REFLECTIONS ON NOAH, ABRAHAM AND ISAIAH
Since I did not write on the previous Torah Account of Noah and the accompanying Isaiah 54 - 55 passage, a passage that has become very close to the center of my understanding of Prophecy and Israel in our day, I will bring it into my reflections later.
Yesterday's Shabbat Torah readings, the Lech Lecha, ("Go Forth, Yourself"), serve as the foundation of these thoughts. It is the story of Abraham, Sarah and the Sovereign LORD as He revealed Himself to Abraham at this time: calling him to leave his home in UR for a LAND that He, YHWH, would show him; his arrival at the Oaks of Moreh; then, being forced by famine , he flees to Egypt; returns to Bethel where Lot separates from him, and he moves down to the "great trees of Mamre" at Hebron where he builds another altar to the LORD; he meets Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, when he returned with the captured Lot; and finally, he experiences two of the great APPEARANCES of the LORD, in chapters 15 and 17, separated by a Life and World changing family conflict involving, on the human level, himself, Sarai, his wife, and Hagar, her Egyptian maid, but also an untold yet fierce battle in the Spiritual realms that began before the foundation/creation of the world, entered into Eden, came to a head 2,000 years ago in the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and will be settled finally when Messiah brings Judgement and establishes His Kingdom in Jerusalem. Isaiah 40:27 - 41:16, the Haftarah passage, Prophetically reminds Abraham's descendants of YHWH's Promises to their Forefather Abraham, and seems quite applicable today.
Considering the Torah and Haftarah passages in parallel, the LORD's words, in Isaiah 40:27 - 31, hark back to the time of Abraham, and he becomes an example of the truth of Isaiah's message to Jacob/Israel:
"Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
'My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God'?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."
This Word, seem to me, to apply equally well to Israel today.
Let's go back to the Torah passage in question, Genesis 12:1 - 17:27. This a very large portion and I will look only at 15 through 17 which describes the Abrahamic situation connected with the Isaiah 40 passage.
Already in chapter 15, before the World and History altering family conflict of chapter 16, Abram is concerned about YHWH's Covenant regarding Descendants and the LAND they are promised, and he says, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
So the LORD instructs him to “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram obeys, brings them and cuts the three animals in half, laying them out in two rows with a path between them; we don't know just what he did with the dove and young pigeon, although they may have great symbolic significance. This activity, three slaughtering events and then laying the carcasses out in the required pattern, would have been tiring enough, but he is also harassed by predatory birds who think he has provided dinner for them; again, probably symbolic significance here.
Quite understandably, "As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him."
At that point, an absolutely amazing event occurs:
"Then the Lord said to him, 'Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.
In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.'
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.'" (Emphases mine).
Many years ago now, when my eyes were first opened to what I was reading in Genesis 15 - 17, and I saw that YHWH had foretold to Abraham, before any of his descendants were even born, that they would live in Egypt for 400 years prior to their exodus and possession of the Promised Land, and then saw that prophecy fulfilled to the letter, I began to pray for on-going revelation regarding fulfilled prophecy, as I continued to read the Biblical text.
It is, of course, not just the fulfilled Prophecy that caught my attention.
In Exodus 34, when Moses desperately needs to know God's Name and see Him, God passes by in front of him and declares His Name to be: "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin."
I was also gripped with the realization that the 400 years were not simply history unfolding, but a demonstration of His Character. In order to remain true to His NAME, YHWH was willing to take His people through those years, including the suffering of slavery in Egypt, because His Nature demanded a 400 year period of Grace for the Canaanite peoples whose "sin ... [had] not yet reached its full measure" when Abraham was given the Covenant.
All of this had a staggering impact on me; and God's answer to my prayer for further revelation, brought me through the Prophets in a way that has established me as a firm believer in this Gracious God of Abraham, a solid advocate for Israel and a campaigner in the Church for understanding the significance of our Hebrew roots and the implications of that for our everyday lives. I am obviously rather naïve and slow to understand, but it is finally becoming clearer.
But, I'm digressing; let me return to the chapter between YHWH's two great appearances to Abraham.
In this chapter, Genesis 16, we have the World and History altering story of Sarai, Abram's wife, attempting to play God. Seeing that both she and Abram are getting old, and knowing the stress that brought about the interaction between YHWH and Abram that we have just seen in chapter 15, she decides to "help" by offering her Egyptian maid Hagar to Abram with this plan: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
That seems to make sense, until, the now exultantly pregnant, Egyptian Hagar, instead of joyfully informing her Mistress Sarai that her plan was working, "began to despise her mistress."
Like Hagar, Sarai's response, of course, is not quite the godly response we might expect from the Matriarch; she attacks her husband with, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
Incidentally, the Hebrew word she uses for her suffering is hamas, the very word Gaza Islamists today use as their name, Hamas.
Abram, not willing to have this strife in his house, complies with Sarai's demand and banishes the pregnant Hagar to the desert.
That's where we now go to hear YHWH's predictive comments about Hagar's little boy child:
"The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of your misery.
He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”
I am not an authority, but I understand that Muslims claim that Muhammed is a direct descendant of Ishmael. The world will no longer be the same.
Two observations about YHWH's words to Hagar.
He commands her to go back "and submit to [Sarai]" her Mistress. God's intended arrangement is for Hagar to assume her place in relation to Abram's wife, that is, a place of submission. Whatever His reasons for this order, that is what it is.
Secondly, YHWH predicts that her son, Ishmael, will have the same inclination as his mother to fight against the LORD's order.
"He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”
Some translations use "wild ass of a man"; sounds a little more appropriate than "donkey" to me.
In the next chapter (17) after Abram's and Sarai's names are changed to Abraham and Sarah respectively, and YHWH has promised them a son through Sarah, Abraham still advocates for his son Ishmael, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
YHWH answers in an emphatic, clear voice to silence any further attempts on Abraham and Sarah's part to have their own way; He is the Sovereign LORD, and they are chosen by Him for a certain role in Human History, a role that does not include Ishmael:
"Then God said, 'But your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.' When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him."
Ishmael has his place, BUT not in the Covenant which is established through Isaac.
We may not think this fair, but God is God, and His ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts; and being the Creator and Sustainer of our very life, I think we know whose WAYS AND THOUGHTS take precedence.
In last Shabbat's Haftarah reading, the Sovereign LORD says about His re-gathering of His People from the Diaspora (to which He Himself had sent them in Judgement), calling them back to His Land, the Land He had Promised them:
"'To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,'
says the Lord, who has compassion on you."
I do not know the implications of those emphasized words, but that is the Sovereign LORD speaking; should be encouraging to Israel.
In conclusion, I invite you to look with me at this week's Haftarah passage in Isaiah 40-41, in the light of the violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists among YHWH's People today. Given the prediction we have just read about Ishmael's manners, the descendants of Ishmael seem to be true to his character.
Read and PRAY these Isaiah passages, in the light of the current terrorist activities and lies directed at His People.
"But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
YHWH, the God and friend of Abraham, declares His protection of His People. We can remind Him of His Promise.
But, not only will He protect them; He will use them as a tool of His Judgement:
"'Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,
little Israel, do not fear,
for I myself will help you,' declares the Lord,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
'See, I will make you into a threshing sledge,
new and sharp, with many teeth.
You will thresh the mountains and crush them,
and reduce the hills to chaff.
You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up,
and a gale will blow them away.
But you will rejoice in the Lord
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.'"
"THRESHING SLEDGE" it is then!