New Testament Reflections: Lech-lecha

 

The Redemptive History Begins

If you follow the Torah reading cycle, have you ever caught yourself on the thought: “Oh, finally we are in Genesis 12: we are entering the real story!” To me, it happens every year – because indeed, when we enter Torah Portion Lech-Lecha, an entirely new period begins! So far, we have seen God’s intervention in judgment: both in the flood and in the story of the tower of Babel, God punished man for his sin and rebellion. But when God called Abraham, He personally and actively intervened in mercy, not in judgment. The election and selection of what would become the people of God, begins here.

From a New Testament perspective, God sets His plan of redemption in motion by the call of Abraham. Everything changes when Abraham shows up—starting from Genesis 12, the very fabric of the narrative becomes very different: again, as if the real story only starts now and everything before was just a foreword. Not only the narrative of Bereshit, but the whole story of humanity, from this point on, becomes the story of this man, his family and his descendants. Why? We know very well that even before Abraham, there were righteous people – like Noah or Enoch – who loved God and walked before Him. So why all of a sudden, does everything change with Abraham coming into the picture?

Personally, I think this is the very first time in history that God stepped into this world through somebody who was willing to open his heart to Him—and He changes everything through this one man. When Abraham enters the story, God becomes part of the story as well, not from without—as He was in the story of Noah, for example—but from within, from the heart of this one man, and everything around begins to be changed and transformed by God’s power acting through him! That’s why Abraham occupies such a special position in the New Testament. Abraham believed God’s promises, and his faith determined his obedience; hence Abraham’s response to God’s call, and his readiness to separate himself “from his country, from his family and from his father’s house” and follow God’s command, in spite of all the uncertainty that this command contained. According to the New Testament, Abraham provided an example of saving faith for later generations of believers—Jew and Gentile alike: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.[1]

In this sense, faith as the evidence of the things not seen, actually begins here. If we ask if Abraham received any reward for obeying God so unreservedly, and look at the circumstances of his life after he arrived in the Land in full obedience to God’s command, we find only those “unseen” rewards that one can see by faith alone. God promised him a land; however, when the LORD appeared unto Abraham, and said: “Unto thy seed will I give this land,” he and his family were living in tents and were still complete foreigners and newcomers in that land. The story of Abraham is probably the first story in the Bible where this contrast between things seen and things unseen, is so obvious: in the invisible realm, Abraham is chosen by God for His plan and His covenant; he will be the father of a nation and of nations, and one day he will possess this Land. In the visible realm, however, “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.”[2]

God’s Choice

Who was this man? I often wonder where Abram got his faith—that absolutely unique faith that caused him to trust the Lord and follow His commands, even when they seemed complex, painful, or illogical. How long had he been a true believer before he heard God say, “lech-lecha” (go out), and then did what he was told? He was already an old man when God called him. Why did God choose a man so advanced in age, and indeed – why him at all?

The Torah is silent on this matter, but two different interpretations have been suggested. The first one says that we can’t understand God’s reason:  He chooses Abraham not because of his merits, but randomly, therefore the Torah says nothing   about his righteousness, Abraham just became the recipient of God’s grace, through no merit of his own.

The second interpretation says that Abram deserved to be chosen. Like Noah in his generation, Abram stood out as a uniquely righteous and moral man, and these qualities caused God to single him out. This approach is more popular in Jewish tradition, while the first one is more favored by Christian scholars.

The Order of Melchizedek”

In Genesis 14, Melchizedek (meaning “my king righteousness”) meets Abraham on his return from his victory over Chedorlaomer. Melchizedek brings out bread and wine to Abraham, blesses him and praises El Elyon, the creator of heaven and earth, who is responsible for the victory of Abraham. Melchizedek is referred here as both “king of Salem” and “priest of the Most High God”. People often wonder who Melchizedek was. Was he a purely mythical figure, or was he a historical person from patriarchal times, to whom mythical features were later attributed?

First of all, the “episodic” or “mysterious” nature of the appearance of Melchizedek in the Hebrew Bible is clear: in the whole corpus of the Hebrew Scriptures his name occurs only twice (Gen 14:18-20 and Ps 110:4). Both refer to the same figure, but without revealing much about his identity. Melchizedek of the Hebrew Bible is a priest-king of pre-Israelite Jerusalem, but his origin is not clear. It is precisely because of this anonymous, without genealogy or descent, mysterious figure, writes a great Jewish Bible scholar David Flusser, that in certain Jewish circles of the Second Temple period, the biblical story of Melchizedek expanded into a sort of mythical biography: Melchizedek became a pre-existent and immortal being. He was even thought of as having been begotten in his mother’s womb by the Word of God: for instance, in a well-known text from Qumran, 11QMelch, Melchizedek is presented as an eschatological savior, not as an earthly king or priest. Referring to the Qumran sectaries, Flusser writes: “There were those who expected him to be the judge of the Latter Days, when he, together with the celestial powers, will indicate the judgments of God so that the righteous would become his lot and his heritage.”[3] The New Testament eschatological reinterpretation of the biblical Melchizedek is built along similar lines.

 

[1] Heb.11:8

[2] Heb.11:9

[3] David Flusser, Judaism and the origins of Christianity, Jerusalem, 1988, p.192

I  would like to remind you, dear friends that eTeacher offers a wonderful course, where you can learn the weekly Torah Portion commentaries along with their New Testament interpretation. As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information! 

 

Excerpts from my  books are included in many  posts on this blog, you  can get  my books  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/  Also,  my last book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and  Jewish Background insights   into NT,  is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (13 comments)

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  1. Mthokozisi Manqele

    Is the tithe given to Melchizedek by Abraham still relevant today? Who is Melchizedek in the new testament

    1. Julia Blum

      As I wrote in my reply to Cheryel, people often wonder who Melchizedek was. Some believe he was Noah’s son Shem reincarnated; some believe he was an angel. Since early church fathers, many Christinas have believed that he was the pre-incarnation of Jesus. As for the tithe, different denominations and churches see it in a different way, as you undoubtedly know, it’s definitely a question of interpretation, and therefore I won’t address this question here.

  2. Pastor Bill

    Thank you Julia. The LORD has given you some great insight and gifted you with the ability to bless others in these posts. Be blessed and be a blessing Baruch HaShem.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words Pastor Bill, so appreciate them! Blessings!

  3. Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

    Perhaps Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Jesus?

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Cheryel, people often wonder who Melchizedek was. Some believe he was Noah’s son Shem reincarnated; others that he was an angel. Early church fathers taught that he was the pre-incarnation of Jesus, and many Christians today still think so.

  4. Gordon

    How does Gen.11:31 fit? If Abram is the one called why did Terah start the move to Canaan> Was he called, then Abram called after his father’s death?

    1. Julia Blum

      I agree completely Gordon. Here is what I wrote in my book (“Abraham had two sons”):
      “Why did Terah start heading for Canaan in the first place? I personally believe that before God spoke to Abraham, He had spoken to his father; otherwise, why would Terah leave Ur and start going to Canaan? We know that Terah did not worship the one true God; we know this, not only from rabbinical writings, but also from the Scripture itself: This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods.” In no way does this mean, however, that Terah had never heard about the true God, or that he had never heard from the true God. Perhaps the very first lech-lecha–go out–was actually spoken to Terah; perhaps it was Terah who was supposed to have become the father of nations. However, many are called, but few chosen. We all long to hear His voice; we all desire to have a Divine encounter, but make no mistake: It’s not the Divine encounter that defines our destiny, but what we do after this encounter. It’s not what He says to us that defines us, it’s how we respond to what He says! It’s not enough to be called; one must remain faithful to this calling. It is likely that Terah had been called first, before his son; he probably responded to this call by heading for Canaan. However, he never got there. He stopped in Haran, because dwelling in Haran was much more comfortable and safe than living in tents in Canaan. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word–choke the call. Thus, Terah never became what he could and should have become.”

  5. Nick

    Maybe, little by little, Abraham took steps toward God, and God took steps toward Abraham, culminating in Abraham developing an inner knowledge-a calling he was willing to act on with determination and intention. I can only imagine. Was Noah still around when Abraham was young?
    Thank you Julia !

    1. Dorothy Healy

      Noah wasn’t, but importantly, his son Shem was (The line of descent from Shem down to Abraham is listed in Genesis 11:10-26.). I feel sure that Shem had a Godly influence on Abraham’s family line.

    2. Julia Blum

      Yes, as Dorothy wrote, Shem was, he was there even in the times of Jacob – and according to the Jewish tradition, Jacob spent his young years studying “in the tents of Shem”.

  6. William Laguna

    what is e-teacher and where do I get more information about it

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi William, eteacher is a great online school that offers online courses on the Bible and Biblical languages. If you are interested to know more, send me please your phone number and our representative will call you at the time that you will specify. Blessings!