Torah: Genesis 18:1-22:24
Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37
New Testament: Luke 1:26-38, 24:35-53, 2 Peter 2:4-11
I’m running late, as per usual! So apologies for that. I will try to post regularly but I can’t promise the topics will be on time.
Vayera means ‘and he appeared’, and covers the following stories:
- Abraham’s angelic visitors
- Abraham intercedes with God regarding Sodom
- Lot’s angelic visitors
- The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
- Lot delivered by his wife is destroyed
- Lot’s daughters
- Abraham and Abimelech
- The Birth of Isaac
- Hagar and Ishmael sent away
- Covenant at Beer Sheba
- Sacrifice of Isaac
Abraham’s angelic visitors
Abraham is visited by three ‘men’, which he addresses as ‘My Lord’. The text also says “the LORD appeared unto him’, LORD in capital letters referring to The Name, (YHVH – Jehovah or Yahweh) They are usually understood in Christian thought to be Angelic messengers, and the three in some way representing the Trinity. The angels tell Abraham that Sarah – despite her advanced age – will conceive, and Sarah laughs to herself (it’s ridiculous!) The angel perceives that Sarah laughed inwardly, and asks “Why did Sarah laugh? Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” Sarah denies it, and the angel says “oh yes you did!” (“Nay, but thou didst laugh.”)
Abraham intercedes with God regarding Sodom
The angels talk amongst themselves and decide to tell Abraham of their plans to destroy Sodom, and gives Abraham the opportunity to bargain with them – asking, what if there were 50 righteous men there, you wouldn’t destroy the place if there were 50 righteous, and then (perhaps knowing that there were very few righteous men there, Abraham gradually whittles the number down until it is just ten, and the angels agree that even if there were only ten righteous men there, they would not destroy the city.
Lot’s Angelic Visitors
Now only two of the angelic visitors are mentioned, which is curious. I should imagine there might be some significance there but I don’t know what. It seems that they visit Lot for Abraham’s sake , rather than Lot’s righteousness. The men of Sodom come and threaten the visitors. The KJV uses the very gentle euphemism “that we may know them”, but this of course means that they want sex and presumably they mean rape, and appallingly, Lot offers his two virgin daughters to them instead!
The angels tell Lot to gather up his family so they can get them out of Sodom, as they intend to destroy the place, and they somehow smite the men with temporary blindness so they can escape. Lot’s married daughters’ husbands think it’s all a joke and so Lot leaves only with his wife and his two unmarried daughters (all of whom are left unnamed).
The Descruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
So Sodom and its surrounding cities and villages are all destroyed with ‘brimstone and fire’ and they are told not to look back, but Lot’s wife (unnamed) famously looked back and was turned into a ‘pillar of salt’.
It often used to be suggested, because sex was mentioned as one of the sins of Sodom, that homosexuality was the reason that God destroyed Sodom. But we learn in Ezekiel 16:49 “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” – did you get that? Pride, greed/ gluttony, laziness, and not looking after the poor.
Lot and his daughters are too frightened to go and look for another city, so they hide out in a cave. Apparently the daughters are convinced that there are no other men left in the world, and so they conspire to get their father drunk so he will have sex with them and get them pregnant, and as a result they conceive children Moab and Ben-ammi who become the forefathers of the nations of the Moabites and Ammon.
I always wonder about this story, and the implication that Lot was completely innocent in this incestuous encounter. It seems unlikely.
Abraham and Abimelech
Here we have the second of the three sister-wife narratives, where Abraham tries to pass Sarah off as his sister and she is taken into the harem of Abimelech, Abimelech is given dreams by God warning him not to touch her, and Sarah is returned to Abraham along with gifts of sheep, oxen, ‘menservants’ and ‘womenservants’.
The Birth of Isaac
So miraculously, Sarah conceives when she is 90 and Abraham is 100, and Isaac (meaning laughter) is born. On the seventh day he is circumcised according to the Covenant.
Hagar and Ishmael sent away
Sarah sees Ishmael ‘mocking’, and tells Abraham to “Cast out this bondwoman and her son” which he does very reluctantly. God confirms to Abraham that he should listen to Sarah in this, promising that he will take care of Hagar and make her descendants into a nation for his sake.
Covenant at Beer Sheba
Abimelech approaches Abraham to make an agreement to treat each other kindly, and Abraham brings up the fact that one of Abimelech’s servants has taken a well from Abraham. The covenant they make is at Beer-Sheva which means ‘the well of seven’, or the ‘well of oaths’. The text mentions that Abraham calls on “the LORD, the Everlasting God”, YHWH (Jehovah) El Olam.
Sacrifice of Isaac
Here we come to the section of the parsha which makes this one of the most important readings of the Torah cycle – the ‘binding of Isaac’, or the ‘Akedah’.
God tests Abraham’s faith and obedience by asking him to take Isaac, his long-awaited son, and sacrifice him. He obviously does not tell Isaac of the plan, as Isaac asks where the lamb is for the burnt offering, and Abraham answers “God will provide himself a lamb for the burnt offering.”
Just as Abraham is about to go through with the sacrifice, God intervenes and tells him not to, and does indeed provide a ram for the sacrifice.
Animal sacrifice is so far removed from our society, it is very difficult to understand why God would desire or demand this at all, and the fact that Abraham is willing seems really off to our modern thinking. It seems to make him more of a monster than a righteous man. But we learn from this that God does not ever desire human sacrifice, and later he tells us that he does not desire sacrifice at all, but he does value obedience.
In Christian thought as well, of course, Isaac here is considered to be a ‘type’ of Christ, that is a picture or a foreshadowing of Christ – an innocent sacrifice who does not deserve to die.
And so God confirms his covenant with Abraham, reminds him of all his previous promises, and promises more blessings.
The portion ends with the list of Abraham’s brother Nahor’s descendants.
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