This week’s reading is from Genesis 12:1–17:27. This reading is called in Hebrew “Lech Lecha”, translated by the New King James Version as “Get out of your country.” If I would translate this phrase, “Lech Lecha,” I would translate it as, “You get yourself together and move out to yourself.”
This Torah portion has some of the most informative material for understanding the Lord and for understanding the place of Abraham’s seed in the land of Canaan (the Middle East), and in the greater world.
As you can see the purpose for which the Creator called Abraham was not only for Abraham’s sake and for Abraham’s seed’s sake. The reason why God chose Abraham and His seed is in order to bring a blessing, a reconciliation between all nations.
The blessing is to restore the nations and to rebuild their relationship with and faith in the almighty creator of Heaven and Earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Included in this reading in chapter 15, is Abraham’s encounter with the Lord, where the Lord Himself takes a very serious oath to keep His promises to Abraham and His seed.
The meaning of the dream that Abraham has in chapter 15, where the Lord cuts animals in half and walks through the animal halves as a flame of fire is that if I don’t keep my promises to you, Abraham, may I be cut in half and be burned.
This kind of oath is known in ancient Mesopotamia and it is the strongest possible oath, calling a curse upon yourself if you don’t keep your word! The reason why the Creator gives this total assurance to Abraham is because Abraham,
“…believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” – Genesis 15:6 [NKJV]
The faith of Abraham in God’s promises is beyond reason. It is a faith that has moved Abraham and Sarah his wife and a camp of hundreds of people that followed Abraham because he converted them from idolatry to faith in one God. The one God who created the world, the one God that keeps His promises.
Here is what the Lord said to Isaac about his father Abraham:
“Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” – Genesis 26:3-5 [NKJV]
For many Christians this text is a revelation. Having faith, my dear brothers and sisters, does not give a person carte blanche to disobey or to be disobedient.
Obedience has always been important to those who exercise faith, trust, and loyalty in the Lord.
Of course this is not only an Old Testament paradigm. The same paradigm is all over the New Testament, from the teaching of Yeshua the Messiah in what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” to the parable of the fool and the wise man who build their houses, the fool built his house on the sand. The wise man built his house on the rock.
Yeshua says that the one who built his house on the rock is the person who hears and obeys. His house stands during the storm, the wind, the rain, and the flood. Here you have it from the apostolic letters:
“Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” – 1 Corinthians 7:19 [NKJV]
“…that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing.” – 1 Timothy 6:14 [NKJV]
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” – 1 John 2:3,4, 3:22 [NKJV]
I could bring another dozen such texts from the New Testament. I don’t want to be misunderstood. Salvation without faith is not going to happen.
Faith without obedience and observance of God’s commands is also not effective, because salvation is a process and not an ad-hoc occurrence. Of course everything has a beginning and the beginning of the process of salvation is faith, but after faith comes confession, and repentance, and baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:28ff).
Abraham is the symbol and father of the faithful, but we must not use Abraham as a justifier of disobedience to God and His commandments.
Of course one of the most significant indications of obedience that Abraham fulfilled in my opinion, is in our reading for this Shabbat, the circumcision as reported in Genesis chapter 17. Just think about this my dear brothers: Okay, leaving Haran with his family and going down to the land of Canaan was a big move of both faith and obedience.
“So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael…” – Genesis 17:23–26 [NKJV]
In my opinion, this act requires much more faith than just packing your bags and traveling to the land of Canaan. Abraham, a nonagenarian, is circumcised with a primitive knife at a time when iron had not yet appeared, only bronze is available.
Also there is no anesthesia nor antibiotics, you just cut, because God commanded it and God promised… In most Christian circles, having faith is essentially simply an agreement with or acceptance of some theological principle. It is at best an acceptance of some semi-rational idea that is called “faith.” Most Christians have never experienced persecution for their faith, or have had to sacrifice something as precious as their relationship with their family.
In the Bible faith means the kind of faith that Abraham had. Faith for Abraham and for all the faithful children of God in the Bible meant putting our total trust in the Lord and in His promises, leaving home and country and family if necessary if commanded so by God.
All the examples of faith that we have in the Bible and the list of the faithful characters in the Bible that is in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11, includes people who expressed their faith through the deeds of their lives.
Biblical faith is not a theorem formulated by some Christian committee of clergymen huddled in some dark basement of one of the Catholic Churches in order to force simple Christians to bend their ideas to fit the prison of the mind established by the church, so that the church can rule over them.
Historically, Protestant churches have been a little better than the Catholic Churches, but not much better. They too defined what “faith” is and who are the “faithful” in the relationship of the people to their church and mainly to their denominational doctrines.
Being faithful in the Protestant world means attending church, giving money to the church, and accepting and parroting the doctrines and teachings of your denomination.
When I read the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and even the New Testament apostles, the faith of these heroes of the faith would easily be considered as unfaithful and rebellious by most Protestant denominations.
Well, as you can see, the story of Abraham has inspired me to speak out and encourage each and every one of you to put your trust in the Lord God of Israel and in Yeshua and to be wise to hear and obey His commands as commands that are still relevant to us in the 21st Century.
I challenge you to go through the New Testament, and to write down or mark with something those commandments that are relevant for you and consider following and obeying the commands of Yeshua and those of the apostles.
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.