Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Chayei Sarah

Genesis 23 - 25:18; 1 Kings 1:1-31

There’s a wonderful scene at the end of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in which the villain has to choose the true “holy grail” from a vast and diverse assortment of cups. The right choice will bring eternal life to the one who drinks from it and, in traditional Steven Spielberg-style, the baddie disintegrates before our eyes after drinking deeply from a gem-encrusted gold cup. The ancient guardian of the grail then comments dryly, “He chose…poorly”.

Some choices in life are even more momentous. The fate of millions can hang on the decisions of politicians and world leaders. So it is in our readings this week. The fate of the world literally hung on the decisions of Abraham and David.


“Father Abraham had many sons…”

Genesis 25 records that Abraham had many sons by his wife Keturah and his concubines. At the end of his life Abraham “gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country” (vv5-6). Isaac was the son promised by God, the “seed” through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. God promised to bless Ishmael, and Abraham’s others sons received gifts from their father but Isaac was different. Through him and his “seed” the nations were to be blessed (Genesis 12:3, 17:19-21, 22:15-18). In the Haftarah, the future blessing of the world hung in the balance when David appointed his successor.

God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees as part of his programme of redemption promise in Genesis 3:15. The serpent had tempted Adam and Eve and thrown the world into chaos. But God promised that “the seed of the woman” would one day undo all the evil and human misery that came into the world through the sin of the first humans. The promise was general: some day some person from the human race would defeat Satan and undo all that he did in Gan Eden.

With the call of Abraham the promise of the coming “seed” became less vague. The nation from whom the seed would come was specified. The birth of Isaac made the promise became more particular. When Esau and Jacob were born the line of the “seed” was made even more specific, “the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23) and out of the twelve sons of Jacob, Judah was separated as the royal line through whom King Messiah would come (Genesis 49:10). Later in Israel’s history, David’s family became the line of the messianic “seed”.


Long live the King

But, like Abraham, David had many sons and even before his death there was a bid for the throne by Absalom’s younger brother Adonijah. First in line of succession to the throne Adonijah enjoyed the support of his father’s top general Joab as well as David’s staunch friend the priest Abiathar. But just as Isaac was chosen instead of Ishmael and Jacob instead of Esau; just as David was chosen as God’s firstborn above all his older brothers, so Solomon was the seed chosen by God. But without the swift action of Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and David’s top military commanders the subsequent history of Israel and the world would have been different.

God is in full control of history but the figures who play their parts on the stage of life are responsible for their actions. Had Abraham had his way, Ishmael would have been his heir but the LORD had appointed Isaac as the seed through whom the nations would be blessed (Genesis 17:18-21). The people chose Saul as king but God chose David, and little did Samuel suspect when he was sent to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king that the LORD had chosen the youngest and least significant to be his messiah. Samuel had to learn that God does not look at the outward appearance. As the elderly and infirm David lay shivering on his deathbed two of his closest associates and most eminent Israelites were ready to anoint Adonijah as the new king. By human standards their choice was good and appropriate, but they chose wrongly.


The true Messiah

Fortunately for the people of Israel and the world, God overruled the choices of men. However, it is still possible for nations and individuals to ignore the will of God and make choices to their own ruin. Jewish history is strewn with pseudo messiahs: Bar Kochba who perished at the hands of the Romans; Moses of Crete who led his followers to a watery grave in the Mediterranean; Abu Issa whose miraculous powers could save neither him nor his 10,000 followers from death; Shabbatai Zvi who converted to Islam. The list continues to the present day.

In every case the followers of these messianic pretenders chose poorly. Those messiahs were, no doubt, charismatic leaders but they failed in their mission. The true Messiah, according to the prophet Isaiah, would not be handsome and charismatic. Instead his own people would reject him:

He shot up right forth as a sapling, and as a root out of a dry ground; he had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, nor beauty that we should delight in him. He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2,3, JPS translation)

On the personal level, to choose a messiah other than God’s Messiah is tragic. On a national level it is disastrous. To choose the true Messiah is eternal life and we must all choose. Don’t make the mistakes of Israelites of the past. Popular, charismatic messiahs are not God’s choice. Instead, look to the one who was “despised and forsaken by men” but was approved by God and of whom it is written:

Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5, JPS translation)

Choose wisely.

Pause for thought:

  • Do I live my life by what seems right to me or by what God says is right?

  • Are my choices in life governed by the majority view or by what God has revealed in His Word?

  • Is my understanding about Messiah based on tradition or by what God has revealed?

For further information about the Messiah click here.


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