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
Today we are going to focus our learning on the three men introduced in the first paragraph of this parashah, Abraham’s character compared to Lot’s, the sins of S’dom, the likes of which we are observing today in the American society and other places in our world. A correct understanding of these subjects is imperative to our understanding of the compound unity of G-d and His ability to be in more than one place at a time, 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 at least 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. 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 in the role of 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.’ 10He 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 but not yet as Messiah ben Yosef, 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.
The next passage again reveals the complex unity of YHVH/Yahshua. 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. Avraham begins pleading for the life of sinners and the righteous alike. 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. 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 or sell will be compelled to take the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:13-18; 14:9-12). Take note that the mark will be placed “ on his right hand or on his forehead…”
At the end of the 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 note 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. He knew they were only going to stay a short while resulting in the haste taken to prepare a full meal. In Lot’s case, he 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. G-d had obviously given Avraham insight into who He was and is because Avraham actively sought to follow G-d’s ways. In his defense, Lot at demonstrates a level of hospitality at least consistent with the custom of the time in that he offers 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 must assume 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 and decline opportunity to take risk by climbing the road less travelled 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 “”gourmet food!
The sins of S’dom and ‘Amora are worth exploring and understanding so we may avoid similar behaviors as we strive to remain a people set apart for G-d. This can only be accomplished by clinging to G-d’s Torah with a pure heart as we learned last week. The 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, 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 (16:49-50).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 and 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.
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.
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:14-24
This passage and the connection to the parashah speaks for itself although I will add little commentary:
“ 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. 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. 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.” I believe Avraham had more insight into the complex unity of the G-dhead than that for which we give him credit.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart