This week, our portion is Lekh L’kha (Genesis 12:1-17:27), which literally means, “Go for yourself.” It begins with YHWH telling Abram the Semite to leave his country and family in the city of Haran so he could travel to a land which God would show him, and experience His blessing.
That this urging began with the command, “Go for yourself,” means that God was telling Abram to depart for his own sake, for his own good. So Abram obeyed, and took his wife and nephew Lot with him. This was the beginning of his journey, at 75 years old, to become the great patriarch of the Judeo-Christian faith.
In this Torah portion, God speaks to Abram a total of 5 times concerning his destiny over a period of 24 years (see Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 12:7, Genesis 13:14-17, Genesis 15, Genesis 17:1-22), and His promises to him on these occasions are summed up thus:
- He would become a great nation, and have a great name
- He would be blessed, and be a blessing to all the families of the earth
- Those who blessed him would be blessed; those who cursed him would be cursed
- The entirety of the land of Canaan would be given to him and his descendants as an everlasting possession
- Though he was already advanced in years and hadn’t produced a biological heir, Abram’s descendants would become as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars in the sky, beginning with a son named Isaac who would be born to him at the age of 100, through his 90 year-old wife
- His descendants would be afflicted with slavery in Egypt for 400 years, and then return to Canaan with great wealth and inherit the land
- Every male of his household, both born and bought, was to be circumcised from the age of 8 days old onwards as a perpetual sign of his, and their, covenant with God
- His name was to be changed from Abram to Abraham, meaning “father of many,” while his wife Sarai was to be called Sarah, meaning “princess” – as kings and nations would proceed from them
- His other son through Hagar, Ishmael, would also be blessed and become a great nation; but God would establish His covenant with Isaac’s progeny, and be the God of their generations forever
In reading all this, one cannot escape the fact that the Abrahamic covenant was cut on a foundation of the miraculous: its predictions could only have come out of the omniscience of God, and its fulfilment could only have been by the power of God. Moreover, this covenant was meant to be unbreakable based on God’s instructions to Abram in Genesis 15:
“Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. … And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:
“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
It was an ancient custom in the Middle East for parties to a covenant to provide an animal, cut it in half, and walk between the pieces. It’s believed that this was tantamount to swearing an oath to the effect of, “May this happen to me if I am unfaithful to our agreement” – a vow that if either party broke the covenant, then the offender would suffer an end like the sacrificial animal (i.e. be cut in pieces).
The interesting thing about Abram’s covenant with God though, is that he was not required to walk between the animal pieces. He merely had to witness the supernatural fire of God doing so. It was basically God’s way of telling him that the fulfilment of this covenant they were making rested entirely on His faithfulness – if Abram or his descendants did something to violate their half of the agreement, God would still hold up his end. This is why Hebrews 6:13-17 says,
For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” … For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath…
And the fact God went on to tell Abram that He would give the land of Canaan to his descendants right after making this oath, establishes an extremely important point when it comes to ownership of the land – it immutably belongs to the descendants of Abraham forever.
Of course, superficially, one might argue that Ishmael was a son of Abraham, so the Arabic people who’ve descended from him could have a share in Canaan. And one might be tempted to say the same of Esau, who was a son of Isaac. But Hebrews 11:8-10 says,
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
By narrowing the inheritance of Abraham to one specific son in each generation – Isaac the brother of Ishmael, then Jacob (who later became known as Israel) the brother of Esau – the word of God is clear: it is the Jewish people, the covenant descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who have a right to dwell in that little parcel of land, even in the present day.
In Genesis 13:14-17, God said to Abram, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. … Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”
This walking and seeing was intended to give Abram a very real sense of what God was promising him… to actualise the knowledge that he would one day inherit the earth he was traversing with his own feet. This is why the verse in Hebrews says that “he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Abram never possessed the land of Canaan in his lifetime, but moved and dwelt through it in faith like a landowner staking his claim, knowing it would one day belong to his household by the faithfulness of God.
So he made his way up and down the land, the approximate route of which is reconstructed in the map below (click to see an enlarged version, then click again to reach full size). And he built 3 altars in the process – at Shechem; between Bethel and Ai; and at Hebron – the first and third altars being constructed directly after God promised to give him the land, as a worshipful response (Genesis 12:6-7, Genesis 13:14-18).
Now if you compare that with the following map of Israel today, you’ll see that all those altars, the holy markers of God’s promises, are located squarely in what is commonly known now as the West Bank, one of the so-called “occupied territories” of Israel. … The problem is, according to the Bible, it’s not an occupation – the West Bank actually comprises the heartland of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and therefore it rightfully belongs to the nation of Israel, not the Palestinian people.
Now I realise that making such a bald statement will offend many people, but when one reads the Scriptures plainly and directly, one cannot avoid the conclusion that Israel has a divine right to settle the entirety of the region outlined on that map. … It doesn’t mean that they should simply remove all those who’re already living there (Palestinians, after all, are not part of the original 7 Canaanite nations which God commanded Israel to destroy) – but the Jews do have the right to move into the area, live, build up and administer it, even if much of the world strains to deny that fact. God promised this to their forefathers, and anyone who opposes it is standing in the way of Him keeping His word (and really, it’s never a good idea to stand in God’s way).
In my last post, I wrote about why the land of Canaan became open to being inherited by someone other than the original Canaanites themselves; in this post, we see how God established the details of that arrangement with one particular man and his family. And while one can’t expect non-believers to readily accept what Scripture says about the matter, it is (or should be) entirely different for Christians at least – I believe that more of us need to learn what this Torah portion says, take it to heart, and allow our minds to be renewed by its words.
Out of all the potential topics I could’ve written about from Lekh L’kha, I chose this one because it’s becoming increasingly common for professing believers presently to disregard the truth of the Abrahamic covenant in favour of politically correct (but Biblically and historically inaccurate) narratives which deny the continued validity of said covenant, as well as its contemporary implications for the survival of the Jewish state. So here I present the bare bones of what the Scripture says; I leave it to students of the word to examine and reflect on it for themselves.
As a parting supplement, I’d like to share a couple of blog posts I’ve done in the past which I think are relevant to this Torah portion – first concerning the journey of Abram away from his family: Confessions of a lone convert, and a little bit on Melchizedek: A Christmas Q&A: #7.
Shalom and have a good week ahead, everybody. See you next entry.