ABRAHAM AND THE LORD'S APPEARANCES TO HIM
a story of FAITH and OBEDIENCE
This week's Torah Portion, VaYera, "And YHWH Appeared", begins with one, perhaps the 4th, of YHWH's Appearances to Abraham.
According to Stephen, in Acts 7:2, "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 3 ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you." This is recorded in Genesis 12.
Abraham hears "the word of the LORD [coming to him] in a vision" in Genesis 15; a vision that seems to turn into an actual encounter in which "[YHWH] took him outside and said, 'Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'" Then, in an incredible experience, after butchering 3 animals, laying out their carcasses in 2 rows and chasing away the "birds of prey", Abraham is overcome by "a thick and dreadful darkness", but sees "a smoking firepot with a blazing torch [pass] between the pieces" he had laid out, and hears YHWH say, "To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates"; this will happen after 400 years of servitude in another country. In this passage there is no "YHWH Appeared"; but YHWH interacting with Abraham and Covenanting with him, certainly; it includes the famous "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness" statement.
Thirdly, Genesis 17 begins with "When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, 'I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.'” In this passage YHWH changes Abram's name to Abraham, that is, from "exalted father" to "father of many nations", and declares: "I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you." Not only that, but He repeats: "The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” This Covenant includes circumcision, so, before Isaac is even conceived by Abraham's wife Sarah, Abraham, at 99 years of age, and his 13 year old son Ishmael, are circumcised.
Genesis 18, the beginning of this week's Torah potion, VaYera, then begins with the 4th Appearance.
Here "The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby."
As it stands, this passage might suggest that Abraham sees the 3 men after the LORD appeared to him; that is, the LORD and the 3 men are separate.
However, after serving the 3 men a meal, and hearing the LORD re-affirm the promise that in 1 year, Sarah would give birth to the son, Isaac, through whom Abraham's descendants would be counted, " The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord." The next chapter begins with 2 angels/men, approaching Sodom. Thus it seems, possible at least, that the third "man" was, in fact, the LORD who remains to share His plans with Abraham.
(Asher Intrater's, Who Ate Lunch with Abraham, explores this subject very well).
After recounting the stories of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his family saved, but with rather unsavory results, and the Abraham-Abimelech interactions, the text returns to the birth of Isaac, chapter 21, and the "binding of Isaac", chapter 22.
The final "APPEARANCE" comes in the "Binding/Sacrifice of Isaac" account, and illustrates Abraham's FAITH in action, that is, his OBEDIENCE.
For Abraham, when YHWH appears and speaks to him, he HEARS, BELIEVES/exercises FAITH and OBEYS!
Abraham has bound his "only son" Isaac for sacrifice, a ram has been provided as a substitute for him, and then: "The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, 'I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.'”
We are told in Genesis 15 that "Abram believed the Lord, and [He] credited it to him as righteousness." This FAITH carries Abraham through a huge range of experience resulting finally in YHWH's declaration: "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
All of Abraham's descendants, including those of us who through Christ, (we believe the same "Christ" who kept appearing to Abraham), belong to our father Abraham, are BLESSED because he OBEYED YHWH when He spoke to him.
May we all have a FAITH in YHWH that results in radical OBEDIENCE!