More Challenges for Abraham

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This Shabbat we will be reading from the Torah portion called in Hebrew “Chayei Sarah” (“the life of Sarah”). We will read from Genesis 23:1-25:18, and from the prophets (the Haftarah) we read from 1 Kings 1:1-31. From the New Testament we will read from Matthew 1:1-17, and from 1 Corinthians 15:50-57.

Today I want to start our discussion from the New Testament reading from 1 Corinthians 15:50-57:

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’” — 1 Corinthians 15:50-55

In a print Bible, the last two verses are in a different script and in italics. Why? When the biblical texts have a different font or script or color, the publishers of our translations are trying to say something to us, and it would be expected for us to dig and find out why!

In this case it is because Paul is bringing into his own text a quotation from two Hebrew prophets; the two Scripture passages are combined: Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. What can we now learn from these questions that Paul uses here?

Our lives are not limited to this physical world, that is a corruptible world. Everything that we see and feel and smell and touch in this world is corruptible. In fact, according to Isaiah the prophet and also the book of Revelation, the whole world, the solar system, is corruptible and not eternal.

I enjoyed reading “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking. In his book Stephen Hawking makes it clear that our universe, like other universes in the vast expanse of space, is not endless. Stars are born and stars die, universes along the Milky Way are sometimes many millions of years old, but some become a “black hole” or a “black dwarf”.

Other new stars and universes are born. Some of the readers of Stephen Hawking were left with open mouths, Wow! How smart is Stephen Hawking? Well, we have Isaiah in the 8th Century BCE stating clearly the following:

“And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” — 1 John 2:17 [NKJV]

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended.” — Isaiah 60:19,20 [NKJV]

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, And her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, And joy in My people; The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, Nor the voice of crying.” — Isaiah 65:17-19 [NKJV]

There are more texts in the Hebrew Bible that hint and create an expectation of the end of the world. But, I think that these texts listed above are enough to know with assurance that that this world is not endless, and that we will some day have a new heaven and a new earth.

This paradigm has to influence our lives and remind us what the Bible states several times. In our lives and in our minds we must remember that we are all “strangers and sojourners”.

Living with the idea that we have nothing permanent in this life and in this world is a very powerful force. It gives us strength to take and receive the difficult moments of our lives with a coolness that gives confidence and comfort when there is a loss or difficulty.

No matter how hard things can be in this life, we know that it is all temporary, and that there is another world better and with no illness or criminals. The material things in life have a much less importance, and even if we collect them and love them, we know that they are but a trifle.

There are other advantages that we have if we really internalize and accept these biblical facts. One of which is to learn to invest and stress the things that will bless us eternally and not only temporarily.

“The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.” — Leviticus 25:23 [NKJV]

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” — Ephesians 2:19 [NKJV]

Now back to the Torah reading from Genesis, “Chayei Sarah” (“the life of Sarah”). The main point in this Torah portion is that Sarah, the wife of Abraham’s youth, is gone. She died at the age of 127 years. This would make Isaac 37 years old and still not married.

Abraham now is saddled with the need to bury his beloved wife Sarah. Remember that although God gave Abraham and his seed the whole land of Canaan, Abraham didn’t own legally one square yard of land in this land.

So, now Abraham needs some land that is permanently his private property. One of the main lessons from this Torah portion is Abraham’s way of dealing with the Hittite population of Hebron.

Here is a very short introduction of the Hittites: the Hittites were a great nation from the central mountains of Anatolia, Turkey of today. They were great builders and also, like other nations, had their eyes on Egypt, and for this reason they came and conquered important strategic cities in the land of Canaan.

One of their main cities was the city of Hebron, that was the stronghold for the protection of one of this land’s main highways. Today this highway is called “The Way of Our Fathers”, in Hebrew “Derech Ha’avot”.

This highway runs through the backbone of this land, the central mountain range. Abraham has pitched his tent right next to Hebron, on the outskirts of the Hittite town, in Kiribati Arabah. He is in a camp, not in a city, not in a wall-protected space. Abraham is looking for a permanent, self-owned space to bury his wife Sarah.

I have written before about this Torah portion, about how to deal with a hostile neighboring population and keep your honor and your land rights. I am not going to repeat the whole story, but I will give you the main points:

  1. Don’t trust your neighbors that don’t belong to your nationality or clan on issues of ownership of immobile assets. I would include things like cars, expensive working instruments, or your children.
  2. Always deal with super-fairness and do it publicly, never secretly, with all the documentation open and exposed to all, and legally and officially notarized.
  3. Don’t look for discounts. Pay the true price and don’t ask for favors from those who are your potential enemies. You don’t want anyone in the world to say, “I did this favor for Abraham, or Joseph, or Moses”.
  4. Don’t forget that you are the owner of the property and that your children are to posses your property and inherit it after you. Insure your property by visiting it and using it, and pass it on to the next generations with documentation and tradition.

Please read the Torah portion, especially chapter 23:1-20, and take time to meditate on it. You should also remember your purchases of land or home, or even a car.

Review your own actions in your life and the major expenditures that have long-range implications for your life and your family. Learn from the Bible some important practical principles that are stamped with the Lord’s Holy Spirit, like the story of Abraham and the Hittite Ephron and his clan.

The next story of great importance is the condition of Isaac, Abraham’s son of promise. He is now 40 years old and not married. This becomes Abraham’s major concern and worry.

This is the son of God’s promise, all of Abraham’s blessings and mission is dependent on Isaac. Isaac is not married. Why is Isaac not married?

He is not married because of Ishmael, the son of the Egyptian servant of Sarah, Hagar. As a child, this first son Ishmael was afraid that Isaac will inherit Abraham, and he will be left out. So, Ishmael tried to destroy Isaac’s manhood by having a homosexual relationship with Isaac.

This is the reason that Sarah insisted to expel and kick out Ishmael and his mother Hagar. This idea comes from the Hebrew word, “metzahek”.

Here are the places in the book of Genesis that this word is used and you can come to the right conclusions if you use your gray cells in the brain. Please read them carefully and learn:

“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing [‘metzahek’].” — Genesis 21:9 [NKJV]

“Now it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked through a window, and saw, and there was Isaac, showing endearment [‘metzahek’] to Rebekah his wife.” — Genesis 26:8 [NKJV]

The context of this following text is Potiphar’s wife trying to subdue Joseph, and now accusing him. The same word here is translated “mock”:

“…that she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, ‘See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock [“metzahek”] us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.’” — Genesis 39:12-14 [NKJV]

Now Abraham is worried, and he sends Eliezer his old servant to go all the way up to Aleppo, Haran, in Syria, to look for a wife for Isaac. This story is really a fascinating story and has many lessons to be learned, especially for the young men who are looking for a wife.

The old Eliezer was wise, and did a good job looking for a wife for Isaac. He found Rebecca, who was less than half the age of Isaac. This is why, according to the Hebrew text, when she saw Isaac the first time she actually fell off the camel.

Falling from a camel is not an easy fall! I know that the English NKJV wrote: “she dismounted from her camel”. The rest of Rebecca and Isaac’s life reflect this difference in their age, and the way that Rebecca manipulated Isaac for the rest of his life.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.