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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  1. Mthokozisi Manqele

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

  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.

  3. Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

    Perhaps Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Jesus?

  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?

  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.

  6. William Laguna

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