to name their son Yitzkhak. The same thing Sarah faced we all have to face at different crossroads in our life. That “You have got to be kidding” impulse comes to all of us.

When things seem impossible, is God going to act and do we believe He can do it or that He is willing to do it? Does He ever give up on His people?

When we try to “help” God, it often doesn’t end well because we aren’t trusting in God when we try to “help” Him out.

We see in Vayera that Abraham was extremely hospitable to His heavenly visitors, even as he was recovering from his circumcision. Despite his pain, Abraham is able to see beyond himself enough to plead for God’s mercy on Sodom and the cities of the plain.

Lot of hospitality in inhospitable Sodom

When you think about the concern that Lot even had for the people of Sodom that he lived there for so many years trying to be a positive influence. He did not lose the gift of hospitality that he had inherited from his forefathers.

His wife and children were members of that community. Think of how hard it was for Lot to flee that the angels had to drag Lot, his wife and two unmarried daughters out of the town. They left behind their married children and in-laws, Lot and his wife may have lost grandchildren in those flames, too. Assuming this is the case, do you have a little more understanding on Lot’s wife as she looked back at that city, the flames that were consuming her daughters, son-in-law and even grandchildren in flames?

Then when Lot and his young teenage daughters end up hiding out in a cave, assuming that they were literally the last human beings alive on the earth and asking themselves how they can “help” God by repopulating the earth. Did you think logically when you were 12, 13 or 14 years old? Please cut these young teenage girls some slack before you criticize them too harshly for their act of incest.

Lot was one who in a sense died and was resurrected. He was a brand plucked out of the flames.

Just as Lot felt anguish over the loss of his family and his livelihood, Abraham also felt much anguish over the exile of Ishmael.

Blessings for Ishmael too

God blessed Ishmael greatly for Abraham’s sake, but Ishmael’s descendants have not, for the most part, been a blessing to the world. They have been a curse to the world. There is a rivalry between the house of Ishmael and the house of Yitzkhak. This is still with us to this day.

Hagar was an Egyptian and Ishmael’s wife was an Egyptian. This might be why Egypt shows up so prominently in prophesy and the Day of the Lord.

A part of the continuing blessing of Ishmael, at least they have a small connection to the heritage of Abraham. Just like when you drive out of range of a radio station and you barely hear the station through the static, the descendants of Ishmael who have heard about the Messiah born from Yitzkhak’s line is the one they should trust.

The Messiah, born from Yitzkhak’s line is not just Yitzkhak’s Messiah, but Ishmael’s Messiah, too.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had cut deals with Philistia and other nations in the land, but most of the nations did not honor those deals. Philistia, in particular, did not honor their agreements. They thought, wrongly, that Abraham was an easy target to take advantage of.

You would think that after Abraham had defeated the five invading kings from the east, that they would have realized that Abraham deserved respect and to not slight him but if we don’t learn a lesson by observation, God will teach us the lesson Himself.

Why circumcision?

Yitzkhak was circumcised at 8 days old, which was a year after all the other men of the household had been baptized. Circumcision predates Sinai. The Israelites who left Egypt had forgotten this part of their history.

Ishmael had chosen to be circumcised at the age of 13. Yitzkhak did not have any choice in the matter at all. One of the things that is brought up when Ishmael was “mocking” Yitzkhak is that Ishmael had chosen to be in the covenant and he may have felt somewhat superior to Yitzkhak because of it.

Later, during the time of the Maccabees, circumcision became one of the two main markers of what it means to be a Jew.

Paul discusses circumcision in Galatians. One of the challenges in reading Paul’s writings is not to just jump into the middle of the letter and assume you understand the message. Paul takes his time to build his argument before making his point. Paul is addressing the issue of are you born into the covenant or are you promised into it? Is the person who choses circumcision superior to the one who had that choice put upon him?

“Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.

But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, “REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.” And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? “CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.” So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:21–31 NASB)

The punchline is Gal. 4:31. How can Mt. Sinai be a bondage, a form of slavery when they were just freed from slavery in Egypt? What is the value of circumcision? Abraham was considered righteous before circumcision. This promise that is given, that people can enter into, including the Gentiles, proceeds the signing of the contract.

Abraham saw the new Jerusalem, the one with God as its foundation. Abraham living in the midst of the cities but does not live in a city. He was a great power in this land, but he does not live behind a walled city, but out in the open in tents.  That is how strong Abraham’s trust in God carried him.

Abraham did not just cross over a river, he crossed over into a new way of life.

Ishmael’s fault was that he felt entitled to God’s promises because he “chose” to be circumcised, Ishmael used his free will, as much free will as a 13-year-old boy has, while Yitzkhak was circumcised on the 8th day without a choice, but God didn’t see it that way. To God, His promises are superior to our “choices.”

‘Not withheld your only son’

In Genesis 22, we see another story where something very important occurs on the third day. God gave Yitzkhak back his life. This story is a prophecy of resurrection. Where Yitzkhak was sacrificed occurred at a specific time and place.

God tells Abraham that “you have not withheld your only son from Me.” The book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham’s faith in God was so great at this point that he knew that God would not allow Yitzkhak to die. Abraham had such strong faith in God that he knew that one way or another, God still planned to fulfill His prior promises to Yitzkhak.

Just as Abraham gave his only son, God gave His only Son, it’s like a circle.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NASB)

God is cleaning up the mess that started in the Garden of Eden. There is death, but there is resurrection.

Learning faith from the Shunammite woman

Today’s haftarah (parallel) reading is 2Kings 4:1–37 [see a study specifically on this passage]. At first, it doesn’t seem to have any connection to Genesis 18-22. There is salvation here: salvation from slavery and the promise of resurrection from death. These are the same themes that we see in Vayera.

In the haftarah, we see the never-ending oil and the Shunammite woman’s son, who was born from a barren woman, died and experienced resurrection. Even the story of the poison stew. All these were “impossible.” God turned slavery into freedom, barrenness into fruitfulness and death into life.

The story of the Shunammite’s son and Yitzkhak in have close parallels:

  1. Born of a barren woman.
  2. Death.
  3. Resurrection.

When the Shunammite woman approached the assistant she tells him “all is well” but she tells the prophet the truth that her son was dead. The Shunammite had faith in the prophet to resurrect her son, just as Abraham knew that God would still bring forth the promises that He made through Yitzkhak even if Abraham sacrificed and killed Yitzkhak.

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” (Hebrews 11:8–19 NASB)

Abraham received Yitzkhak back as a “parable.” Their story was a messianic prophesy played out in real life.

Speaker: Jeff. Summary: Tammy.

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