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Lech Lecha: Entering the Promise

Lech Lecha (Go Forth!)
Genesis 12:1–17:27; Isaiah 40:27–41:16; Matthew 1:1–17

“Adonai said to Abram, ‘Go forth [lech lecha] from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you … and I will bless you.’”  (Genesis 12:1–2)

Our last Torah reading, Noach (Noah), concluded with a genealogy of Shem, Noah’s son.  That genealogy ended with Terah, father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.  Terah took his son Abram and Abram’s wife Sarai, as well as Lot, son of Haran, who had died, out of Ur of the Chaldeans and headed toward the Land of Canaan.

Instead of reaching their destination, however, they settled at Haran where Terah lived out the rest of his days

In this week’s Parasha, at God’s command, Abram carries on with his father’s unfinished mission — to reach the Land of Canaan, the name given to the Promised Land at this time. 

Carrying the Torah at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

Carrying the Torah at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

The Covenant of God and the Promised Land

“Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh.  And the Canaanites were then in the land.”  (Genesis 12:6)

Abram and his wife, Sarai, become the first settlers of the Holy Land by packing up their belongings and homesteading in Elon Moreh, near Shechem (modern day Nablus) in Israel’s heartland of Samaria.

God, the original Zionist, made an eternal promise to give the Land to Abram and his offspring: “To your offspring will I give this land.”  (Genesis 12:7)

At that time, the Canaanites controlled the land; nevertheless, God reassured Abram that it would one day belong to his offspring — the Jewish People.

We may see a clear correlation to the political situation in the Middle East today.

The Palestinians have gained control of large tracts of land within Israel, which leaves many Israelis wanting to see the Promised Land divided.  They believe that establishing a separate Palestinian state beside a Jewish state will create peace. 

Abram and Lot Depart Out of Haran, by the illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible

Abram and Lot Depart Out of Haran, by the illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible

Many around the globe also think two states for two peoples is a fair solution because the some of the Arabs that currently live in Israel have roots that go back several centuries.  Most, however, came in a massive wave of immigration from surrounding lands in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Therefore, some wonder if the Jewish People have returned to the Land in vain.

Rivers of tears and pools of blood have been shed in order to re-claim our God-given land.  Did all those who risked and even sacrificed their lives to drain malaria-infested swamps, to re-plant the land, to re-build the cities, and to defend this nation against the hordes of enemies do so in vain?

Have the Jewish People survived the threat of extermination throughout 2,000 years of persecution — pogroms and inquisitions and even the Holocaust — in the lands of their exile, finally to return to their Promised Land, just to be driven out once and for all by hate-crazed, religious radicals?

Only if God breaks His covenant.

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.’”  (Isaiah 54:10)

Torah scroll_finials_rimmon_bar mitzvah_tallit

Two Jewish boys stand before the Torah scroll.

God made more than a promise to Abraham.  He made a blood covenant.  That covenant included giving this land to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob as an eternal inheritance:

To Abraham:

“I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”  (Genesis 17:7–8)

To Isaac:

“To you [Isaac] and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.”  (Genesis 26:3)

To Jacob:

“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you [Jacob] and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and … all peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.”  (Genesis 28:13–14)

Abram Guarding His Sacrifice, by James Tissot

Abraham Guarding His Sacrifice, by James Tissot

Abram did not have to do a thing to establish this covenant with God.  In fact, in chapter 15 of Genesis, God alone walked through the animals that Abraham offered, indicating that the covenant he cut with Abraham was unconditional.

God actually caused a deep sleep to fall on Abram when He made the covenant with him, probably to emphasize that God alone is making this unconditional promise and also to prevent Abram from walking through it (Genesis 15:8–20).

In ancient covenant practices, both parties would walk through the offering if it were conditional.

With so many Scriptures declaring God’s everlasting promise, our claim to this land is not political, but by Divine right.

Of course, there is great opposition to God’s Word.  The Canaanites had their weapons and allies, and so do the enemies of Israel today; both gained some temporary victories in their efforts to claim the land as their own but, ultimately, God owns the land and can give it to whomever He wishes.

His everlasting covenant with Abraham will stand. 

Israel father sons walk hike

A father walks with his sons in Israel.

Walking the Land as the First Hebrew

“Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”  (Genesis 13:17)

When God commanded Abram to walk the length and breadth of the land, it was not just for a little sightseeing stroll; it fulfilled a legal custom in ancient times to claim ownership of a property by walking through it.

Egyptian and Hittite kings would regularly leave their grand palaces to take a ceremonial walk through their countryside in order to confirm their ownership of the land.

In Mesopotamia, according to ancient records, the seller of a property would lift his foot off the land and purposefully set the buyers foot upon it.  This may further explain the cultural context of the Scripture in which God promises to give Joshua “every place the sole of his foot treads upon.”

“I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.”  (Joshua 1:3)

Legally, then, when Abram walked the length and breadth of the land, he took possession of it for himself and his descendants as an eternal possession.

A Jewish man reads a Torah scroll at the Western (Wailing) Wall. (Photo by Etienne Valois)

A Jewish man reads a Torah scroll at the Western (Wailing) Wall.  (Photo by Etienne Valois)

Talmudic rabbis (ancient rabbinic commentators of Scripture) have compared Abram’s walk through the land to a vial of perfume that only gives off scent when moved, wafting the fragrance of faith throughout the Promised Land.

Whereas Noah walked “with” God; Abram walked “before” God, paving the way for the world to come to the knowledge of faith in the one true God.

Abram had an ability to cross over borders: He not only crossed from Mesopotamia to Canaan, he courageously crossed from a world of idol worship to a world in which the one true God was worshiped, instead.  The world stood on one side and he stood with truth on the other.

He crossed over into his destiny, and his descendants inherited the reward and blessing as well as the characteristic of being those who cross over.

For this reason, Abram became the first person to be called an Ivrithe one who crossed over.  This word comes from the Hebrew verb la’avor (to cross over) and is transliterated into English simply as a Hebrew.

Lech Lecha, therefore, is one of the most exciting chapters in the Torah (first five books of the Bible), since it chronicles the adventures of the first Hebrew with God.

May we, too, come to this life-altering place where we “cross over” into a new, exciting adventure in our life with Him.

A Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

A Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Abraham Wins the War of the Kings

“And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.”  (Genesis 13:7)

In chapter 13 of Genesis, Abram and his nephew Lot have become quite wealthy.  Their herds are so large that the land cannot support all of them.  (Genesis 13:6)

Consequently, strife breaks out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot, and instead of diffusing the situation, they decide to part ways.

We may perhaps see a hint of the underlying source of strife through the choice that Lot makes.  When Abram offers him first choice of the area, Lot chooses the best for himself, instead of insisting that his uncle, who has treated him much like a son, take the best.

Lot chooses the green, fertile plains of the Jordan near Sodom and Gomorrah and Abram moves on to the plains of Mamre (Hebron).

“And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.  Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.”  (Genesis 13:10–11)

Abraham and Lot Divided the Land (Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster, 1897)

Abraham and Lot Divided the Land (Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster, 1897)

Although the grass may be greener on the other side of the hill, that fact does not mean it is better, nor does it mean we should go there.  Greener pastures do not guarantee that God’s blessing is there for the taking.

Soon after parting company, Lot needs Abram’s aid when four powerful kings capture all of Sodom, including Lot.  Abram rounds up a small army of 318 men and frees the captives:

“And he [Abram] and his servants deployed against them at night and struck them; he pursued them as far as Hobah, which is to the north of Damascus.  And he brought back all the possessions; he also brought back his kinsman, Lot, with his possessions, as well as the women and the people.”  (Genesis 14:15–16)

Not only did Abram reveal military prowess and valor in the War of the Kings, he also showed great self-sacrifice and kindness toward his nephew Lot.  With a very small army, vastly outnumbered by the four kings and their armies, Abram risked his own life to save his nephew’s.

Such valor is currently being demonstrated by our police officers and ordinary citizens who confront terrorists on the streets of Jerusalem as they stabrun over innocent civilians, and hurl rocks at moving cars.

Here in Israel, we are all mishpacha (family); therefore, just as with Abram, Israelis do not allow themselves to succumb to fear or freeze at the possible consequences of protecting civilians; instead, many rush to protect strangers at the risk of their own lives.

Let us pray that Israelis and their leaders will be strong and of good courage, sincerely seeking God, as the end-time threat of annihilation plays out against this nation.

Western wall, orthodox man, Israeli soldier

Orthodox Jewish man and Israeli soldier pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall

The Destiny of Abraham — Eternal Salvation

Parasha Lech Lecha spans Abram’s life from the age of 75 to 99.

That means he lived most of his life without really knowing his destiny—not until God revealed it to him through a covenant that led to a name change.  Abraham waited again a long time before he began to see its fulfillment through a son named Isaac.

In this Parasha, God tells him, “No longer shall your name be called Abram [אַבְרָם] but your name shall be Abraham [אַבְרָהָם]; for I have made you a father of many nations [or Gentiles — אַב-הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם].”  (Genesis 17:5)

With the addition of only one Hebrew letter — the letter hey (ה) Abram (exalted father) became Abrahamexalted father of a multitude of nations.

The Hebrew consonant ה is often used as an abbreviation for the name of God and is found twice in God’s personal name.  So by adding this letter to Abram’s name, God added Himself as Abba Father to Abraham’s nature, character, and destiny.

By adding the letter hey to Abraham’s wife’s name, it changed from Sarai (My Princess) to Sarah (Princess of the whole world).

For this reason, it is traditionally believed that a change of name can change one’s destiny.

A 13-year-old Jewish boy prepares to read the Torah at the Western Wall. (Photo by Peter van der Sluijs)

A 13-year-old Jewish boy prepares to read the Torah at the Western Wall.  (Photo by Peter van der Sluijs)

God did not only promise Abraham the land of Israel, but also that he would be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2; 18:18; 22:17–18; 26:3–4).

Today, there are countless ways in which God fulfills this promise to Abraham through the nation of Israel.  Israel’s technological, agricultural, and medical innovations and advances are helping people around the globe.

But the most meaningful fulfillment of this promise is the Word of God that the Jewish People have faithfully protected and brought to the world, as well as eternal salvation through faith in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah):

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.  It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Yeshua the Messiah from the dead.  Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.

“And through your faith, God is protecting you by His power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.”  (1 Peter 1:3–5)

Abram Called To Be a Blessing (1906 Providence Lithograph Company Bible card)

Abram Called To Be a Blessing (1906 Providence Lithograph Company Bible card)

God’s destiny for Abraham to become the father of a multitude of nations (even Gentile nations) is fulfilled in a significant way through Yeshua, who is a direct descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matthew 1:2–17).

Anyone from any tribe, tongue, or nationality who declares faith in Yeshua becomes an heir of Abraham:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. And if you are Messiah’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  (Galatians 3:27–29)

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