Thoughts on Lech Lecha

Erev ShabbatThis week’s Parasha, Lech Lecha (Genesis 12.1 – 17.27)[i] is probably one of the most familiar readings aside from Bereshit. The parasha includes the calling out of Abram/Abraham from his family and homeland to a place of the LORD’s choosing, as well as the promise of unprecedented blessings both for him, his family, and for those who would bless him – the flip side to these blessing is that those who would curse Abram and his lineage would in fact be cursed by the LORD (Genesis 12.1-3). Following this the parasha recounts the separation of Abram and Lot due to the size of their holdings and the inability of the two communities to co-exist (Genesis 13) and Abram’s rescue of Lot and his belongings due to a territorial dispute. The parasha continues with the account of Abram’s interaction with the enigmatic figure Melchizedek the king of Salem (Genesis 14.18-20). Intriguingly, the term “Melchizedek” is probably not the king’s name but rather a title – literally the King of Righteousness, who is the King of Peace. Finally, in chapter 15, the LORD reaffirms His covenantal promise to Abram concerning his lineage and this promise is finally realized in chapter 17 with the covenant of circumcision that sealed the LORD’s promise to Abram for all time. It is in chapter 17 that both Abram and Sarai are given new names – Abram to Abraham, from simply a father to a father of many nations and Sarai to Sarah, from a princess to the wife of nobility; establishing the patriarchal and matriarchal lineage from which the LORD would bring blessing and restoration to all creation.

If you have read this parasha, you will notice that I left out two major incidents – Abram and Sarai’s brief sojourn in Egypt (Genesis 12.10-20) and the situation concerning Hagar and the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16.1-16). These two incidents are the low points in Lech Lecha as they each show Abram and Sarai attempting to take care of things in their own understanding without seeking the counsel of the LORD. In next week’s parasha, which concerns Isaac’s prophesized birth, the LORD asks Abraham, “Is anything too difficult for ADONAI?” (Genesis 18.14). The LORD would repeat this question to the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I am Adonai, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32.27). We do not know how the situations would have worked out had Abraham and Sarah sought the LORD for guidance. But Abraham and Sarah did learn the hard way that trying to reason things out on their own often leads to undesirable consequences. Abraham’s fear of Pharaoh and slight twisting of the truth about his and Sarah’s relationship could have had Abraham killed – instead he was just banished from Egypt. The other situation however, has had far reaching consequences. The LORD’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations also applied to Ishmael, Abraham’s son through Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden, even though Isaac was the promised heir. It was prophesized that Ishmael “…will be a wild donkey of a man. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him, and away from all his brothers will he dwell (Genesis 16.12). If we follow Ishmael’s lineage throughout the Scripture, we will find that at almost every interaction, the descendants of Ishmael were against the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Ya’acov. Our actions, no matter how well intentioned, can potentially have long lasting effects.

The connection of this week’s Haftarah (Isaiah 40.27 – 41.16) is found in the LORD’s declaration

“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend…” Isaiah 41.8)

More than just the chosen of the LORD, Israel is secure in that choosing as Isaiah continues

“You are My servant—I have chosen you, not rejected you. Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41.9b-10a)

Israel remains chosen and secure, because of the LORD’s promises to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Ya’acov. Because of this assurance, the Psalmist wrote this declaration which is one of the closing passages of Birkat Hamazon,

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous one forsaken, nor his children begging for bread. (Psalm 37.25)

The key is trust in the LORD, and His guidance and direction, and not “leaning on our own understanding” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 3.5). Even though we are still experiencing the repercussions of past choices, we can rest in the closing words of the Haftarah, the fact that our LORD is a redeeming God and He will watch over us.

“For I am Adonai your God who upholds your right hand, who says to you, Fear not, I will help you. Fear not, you worm (insignificant one) Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you.” It is a declaration of Adonai, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 41.13-14)

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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