November 8, 2008/10 Cheshvan 5769
Genesis 12:1 - 17:27
Isaiah 40:27 - 41:16
Romans 4:1 – 25
This week’s Torah portion is about keeping promises. Promises are a two-way street for believers. When we are faithful to G-d, He is faithful to us.
However, even when we know we have to trust in the L-rd and be faithful to Him, sometimes our faith is tested. And sometimes, even when we have a message that we know is coming from the L-rd Himself, we decide to take matters into our own hands and do what we think is best, instead of what He wants us to do. We may be willfully disobedient out of fear, impatience, pride, or simple foolishness. Abraham, one of the Patriarchs of our faith, embodied several of these character flaws. In the end, however, the L-rd proved faithful and Abraham stood strong in his obedience.
In this week’s parasha, when he was still known as Abram, he and his wife (still known as Sarai) were following some directives from G-d. Abram was sent on a holy and very important mission.
The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:1-3 NIV)
When Abram gets to Egypt, however, he does something very dumb – he passes off his wife Sarai as his sister to the Pharaoh. As a result, Sarai gets taken into Pharaoh’s palace, and the L-rd ends up inflicting serious diseases upon him. When Pharaoh discovers why he was being punished, he casts out Abram and Sarai.
Afterwards, Abram becomes wealthy in the Negev in livestock and currency, then travels through several other locations--Bethel, Sodom, and Hebron. Now, Abram thinks he has a problem – he has acquired so much land and material wealth that he is concerned that he has no one to inherit it all. He and Sarai have no children. So, he turns to the L-rd and the L-rd tells him not to worry because he will have a son. Apparently, however, trusting G-d to keep His word is not enough for Abram. So, when Sarai offers her maidservant Hagar to Abram, he takes her and she becomes pregnant. Soon, Sarai begins to resent her and treat her badly, so Hagar flees. The L-rd promises Hagar that the child she will bear will have many descendants. The son is Ishmael, and indeed, he has many descendants – the Arab kingdom.
Finally, we come to the generational covenant G-d makes with Abram in chapter 17.
"As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” (Gen 17:4-6 NIV)
G-d tells Abraham once again that he will have a son with Sarah, a son who will be called Isaac. The L-rd also establishes circumcision as the mark of the covenant, so both Abraham and Ishmael are circumcised. The fact that Abraham was willing to undergo this painful physical alteration at the age of 99, and put all the men in his household through it as well, demonstrates Abraham’s faithfulness. It also demonstrates the transformation that comes when we choose to follow G-d – Abraham was transformed physically and by his name.
G-d has the power to change lives, when we let Him in. The prophetic portion describes the kinds of things those who choose to believe can expect to experience.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isa 40:28-31 NIV)
The Brit Chadasha portion continues to describe how G-d’s promises will be fulfilled to the faithful, pointing back to the Torah portion and the birth of Isaac.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Rom 4:18-21 NIV)
Let’s remember to keep our promises to G-d by being faithful to Him. Our blessing will be His faithfulness to us.