Studies in Torah

Genesis 23:1–25:18: Sarah’s ‘lives’ and our ‘new creation’

When we are pushed to our limits, God promises us that the ways of the Kingdom of God are far more profitable in the long term than trying to avoid pain. That’s what Abraham and Sarah learned over many years of their lives. It’s all the more relevant today for increasing social and physical pressure put on believers in the Holy One of Israel and the Anointed One of God. This lesson of faith is the backdrop of the Torah portion (parashah) חיי שרה Chayei Sarah (“life of Sarah,” Gen. 23:1–25:18).

The Hebrew word חיים khayim/chaim for life is plural in form but usually translated as singular. Playing on the plural form of the word, I would call this section “the lives of Sarah.” She started her life as Sarai and ended her life as Sarah (“princess”). Her faith in the LORD grew on a similar trajectory to her husband Abraham’s. She goes from laughing at God to having great faith in Him.

Abraham mourned greatly for Sarah. They had been married for longer than most people have been alive. She came from Ur of the Chaldees, in the area that we now call Iraq. She moved from there to Aram, which is in modern-day Syria. Sarah, along with Abraham and her nephew Lot, were the only ones who left Aram and settled in Canaan.

Sarah was renowned for her great physical beauty, so much so that Abraham feared for his life because of it. He feared that great men such as the Pharaoh and Abimelech would kill him just to have her (Gen. 12:14–20; 20:1–17), so Abraham claimed she was his sister. Granted, she was his half-sister, but it was more relevantly truthful that she was his wife.

“This, Ramban remarks, will be the cause of his descendants’ painful exile in Egypt.” (Jewish Study Bible on Genesis 12)

There’s a pattern of great beauty in the patriarchs’ wives:

  • Abraham’s son Yitzkhak (Isaac) later would use the same reasoning with Rivkah (Rebekah) in Gerar (Gen. 26:7) for claiming she was his sister.
  • His grandson Ya’akob (Jacob) considered Raquel (Rachel) extremely beautiful (Gen. 29:17).

‘Inner beauty’ vs. ‘live out loud’?

Does this emphasis on the physical beauty of Sarah, Rivkah and Raquel mean that we should look for our wives at the Ms. Universe pageant? Fortunately, Scripture gives us a better idea (1Pet. 3:1–12 NASB).

Apostle Peter likened her beauty and that of other matriarchal pillars of Israel to “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1Pet. 3:4 NASB). Peter noted that the inner beauty of Sarah, Rivka and Raquel was gentleness and quietness.

Does that mean it’s sinful to “live out loud”? Some men read this passage and want to whip out their “submission stick” and beat any woman who has an opinion about anything in the Body of Messiah. There’s nothing here that gives men the right to “bear down” on their wives.

Yeshua is a kind, patient servant, and He calls men to act the same way towards their wives. Both men and women need to master gentleness, thoughtfulness and the quiet spirit.

God teaches that thoughtfulness in how we act and speak is a better character trait than wearing one’s heart on the sleeve. The latter becomes fodder for reality TV and talk shows. We need those who “live out loud” who jump in and don’t think twice about jumping into a crazy situation to try to fix it. If the only people in the Body of Messiah were the contemplative peaceniks, there would be no one for self-defense when a serious threat arises.

However, we also have examples of people in Scripture, such as King David, who didn’t think before they lept and got himself and those around him in lots of trouble.

‘Let your words be few’

In worship, it is a good thing to listen more than you speak.

“Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.” (Eccl. 5:2)
“ ‘When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]” ’ ” (Matt. 6:5–13)

We need a balance between “living out loud” and thinking before speaking. In life, think before you speak.

God knows exactly how we are, we aren’t really telling him anything new but it is important to us that we pray to God. Some of the Psalms are short, some are long, but they are all personal.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’

“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Prov. 10:19)

There should no difference between your “secular life” and your “holy life.” Our ability to communicate can either calm people or making them crazy and incite riots in which people get killed. Our ill-conceived words can cause catastrophes in our families. Once a word comes out of your mouth, you can’t put it back in again.

When I read Abraham’s negotiations for Sarah’s tomb, I see one of the most powerful men in the land at the time who was still a nomad. He was such a powerful man that he bailed out Sodom and five other cities when Lot was captured in an attack. He certainly was powerful enough to have bought lots of land, created a large plantation but he doesn’t do that.

He insists on paying full price for the land he wanted to bury Sarah’s remains. (That’s modern-day Hebron.) We are told that he paid 400 sheqels for the cave and a little land around it. At two-fifths of an ounce per sheqel, this is about 160 ounces. At today’s price of $16.56 an ounce for silver, that’s about $2,650.

In 2016, this is a very low price for a burial. Abraham’s purchase was not a bad deal at all considering how this land deed has passed along for over 3000 years.

Sarah’s life doesn’t end here. She lives on as the matriarch of a great people, knit together more by trust in God than by genealogy.

Laban the obedient; Laban the double-crosser

What was Abraham’s criteria for a daughter-in-law? He didn’t send Eleazar with a list of physical requirements. He didn’t care if she was blonde or brunette, short or tall, beautiful or homely. Abraham had only one requirement. She could not be a Canaanite.

Abraham sends Eleazar to his hometown to find a wife for Yitzkhak (Isaac). Laban recognizes the will of the LORD and submits to it when his sister is chosen to be a wife for Abraham’s son, but about 100 years later, he puts Abraham’s grandson Ya’akob through the ringer.

The proper response to God’s instructions should be Eleazar’s (Gen. 24:27). Faith doesn’t come to us by osmosis. Eleazar’s faith was his own. Eleazar knew that God would follow him even to a foreign land to help him fulfill his promise to his boss Abraham.

The kind of hospitality Rivka offered Eleazar is above and beyond the call of duty. Offering to water Eleazar’s camels was an arduous task. That is how she passed Eleazar’s test so well.

Abraham starts another family

“Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah.” (Genesis 25:1 NASB)

One of the most important sons of this union was Midian. We meet Midianites later in the account of Moshe (Moses). His wife Zipporah came from Midian, and her father, Yitro (Jethro), was “the priest of Midian” (Ex. 2:16; 3:1; 18:1).

We see that knowledge of the LORD was passed thought the family line of Midian. But by the end of the 40 years of wanderings, we also see that polytheism had crept into their nation, and they used their women to seduce the men of Israel away from God (Num. 25:1–9).

Ishmael’s perplexing blessing

This reading ends with a list of the descendants of Ishmael, which includes 12 sons and one daughter. We see in Gen. 25:18 the fulfillment of the earlier prophecy about Ishmael.

“He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.” (Genesis 16:12 NASB)

Even though Ishmael had his hand at the throat of his brothers, his line was still blessed for Abraham’s sake. We can be distressed by the actions of the descendants of Ishmael, but we should be careful about condemning people or writing them off. As Yeshua the Messiah warned, if we sentence others to damnation, we might end up there ourselves (Matt. 5:22).

When God makes promises, He brings them to completion. Since He is eternal, He has plenty of time to keep His promises. We should be extremely thankful for God’s patience and long-suffering with us. The result might not be what we expect.

On the surface, Laban’s crooked dealings with Ya’akov, the enslavement of Israel in Egypt would not end well. However, they are examples to show us that God can make good of a situation in which we can’t see any good (Rom. 8:28). When things look dark, God reminds us that “joy comes in the morning” (Psa. 30:5). When we are pushed to our limits, God promises us that the ways of the Kingdom of God are far more profitable in the long term than trying to avoid pain.

Summary: Tammy.


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