Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #4: Vayera (He appeared) B’resheit (Genesis) 18:1-22:24
Haftarah: M’lakhim bet (2 Kings 4:1-37)
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:14-24
This week’s parashah begins with the statement that three “men” appeared to Avraham by the oaks of Mamre. This sets up the introduction to one of the most important teachings for a successful walk with G-d; hospitality. A correct understanding of this subject, understanding the difference between the personality types of Avraham and Lot and the sins of S’dom is imperative to our understanding of the complex unity of G-d and His ability to be in more than one place at a time. We will also learn how G-d expects us to relate to Him and our fellow man, and our need to stand up for the standards we profess to believe. Let us begin with the identity of one of the three men.
The Chumash identifies the three as Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel; the Archangels. However, there is no evidence to support this opinion. When we examine the Hebrew, first we notice that the name of the place where the meeting took place between the three and Avraham, “Mamre,” means “fellowship.” We know that Yahshua seeks to fellowship with His creation and this meeting was a great place to start fellowship with Avraham as the father of many nations. Avraham sought G-d, and G-d allowed Himself to be found. Next we are told in the very first sentence (Gen. 18:1) that “Adonai appeared to Avraham by the oaks of Mamre.” The aim of this introduction is to make it clear that the three men are an apparition of the Divine. Indeed, one of the men was Yahshua as Adonai as we shall soon explore. A change of person takes place from verse 9 to 10; “They said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ He said, ‘There, in the tent.’ 10 He said, ‘I will certainly return to you around this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” In verse 13 “Adonai said to Avraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and ask, ‘Am I really going to bear a child when I am so old?’ At this point we see Adonai on earth as Yahshua communicating with Avraham and Sarah. He even knew Sarah laughed to herself (Gen.18:12) even though she did not laugh out loud. This knowledge is consistent with Yahshua’s omniscience and His teachings that took obedience and violation of His commands to a new level in the New Testament.
In the next passage (Gen. 18:16-19) Adonai as Yahshua talks to himself and reveals His oneness with YHVH in verse 19: “For I have made myself known to him, so that he will give orders to his children and to his household after him to keep the way of Adonai and to do what is right and just, so that Adonai may bring about for Avraham what he has promised to him.” We know this promise culminates in bringing Israel (all true believers) to the Promised Land, yet to be occupied. We can also compare this conversation to that in Genesis 1:26 where G-d speaks to himself (Yahshua) “Let us make humankind in our image, in the likeness of ourselves…” In the Hebrew, the word “G-d” used is “Elohim”; the feminine aspect of G-d; the Ruach (Holy Spirit). The very statement G-d uses to describe mankind humankind in His image supports the male and female aspects of G-d found in His name.
The next passage again reveals the complex unity of the G-dhead. Gen. 18:20 reads “Adonai said, ‘The outcry against S’dom and ‘Amora is so great and their sin so serious that I will now go down to see whether their deeds warrant the outcry that has reached me; if not, I will know. The men turned away from there and went toward S’dom, but Avraham remained standing before Adonai.” Examining these verses reveals Adonai speaks from above and yet remains on the ground speaking to Avraham. This may be compared to Yahshua speaking to himself in the role of G-d as he prays before his crucifixion.
Avraham begins pleading for the life of sinners and the righteous alike. His humility is a character attribute we should all strive to achieve over our human nature that considers “every man for himself.” Unfortunately, he pleads under an incorrect premise that there are any righteous in S’dom. This account makes it clear that Abraham’s religion is more than a set of cultic practices. It embraces human beings, concern for their welfare, and with Avraham’s faith n G-d’s righteousness. Abraham does not doubt the existence of G-d’s justice. He only asks the extent and its limitations. This is the type of relationship G-d seeks with us; one that fosters our inquiry, trust, faith in YHVH/Yahshua that He is just and righteous, and allows nothing that is not in our spiritual best interest( (Rom. 8:28). The chesed (unmerited kindness) of G-d is demonstrated in this account. The Bible makes it clear that man may, with impunity, question the actions of G-d. Like Avraham, man need not surrender his own sense of justice; he remains free to accept or reject the divine judgment- although he will have to submit to it in the end. Man is not reduced to a moral automation. Free-will is preserved just as it will be during the Tribulation. Only those who want to continue to buy and sell will be compelled to take the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:13-18; 14:9-12). At the end of this account between Avraham and Adonai (Yahshua), it is important to note that “Adonai went on his way as soon as he had finished speaking to Avraham, and Avraham returned to his place” (Gen.18:33). How do we know Adonai returned to heaven? The next verse mentions only two angels coming to S’dom that evening (Gen. 19:1). Enter the character of Lot.
We find Lot sitting at the gate of “sin city” in the next passage. An interesting contrast is that Avraham went to great pains to hurriedly prepare milk and meat for the angels upon meeting them although he initially offered only a piece of bread. By the way, notice that milk and meat were prepared and consumed by Yahshua. The rabbis of the Talmud gave no reason for the rabbinic prohibition against mixing meat and dairy, but later authorities, such as Maimonides, opined that the law was connected to a prohibition of Idolatry in Judaism. Obadiah Sforno and Solomon Luntschitz, rabbinic commentators living in the late Middle Ages, both suggested that the law referred to a specific foreign religious practice, in which young goats were cooked in their own mothers’ milk, aiming to obtain supernatural assistance to increase the yield of their flocks. More recently, a theogonous text named “the birth of the gracious gods”, found during the rediscovery of Ugarit, has been interpreted as saying that a Levantine ritual to ensure agricultural fertility involved the cooking of a young goat in its mother’s milk, followed by the mixture being sprinkled upon the fields, though still more recent sources argue that this translation is incorrect. Another explanation is the separation accommodates significantly the large percentage of the population, particularly those who are aging, who are lactose intolerant. Whatever the origin, the prohibition of not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk has nothing to do with mixing meat and dairy.
The biblical suppression of these practices was seen by some rabbinic commentators as having an ethical aspect. Sforno (c. 1470–c. 1550), Italian biblical commentator and physician. Born in Cesena, argued that using the milk of an animal to cook its offspring was inhumane, based on a principle similar to that of Shiluach haken (sending away the nest), the injunction against gathering eggs from a nest while the mother bird watches Chaim ibn Attar Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar also known as the Ohr ha-Chaim after his popular commentary on the Pentateuch, was a Talmudist and kabbalist who compared the practice of cooking of animals in their mother’s milk to the barbaric slaying of nursing infants. By this we can know that it is not forbidden to mix these two food items; rather, it is a teaching on compassion and a command against idolatrous practices. In rabbinic Judaism their interpretation only applies to kosher birds which makes sense if you interpret it in the context of eating and not compassion.
Avraham knew his “guests” were only going to stay a short while, so he took great haste to have a full meal prepared. In contrast, Lot stood to greet the angels rather than running to meet them and he made them matzah which is made in haste even though he knew they were going to spend the night. Matzah was the entire meal! Note the difference between Avraham and Lot in their actions and hospitality toward others. In his defense, Lot at least demonstrates a level of hospitality consistent with the custom of the time in that he offered his virgin daughters to the homosexual deviants attempting to break down his door to get to the two men (angels) staying with him. The angels strike the men outside with blindness and warn Lot to get his family out of S’dom pending its destruction. The angels reveal to Lot that Adonai sent them to destroy the city, therefore we know that Adonai was now located in another place (heaven) and was no longer with the two. It is also apparent that Lot had two married daughters (Gen. 19:14) and two virgin daughters (Gen. 19:16). From the narrative we may deduce that the married daughters chose to remain with their Sodomite husbands and were lost. Lot’s attachment to S’dom and entrenchment in the world is apparent as he pleads with the men (angels) to flee to a small city near S’dom, still in the plain. In other words, Lot could not ascend to the hills as admonished by the men (angels). He chose to assume a lesser life, remaining on a linear level with sin (Gen. 19:18-20). Like the angel who relented and allowed Lot to assume a lesser existence than the one G-d had planned for him in the hills, G-d allows us to settle for mediocre lives if we insist on remaining in the comfortable realm and decline opportunity to take risk by climbing the road less traveled that ascends to higher places and a closer relationship with YHVH/Yahshua. Lot’s wife could not let go of the life in S’dom and died as she reflected on her past, looked back with regret, and ignored her future. This is one reason G-d lead the Israelites into the desert on a path that prevented them from looking back and seeing Egypt. Nevertheless, they often regretted and lamented the Exodus for the lack of the variety of food they experienced in Egypt. Ex. 16:1-3 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. (2) In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. (3) The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
The sins of S’dom and ‘Amora are worth exploring and understanding so we may avoid similar behaviors and be set apart as G-d’s people. This can only be accomplished through clinging to G-d’s Torah and following it as consistently as possible. Sodomites were inhospitable and sexually deviant. But while sexual deviant practices are strongly condemned in the Torah (Lev. 18), G-d emphasizes social aberrations as the reason of the cities’ destruction. Ezekiel, for instance, describes the sins of S’dom in social terms: pride, fullness of bread (gluttony), and careless ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty (Ezek.16:48-50). The tradition of S’dom’s moral insensitivity based on the way Sodomites treated strangers highlighted, to biblical man, the community’s essential depravity. During this time in history, hospitality included much more than good manners; it meant the treatment and acceptance of strangers and was a vital aspect of religion (Deut. 10:19). To make things worse, S’dom was a rich and affluent city. Social evil, then, cause the destruction of S’dom. The Torah takes this account and turns it into a moral lesson for all time: Affluence without social concern is self-destructive; it hardens the conscience against repentance; it engenders cruelty and excess. The treatment accorded newcomers and strangers was then and may always be considered a touchstone of a community’s moral condition.
Haftarah: M’lakhim Bet (2 Kings 4:1-37)
Just as G-d promises a child to Abraham and Sarah despite childless Sarah’s advanced age, this week’s haftarah describes a similar incident that occurred many years later — the prophet Elisha assuring an elderly childless woman that she will bear a child.
The haftarah discusses two miracles performed by the prophet Elisha. The first miracle involved a widow who was heavily in debt, and her creditors were threatening to take her two sons as slaves to satisfy the debt. When the prophet asked her what she had in her home, the widow responded that she had nothing but a vial of oil. Elisha told her to gather as many empty containers as possible — borrowing from neighbors and friends as well. She should then pour oil from her vial into the empty containers. She did as commanded, and miraculously the oil continued to flow until the last empty jug was filled. The woman sold the oil for a handsome profit and had enough money to repay her debts and live comfortably. This woman demonstrated true faith; action based on her trust and belief in G-d that He could work through Elisha as she followed his instructions without hesitation; another example for us to follow.
The second miracle: Elisha would often pass by the city of Shunam, where he would dine and rest at the home of a certain hospitable couple. This couple even made a special addition to their home, a guest room designated for Elisha’s use. When the prophet learned that the couple was childless, he blessed the woman that she should give birth to a child in exactly one year’s time. And indeed, one year later a son was born to the aged couple.
A few years later the son complained of a headache and died shortly thereafter. The Shunamite woman laid the lifeless body on the bed in Elisha’s designated room, and quickly summoned the prophet. Elisha hurried to the woman’s home and miraculously brought the boy back to life. Keep in mind that G-d performed these signs and wonders, often through chosen individuals BEFORE we were given the entire Torah (Old and New [Refreshed renewed] Testaments). We must remember that signs and tongues, and wonders assigned to the apostles by YHVH/Yahshua are no longer. The signs and wonders we will see as the end of the age grows closer are NOT of G-d, but of antinomians who do not follow Torah and are given power by the anti-Messiah and his prophet: “When this man who avoids Torah comes, the Adversary will give him the power to work all kinds of false miracles, signs and wonders. He will enable him to deceive, n all kinds of wicked ways, those who are headed for destruction because they would not receive the love and the truth that could have saved them. This is why G-d is allowing them to go astray, so that they will believe the Lie.” 2 Thess. 2:9-12.
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:14-24
This passage and the connection to the parashah speaks for itself although I will comment.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it? Is such ‘faith’ able to save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food, and someone says to him, ‘shalom! Keep warm and eat hearty!’ without giving him what he needs, what good does it do? Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead.
But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions! You believe that ‘G-d is one’? Good for you? The demons believe it too- the thought makes them shudder with fear! But, foolish fellow, do you want to be shown that such ‘faith’ apart from actions is barren?
Wasn’t Avraham avinu declared righteous because of actions when he offered up his son Yitz’chak on the altar? You see that his faith worked with his actions; by the actions the faith was made complete; and the passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled which says, ‘Avraham had faith in G-d, and it was credited to his account as righteousness.’ He was even called G-d’s friend. You see that a person is declared righteous because of actions and not because of faith alone.”
Faith is action based on belief. There is an inextricable relationship between faith and works; grace and law; day and night; good and evil. This is not a subject for debate. If we love G-d/Yahshua, we will emulate, obey, and worship Him according to His instructions and not our own ideas of what it means to love and believe in G-d/Yahshua. Our G-d, the G-d of Avraham, Isaac and Jacob, is a consistent G-d, never changing, seeking fellowship with us just as he did with Avraham. If we are to establish and grow that relationship, we must emulate Yahshua just as Avraham did throughout his life. You say “Avraham did not have any knowledge of Yahshua?” Re-read Gen. 18:19; “ For I have made myself known to him, so that he will give orders to his children and to his household after him to keep the way of Adonai and to do what is right and just, so that Adonai may bring about for Avraham what he has promised him.” To believe and follow Adonai is to believe and follow Yahshua (John 13:20).
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart