One often thinks that Yeshua’s teachings on the cost of following him are rather harsh. Consider these verses,
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37-38)
But as we see in this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27, the idea of counting the cost of following HaShem, did not start with Yeshua and the disciples, rather it started back with Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) when Hashem told Abraham,
“Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and will bless you, and make your name great, and so you shall be a blessing, and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
In the JPS Torah Commentary, Nahum M. Sarna notes,
The enormity of God’s demand and the agonizing nature of the decision to be made are effectively conveyed through the cluster of terms arranged in ascending order according to the severity of the sacrifice involved: country, extended family, nuclear family. … The nature of the promise—that it could not be realized in the lifetime of the recipient because of Sarai’s childlessness and the couple’s advanced age—should all have combined to strain credulity to the breaking point.1
However, they say that hindsight is often 20/20 and with our ability to look back at history, we realize that Abraham would eventually become the father of not one, but of eight families, the progenies of Ishmael, Isaac, and according to Genesis 25:1-6, his six sons by Keturah – although at the time it was given, the command, lech lecha, “you go forth,” Abraham and Sarah had no children nor in the natural, hope of children – they truly had to step out in faith, trusting in the promises of HaShem.
So they, like all of us today, needed to follow Shaul’s admonitions to the Yeshua followers in Corinth,
… while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. … for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 4:18 and 5:7)
It was only by stepping out in faith that the promise of a blessing, both particular to Abraham and his family, and universal, to all who would bless Abraham in the future would be realized.
The example of Abraham, exercising his faith, contrary to what his eyes saw, and his family status, should serve to fortify our own faith. Then our faith and trust can grow more and more as we see the workings of HaShem not only in the past but in our daily lives as well.
Two well-known passages from the Ketuvim, (the Writings) may well serve to fortify our faith when things look bleak. First from Mishlei (Proverbs)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Then from the psalmist,
Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands. (Psalm 119:89-90)
In the opening verses of Genesis 12, HaShem called Abraham and Sarah out to follow him, forsaking all that they knew. In the passages from Luke and Matthew that I shared at the beginning, Yeshua required and to this day requires the same of those who would follow him. Abraham and Sarah left their homes, their families, and all that they knew and held dear to follow HaShem. The terms in Luke and Matthew above, “hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life” or “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” are positional terms, not relational terms. By that I mean that relationally they will always be one’s parents of spouses, however positionally, Yeshua requires, in fact, demands first place in the life of the would-be disciple.
Think about Abraham and Sarah’s relationship with their family. Even though they left to follow the direction of HaShem, their family relationships remained. If it were not so, Abraham would not have been able to send Eliezer back to his family to get a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4), nor would Isaac have sent Jacob back to find a wife (Genesis 28:1-4). It is important to note, however, neither Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca nor Jacob and Rachel or Leah returned to their ancestorial homeland to dwell – they stayed where HaShem led them.
There are times, when as followers of Yeshua, our choices to follow him will lead us contrary to the wishes, plans, at times even lifestyles of our families and friends. It is at times like these that one has to make the hard choice of Yeshua over family and friends. It is at times like these when one has to trust in Yeshua’s leading, standing in the assurance that he desires the best for our family members and friends. And when the choice is made, and division comes then can pray in faith that the relationships will one day be restored to the glory of our God and Father.
I am closing with a passage from Hebrews which is normally is used to encourage Yeshua followers to gather together but I want to suggest reading the verses in light of family members and friends being restored in the household of faith.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!
1 Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 89.
* Scripture readings are from the New American Standard Bible — NASB 1995. Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.