Light from the Sidra

Lech Lecha

Torah: Genesis.12:1-17:27.Haftarah:Isaiah 40:27-41:16

Rock and goal

‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot.’ Every English schoolchild knows the rhyme about the foiling of the infamous ‘Gunpowder plot’ of 1605 when a cabal of Jesuits led by Robert Catesby attempted to assassinate King James 1 of England (he of the King James Bible). The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament on 5 November. The hapless Guido (Guy) Fawkes was discovered in charge of the explosives and for his treason was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered (not burned at the stake, as is commonly believed).

It was a milestone in English history and worth remembering. Likewise, the calling of Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans to become the father of the Hebrew nation should be an event to remember with joy, not just for Jewish people but for Gentiles also because his call was a major landmark in Tikkun Olam, God’s redeeming of the creation that went pear-shaped in Genesis 3.

In later centuries, the Jewish people were urged by the prophets to look back to the calling of Abram and Sarai and take heart, as we see in the Haftarah: ‘But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham My friend—you whom I drew from the ends of the earth and called you from its far corners, to whom I said: You are My servant; I chose you, I have not rejected you—fear not, for I am with you, do not be frightened, for I am your God; I strengthen you and I help you, I uphold you with My victorious right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:8-10. Tanakh-The Holy Scriptures, The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text, 1988).

We see the same later in Isaiah: ‘Listen to Me, you who pursue justice, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock you were hewn from, to the quarry you were dug from. Look back to Abraham your father and to Sarah who brought you forth; for he was only one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.’ (Isaiah 51:1,2, ibid).

Israel had forsaken God, but God had not forsaken Israel. He had called Abram and entered into an unconditional covenant with Abram and his seed (see Genesis 15). To whom much is given, much is required and Israel has suffered greatly for her unfaithfulness to her God; nevertheless, God remains faithful to his word. This fact is recognised in the New Testament by the great Saul of Tarsus: I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin…’ (Letter to the Romans 11:1).

Strangely, although the Talmud, the Midrash and the Jewish commentaries make much of Abraham’s piety, they comment little on God’s the purpose in calling Abram. Through Adam’s disobedience the world had been cursed by God but by calling Abraham, God is setting in motion his great redemptive plan. He blesses Abram in order that Abram may be a blessing to all nations.

Although anti-Semites have attempted to portray the Jewish people as a blight on humanity, to every unbiased mind it should be evident that this ethnic minority, comprising less than half of one percent of the world’s population, has contributed to the well-being of the nations out of all proportion to its size. Well over a hundred Jewish scientists, economists and philanthropists have received the Nobel Prize since its inception in 1901, especially in the categories of science and medicine. The Jewish people are hated not for their sins but for their virtues and achievements.

Nevertheless, the promise that God would bless all the families of the world through Abraham’s ‘seed’, a singular noun in Hebrew, cannot be taken collectively. Not every offspring of Abraham would bring blessing to the nations. Indeed, some of Abraham’s seed have been responsible for great evil on the world (just think of the legacy of Abraham’s son Ishmael the progenitor of the Arab nations, or Karl Marx the brains behind Communism).

Although few of the rabbis saw God’s promise that the families of the world would be blessed in one of Abram’s ‘seed’ as a promise of the Messiah. One seed of Abraham will bring blessing to the nations. Abraham was the rock from which the Jewish nation was cut and the goal to which his calling pointed was the Messiah.

Across the globe, millions of Gentiles worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; non-Jews who have been blessed with eternal salvation through Jesus the Messiah, the ‘seed’ of Abraham. Through the Messiah Gentiles from all the families of the earth have been blessed and have blessed themselves in Abraham. Tragically, most of Abraham’s natural children – both descendants of Isaac and Ishmael – have chosen to cut themselves off from the blessings of Abraham because they fail to recognise the source of the blessings, the Messiah. But if the God of Abraham can incorporate Gentile sinners into his family, how much more will he receive Jewish people if they once again look to the rock from which they were hewn and to the quarry from which they were dug! If they, like the Gentiles, follow Abraham’s faith, like Abraham in Genesis 15, they will also be justified and so become true sons of their father.  

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