Light from the Sidra


Genesis 18 - 22

How does it affect a man to receive great promises from the LORD? What changes take place in one who receives righteousness as a gift? In Sidra Lech Lecha we read of God giving these things, in Sidra Vayera we see how Abraham is affected by God’s gifts.

There is nothing worse in religion than hypocrisy; it creates universal anger. But the hypocrite is the last person to see his hypocrisy. If you ever saw the classic TV production of Martin Chuzzelwit you will remember the closing scene in which the exposed hypocrite Mr. Pecksniff appears oblivious to his duplicity and even offers his forgiveness to those whom he feels are charging him wrongly. May God help us to let the example of Abraham challenge us to the core so that we are kept from such hypocrisy.

A man like us

The first thing that strikes us about Abraham is his humility. How remarkable that a man who has such power and prestige that even Abimelech, king of Gerar, comes to make a treaty with him, is so concerned to be of service to passing strangers. He even personally supervises and hastens the provision of food for them. The knowledge that he was God’s chosen one, and also wealthy, did not lead him to ignore the needy or lord it over them. God’s grace to Abraham had shown him how needy he was, and it led to a servant attitude towards others in need. How do you compare?

Abraham was a man of deep reverence towards God, shown in the manner of his intercession. He was bold to ask for justice to be done, but he was nevertheless filled with awe before the Almighty. He called himself dust and ashes, and he feared God’s anger because he knew his own sinfulness. How different to those who think it is a mark of being in his favour to be able to argue with him and challenge him. How do you approach God, especially when you cannot understand his actions?

I am not going to paint Abraham as a superman. There are those who see no fault in him, but he had faults, and those help us too. The incident at Gerar, when he was economical with the truth about Sarah and thereby exposed her to danger, only brings shame on him. We can all understand his fears, but was this not a repeat of what had happened some years earlier with Pharaoh in Egypt? Here is Abraham in the same situation and making the same mistake, not trusting the LORD. As with Egypt, God allows the deceit to be uncovered while protecting him from the things he feared. Those teachers who try to excuse Abraham do a great disservice to the Jewish people because they encourage the practice of justifying sinful behaviour, behaviour which even godless people can see is wrong. However, if we recognise Abraham’s times of weakness and failure, we see him as a man like us, one who learned through failure to return to God and find forgiveness and fresh strength from him.

The Triumph of Faith

But Abraham did know great triumphs of trust in the Lord God, and of course I am referring to the Akeda. In this great event we see three characteristics of his faith. Firstly, he trusted the LORD when God’s requirement seemed to go against all he knew of the character of the Almighty. He recognises the weakness of his own understanding and trusts the Lord to act justly and righteously, even though everything seemed against that conclusion. All of us face times when events in our lives could lead us to think that God is being unjust towards us. How have you reacted? Like Abraham, with quiet submission, or with a repressed resentment leading to bitterness?

The second characteristic was the triumph of his faith over his feelings. The Akeda was no academic exercise, like solving a maths problem. All Abraham’s feelings must have screamed against killing his son, his only son. But he was willing to do it. He did not let his feelings get the better of him and start challenging God. If God is God then he must be trusted, even when his demands go against the most deeply felt desires of our hearts.

We might say the third characteristic was the greatness of his faith. He believed God could raise the dead. He expected the Almighty to raise Isaac from the dead there and then, for he had said to his servants “You stay here ... and we will worship and come back to you.”  He expected to kill Isaac and he expected to return with him too. How could he be so sure? Because of God’s promise to him, “in Isaac shall your seed be called.” Here is strong trust in the power and the promise of God. Do you believe God can raise the dead, body and soul?

Holy Laughter!

One final thing. Do you believe in holy laughter? No, I do not mean some of the things that have been in the newspapers about uncontrollable hysterics, but a genuine amazement at God’s ways. “Isaac” means laughter, and both Abraham and Sarah laughed with holy astonishment at the provision of a son for such an old couple. Is there anything about God’s blessings to you that have led you to holy astonishment?

But there is also such a thing as unholy laughter, coming from sheer unbelief, and Sarah had been guilty of that and was rebuked for it. If mention is made today of forgiveness of sin through the sacrificial death of the Messiah it is often laughed at as a pagan or Christian belief, or as a “legal fiction”. The God of Israel would surely never require such a thing! But the Akeda shows us that we ought to expect God to do what flies in the face of all we expect of him, and we should be ready to submit when it is clearly revealed in his Word. Indeed, he does not want human sacrifice, but who is to say he cannot choose to give his own son, or that his own son should not willingly submit to death. If he should do that out of his great love, and because it is the only just way to save us, who will laugh? How do you respond? With astonished, believing laughter, or with disdainful unbelief?

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