Vayera פרשת וירא (“And He Appeared”) Genesis 18:1 - 22:24
This week’s parasha is entitled Vayera, meaning “and He appeared” and spans Genesis 18 through 22. Our focus is on Avraham. In chapter 18 God appeared to Abraham. Do you think you’d recognize God if He showed up at your home? At first, all Abraham knew was that he saw “three men” and he treated them with kindness. Only later did he realize it had been God and two angels that showed up at his doorstep at the hottest time of the day. He went to great lengths to show them hospitality. We don’t know what kind of men they looked like. Nothing says God took the form of a handsome man. Maybe he appeared to him with crooked teeth, ears that stuck out and a cowlick! It didn’t matter. Abraham opened his heart and home and made them welcome. He set for all time the example of hospitality to strangers, and would be rewarded beyond measure!
In fact, he and Sarah both were blessed. Adonai, veiled in human form and standing before Abraham, reiterates an audacious promise made some time earlier: "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son." It had made Abraham laugh the first time around, and this time it was Sarah’s turn to laugh (she being nearly 90 years old). God wasn’t put off by that - the name of the son they would bear would be Isaac (Isaac), meaning “he laughs.”
But the Lord also had ominous news to share with Abraham. Sodom and Gomorrah were going to be destroyed. These two cities were renowned for their decadence and depravity, which calls into question Lot’s earlier decision to settle there. No, Lot didn’t seen it as a “mission field” - just lush fields. But now it presented a dilemma. Lot was Abraham’s nephew. If he remained there, he would be swept away with the wicked. Abraham began to intercede with God over the fate of these twin cities of repugnance, saying, "Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?" The Lord consented to spare them if even fifty godly men could be found there, but apparently Abraham knew it was unlikely, and began negotiating fast and furious. Eventually God consented to spare Sodom if even ten godly men could be found there.
Evidently there weren’t ten. Lot, along with his wife and two daughters were whisked out of the city by the two angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah were obliterated. Despite having been warned not to look back, Lot’s wife looked anyway, and was immediately turned into a pillar of salt. It was not only a fatal act of disobedience, but an example to be avoided for all time. The second shortest verse in the Bible has just three words: Remember Lot’s wife! If you’ve come to know Messiah, you’ve been saved – rescued for all eternity. Don’t return to the ways of this wicked world. Don’t look back.
Speaking of wicked, Lot’s daughters appear to have been infected by the godlessness in Sodom. When the cities were destroyed, they despaired of ever being able to find men to marry, and decided the best course of action was to get their father drunk out of his mind on two successive nights, and each of them have sex with him so they could get pregnant and preserve the family line. That’s what they did, and they each became pregnant. They each gave birth to a boy. One was named Moab and the other Ben-Ammi. These two would grow up to become the progenitors of the Moabite and Ammonite people – terrible adversaries to Israel. Once again the woeful consequences of taking matters into our own hands and not trusting God to provide.
In chapter 21 we read of Yitzchak - Isaac’s birth. So now who’s laughing? Everyone – and with joy! Abraham circumcises his son on the 8th day in obedience to God’s covenant command. If you’ve ever been guilty of not believing God to be big enough to handle your circumstances, only to find out He was more than able, then you’re in good company. Have a good laugh at yourself. God forgives and then laughs with you.
At this point in the Genesis narrative, Hagar and Ishmael are sent away. They are given God’s promise that Ishmael would become a great nation as well. Nevertheless, God’s covenant with Abraham was to be continued through the child of supernatural birth. It was necessary that Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and eventually Ya’akov be distinct from all other peoples, for through this people would come the Messiah.
Our parasha culminates in chapter 22 with Abraham’s ultimate act of obedience. Adonai says to him, T"ake now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." Abraham did not delay. Early the next morning he saddled up his donkey and set out with Isaac and two of his young men. One wonders whether those three days it took to make the journey made it easier or harder, as Abraham contemplated what God was demanding of him. We’re not told. Moses narrates this in such a way that the silence practically screams at us.
Upon their arrival, Abraham and Isaac leave the two young men at the camp, Abraham declaring, “we will worship and we will return to you.” The thoughtful reader agonizes silently, as Abraham must have, knowing what must take place. All Isaac knows is that they are going to offer a sacrifice upon the mountain. He has no idea that Adonai has declared he is to be the sacrifice. As they walk along, Abraham carrying the knife and firepot and Isaac carrying the wood, this child of laughter, now a na’ar a youth, probably in his mid to late teens, asks a simple question, the answer to which has reverberated down through the corridors of time: "Father… behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."
When they reached the place, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood, and then bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar. No struggle ensued. No protest. Not even a question. Isaac was willing and yielding to God’s will. No doubt he saw the tears in his father’s eyes and the grief that filled his heart as Abraham raised the knife. But then the voice from heaven interrupts and praises Abraham for his unswerving obedience. God’s favor is promised to him forever, and then suddenly a ram, caught in a thicket is seen and is offered in place of Isaac. Yet again there will be laughter. The descendants of Abraham will be blessed to all generations.
And what of the lamb God would provide? In that same place about 2,000 years later the greatest of Abraham’s descendants, having also carried the wood upon which He would be sacrificed, yielded His own life quietly and without protest. Yeshua of Nazareth became the promised Lamb of God. What God ultimately did not require of Abraham, He Himself provided. What does that mean for us? It means that: He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things (Romans 8:32)? Thanks be to God for Messiah Yeshua the Lamb!
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Vayera פרשת וירא. Other transliterations: Vayeira or Va-yera