A Few Thoughts on Chayei Sarah

It always amazes me, as I am sure it does some of you who are reading these Thoughts, that every time I pick up the Scriptures to study or simply read, something new seems to appear. This week’s parasha, Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1-25:18, has proven this reality to me one again. 

The narrative is well known, beginning with Sarah’s death (23:1) and Abraham’s negotiation and purchase of cave of Machpelah and surrounding field (23:3-20). Next comes the lengthy account of Abraham charging his servant, to secure a wife from his (Abraham’s) kinsmen (24:3). Though the servant is never named in the passage, traditionally he was Eliezer of Damascus whom Abraham (then Abram) wanted HaShem to name as his (Abram’s) heir (Genesis 15:2-3). The narrative in Genesis 24 continues for sixty-four more verses describing the servant’s quest to fulfil his master’s charge to find a wife for Isaac. For those interested in numbers, this is a little more than twice the number of verses in the creation narrative (31 verses in Genesis 31) as well as the 28 verses concerning HaShem’s covenantal promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3 & 7; 13:2 & 14-17; 15:4-6 & 18; 17:1-8 & 15-16; 18:17-18; 21:1-3). There is no doubt that both the creation and the promises to Abraham are important. But it’s possible that the account of the search and acquisition of a wife for Isaac, amplifies the practical truth that “It is not good for the man (or humankind) to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). The continuance of the family line was obviously important to Abraham and considering the guidance and direction that servant received, it was and remains important to HaShem as well.

Finally, the narrative ends this week with Abraham’s passing “at a good old age, old and satisfied” (Genesis 25:8), then buried with Sarah in Machpelah. Lastly is a brief recap of Ishmael’s life and genealogy.

All of the above is just a flashback, reminding us of the highlights of Chayei Sarah, but what about the “something new” that I saw this time through. Consider this introduction to Abraham’s charge to his servant to find a wife for Isaac.

Now Abraham was old, advanced in years, and ADONAI blessed Abraham in everything.

Genesis 24:1

At first glance, this seems like a just a transitional phrase between the burial of Sarah and the sending out of the servant. However, Victor Hamilton made an observation that I had never considered before. 

“Abraham’s life is lived out between the promise of divine blessing (12:2) and the actualization of that promise (24:1). The future “I will bless” is now completed with Yahweh had blessed. Prospect has become reality.”

Excerpt From: Hamilton, Victor P. “The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament).” Apple Books.

Hamilton suggests that Abraham had now almost come full circle, from a promise hoped for to said promise fulfilled. The time between “My (HaShem’s) heart’s desire is to make you into a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing,” (Genesis 12:2) and “Now Abraham was old, advanced in years, and ADONAI blessed Abraham in everything,” (Genesis 24:1) was conservatively forty to fifty years depending on how one figures the years. Abraham had more than his fair share of trials along the way as he waited for the fulfillment of HaShem’s promise. There were times when Abraham sought to assist HaShem in fulfilling his promise, following Sarah’s suggestion with her handmaiden resulting in Ishmael, then later suggesting the promise be realized through his faithful servant Eliezer of Damascus. Both attempts to assist were rejected. It’s a shame that Abraham couldn’t look into the future to latch onto the assurance the prophet Jeremiah shared with Israel,

For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Or even further into the future to hear these words from Peter to the Yeshua-believers in the Diaspora,

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness.

2 Peter 3:9

HaShem “blessed Abraham in everything”, long-life, wealth, victory in battle, and protection even when he seemed to step outside of HaShem’s covering. He gave Abraham and Sarah a son of their own, and then gave that son back to them on the mountain by providing a ram. HaShem continued to bless Abraham, even in times when he seemed to faulter. In this we can find encouragement. When we we veer from the path or plan HaShem has for us, or when we try and come up with our own ways to help him accomplish his plans, he remains faithful. He may allow us our schemes, with the occasional resulting consequences as he did with Hagar and Ishmael. But if we remain open and faithful to his leading, even after going astray, we can take heart in the assurance shared by Rav Shaul,

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

We may not always “see” the “all things working together” but we can hold onto this promise blended from the author of the letter to the Hebrews and from Rav Shaul’s second letter to the Corinthians,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen. … For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Hebrews 11:1 & 2 Corinthians 5:7

Like Abraham, we may not know exactly where we are going on this life’s journey, nor how long it will take us to see the fulfillment of HaShem’s promises to us. But we can rest assured that he will be with us and that he does know each and every plan he has for us. May these words from the prophet Micah be our guidance now and until the end of our journey,

But I—I will watch for ADONAI. I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.

Micah 7:7

* All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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