Torah: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16
New Testament: Romans 4:1-24, Galatians 4:21-5:1, Hebrews 7
Note: the New Testament references are suggested by the Hebrews for Christians website. the Complete Jewish Bible and individual Messianic congregations use various different selections – there is no agreed-upon set readings.
Apologies for the lateness of this post. I have been really struggling to find enough time to sit down and look at this properly. I think I probably need to be a little bit more self-disciplined and carve out a specific time and place to study and write.
Parsha Lech Lecha (or Lekh Lekha) covers the stories of:
- The Calling of Abram
- Abram and Sarah in Egypt
- Abram and Lot separate
- Battle of the Kings
- Covenant of the Land
- Sarai and Hagar
- Covenant of Circumcision
The Calling of Abram
The LORD calls Abram to leave his home in Ur to settle in Canaan, and Abram takes his whole household and all their possessions. the LORD appears to Abram again and says “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” This is the first mention and the first promise regarding the land of Israel. From an evangelical perspective, these Bible promises alone justify the continued existence of Israel as a nation.
I have to wonder, if this were an actual historical event, how God manifests himself? In the stories below, it is often as a ‘man’ (which we usually understand to be an angel, or a messenger of God). Again, are these actual angels, or human beings speaking prophetically, and if the latter, how are we to know we can trust what they say? And if we only understand these stories as metaphor, what do they mean?
Abram and Sarah in Egypt
Abram and Sarah have to go into Egypt when there is famine in Canaan, and we get the first of three ‘wife/sister’ narratives, where the Patriarch attempts to pass his wife off as his sister in order to preserve his own life. It seems to suggest that these men (Abram and later Isaac) are deeply flawed, weak men. I don’t know what the significance of such an act might have been culturally in the time and place the stories are set in, but it is suggested that (whether or not they are true stories), it is designed to draw attention to the virtues of the women concerned. I’m not convinced about that.
Abram and Lot Separate
On returning to Canaan, Abram and Lot decide to part because they are such a big company that they would be too much for the land altogether in one place. So Abram goes up into the Plain of Jordan, while Lot goes down into Sodom. It actually says that Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom” rather than actually living in the city. After they separate, the LORD promises Abram again that the land as far as he can see in every direction is for him and his descendants, who will be so many that they can’t be numbered.
Battle of the Kings
There is a battle between a group of 4 kings (Chedorlaomer, Tidal, Amraphel, Aioch) and 5 kings (the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorah, king of Admah, king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela/ Zoar), and Lot is carried off. So Abram is told and takes armed servants to join the fight and brings back both ‘the goods and the women and the people’.
On the journey, they meet Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem?) who blesses Abram who gives Melchizeden tithes of all they have got.
Melchizedek is an interesting character. His name means ‘Righteous King’, and he is considered (whether or not he was a real human character, and whether or not the incident really happened) to in some way represent God – the ultimate Righteous King – and to be a foreshadow or even a pre-incarnation of Christ.
Covenant of the Land
After this, the LORD appears again to Abram and makes a covenant with him, shoring up the promises he had already made regarding the land. Significantly, Abram is put to sleep while the covenant is being confirmed, and God walks through the cut pieces of the sacrificed animals alone, suggesting that this covenant is not dependent on Abram’s behaviour, but rests on God’s faithfulness alone.
Sarai and Hagar
Abram and Sarai are pretty aged in the story, and neither of them really belive that Sarai can have children to fulfil the promise of descendants for Abram, and so she gives him her maidservant Hagar. From a modern perspective this seems a thoroughly appalling abuse of power, but it seems to have been a common practice in the ancient world. Torah does not speak to the legality of such an arrangement, it does not seem to directly contravene any law, but again from our modern perspective and understanding of the NT admonition to only have one wife, it seems obvious that this arrangement can only lead to trouble, and of course it does. Hagar conceives, and when she does she mocks Sarai and Sarai casts her out. But God speaks to Hagar and tells her to return, promising that he will give her a multitude of descendants. Hagar names the place where God speaks to her ‘Beerlahairoi’, meaning the Covenant (or Well) of the God who Sees Me.
Covenant of Circumcision
The LORD appears to Abram again and makes a new covenant with him, changing his name at this time to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah, promising that Sarah will indeed have a child of her own. Sarah laughs at the idea, and so the child will be name ‘Isaac’ (Yitzak), meaning laughter. The covenant is the Covenant of Circumcision, which demanded that every male in Abraham’s household should be circumcised.
I have to say that, even when I was attending a Messianic cogregation, I had a problem understanding circumcision. I understand it as a metaphor and the idea of having a ‘circumcised heart’, but as an actual physical practice? Why on earth would God require that a piece of the body, and just such a piece of the body as the penis, be mutilated and removed? This is obviously something that is really just too far removed from modern culture. Perhaps it made sense in ancient Canaan. I am aware that circumcision is still practiced, but if female circumcision is abusive and unacceptable (which it most definitely is), how is male circumcision acceptable?
Links to Commentaries and Resources
https://christinesbiblestudy.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/genesis-121-1727-parashah-lech-lecha/ Christine shows some chiastic structures in Lech Lecha, but there is also a much bigger chiastic structure spanning chapters 12 to 22 which puts the Covenant of Circumcision at the centre.