“If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss and yet will be saved—but only as one escaping through the flames.” -1 Corinthians 3:14-15
The account of Sodom’s destruction continues to illuminate the contradictions within Lot’s character and in addition lays the foundation for the seeding of two of Israel’s greatest enemies, both physical and spiritual: Moav and Ammon.
With regard to halakhah (the way we walk), the contrast between Avraham and Lot could be seen as a, “how to” and, “how not to” respond to G-d and His messengers:
“He (G-d) destroyed the cities of S’dom and Amorrah, reducing them to ashes —making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly. He rescued Lot, a righteous man greatly oppressed by the shameless immorality of the wicked. (For that righteous man, while living among them, was tormented in his righteous soul day after day by lawless deeds he saw and heard.) Therefore HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) certainly knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and how to keep the unrighteous being punished until the Day of Judgment-- especially those who follow after the flesh in its unclean desires and who despise HaShem’s (YHVH: Mercy) authority.” –2 Peter 2:6-10a
The lesson we learn from these two men is that faithful obedience reaps great reward, while disobedience and failing to keep our focus on G-d, leads to great trials and unnecessary suffering. Many believers today boast of the filthy depths they were delivered from as if it were a badge of honour, however, the testimonies of those who have remembered their Creator in their youth and have walked as Avraham walked are their own reward. We should reject the sensational sin honouring culture of some branches of Christianity and embrace the Kingdom culture of giving all honour and glory to the G-d Who has delivered us from sin through His Son our Messiah Yeshua (Jesus the Christ). Those who choose to obey the instruction of G-d will not regret it.
Gen 19:1 And two of the messengers (Ha-Malachiym: angels) came to S’domah (Sodom: Burning) in the evening; and Lot (covering) sat in the gate of S’dom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;
This account takes place on the evening of the same day that HaShem and the two angels met with Avraham. These two malakhim (messengers) are the two men who had accompanied HaShem (In the form of the third man), however, we note that HaShem is not present here in the form of the third man.
As a continuation of the naming of these angels by the rabbis, the two angels here are traditionally seen as being Gavriel and Raphael. However, because I see Raphael as being a representation of the Healer Yeshua, Who is G-d with us, I interpret these messengers as being Michael and Gavriel. After all, they are here to proclaim warning to Lot (Gavriel) and to destroy the city (Michael). There will be no healing or wholeness (Raphael) offered to the unrepentant people of S’dom.
The fact that Lot was seated in the city gate infers that he had become one of the city’s leading elders/judges (Deut. 22:15; Josh. 20:4; Ruth 4:1). This idea is supported by Jewish tradition, which explains that five judges were appointed by the men of S’dom, and Lot was the chief among them (Bereshit Rabba, sect. 50. fol. 44. 4.) Some say that Genesis 19:9 refutes this, however, when read contextually, it in fact affirms the status of Lot as a judge. In modern terms one might say that by the time Genesis 19:9 rolled around, Lot had reached the threshold of local animosity and had become an unpopular immigrant politician in a city that valued physical gratification over human dignity. Sadly, I believe many of us live in similar cities today.
We should also note that Lot’s influence was very weak when compared with that of Joseph and Daniel, who lived among the wicked in exile. The difference of course being that each of these men was taken captive by the wicked, whereas Lot sought out the wicked because of his love for worldly wealth. Again, we learn a worthwhile lesson from these differences. We are not to seek opportunities to reside among the wicked, rather, if we find ourselves among the wicked through the natural progression of life, we are to live as tzidakim (righteous ones) among them. Following our father Avraham’s example of being light to the nations.
Notice that Lot approaches the messengers of HaShem in a similar way to his uncle Avraham.
Gen 19:2 And he said, “Behold now, my lords (Adoni: or my lord, not HaShem), turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and stay the night, and wash your feet, then you can rise early, and go on your way”. And they said, “No; but we will abide in the street all night”.
Once again we can see the similarities between the offering of hospitality shown by Lot and that of his uncle Avraham. However, it seems that Lot’s offer is also motivated by his knowledge of the filthy conduct of the city’s residents. Subsequently the messengers illuminate the wickedness of the city by putting Lot to the test saying, “We will abide in the street”.
The clause, “turn in” is interpreted by the Bereshit Rabba, to mean, “Go a roundabout, winding, crooked way to my house, so that the men of Sodom may not see you go in there, and know you are there.” In a like manner the Targum of Yonatan reads, "turn here, and there, and go into the house of your servant:"
Gen 19:3 And he (Lot) insisted; and they turned in with him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake matzot (unleavened bread: used during Pesach), and they ate.
Lot insists because he knows what will take place if the men remain in the streets. It seems that homosexual rape was used to deter foreigners, thieves and would be immigrants.
The making of the matzot (unleavened bread) is a retrospective detail which HaShem (via the pen of Moses) has clearly intended for conveying a comparative teaching regarding the Pesach (Passover) and the exodus of the Israelites (Exodus12:39). Matzot is made in haste and is without yeast (sin), thus it is a symbol of Lot’s desire to be righteous in spite of his poor choices and the trials they have birthed. In this way he is a type for the Israelite slaves in Egypt. Lot will also hesitate prior to leaving, perhaps considering whether he is better off staying, just as the Israelites did when they found themselves trapped beside the Red Sea.
Gen 19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the terror (ha’eer: also, the city), the men of S’dom (burning), surrounded the house, from boys to old men, all the people from every quarter:
The term sodomy derives its name from this account. From early days this heinous act was considered an abomination, an act that is contrary to the creative order and the positive instruction to go forth and be fruitful. This would later be codified as law and made a capital offence, along with incest, bestiality and adultery (Leviticus 18:6-18, 22, 23; 20:13: 20:10, 15-16 Deut. 27:21).
In this age of political correctness, I have yet to hear anyone suggest that having sex with animals is a personal choice, a sexual preference or a character trait born of genetic disposition/imperative. Nor have I witnessed any “Adulterer’s rights” movements. I have however seen popular media drive home a homosexual, transgender and lesbian agenda, which dispenses with its opponents by calling them names like, “Bigot, homophobe, hater, fundamentalist etc.” What I find truly deplorable, is the public support given by Christians and Christian organizations, to those who practice these sinful behaviours. It seems that Liberal (and I do not mean the liberty of Messiah) Western Christianity feels lead to enable sin rather than love the sinner and hate the sin. Again, I have yet to see the Christian “Pro Adulterers” support rally or the, “Zoophilia is a personal choice” bumper sticker.
If, as the popular Christian evangelical idiom suggests, “We are to love the sinner but hate the sin”, why have we now concluded that we should, “Love the sinner by enabling the sin”? Worse still, “Love the sinner by labelling him with his sin”, e.g. “Homosexual”. No, he is a heterosexual who has been lied to and manipulated into believing that he is genetically wired to contradict G-d’s natural order.
You will not find me applauding at a gay pride rally, nor will you find me beating up sexual sinners, or shouting at crossdressers. But you will find me sharing the Gospel with people who make sin choices of every kind. You will find me advocating for kindness toward the sinner in spite of his sin. You will find me offering an alternative to what the popular culture calls sexual preference. I offer the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, the New Testament, and repentance and forgiveness through Messiah Yeshua.
Gen 19:5 And they called unto Lot, and said to him, “Where are the men which came in to you this night? Bring them out to us, that we may know (yada: Gen. 4:1) them (Have sexual intercourse with them).
Some have suggested that the Hebrew, “yada” means, “To get to know” here, rather than being used as a euphemism for sexual relations. However, Lot’s response shows that he understood the men of the city to be referring to anal intercourse, this is the very reason he offers an alternate sexual expression (19:8) in order to divert their attentions.
Others suggest that the offense here is rape rather than the homosexual act. And, if this text were to stand alone apart from the rest of the Bible that might well be considered a viable argument. However, the Scriptures are very clear regarding the sexually immoral acts of homosexual practice.
“You are not to lie with a man, as with a woman—that is an abomination.” –Leviticus 18:22 (TLV)
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination, and they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be on them.” –Leviticus 20:13 (TLV)
“For this reason God gave them up to shameful passions. Even their women exchanged natural relations for what is against nature. Likewise the men abandoned natural relations with women and were burning with passion toward one another—men committing shameful acts with other men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” –Romans 1:26-27 (TLV)
“Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, those who practice homosexuality,” -1 Corinthians 6:9 (TLV)
“But we know that the Torah is good if one uses it legitimately, knowing that the Torah is not given for a tzaddik but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and worldly, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, homosexuals, slave-traders, liars, perjurers, and for anything else that opposes sound teaching— in keeping with what was entrusted to me, the glorious Good News of the blessed God.” -1 Timothy 1:8-11
Gen 19:6 And Lot went out of the door to them, and shut the door after him, Gen 19:7 And said, “I plead with you my brothers, do not do this evil. Gen 19:8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out to you, and allow you to do to them what seems good in your eyes: only do nothing to these men; for they have come under the protection (B’tzeil: Lit. shadow) of my roof”.
A number of Middle Eastern customs come into play in this situation. The concept of a guest being under the protection of the house, even when he is one’s enemy, is still practised today by many G-d fearing Mizrahi Jews and Arab Muslims in the Middle East.
By the offering of his daughters to the men of the city Lot shows how great an abomination he considers the homosexual act to be. So great in fact, that he would rather see his own daughters raped than to see the men of the city swapping natural sexual relations with women for the abominable act of anal intercourse. An act that is in direct opposition to G-d’s command to human beings regarding procreation.
Lot’s solution for appeasing the men of the city is none the less, despicable. Only a man of tainted moral character would offer his own daughters up to be raped and defiled. The differences between Lot and Avraham begin to come to the surface, thus showing the seed for the planting of the wicked nations of Moav (Of father, product of incest) and Ammon (Darkness).
A similar degradation of moral values can be seen in the account of Judges 19. The mistreatment of women in this way is equally abominable. As a husband and a father of two beautiful daughters, the suggestion made by Lot sickens me to the core and proves that he is in dire need of redemption.
Gen 19:9 And they said, “Stand back”. And added, “This one came to sojourn, and he dares to be a judge? Now we will deal worse with you, than with them”. And they pressed up against the man Lot, and came closer to the house, attempting to break down the door.
As mentioned previously, according to tradition, Lot is one of five judges/elders of the city. Therefore, the phrase, “This one came to sojourn, and he dares to be a judge?” is a statement of incredulity spoken after years of animosity toward Lot, a racial hatred that has resided just below the surface of public opinion. This would come as no surprise to Jewish communities throughout history and throughout the world, who have suffered similar, seemingly instantaneous hatred from those they live amongst.
Because Lot has dared to challenge the citizens of Sodom, they will now turn on him and abuse him in even more despicable ways than what they had first intended for the men he was trying to protect.
Gen 19:10 But the men put forth their hands, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut the door.
The men of Sodom were so numerous that they pushed up against Lot and were it not for the quick hands of the messengers of HaShem, Lot may well have been gang raped and quartered, then left on display in the street.
By seeking to do the best he could in his own strength, Lot has now engaged his fellow Sodomites, offered up his daughters to be raped in order to protect G-d’s messengers, and has required rescue from the men he was trying to protect. Avraham on the other hand, in repentance, trusted G-d, relying on G-d’s strength to deliver him.
Gen 19:11 And they struck the men that were at the door of the house with blindness (San’veir), both small and great: so that they wearied themselves trying to find the door.
The Hebrew word, “San’veir” is found only three times in the Tanakh and is used here to refer to a certain type of blindness, that Iben Ezra interprets as blindness of both the eye and the heart (lev: core being). It is also used in 2 Kings 6:18, where Elisha, while surrounded by angelic beings, calls for his enemies to be struck with “San’veir”. This type of blindness seems to effect a mental inability to discern detail or make an accurate assessment of present circumstances. It is noteworthy that it is employed only against the enemies of G-d and His people.
Gen 19:12 And the men (angels) said to Lot, “Do you have any other family beside your daughters? Whoever you have in the city, be they sons in law, sons, or daughters, bring them out of this place: Gen 19:13 For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them has become great before the face of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy); and HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has sent us to destroy it.
Both the family unit and the individual have autonomy of choice. Family is important to G-d (7:1, 9:1, 17:9, 18:19), and each member of the family is responsible for his or her own decisions in relationship to G-d.
Gen 19:14 And Lot went out, and spoke to his sons in law, which were pledged to marry his daughters, and said, “Get up out of this place; for HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) will destroy this city. But his sons in law thought he was joking.
Lot’s inability to convince his sons in law of the coming judgement reflects both his own failing character and the lack of godly fear in the lives of his sons in law.
Gen 19:15 And when the morning arose, the messengers (Malakhiym: angels) rushed Lot, saying, “Arise, take your wife, and your two daughters, which are here; lest you all be consumed in the iniquity of the city. Gen 19:16 However, Lot lingered, so the men laid hold of his hand, and the hands of his wife, and two daughters; because HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) was showing mercy to him: and they brought him forth, and set him outside the city.
The phrase, “Lest you all be consumed in the iniquity of the city” presents an ambiguous message. If Lot and his family linger too long they will certainly perish in a literal sense. Additionally, when righteous people live in an environment where immorality reigns, they too are eventually consumed by the iniquity that has made its way into their lives.
The statement, “Lot lingered” again shows his compromised faith and his inability to choose G-d’s path over the riches he had amassed in Sodom (burning). If we consider this carefully we can develop a drash that says, Lot hesitated because he wanted to hold on to the riches he had collected for burning. It seems that Lot is a good candidate for the following description of a person who has not invested well in the journey of faith.
“If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss and yet will be saved—but only as one escaping through the flames.” -1 Corinthians 3:14-15
The angels of HaShem, acting out their purpose in G-d take hold of Lot and his family and deliver them to safety outside of the city. Doing for them what they were unable to do for themselves. This is the triumph of Mercy over judgement.
Gen 19:17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them out, that he (One of the angels) said, “Escape for your life; don’t look behind you (Don’t return), nor should you stay anywhere in the region; escape to the mountain, or you will be consumed.
“Don’t look behind you” is a Hebrew idiom meaning, “Don’t go back” or, “Don’t allow yourself to think about going back”.
Gen 19:18 And Lot said to them, “Oh, not so, my Lords/lord: Gen 19:19 Behold now that your servant has found in your eye, favour, and you have magnified chesed (mercy), which you have showed me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die: Gen 19:20 Behold now, this city is near to flee to, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape there, (is it not a little one?) And my soul shall live.
Lot’s request shows that he understands, at least in part, that he has been saved through no merit of his own. However, it is his fear that is the motivation behind his request. Not fear of G-d but fear of destruction.
The phrase, “Please no my lords” is rendered by Rashi as, “Please no my L-rd” which in turn follows the Talmudic interpretation, inferring that while Lot began his pleading with the angels, he continued by petitioning HaShem directly.
Regardless of where Lot’s faith stood, G-d intended to deliver him from this judgement as a mechanism for showing how mercy triumphs over judgement. The Midrash explains that, “two precious treasures” came from Lot: Ruth (Friend) the Moabitess, Great Grandmother to king David and Naamah (Loveliness) the Ammonitess, who married king Solomon. The Midrash reminds us that these two descendants of Lot would become the mothers of the Davidic dynasty and of the King Messiah. These two descendants of Lot are explicitly and implicitly listed in the genealogy of our King Messiah Yeshua (Matthew 1:5, 7).
Gen 19:21 And he said to him, “See, I have accepted your request concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, which you have spoken of”.
The, “he” here is either one of the angels speaking on behalf of HaShem, or HaShem Himself, given that only G-d could make the ultimate decision to spare this city. Alternatively, now that they are outside the city they may have met the third man (Raphael/Yeshua/Angel of the L-rd), Who is referenced here in the singular to distinguish Him from the two other angels, who have already said that “they” have been sent to destroy the city (19:13), rather than act to spare a city (Which would fit the role of an angel of healing, wholeness and restoration, such as Raphael or The Angel of The L-rd, the King Messiah Yeshua).
Gen 19:22 “So make haste and escape there; for I cannot do anything until you reach it”. Therefore the name of the city was called Tzoar (Insignificance).
If the speaker is one of the two Angels, then, “I cannot” means that G-d has withheld the destruction until Lot and his family flee to safety. Alternatively, if the speaker is G-d Himself, either manifest as Yeshua the third man or by way of the Bat Kol (Heavenly voice), then, “I cannot” means, “Because I’m righteous I cannot go against My own firm decision to protect the nephew of Avraham My servant”.
The city was formerly called Bela (Destruction: 14:2), but is now named Tzoar (insignificance) after Lot’s description of its size.
Gen 19:23 The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Tzoar. Gen 19:24 Then HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) rained upon S’dom (burning) and upon Amorrah (submersion) brimstone and fire from HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) out of the heavens;
The sun having risen upon the earth denotes a time between 9am and midday. This means that almost twenty four hours have passed from the time HaShem and His angels met with Avraham until the destruction of the S’dom and Amorrah region.
It is worth noting that the text continues to present us with the Merciful Name of G-d YHVH, thus showing the destruction of these wicked cities as an act of G-d’s mercy.
Gen 19:25 And He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. Gen 19:26 But having considered things, his (Lot’s) wife went from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
Most English translations interpret the Hebrew more literally saying, “Looked back”, however this is a Hebrew idiom that means to return and there is room to translate the Hebrew text as, “went from behind him”. The text does not intend the reader to imagine Lot’s wife following closely behind him and turning in an instant of curiosity only to find herself being transformed immediately into salt as if by a magic spell. This is simply not the intended meaning. The text is conveying, all be it in idiomatic Hebrew form, the fact that Lot’s wife was not in agreement with his leaving the city and therefore, figuratively speaking, she looked back or longed to return. Thus she went back from following behind him and was destroyed (Turned to salt) along with the other inhabitants of the region.
The tragic death of Lot’s wife is used as a warning to every believer.
“On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life (of temporal worldly wealth) will lose it, and whoever loses their life (of temporal worldly wealth) will preserve it.” –Luke 17:31-33
“’But my righteous one will live by trust.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.’
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have trust and are saved.” –Hebrews 10-38-39
Gen 19:27 And Avraham got up early in the morning and went to the place where he stood before HaShem (YHVH: Mercy): Gen 19:28 And he looked toward S’dom and Amorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.
Avraham got up and went to the place on the road to S’dom, where he had petitioned the L-rd on S’dom (Lot’s) behalf.
This is the counterpoint to the words of Genesis 13:10 which read, “Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Tzoar was well watered, like the garden of HaShem YHVH: Mercy, like the land of Egypt. (This was before HaShem destroyed S’dom [burning] and Amorrah [submersion].)”
Gen 19:29 And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Avraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the destruction, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.
Notice that Lot has merited no righteousness of his own through trust, but has been delivered because G-d had taken note of Avraham, the father of trust.
The text seems to infer that Lot had travelled from city to city within the plain region of S’dom and Amorrah and had finally settled in S’dom.
Gen 19:30 And Lot went up out of Tzoar (Insignificance), and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Tzoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.
Lot’s fear has now not only caused him to disregarded the call of G-d to flee, but has also caused him to flee from a place in which G-d had promised to keep him safe (19:17, 21).
The cave is in stark contrast to the house Lot had dwelt in and is even further removed from the flocks, herds and tents that he once had when he had been with Avram (Genesis 13:5).
Lot’s choice to make his own way has now lead him to the brink. Soon he will lose control even of his own body, at the hands of his daughters.
Gen 19:31 And the firstborn said unto the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man in the land to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Gen 19:32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father”.
Based on the words of the firstborn, it seems that both daughters were convinced that G-d had punished all humanity with fire (Though not by flood). Thus they concluded that they were the soul surviving remnant of humanity and had no choice other than to cohabitate with their father. This should be tempered with the fact that while the plain was decimated, the hill country wasn’t and the daughters of Lot surely knew they had an uncle and relatives living to the northwest. Therefore, the elder of the two daughters was either extremely naive or a conniving young woman who was unwilling to commit the abomination of incest alone.
Gen 19:33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, and when she arose. Gen 19:34 And it came to pass that on the following day, the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay last night with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father. Gen 19:35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
Perhaps Lot was easily swayed due to the loss of his wife and all that he had owned? It seems reasonable to presume that he was suffering from a form of PTSD and the subsequent depression that can result. Therefore, the use of wine as a numbing agent may have greatly appealed to him. However, this does not discount his personal responsibility. He chose to drink excessively. The Hebrew text has a unique marker above the clause, “and when she arose” which the rabbis’ say indicates that while Lot was not aware of her beginning the act, he was aware that the act had taken place once his eldest daughter arose from cohabitating with him. Regardless, he was unrepentant, evidenced by his actions the following night, in returning to his folly he thus produced heirs through his own daughters, an act that is equally as despicable as the homosexual acts performed in S’dom (Lev. 18).
Gen 19:36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father.
Gen 19:37 And the firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moav (of his father): the same is the father of the Moabites (Incestuous: of his father) to this day. Gen 19:38 And the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi (Son of my people): the same is the father of the children of Ammon (darken) unto this day.
The fruit of this vile act are the two nations that will seduce Israel into carnal sin at Baal Peor (Numbers 25) and the foulest of religious perversions in the sacrificing of her sons and daughters to Molech (Leviticus 18:21). All of this can be traced back to the singular selfish choice that Lot had made in Genesis 13:10.
© 2016 Yaakov Brown
Genesis 18: HaShem, Three Men, The Promised Son, Sodom’s Demise & the Triumph of Mercy over Judgement
The refusal of the wicked to accept G-d’s mercy is the vehicle of their own demise.
In Rashi’s view the events of Chapter 18 follow directly on from the previous chapter, taking place three days after Avraham’s circumcision. I see no reason for disputing this. Even if understood as a tradition rather than an inspiration, Rashi’s idea adds to our understanding rather than detracting from it. If Rashi is correct, Avraham is now at the most painful stage of the healing process and is sitting, not only due to the heat of the day but also due to his need for rest and recovery.
As in the case of the previous events, this Divine encounter (theophany) and its outcome teach us a number of spiritual principles and further illuminate the character of G-d and the nature of humanity. The Holy Name of G-d YHVH, which denotes mercy, is used eleven times in this account (12 if the rabbinical interpretation of Adonai in verse 3 is accepted). This seems unusual given that the latter emphasis of the account is on the coming judgement against S’dom and Amorrah. However, it seems that G-d appears to Avraham as Mercy Himself for the purpose of conveying the idea that mercy triumphs over judgement. Avraham in turn, trusting the heart of G-d, becomes a type for the Messiah, pleading for justice seasoned with mercy, something that G-d intended all along.
With regard to Avraham and Sarah, a stark contrast is drawn between trust and disbelief. We are challenged by both Avraham’s eager hospitality and loving kindness, and by Sarah’s disbelief and denial.
When compared to chapter 19, this noon encounter stands in stark contrast to the night scene in Sodom. In the full light of midday G-d comes to Avraham for an intimate meeting of promise, sustenance, common unity and intercession. This is both a beginning and a counterpoint to the events of chapter 19, where in the darkness of night, an already condemned city establishes its wickedness by seeking to soil G-d’s messengers with acts of moral decay born of a depraved worldview, thus refusing intercession. The resulting destruction answers the loveless squalor of the citizens of S’dom and Amorrah, who have rejected G-d’s mercy outright. There is a correlation to Yeshua’s (Jesus) Revelation to Yochanan (John) here.
Verses 1-5 add nothing to the promises of 17:15. What differentiates the accounts is the intimate setting and the challenge to Sarah’s faith or lack thereof. The final result will be Sarah’s decision to trust G-d for the child, in response to His disciplining of her by way of a gentle challenge:
“By trust even Sarah herself received ability to conceive when she was barren and past the age, since she considered the One who had made the promise to be trustworthy.” – Hebrews 11:11
Gen 18:1 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) appeared to him (Avraham) at the trees of Mamrei (strength): and he (Avraham) sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
What is clear from the outset is that HaShem Himself is appearing to Avraham. Regardless of how we interpret what follows, we must not lose sight of this fact. Accepting Rashi’s assertion, I see this scene set with the recovering Avraham seated at midday in the shade of his tent, still in a great deal of pain from having been obedient to G-d’s instruction to circumcise both himself and all the males of his household.
Whether we interpret, “the trees” or, “the plain” of Mamrei (strength), the result is the same. Having been obedient to G-d Avraham finds that in his weakness G-d is his strength.
“By trusting they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness…” –Hebrews 11:33-34a
Gen 18:2 And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and prostrated himself on the ground,
“Lifted up his eyes” suggests that Avraham was either at rest or in prayerful meditation prior to this theophany (Divine visitation).
Avraham’s response to the appearance of the three men, whom he obviously sees as being representatives of The L-rd, is both courageous and reverential. Imagine getting up to run in the 45 degree (Celsius) plus heat of midday only three days after a painful operation on your private parts and then prostrating yourself before your guests, coming to rest on those very same parts in the hot sand. It’s safe to say, Avraham was extremely excited to see The L-rd and His messengers. This action shows the wonderful tension between friendship and awe in his relating to the Holy G-d. Avraham runs toward G-d and His messengers like a giddy school girl and then prostrates himself, an awe inspired servant.
It has been popular in Christian circles to try and affix the doctrine of the trinity to this meeting. However, it is clear from the remainder of this account (v.22) and the subsequent arrival of the two messengers at Sodom in 19:1, that at least two of the three men are not G-d.
Or HaChaim (Light of Life) suggests that G-d’s visit to Avraham in this instance was intended to demonstrate that Avraham had become a, “Chariot of the Divine Presence” (Bereshit Rabbah 82:6), meaning that Avraham’s physical being became a resting place for the Divine Presence of G-d (John 14:16-18; Romans 8:10, 15; James 4:5).
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper so He may be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him. You know Him, because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not abandon you as orphans; I will come to you.” –Yochanan (John) 14:16-18
“Or do you think that in vain the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the Spirit which He made to dwell in us’”? –Yaakov (James) 4:5
Traditional rabbinic Judaism considers each of G-d’s angels to serve a specific purpose. Thus each angel (Messenger) is named for his function. The Midrash says, “One angel does not perform two missions”. Gur Aryeh explains Rashi’s view of the three angels, by providing the following names and functions:
My personal view is that if we are to accept Rashi/Gur Aryeh’s view, we should swap the functions and order of the Malakhim (Angels) so as to match them to their well-documented Biblical roles and functions. Thus my list would read as follows:
Given that we know two of the men (angels) will depart for Sodom (19:1) leaving one angel to remain behind, and adding to this the fact that Avraham speaks to the remaining lord as if he were speaking directly to HaShem; it seems unlikely that the third angel was Raphael (an angel not mentioned directly in Scripture). However, the name Raphael, which is a composite of Rapha (Healing, wholeness, and rescue) and El (G-d), is certainly symbolic of the attribute of healing and wholeness in the G-d head. There is then a healing messenger of G-d Who comes to mind, being represented here as one of the three men, that is Yeshua our Messiah.
It is important to note that the Hebrew anashim meaning men is being used here to describe angelic beings. This is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the Hebrew malakh (angel) means, messenger.
Gen 18:3 And said, “My L-rd (Adonai: Master), if now I have found favour in Your eyes, please, don’t pass away from your servant:
Most rabbinical interpretations of this verse claim that the Hebrew Adonai used here in its standard form refers to YHVH, which is usually pronounced Adonai in respect for the Holy Name HaShem. Based on this view, HaShem: YHVH:Mercy, is referred to directly 12 times in total during this account.
Notice that Avraham rushes out to the three men but addresses only one of them, using the singular, “Adonai” (My lord). If he had intended to address all three as lord he would have said “Adonim”.
Gen 18:4 Please let a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
The washing of the feet of weary travellers is a common Middle Eastern custom that has been practised by Jews and Arabs alike for thousands of years. It refreshes the entire body and in ancient times was usually performed by the lowliest servant in the household, however, it seems that Avraham’s intention was to wash the feet of the travellers himself, an act reminiscent of the Mashiyach (John 13:3-17).
Gen 18:5 And I’ll fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort your hearts; after that go on your way: for it is for this purpose that you’ve come to your servant”. And they said, “So do, as you have said”.
“I’ll fetch a morsel of bread” is a hospitable understatement given the feast that Avraham organizes for the three men. This is part of a rhythm of nomadic custom that is still practised today among Arab Bedouin and Mizrahi Jews. The Hebrew idiom, “comfort your hearts” uses lev in the traditional Hebrew sense to convey the centre of the being where all parts of the being converge. Thus the inference is that they might be refreshed in their entire being based on the complete performance of hospitable practice.
Notice that, “they” respond. This kind of interchangeable tense is familiar to theophany, as is the case in Jacob’s wrestling with the Angel of Hashem (Gen. 32) and the meeting the Angel of HaShem has with the parents of Samson (Judges 13). We must not lose sight of the fact that we have significant clues within the text (v.22, 19:1) that allow us to deduct which of the three is being called lord and who the remaining two are.
Michael (Who is like G-d) is known in Scripture as the arch angel who guards Israel and is representative of G-d’s might. He is a warrior messenger (Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1, Jude 1:9, Rev. 12:7). It seems that he plays a similar role here (Chapter. 19) in protecting Lot, while Gavriel (Mighty one of G-d), who is known in Scripture as a herald of G-d (Daniel 8:16; 9:21, Luke 1:19, 26) is seen here proclaiming blessing for Avraham and then enforcing G-d’s judgement against the people of S’dom and Amorrah. Notice that in the book of Daniel both angels are associated with G-d’s proclamation of blessing for Israel and His judgement against His enemies.
Gen 18:6 And Avraham (Father of a Multitude) hastened into the tent to Sarah (Princess, Noble woman), and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make round bread upon the hearth (convex metal surface)”.
The first thing we observe is the speed with which Avraham operates in order to care for his guests. Second, we see that Avraham does not instruct Sarah to add yeast to the bread, therefore, this is maztot (unleavened bread). It is from this verse and the subsequent reference in 19:3 that the rabbis’ determine that this was the season of Pesach (Passover) and that Avraham was prophetically observing the future deliverance of his progeny. This text was written down by Moses at Sinai following Israel’s first Pesach. Thus the attention to detail with regard to the type of bread being prepared in this story is intended by the author to draw the reader’s attention to this particular season in the Jewish religious year.
The three men, three measures of fine meal and the three days since Avraham’s circumcision all point to an established promise of G-d. The son that is to come has been firmly established and as has the judgement that is to come against the wickedness of S’dom and Amorrah. While the complex unity of G-d is not present in the plain meaning of the text, it is revealed in the remez (hint) of symbolic Biblical numerology. The number three reminding us of the Father (Av), Son (Ben) and Holy Spirit (Ruach Ha-Kodesh).
Gen 18:7 And Avraham ran to the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it to a young man; and he rushed to prepare it.
Avraham is close to 100 years old and still recovering from circumcision, and yet he personally runs to select a calf for his guests. He had any number of servants he could have called upon to perform this act, however, these three men were extremely important to him. In particular, one of the men is G-d with us, the manifest humanoid form of that person of the One G-d we know to be, the Angel of HaShem, The Healer, the Son.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers—for in doing so, some have entertained angels (Messengers) without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2
“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited Me in;” –Mattitiyahu (Matthew) 25:35 (TLV)
Gen 18:8 And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the trees, and they ate.
The custom of standing by while guests eat their fill is still practiced today in many Middle Eastern homes and among the Arab Bedouin and Mizrahi Jews.
They were eating beneath the trees of Mamrei (strength). The strength of G-d had formed a canopy over Avraham in his weakness and his longing for an heir. In his weakness Avraham placed his trust in G-d’s strength.
Gen 18:9 And they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “Behold, in the tent.”
Here, “they” speak, asking after Sarah. However, in the following verse, “He” speaks the promise. G-d knows where Sarah is, He need not ask. He asks, all be it through His Angel, in order to show Avraham His desire for relationship with the entire household, beginning with Sarah.
Gen 18:10 And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life (season); and, behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah heard from inside the tent door, which was behind him.
The, “He” here is clearly not Avraham because the words are being spoken as a promise to Avraham concerning his wife Sarah and the birth of Isaac. Nor is it, “they” speaking together. So who is left? HaShem appeared to Avraham at the beginning of the encounter and has not left. So too the three men arrived and have not left. Therefore the speaker here is one of the three men and is also a manifestation of the person of G-d (18:14). Only one individual in all of Biblical history fits this description, Yeshua the Messiah, Emmanuel (G-d with us).
Sarah, being modest, had stayed within the tent according to protocol, but was listening intently to the conversation of the men outside. The man speaking to Avraham has His back to Sarah.
Gen 18:11 Now Avraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women (She had already experienced menopause).
Gen 18:12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I am waxed old shall I have fine skin (a return of fertility), my lord (husband) being old also?”
What is clear from Sarah’s response is that either Avraham hadn’t told her of the promise of the child or he had told her and she had maintained disbelief. Either way she responds here in a way that emphasizes her doubt, laughing out of a place of mistrust. Where Avraham laughed in joyous awe asking, “How will this occur?” thus inviting the probability, Sarah laughs in disbelief asking, “Shall it occur?” thus denying the possibility. Notice that Sarah laughs within, her words are thoughts contained in her inner being, no one could have known how she responded unless they could see into her core being. Only G-d is truly capable of this. Picture then the awesome scene that follows when the man responds to Sarah’s inner musings.
According to both Radak and Sforno, Sarah believed that such a radical rejuvenation was as impossible a miracle as the raising of the dead. This is interesting given the fact that Isaac, who is later to be offered by Avraham in sacrifice and then saved by the Ram (A type for Messiah: Genesis 22), is spoken of in the book of Hebrews in relationship to trust in the Messiah Yeshua, Who was raised from the dead for our redemption.
“He (Avraham) reasoned that God was able to raise him (Isaac) up even from the dead—and in a sense, he did receive him back from the dead.” –Hebrews 11:19
Gen 18:13 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said to Avraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I be certain that I’ll bear a child, when I’m old’?”
Gen 18:14 Is anything too hard for HaShem (YHVH: Mercy)? At the time appointed I will return unto you, according to the time of life (season), and Sarah shall have a son.
Avraham is perhaps thinking, “What laughter? I didn’t hear her laugh or say anything?” In turn Sarah is probably thinking, “How is it possible that this man knows my inner thoughts?”
We note here that it is HaShem who has heard Sarah and that it is He Who will return in a year’s time at this season (Pesach) to witness the birth of the son.
With the words, “Is anything too hard for HaShem” G-d challenges Sarah’s unbelief (mistrust).
Gen 18:15 Then Sarah denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “Not so; you did laugh.”
Sarah, now caught in her disbelief and being fearful of G-d, choses to lie rather than confess. However, G-d, Who is present in mercy (YHVH), disciplines Sarah as a beloved child, refuting her lie with the simple statement, “Not so; you did laugh”. Here, “laugh” is synonymous with, “doubt”. Therefore, we can read, “Not so; you did doubt”.
Remember that up to this point the man (G-d with us) has had His back turned to Sarah, now He turns to look her in the eye and gently challenge her unbelief.
We know that Sarah took HaShem’s challenge to heart because she eventually found trust in HaShem, and considering Him trustworthy, believed she would give birth to the promised child.
“By trust even Sarah herself received ability to conceive when she was barren and past the age, since she considered the One who had made the promise to be trustworthy.” – Hebrews 11:11
It is also worth noting here the similarities between the birth of Isaac and the later birth of the Messiah. The Ram which delivers Isaac in Genesis 22 is a type for the Messiah and his sacrificial death and His resurrection. Thus, when we see the proclamation to Sarah, we also hear the proclamation to Miriyam (Mary). When we hear of the miraculous birth that is to take place, we’re also reminded of the miraculous birth of our Messiah. When we see the two angels that accompany G-d with us (Emmanuel: the third man), we also think of the angel that visited Miriyam (Mary) and the angel who brought a legion of angels to announce the Messiah’s birth to the shepherds of Israel’s sacrificial flocks.
Gen 18:16 And the men rose up from there, and turned their faces toward S’dom (burning): and Avraham walked with them on the way.
We know that two of the three men arrived in S’dom, named as messengers (malakhim: angels) 19:1.
It seems that Avraham, went with the men for part of their journey as they began to head toward S’dom.
Gen 18:17 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said, “Shall I hide from Avraham the thing which I am doing; Gen 18:18 seeing that Avraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? Gen 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), to do justice and judgment; that HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) may bring upon Avraham that which He has spoken of him.”
This conversation seems to be taking place between HaShem and the men (angels). Given our former deduction regarding Who the third man is, we can suggest that G-d with us (Yeshua), the third man, is conversing with Michael and Gavriel. These two angels already know what G-d has instructed them to do in S’dom, thus, for the reader’s sake the text alludes to a sort of legal tribunal being conducted in line with the attributes of mercy, justice and judgement, which are the attributes G-d is trusting Avraham to pass on to his offspring. This therefore is the reason for the consultation and the subsequent opportunity for Avraham to offer a righteous argument for the consolation of justice and mercy. Not because G-d is unjust or unmerciful but because G-d has imparted His attributes to Avraham a heart of mercy and justice which will be a light to the nations.
“Shall I hide” infers a friendship between G-d and Avraham (Isaiah 41:8). Yeshua illuminates the relationship between G-d and His servants when He says:
“I am no longer calling you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. Now I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” –Yochanan (John) 15:15 (TLV)
This friendship is further emphasized by the phrase, “I know him” the Hebrew, “yada” denoting intimate knowledge of a person. In this case it is a knowledge that transcends time and space, an observation of the present eternity spoken into time and space in this conversation between G-d and the angels. In other words, G-d has already seen Avraham’s future righteousness and is speaking it into time and space.
Gen 18:20 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said, “Because the cry of S’dom (Burning) and Amorrah (Submersion) is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
Ibn Ezra notes that the, “Outcry” is either the outcry of the rebellion of the Sodomites or the outcry of those who had suffered as a result of the evil conduct of the Sodomites. Rambam claims that it is the cry of the oppressed looking for liberation.
The opinion of the Jewish sages is that the cruelty of S’dom stemmed from the maxim, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours” (Avot 5:10). A similar modern idiom says, “Neither a borrower or a lender be”. Both colloquialisms offer the pretence inherent in worldly wisdom but directly oppose the charitable mission of G-d’s people.
Gen 18:21 I will descend, and inspect what they have done according to the outcry, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know (I will be known).”
“I will descend” is for the sake of the human audience. G-d uses kinetic terms to convey a sense of His present action within time and space, however, He remains invisible and immutable, existing outside of all things, the eternal G-d.
G-d, within Whom all things exist and have their being, need not descend. Additionally, G-d with us (Emmanuel), the angel, will descend. The inspection of S’dom is intended to emphasize the judicial nature of this judgement. S’dom is being given a just and fair trial, her destruction will not be without merit.
The phrase, “And if not, I will know (yada)” may mean, “If they repent, I will know (yada) them” or, “I will be known by them”.
Gen 18:22 And the men turned their faces from there, and went toward S’dom: but Avraham remained standing before HaShem (YHVH: Mercy).
The present reading of verse 22 is according to the Masoretic scribal correction of the text. Possibly intended to avoid conjecture over the position of Avraham in relation to G-d. However, there is a good case for reading the original Hebrew as, “but HaShem remained standing before Avraham”. This reading qualifies the former correlation between the manifestation of G-d in humanoid form and the third man (angel). Regardless, only two men (angels) arrive at S’dom (19:1), leaving the third to remain. Thus it is the L-rd with us (Emmanuel) as the man (angel) Who remains standing before Avraham, or if you like, before Whom Avraham stands.
Gen 18:23 And Avraham drew near (nagash: an intimate closeness), and said, “Will You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?”
Avraham now draws near, an intimate positioning of himself close to the third man, face to face. This is the intense relational context of the conversation that follows.
In the previous chapter Avraham had received his new name and had become the Father of the nations. He takes this role seriously by drawing near to G-d as an intermediary on behalf of the people of S’dom and the surrounding cities who will be destroyed by the ensuing destruction brought about by G-d’s righteous judgement. G-d has placed in him the desire to see justice tempered with mercy. Thus the G-d of mercy is seen at work within the heart of His servant.
Avraham had intervened on S’dom’s behalf in the past (Genesis 14:14) for the sake of his nephew Lot. His continued concern and deep connection to his nephew can be heard in his pleading for mercy.
Gen 18:24 “What if there were fifty righteous within the midst of the terror (the city): will You also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are there?
“So it was, as God destroyed the cities of the surrounding area, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the upheaval, when He demolished the cities where Lot had dwelt.” –Bereishit (Genesis) 19:29 (TLV)
Based on Genesis 19:29 Rashi suggests that all five of the cities mentioned in Genesis 14:2 are to be condemned in the judgement against S’dom. Thus the plea for the holding back of judgement on account of 50 righteous ones is in fact a plea for 10 (a quorum for worship/prayer—minion) from each of the five condemned cities. This infers that the number of righteous is related to the potential for their faithful worship of G-d, to have a redemptive effect upon those around them and thus cause the cities to repent and turn away from evil. This is consistent with the continual use of the Holy Name YHVH: mercy, throughout the chapter.
Gen 18:25 That be far from You to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from You: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Simply put Avraham is saying, “It is not in Your Character to punish the righteous with the wicked”. In other words, “that be far from You” means, “It’s not Who You are”. Additionally, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” is rhetorical and best understood to mean, “I know that the Judge of the earth will do what is right”.
Gen 18:26 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said, “If I find in S’dom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”
The key phrase here is, “within the city” which means inside the walls, in the midst of the evil behaviour.
Gen 18:27 And Avraham answered and said, “Behold now, I have taken it upon myself to speak unto HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), although I am but dust and ashes: Gen 18:28 If there are five less than fifty righteous: will You destroy all the city for lack of five? And He said, “If I find there forty five, I will not destroy it.”
Notice the humility and respect Avraham pays to G-d as he continues to petition Him for mercy. Given the inference in the Holy Name we could read, “I have taken it upon myself to speak unto Mercy”. Rashi notes according to the Midrash that even with five subtracted from the number of the righteous each city would still have nine and G-d would become the tenth member of the quorum for worship and prayer.
Gen 18:29 And he spoke to Him yet again, and said, “ If there are forty found there?” And He said, “I will not do it for forty's sake.” Gen 18:30 And he said unto him, “Oh let not my Lord (Adonai) be angry, and I will speak: if there are thirty found there?” And He said, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” Gen 18:31 And he said, “Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto my Lord (Adonai): If there were twenty found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for twenty's sake.” Gen 18:32 And he said, “Oh let not my Lord (Adonai) be angry, and I will speak but once more: if ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for ten's sake.
We might be tempted to see this dialogue as some sort of haggling over the judgement of the people of S’dom, however, that is not what’s happening. This dialogue between Avraham the advocate and G-d the Merciful Judge is intended to express G-d’s desire to see all come to a saving knowledge of Him (1 Timothy 2:3-5). Avraham is acting as a type for the then future coming of the Messiah, the greatest advocate of all time. One of the key evidences for this being a conversation of friendship, or of Teacher and disciple, is the fact that G-d does not respond with a counter to Avraham’s requests, He simply concedes to each of Avraham’s demands until at last Avraham learns that G-d has shown great mercy already and that the refusal of the wicked to accept G-d’s mercy is the vehicle of their own demise.
The petitioning for mercy ends at the number 10, the number for a single complete quorum of worship and prayer or alternatively, 2 people in each of the five condemned cities grouped together with S’dom and Amorrah. It is interesting to note that Yeshua seems to have used the traditional rabbinical requirement for a quorum of ten as a platform for conveying the reality that G-d is present and active even when two are gathered in His Name (Matthew 18:20).
Gen 18:33 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) went His way (departed), as soon as he had finished communing with Avraham: and Avraham returned unto his place.
G-d didn’t leave until Avraham had finished petitioning Him. This, in and of itself is a clear representation of G-d’s merciful character. Because G-d is everywhere in the sense that all things are in Him, He cannot leave or depart from Himself. However, as explained previously, in order for human beings to read relational interaction in this encounter, kinetic language must be used to convey the tangible sense of relationship that Avraham experienced with G-d. Additionally, the third man still had to depart and did not arrive at S’dom in 19:1, therefore G-d with us (Yeshua), the man (angel), departed.
Avraham returned to his place because he had previously left with the three men toward S’dom and then stopped at a point on the way where he continued to speak with G-d while the two angels (Michael and Gavriel) went to S’dom. He now returned to his tents at the trees of Mamrei.
My daughter’s teachers ask them to put what they term a, “hook” in their essay writing. A repeated phrase, an idea that reconciles each element of the essay. If there is a hook in this theophany, it is this, “Mercy triumphs over judgement”.
“So speak and act as those who will be judged according to a Torah that gives freedom. For judgment is merciless to the one who does not show mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” –Yaakov (James) 2:12-13 (TLV)
© Yaakov brown 2016
"Avraham fell on his face and rejoiced." -Bereishit 17:17
Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of our Fathers 5:3 tells us that G-d tested Avraham with ten trials. However, we are not told what those trials were. Thus there are a number of rabbinic traditions regarding the ten trials of Avraham. According to the list of Maimonides—which is found in its entirety within Scripture, circumcision at an old age is the sixth trial. Whereas Rabbi Ovadiah of Bertinoro lists the same trial as the seventh of Avraham’s tests. Lists of the trials can also be found in MidrashTehillim, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, Avot d’Rabbi Natan, and the commentary of the Meiri on Ethics of Our Fathers. Regardless of which tradition one follows, the trial of circumcision appears in the latter part of the majority of lists. This trial is bringing Avraham close to the last of his trials and is in itself a trial intended to reveal his spiritual identity by using a physical sign. A covenant by nature is a cutting, it requires the shedding of blood.
As is always the case, this trial is not a test in the sense that G-d is trying to figure out Avraham’s character, rather it is a proving of the character G-d already sees in Avraham. For all who, like the father of faith, have chosen to trust G-d through Messiah Yeshua, there is a profound lesson to be learned within the narrative of Genesis 17. The delight over the miraculous provision of G-d is often accompanied by a practical commitment. We act out in the physical realm the living picture of what we are trusting G-d for in the spiritual realm. There are times when being set apart unto G-d is a painful experience. There is a cost to the free gift of redemption, a pruning of the self.
The covenant of chapter 15 is incumbent upon G-d alone, with Avram, the father of trust and his progeny as the recipients. It is no accident that this was the first of the Abrahamic covenants: it is the very essence of the Gospel, redemption through blood and trust alone (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9). The covenant of the current chapter is the outworking of that trust. Here the fruit of faith is to be seen in action (circumcision). In many ways chapters 15 and 17 are a platform for the teaching of Rabbi Yaakov (James):
“Trust devoid of action is dead.” –Yaakov (James) 2:17
17:1 And when Avram was ninety nine years old, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) appeared to Avram, and said to him, “Ani (I am) El (G-d) Shaddai (Almighty, all sufficient); walk before My face, and be tamiym (Whole, complete, healthful, sound, wholesome, innocent, entirely in accord with truth).
Avram is ninety nine years old, a significant number which falls just short of the ten by ten number of completion one hundred. He is also at an age, even by historical contextual standards, where seeding a child has become a medical impossibility.
The previous chapter emphasised the all-seeing attribute of G-d’s nature and His willingness to appear in angelic form in order to be seen by those He sought relationship with. Here G-d appears to Avram as El Shaddai (God, Ruler, Judge – Almighty, all sufficient). Perhaps this is intended to remind Avram of the immutable power of the One in whom he had placed his trust.
The instruction that follows is a poignant reminder of Avram’s attempt to father his own heir in an act of temporary mistrust. The All Sufficient G-d of Avram challenges Avram to walk intimately and perpetually with Him. Thus the Hebrew, “P’nei” (face). G-d explains to Avram that if Avram walks in intimate relationship with G-d he will become tamiym (Whole, complete, healthful, sound, wholesome, innocent, entirely in accord with truth).
The Hebrew, “tamiym” which is often translated perfect, has a much wider and holistic meaning. In fact the English word perfect can be easily misunderstood in this context. I believe the best example of the meaning for this Hebrew word is found in the healing practice of our Messiah Yeshua Who says:
“Your trust (In Me, as the Messiah and representative of G-d’s redemptive work) has made you (acted as the catalyst for making you) whole (tamiym).” –Mark 10:52
Notice that Avram is to, “be” tamiym (Whole, complete etc.) G-d has witnessed Avram’s wholeness and completion outside of the restraints of time and space. In a sense the text is both an instruction and an observation. We can read, “Walk before My face and you will become whole” and, “I’ve seen you walk before My face and become whole”.
“For by one offering He (Yeshua) has perfected (tamiym) for ever them that are sanctified.” –Hebrews 10:14
Gen 17:2 And I will set My covenant in the midst, between Me and you, and will make you great in exceeding abundance.”
The covenant of G-d is to be with Avram, in his midst and between G-d and him. This is an extremely intimate statement which conveys the intrinsic nature of the covenants made between G-d and humanity. It is the shedding of blood, which is the essence of physical life, which acts as a catalyst for the covenant/cutting of a binding agreement.
Gen 17:3 And Avram fell on his face: and speaking with him, G-d (God, Ruler, Judge) said, Gen 17:4 “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall become a father of a roaring crowd of nations.
Throughout Scripture, when encountering the Holy G-d, many have fallen face down just as Avram does here. In the face of G-d, Avram hides his face, which is an act of humility and awe. This willing submission to G-d receives a response in the form of an affirmation of the promise formerly given to Avram concerning his offspring.
The Targum of Yonatan along with several other Jewish scholars (Yarchi, Pirke Eliezer), suggests that Avram’s uncircumcision as the reason that he fell on his face, citing subsequent encounters Avraham stood in G-d’s presence. While this may simply be conjecture filled tradition, it none the less teaches the true nature of heart circumcision, without which no one can stand before G-d or enter relationship with Him.
The phrase, “My covenant is with you” conveys the plain meaning that Avram is the second party in the covenant agreement. However, it can also be understood to infer that the covenant will remain with Avram and his descendants.
The literal translation of the Hebrew, “roaring crowd of nations” infers that the nations proceeding from Avram will make plenty of noise throughout history. In hindsight we can see that this is indeed the case.
The obligations of each of the two parties of the covenant of circumcision are listed as follows:
Gen 17:5 No longer will you continue to be called by the name Avram (Father of a great nation, father exalted), from now on your name shall be Avraham (Father of many nations); for a father of many nations have I made you.
The meaning of Avram’s name, like so many other aspects of study, is disputed. It may mean, “Father of Aram” from the Hebrew contraction Av-Aram, Aram being in his native country (Mesopotamia). Others suggest that it means, “Exalted Father” from the Hebrew contraction Av- Ram meaning G-d High. Avram’s disassociation with Aram makes the reish (r) superfluous, therefore I favour the meaning, “Father of a Nation” from the three Hebrew words, Av-Am.
Regardless of which of the interpretations of Avram’s name you prefer. The name change is almost universally understood to mean, “Father of a Multitude”, “Father of Many Nations” and, “Father of a Great number of Nations” respectively: from the Hebrew tri-unity, “Av-rabah-hamon”. The point being that G-d has intended from the beginning to birth multitudes through the humble trust of one man.
“Behold, he (Avraham) is the father of the whole world, who are gathered under the wings of the Shechinah.” – Maimonides, Hilchot Bikurim, c. 4. sect. 3.
Avram’s new name, Avraham, has great significance in relationship to his being the father of Trust, or, the Father of all who believe through faith.
“Though converts do not descend from the patriarchs… all converts are considered descendants of Avraham because the Torah calls him the father of… nations, and therefore a convert can be called a son of Avraham.” –Rambam, Commentary to Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4
It seems that the Rambam agrees with Rabbi Shaul the shaliach (Paul the Apostle), who writes:
“Therefore, the promise comes by trust (emunah: faith), so that it may be by grace (chesed) and may be guaranteed to all Avraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the Torah but also to those who have the trust of Avraham. He is the father of us all.” –Romans 4:16
Gen 17:6 And I will make you fruitful exceeding, abundant, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall go out from you. Gen 17:7 And I will arise, establishing My covenant which is in the midst, between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an olam (everlasting, eternal, perpetual) covenant, I will be your God (God, Ruler, Judge), and God to your seed after you.
It is important to note that G-d’s promise to bring many nations forth from Avraham is in the future tense. This means that the covenant promise is for those yet to be born and does not apply to Y’sh’ma’el (Ishmael).
The blessing regarding kings relates to G-d’s Kingship over all things. The kings of Avraham’s descendants are tasked with representing the true King of kings and His attributes of Mercy and Judgement. Unfortunately this has rarely been the case in the history of Israel’s kings.
The greatest of these blessings is the one that bears them all, “I will be your G-d”. These are the words of a bridegroom, “I will”. The question remains, “Will you?” A bride is not secure in marriage until she utters the words, “I will”.
Gen 17:8 And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land where you now sojourn, all the land of Canaan (Lowland), for an olam (everlasting, eternal, perpetual) possession; and I will be their Elohim (God, Ruler, Judge).”
This addition, which follows the phrase, “I will be your G-d”, is an affirmation of the former promise of land which is incumbent upon G-d alone. It is not subject to the circumcision covenant because it has already been covenanted according to the first covenant of Genesis 15. In a sense, the, “And” at the beginning of this verse reads, “And, I haven’t forgotten what I already established with you in the former covenant”.
We note that the title Elohim, meaning G-d, Ruler and Judge, is being used here to convey the sense of binding law. It is a title of G-d that denotes security and authority over what some would term legal matters.
Gen 17:9 And Elohim (God: Ruler, Judge) said unto Avraham, “My covenant is for you to tish’mor (Keep, guard, observe, heed), you and your seed after you in their generations. Gen 17:10 This is My covenant, which you shall tish’m’roo (Keep, guard, observe, heed), between Me and you and your seed after you; Every male among you shall be circumcised.
There is little detail given here as to how the circumcision is to be performed. The covenant is said to simply rely on the practice and a faithful and perpetual keeping of it. Modern rabbinical Judaism has added a number of beautiful traditions to the ceremony of circumcision, but strictly speaking they are not inferred in the instruction of G-d’s Torah.
Circumcision was not unique to the Jewish people, many nations in the middle East already practiced it, with the exception of the Philistines. However, what makes this circumcision unique is the fact that it is done before a child has entered into the moral responsibilities of adulthood and is therefore the mark of his identity and belonging outside of any obligations to moral law. The instruction then is incumbent on the father of the child and not on the child himself. Of course, as the child grows and becomes a father himself, the covenant becomes incumbent upon him.
The early administration of the Jewish covenant of circumcision, implies a commitment to G-d’s chosen people (v14) and to G-d (Jeremiah 4:4). Later in Israel’s history it came to symbolize the discarding of heathen practices (Joshua 5:9).
From its inception circumcision has been a physical representation of the spiritual human need to receive a circumcised heart (core being).
“Circumcise your hearts (core being), therefore, and do not be stiff-necked (Full of pride) any longer.” –Deuteronomy 10:16
This covenant is open to the nations (v12-13), however, this was only the case when they became wholly devoted to belonging to the community of ethnic Israel (Exodus 12:45).
My mother tells me that although my father had lost touch with Jewish tradition, having been raised in a secular Jewish home, he none the less insisted that my brothers and I be circumcised when I was born. Somehow, deep within his Jewish soul he understood the need to perpetuate this sign in my flesh even though he was ritually disconnected from this covenant Jewish practice, this rite; this right of every Jewish male.
Radak notes that this instruction was given prior to Yitzchak’s conception, for the purpose of Yiztchak’s holy conception, and in order to emphasis the miracle of Avraham’s ability to father a child with a weakened organ.
The act of circumcision also brought attention to the symbolic nature of the male organ. We should note that Y’sh’ma’el was conceived while Avram was yet uncircumcised and is therefore according to the flesh (fallen man), whereas Yiztchak was to be conceived via the circumcised organ as a symbol of the need for human hearts to be spiritually circumcised.
Gen 17:11 And you shall circumcise the flesh of your orel (barrier, foreskin); and it shall be an ot (Sign, remembrance, distinguishing mark, banner, proof) of the covenant between Me and you.
The Hebrew word, “orel” translated as, “foreskin” also has a metaphorical meaning as a, “barrier”. In particular, a barrier that prevents beneficial results (Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 9:25-26; Ezekiel 44:7).
“The days are coming,” declares HaShem, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh-- Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised (orel: barrier) in heart.” –Jeremiah 9:25-26
The ot (sign, mark) of circumcision is just that, a sign on the body of the servants of G-d.
Gen 17:12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money from any foreigner, which is not of your seed.
The practice of circumcision on the eighth day is both physically and spiritually illuminating. Medically speaking it is within the time period that a child’s skin heals more rapidly, and therefore causes much less pain than circumcisions carried out on adult males.
The number eight holds important spiritual value. Where seven represents completion, wholeness and perfection, as in the days of creation, the cycle of the years of the Shemittah etc. Eight represents the convergence of completion and new beginning. The eighth day is in fact the first day of the second week following creation. The covenant for the land and the building blocks for the progeny have already been completed, just as creation was completed. Now, at the beginning of the second week, something new.
It is important to remind ourselves again, that this new beginning, this circumcision of the heart, like that of the flesh, must be performed by someone other than ourselves. In this case, it is G-d Who will perform the circumcision through His Son (Fully Man & Fully G-d with us).
With regard to subsequent Jewish tradition the following are halachic rulings concerning variations of the practice of circumcision:
“And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” –Vayikra (Leviticus) 12:3
"An infant might be circumcised on the eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, neither less nor more; (not less than eight days, nor more than twelve).” -Mishnah. Sabbat, c. 19. sect. 5.
“If he was born between the two evenings, he is circumcised on the ninth; if between the two evenings of the evening of the Sabbath, he is circumcised on the tenth; if on a festival day, after the Sabbath, he is circumcised on the eleventh; if on the two days of the beginning of the year, he is circumcised on the twelfth: an infant that is sick, they do not circumcise it until it is well.'' -Mishnah. Eracin, c. 2. sect. 2.
"They do not circumcise until the sun shines out on the eighth day of a child's birth, and all the day is fit for circumcision; but they that are prepared hasten to the commandment, and circumcise immediately in the morning; and indeed circumcision, which is not in its proper time, is never performed but in the day:'' -Schulchan Aruch, c. 262. sect. 1.
"A servant is born in the power of an Israelite, and another that is taken from Heathens, the master is bound to circumcise them; but he that is born in the house is circumcised on the eighth day; and he that is bought with money is circumcised on the day that he is received, even if he received him on the day he is born, he is circumcised on that day; if he receives a grown servant of Heathens, and the servant is not willing to be circumcised, he bears with him a whole year, but more than that it is forbidden to keep him, seeing he is uncircumcised, but he must send him again to the Heathens.'' -Maimonides. Hilchot Milah, c. 1. sect. 3, 6.
Gen 17:13 He that is born in your house, and he that is bought with your money, must be circumcised: and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an olam (everlasting, eternal, perpetual) covenant.
This covenant is open to the nations (v12-13), however, this was only the case when they became wholly devoted in belonging to the community of ethnic Israel (Exodus 12:45).
Gen 17:14 And the uncircumcised male (zakar) whose flesh of his orel (barrier, foreskin) is not circumcised, that person (nephesh: Life, soul) shall be separated, cut off from his people; My covenant he has broken.”
The Hebrew text is clear in identifying the uncircumcised male as being a male (zakar: literally, male of the species) rather than a child (yeled). This is because only a male who has reached the age of understanding can be justifiably required to keep the instruction. Radak teaches that if a Jewish male is not circumcised by his father when he is a child, he becomes responsible to arrange his own circumcision at the age of his bar mitzvah (13yrs).
Maimonides sees the phrase, “cut off from his people” as referring to those Jews who wilfully refuse circumcision up to the time of their death. Thus he sees a post death cutting off from the Olam Haba (World to come). This is yet another traditional view that correlates to the Messianic view of the need for circumcision of the heart prior to death. We are entirely reliant on the circumcising work of the Messiah in order to enter the tents of HaShem for all eternity.
“A father or a mother that transgress, and circumcise not, make void the affirmative commandment, but are not guilty of cutting off; for no cutting off depends but upon the uncircumcised person himself; and the Sanhedrim are commanded to circumcise a son or a servant in its time, that they may not leave an uncircumcised person in Israel, nor among their servants; if the thing is hid from the Sanhedrim, and they do not circumcise him, when he is grown up, he is bound to circumcise himself; and every day that passes over him, after he is grown up, and he does not circumcise himself, lo, he makes the commandment to cease; but he is not guilty of cutting off until he dies, and he is a presumptuous uncircumcised person;'' – Maimonides, Hilchot. Milah, c. 1. sect. 1, 2.
Gen 17:15 And Elohim (God, Judge, ruler) said to Avraham, As for Sarai (My Princess) your wife, you shall no longer call her name Sarai (My Princess), but Sarah (Woman of Nobility, Princess) shall be her name. Gen 17:16 And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her: yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come out from her.
In changing Sarai’s name G-d makes her a co-participant in the covenant. The name Sarai, which is in the possessive, literally means, “My Princess” which implies that she owes her status to being Avraham’s wife. In changing her name to Sarah, meaning, Princess or Noble Woman, G-d gives her a unique position as the mother of nations and kings. As Rashi says, she became princess “par excellence”- to all humankind (Berachos 13a).
“Even as Sarah obeyed Avraham, calling him lord (Master, Husband): you are her daughters
as long as you do well, and are not afraid or in terror.” -1Peter 3:6
Sarah had previously been barren, but with her new name comes a promise of fertility, progeny and divine destiny. She was beyond the age of child bearing, however, while it was medically impossible for her to produce children, it would not be impossible for G-d. As a result, the birth of the promised son Yitzchak will be a miracle. One could say that Israel is born of miracles, and in turn we see the promised Messiah, the son of G-d born miraculously into time and space, his very birth dividing time itself.
Gen 17:17 Then Avraham fell upon his face, va’yitzchak (and laughed, rejoiced), and said in his lev (Core being, heart, centre), “I’ll have a son born to me, at a hundred years old? Is it possible that Sarah, a woman of ninety years old, could give birth?”
Note the position of prostration. Avram is again in awe and humbles himself at the pronouncement of G-d. This qualifies the nature of his laughter. It is not the laughter of incredulity but of awe and excitement. The Targums of Yonatan and Yerushalayim paraphrase it, "and he wondered". Onkelos renders v’chadi, “he rejoiced”. Thus his question is not one of doubt but of trust and hope, “Could this be possible?” And the answer, “For G-d all things are possible”.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.” –Yochanan
Gen 17:18 And Avraham said to Ha-Elohim (The God, Ruler, Judge), “O that Yi’shma’el (Heard by God) might live before Your face!”
Rambam sees Avraham’s plea as a plea for Ishmael’s life, suggesting that Avraham thought Ishmael would die as a result of the birth of the legitimate heir Isaac. Others suggest that Avraham simply wanted the best for both his sons.
Gen 17:19 And Elohim (The God, Ruler, Judge) said, “Sarah (Woman of Nobility) your wife shall bear you a son indeed; and you shall call his name Yitzchak (Isaac: He laughs): and I will establish my covenant with him for an olam (everlasting, eternal, perpetual) covenant, and with his seed after him.
In answer to Avraham’s, “Could this be?” G-d assures him, “wife shall bear you a son indeed”.
Before G-d answers Avraham’s question regarding Ishmael He makes it very clear that He is establishing His covenant with Yitzchak and his seed after him, eternally.
Gen 17:20 And as for Yi’shma’el (Heard by God), I have heard you: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall come from him, and I will make him a great nation.
The blessing for Ishmael comes by way of compensation but does not entitle him to the covenant promises of Avraham. Ishmael, as we have seen, has risen and ruled much of the known world through the religion of Islam (subjugation). However, as Rashi rightly notes, “n’shiim” translated here as princes, can also be rendered clouds, thus the Arab peoples will rise for a time, but in the end they will dissipate like clouds.
Gen 17:21 But my covenant I will establish with Yitzchak (Laughter), which Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year.”
While sin has prevented Israel from receiving the fullness of the covenant promises of G-d to date, there is a future time coming when all Israel will be redeemed through Yeshua our Messiah (Romans 11) and as a result the fullness of G-d’s promises will be seen.
Gen 17:22 And having completed the words, Elohim arose from Avraham.
The literal reading here denotes an intimacy in the preceding conversation. Elohim gets up from sitting with Avraham.
Gen 17:23 And Avraham took Yi’shma’el (Heard by God) his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Avraham's house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in that same day, as Elohim (God, Judge, ruler) had said to him.
Immediately after receiving the covenant of circumcision from G-d, Avraham circumcises every male member of his household. This was done within the same day, a lot of blood, suffering and tears, particularly for Avraham and the older males. Avraham understood that a barrier (foreskin) was separating the hearts of humanity from G-d, the barrier (foreskin) of fallen humanity’s sin. He also understood that without the shedding of blood a covenant could not be established. Thus he obeyed immediately in trust, having just finished spending time on his face with G-d.
Gen 17:24 And Avraham was ninety nine years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
The text infers that the circumcision was done to Avraham. Therefore it was performed by someone else. Some suggest that Eli-etzer, his servant performed the circumcision of Avraham. This is a nice idea, given the meaning of Eli-etzer (My G-d is helper).
Jewish tradition suggests that Avraham sent for Shem (Name), the son of Noach (Comforter), who circumcised him and his son Ishmael (Pirke Eliezer, c. 29.). Another wonderful idea, given the meaning of the names Shem, Noach, Avraham and Ishmael. We could say that this tradition teaches that, “Avraham called on Yeshua (Shem, Name: for there is no other name under heaven by which one can be saved), son of The Comforter (Noach, G-d, The Holy Spirit), Who circumcised the hearts of many nations (Avraham) because G-d heard (Ishmael) their cry for salvation”.
Avraham was one year short of the number symbolizing compound completion and fullness (10 x 10).
Gen 17:25 And Yi’shma’el his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
Ishmael is circumcised at an age that denotes the relationship between G-d and Israel (1 G-d + 12 tribes).
Gen 17:26 In that same day Avraham was circumcised, and Yi’shma’el his son.
“He (Avraham) was circumcised on the day… appointed by Moses for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)… and in the place where he was circumcised the altar (Temple altar) was built.” -Pirke Eliezer, ut supra. (c. 29.)
Gen 17:27 And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
The actions of Avraham are repeated for the purpose of remembrance. This is a common occurrence throughout Hebrew Scripture. To this day we glean from the repetition the observance of our faith and the practice of remembering what G-d has done, what He is doing, and what He has promised to do.
© Yaakov Brown 2016
When all practical avenues have been exhausted, God is seeding a miracle.
We should keep in mind the events of the previous chapter as we read the narrative of chapter 16. Avram has just received the unconditional covenant of the land and has been shown the future slavery and subsequent deliverance of Israel. He has received all these things as a sign of the fact that God has already established a blood heir for him.
Avram is said to have come to a place of complete trust in G-d and is thus credited with righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Now however, it seems that he has either neglected to pass this information on to Sarai, or, she has chosen to doubt God’s ability to fulfil His promises to Avram. Either way, Avram allows his role as leader of the household to be usurped by the emotional pleas of his desperate wife, and thus makes room for conflict to enter his camp. The lesson for the follower of Messiah is clear: In Messiah we are completely safe at the core of our being (Avram’s trust in G-d). We cannot be possessed by another. However, if we allow our actions to stray from our core (Avram submits to Sarai’s demands), those actions can be utilized by another. Therefore, our actions must always come from our core, which is Messiah in us (Trust in G-d).
In a wonderful redemptive twist, God blesses Hagar and her son, though He also clarifies Ishmael’s cantankerous spirit and his volatile role in the future history of humanity. At the conclusion of this account however, it is Hagar’s choosing to see (recognize) the G-d Who has seen—known her from before the creation of the world—her, and her obedience in returning to serve her mistress; that restores her position within the tents of Avram. Thus HaShem (Mercy) delivers her from perishing in the wilderness.
In a paradoxical sense, Hagar’s symbolic role as an Egyptian, places the soon to be slave master of Israel under the authority of Avram via Sarai. In this account Egypt is seen figuratively as the servant of Israel. Just as Israel was to wander in the desert, so too Egypt, through Hagar, wandered in the desert. However, where Israel’s freedom was to be found by leaving Egypt (Sin) behind, Egypt’s (Hagar) freedom is found in her returning to Israel (Y’sra: overcoming El: in G-d).
In the repetition of the Hebrew words ayin: eyes, and ra’ah: to see, and through the naming of Y’sh’ma-el (heard by God), this historical story emphasizes the all-seeing and all-hearing God of Israel.
Gen 16:1 And Sarai (Princess) the wife of Avram (Father of a nation) didn’t bare him children: and she had a handmaid, a Mitzrit (Egyptian: double distress), whose name was Hagar (Flight).
The shame associated with being barren in Biblical times cannot be overstated. Children and in particular male heirs were essential to the survival of a family and the retention of lands and wealth. In spite of God’s promise Avram had been in the land of Canaan ten years without any sign of an heir. It may well have seemed like God had forgotten him, however, in reality this is yet another step toward complete reliance on God. When all practical avenues have been exhausted, only a miracle of God can establish His promises.
According to the Midrash, as interpreted by Rashi, Hagar was a daughter of Pharaoh, who was gifted to Sarai after Pharaoh had witnessed the power of God at work on Sarai’s behalf, and had concluded, “Better that she (Hagar) be a servant in their household than a princess in someone else’s”.
Gen 16:2 And Sarai said unto Avram, Behold now, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has restrained me from bearing: I plead with you, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Avram heard, listened, understood and consented (va’yeeshma) to the voice (kol) of Sarai.
It is worth noting here that it is the attribute of Mercy displayed in the Holy Name (YHVH), which is responsible for restraining Sarai from bearing children.
In the ancient near east surrogate mothers were often employed for the purpose of continuing family lines, a custom that is attested to in places such as ancient Ur and Cappadocia. The patriarch Yaakov (Jacob) also had children in a like manner, and the sons born to his wives were all full members of his household. However, in the present case it is election that will determine Isaac’s status as heir to the promises of Avram, while Ishmael, who has been blessed with a different blessing (Galatians 4:22-29), will be put out of the household of Avram.
Avram seems to have momentarily taken his eyes off HaShem and given in to reason rather than walking in trust of God. What’s more he listens to, “l’kol Sarai” (the voice of Sarai) rather than, “Ha’kol Adonai” (the voice of The Lord).
Gen 16:3 And Sarai (Princess) Avram's (Father of a nation) wife took Hagar (Flight) her maid the Mitzrit (Egyptian: double distress), after Avram had dwelt ten years in the land of Kena’an (Canaan: humility, lowland), and gave her to her husband Avram to be his wife.
We find an interesting remez (hint) in the Hebrew text when we read the meaning in the names of the characters:
“The princess, wife to a nation’s father, took flight in double distress, after the nation’s father had spent ten years in a land of humility.”
Sarai is the instigator of this faithless action. She is in double distress because, unlike Avram, she has not trusted HaShem. Therefore she believes she is unable to bear children and that God is unable to provide her with a child. So Sarai is taking flight from God’s promises, a decision that will result in the birth of a child who will bring perpetual conflict to the progeny of Sarai’s womb. Thus the number for completion, “ten” is seen in the remez to represent the complete captivity (humility) of the Hebrews under the Mitzratim (Egyptians). Something that was outlined in detail during Avram’s covenant experience in the former chapter.
Gen 16:4 And he went in unto Hagar, for the purpose of causing her to conceive: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became insignificant in her eyes (she despised and looked down upon her mistress Sarai).
It was not unusual for men to have multiple wives at this time and in this context. In fact without the protection of a husband and a wider family collective, a woman living in this historical environment would have surely died from lack of provision. To be given to a man of Avram’s stature would have been considered an honour and does not constitute sexual slavery in the modern sense. Remember that Avram aquired his Egyptian servants and riches through his relationship with the ruler of Egypt (Genesis 12:16). In fact Hagar’s life with Avram’s family may well have been far more comfortable than her former life under Egypt’s religious and cultural rule. Therefore, having been lifted from a position of servitude into the role of second wife, Hagar was being offered an opportunity for greater comfort and status. This makes her actions toward Sarai seem heinous rather than simple pettiness. Instead of showing mercy toward Sarai in her barren state, Hagar looks down upon her and despises her, viewing Sarai’s infertility as a sign of inferiority. For a woman of this time and context, the inability to bear children was disgrace enough without the added ridicule of her pairs.
Gen 16:5 And Sarai said unto Avram, “My wrong be upon you: I have given my maid into your bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes: may HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) judge between me and you”.
The literal translation, “My wrong be upon you” is ironic. While the plain meaning should be understood to refer to the fact that Sarai has been wronged, the remez (hint) conveys the idea that it is her wrong action that is being visited on Avram due to his lack of leadership. Avram’s desire to please his wife had caused him to temporarily relinquish the promise of God regarding his progeny. Thus the wrong committed by Sarai in insisting that Avram cohabitate with her maid servant has now come back upon Avram, who is the leader of the household and is therefore both explicitly and implicitly responsible for the current situation.
From time to time in the Tanakh we read this spine chilling statement, “May HaShem judge between me and you”. It is not something that should be uttered lightly. In this case Sarai’s profound hurt over her inability to conceive has been compounded by her maid servant’s ridicule and has resulted in an emotionally charged and rash pronouncement. Genesis Rabah 45:5, suggest that Sarai’s litigious actions were the reason that Avram outlived her by fifty years (Gen. 23:1; 25:7). However, a glimmer of hope can be seen in the attribute of mercy that emanates from the Divine Name. Thus we read, “May Mercy judge between me and you”.
Gen 16:6 But Avram said unto Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your hand; do to her what seems good in your eyes”. And Sarai kept her busy (vat’anah: rt. anah) [with the chores of servitude], and she fled from before her face.
While many English translations choose to say, “Sarai dealt harshly” the reader should be aware that the same Hebrew word, “anah” which is here translated as, “harshly, afflicted etc.” is used by G-d in verse 9 as an instruction to return to humble service, and in this context, does not mean, “affliction” but, “to be busy with the tasks of servitude”. Therefore, Avram, who has taken Hagar as a wife, and has given her all the privileges that come with matrimonial obligation, now returns Hagar to Sarai, for whom Hagar will always be considered a servant. The text doesn’t infer mistreatment but rather demotion. It is most likely that Hagar flees, not because of abuse but because of anger at having been denied her new found pre-eminence in the home.
However, that which seems, good in Sarai’s eyes is not necessarily good in G-d’s eyes. Avram once again abrogates his authority as head of the household in order to please his wife Sarai, and as a result, Hagar, whose name means flight, flees.
Gen 16:7 And seeking to secure her, the angel (Malach) of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) found her by a spring (ayin: eye) of waters in the wilderness, by the spring (ayin: eye) in the way to Shur (wall).
Shur was located southwest of the land of Israel on or inside of the eastern border of Egypt. Therefore Hagar was seeking to return home to Egypt. The angel of The Lord, Who, based on the pursuant conversation, is clearly a manifestation of The Lord Himself, seeks to give security to insecure Hagar. God need not find her, He knows her location, but manifesting as the angel of HaShem, God relates to Hagar in a tangible and present way: she is found by Him and is privileged to see the unseen One.
The Hebrew word, “ayin” (eye), which has already been used three times up to this point in the chapter, is now translated, “Spring” (an eye in the earth producing water). This entire account emphasizes the all-seeing God. The God Who had already seen the future heir of Avram’s household.
Avram traded his vision for that of his wife. Sarai in turn did what seemed good in her eyes, and Hagar used her eyes to look down on her mistress. Whereas, God saw the end from the beginning. He foresaw his servants’ faithless attempt to acquire their own heir. He foresaw the misery that would result. He also foresaw the rebellion of Hagar (Egypt) and the way she would take flight. So He prepared redemption for the one who would be subjected to misery. He seeded the spring of living water to sustain the wanderer. He saw the repentant heart of the one in flight and made a way for her to return to the tents of His people.
“The poor man and the oppressor have this in common: Adonai gives light to the eyes of both.”
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
-Matthew 6:21-23 (TLV)
Our Messiah’s words are the foundation for the saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul”. The Hebrew consciousness sees the eye as a symbol of the heart motivation. This is clearly the intended meaning of Yeshua’s words in Matthew 6:21-23. Each of us has been seen by God and each of us has a choice to make: will we look upon Him in return and allow Him to fill our eyes with His light from the inside out, or will we close our eyes to His light and allow the yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination) to blind our vision with darkness? He is the God Who sees, His eye is on the sparrow. Will we look for the unseen reality of His promises or will we rely on the temporal vision of human reason?
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)
Gen 16:8 And He said, “Hagar, the handmaid of Sarai, where have you come from? and, where will you go?” And she said, “I’ve fled from the face of my mistress Sarai.”
Notice that God reminds Hagar of her status as, “the handmaid of Sarai”. This is as much a rebuke as it is a rescue. God requires humility from Hagar.
God knows where Hagar has come from and where she is going, therefore, the question is intended to reveal something to Hagar.
Hagar’s words of response show that she has humbled herself and is reconsidering her role in God’s plans. She acknowledges that Sarai is her mistress. This is the first step in her returning to the tents of Avram.
Gen 16:9 And the angel (Malach) of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit (v’hit’ani: rt. anah) yourself under her hands.
Avram (father of a nation) had said, “Behold, your maid is in your hand”. Now the angel of HaShem instructs Hagar to return and be subservient toward her mistress Sarai. Rather than enabling Hagar’s rebellion, God requires her to return to her mistress in humility, for her own good.
Gen 16:10 And the angel (Malach) of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said to her, “I will multiply your seed exceedingly, so that they cannot be numbered due to the multitude of them.”
Notice the differences between this promise and the promises made to Avram. Hagar’s seed will be numerous but the nations of the earth will not be blessed through her seed. Hagar’s seed will be numerous but the covenanted land will not pass to them. Hagar’s seed will be numerous, but they will not be as numerous as the stars or the dust of the earth. Hagar’s seed will be numerous but as is metaphorically indicated in the previous verse, they will return to submit beneath the hand of Avram’s blood progeny via Sarai.
Gen 16:11 And the angel (Malach) of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said unto her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Y’sh’ma-el (Heard by G-d); because HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has heard your misery.
Ishmael’s name does not mean, “He hears God” but rather that, “God has heard” him. It’s unlikely that Hagar knew she would have a son, therefore, the knowledge was an encouragement to her because sons were usually the inheritors of the family name and wealth.
Gen 16:12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every human being, and every person's hand will be against him; and before the face of all his brothers he will dwell.
This is an extremely perceptive prophetic statement regarding the progeny of Ishmael (the Arabic peoples) and the false religion (Islam: Submission) that has now become so prevalent. The irony of which is not lost when one considers the events taking place in today’s world.
Gen 16:13 And she called the name of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Who had spoken to her, “You are the God Who sees me”: for she said, “I also in this place have seen after having been seen.”
Here the text makes clear that it is HaShem Himself Who has spoken to Hagar. Therefore, the angel of HaShem is a manifestation of God Himself, Who is God with us, “Emmanuel”.
The Hebrew word play over the root, “ra’ah” conveys a beautiful sense of the unseen causing the seen to receive sight. We are only able to see God because He has first seen us.
Gen 16:14 Wherefore the well was called B’eir-lachai-roi (Well of the living Seer); behold, it is between Kadesh (Holy) and Bered (hail, fig. destruction).
The remez (hint) in the three names of the spring, gives way to a drash (comparative teaching) regarding loss and redemption. The well of the living seer (Yeshua: Malakh ha-YHVH, Messenger of Mercy) is situated between the God we are running away from (Kadesh: Holy) and the destruction we are running toward (Bered: destruction). This well of the living seer is the water of living Himself. If, like Hagar (flight) we choose to see the One Who has seen us, we will be delivered and return to The Father of all Nations (God). Thus the waters of living restore us in the place of our fleeing and strengthen us so that we might return to God.
Gen 16:15 And Hagar bore Avram a son: and Avram called his son's name, which Hagar bore, Y’sh’ma-el (Heard by God).
The events of verse 15 happen some months after Hagar’s meeting with HaShem. She is back among the tents of Avram when she gives birth and he gives his son the name Ishmael, either by a personal revelation of God or by receiving the name from Hagar.
Gen 16:16 And Avram was eighty six years old, when Hagar bare Y’sh’ma-el to Avram.
The miracle of Yitzchak’s (Isaac) birth, which is soon to follow, is accentuated by the ages of Avram and Sarai at the conclusion to the events of Ishmael’s birth.
When all practical avenues have been exhausted, God is seeding a miracle.
© 2016 Yaakov Brown
Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,