1The LORD had said to Abram,
"Leave your country, your people and your
father's household and go to the land I will show you.
2 "I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."
4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram
was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife
Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people
they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of
Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The LORD
appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land."
So he built an altar there to the LORD , who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:1-7 NIV).
(Let us pray ...)
A topical issue at the moment. What is going on with Israel?
Has God finished with Israel? Why is there so much tzurus? It
must mean we haven't got it right. Our orthodox brethren would
say it's because we all are not keeping the mitzvot as we should.
In part there is an element of truth to this, although their
interpretation of mitzvot is vastly different than the Bible's
more simple definition. If we could all keep the commandments
in the Mosaic covenant we would be in a much better state. In
fact we'd all still be in Israel and wouldn't have ever been
However, the fact that we were exiled, and the fact that even
the orthodox don't keep the Torah today, but selected bits only,
leaves us with a quandary. Has God finished with us as a people?
Has God really got any future plan for a nation of Israel, or
did that belong to a period leading up to the fulfilment of His
plan for salvation in Y'shua, creating one new man out of Jew
In a messianic congregation, we often have a knee-jerk response
- "of course God hasn't finished with Israel!" But when we are
asked to substantiate, our arguments can lose ground. For example,
if God hasn't finished with Israel, then how does that go together
with the clear passages in the New Testament that say that both
Jew and Gentile are the same under God's sight - sinners in need
of repentance and the atoning sacrifice of Y'shua, and both with
the same right of access. Furthermore, if Y'shua says turn the
other cheek, what right have we got to go back to a land we mostly
left for close on 2000 years and claim a right to live there.
(I know the propaganda from the Palestinian side, that there
were millions of Palestinians there from the year dot. And we
know that is bogus. However, we really can't get around the fact
that there were some people living in this area, and some of
them, for whatever political reason have been dispossessed and/or
treated as second class citizens).
Questions like this are resounding in the church at large at
the moment, and if you read the papers you'll see that even Jewish
opinion is vastly divided on what the stance should be toward
the nation of Israel. The evident agenda of the Palestinian terror
organisations to defeat peace at any cost is not helping any,
but leading to feelings of revenge and helplessness or purposelessness.
So it's this subject I want us to look at today, as we take this
important passage of the Torah that talks about the very origin
of the Jewish people. I think it's a good time to be reminded
what God's intention was, and to try to understand it and apply
it to ourselves as best we can.
The passage starts in verse 1. Avram, a Chaldean (Iraqi) pagan,
had somehow developed a relationship with the one true God of
the universe, later revealed to us as "The God of Israel". And
God shows His desire once again for two things: 1) Just to communicate
with His creation, 2) The purpose and calling He has in life
for those who listen to Him and who are willing to be obedient.
The command is "go to yourself/for yourself". There is an inference
that Avram needs to tell himself to do something difficult, but
that it will be for his advantage. What does he need to do? Get
out of his pagan surroundings, even though they are comfortable
and all he knows. He has to make a complete and utter break from
his land, the place of his birth, and the house of his father.
Right here starts the call to be radically separate and everything
about being Jewish starts with this call. "Say to yourself and
for yourself, separate yourself from everything that is not of
God, even if it is loved and familiar."
But God doesn't leave Avram just to deal with a sense of directionless
loss. Instead He follows up with the phrase, "and go to the land
I will show you." (Heb 11:8-10). This is a very geographical
promise. There are some today who like to spiritualise everything.
And there is a place for spiritual application of physical facts
and promises in the Bible. But it is very clear from the text,
Avram was not commanded to find a "spiritual home" but a geographic
piece of land God would show him.
Along with this obedience to move to this land would come three
promises which are the basis and raison d'tre of being Jewish
today. A rule of understanding the Bible is to understand what
it's saying to those to whom it's speaking. Here God is evidently
speaking to Avram, and therefore we need to take seriously Avram's
understanding of what God is saying before any attempts to spiritualise
things. And if we do find spiritual lessons, we need to make
sure it's not at the expense of the original meaning of the text. Here
is the first promise: Ve'esecha legoy gadol. And I will make
of you a great nation. God goes on to say, "and I will bless
you and I will make your name great/famous and there is blessing
(in that) (with the inference to self and others).
Let's think about this promise. God tells Avram He will make
out of him a great and famous nation. Out of him obviously means
from his flesh, yet Sarai his wife has not yet born Avram any
children. Avram is 75 and Sarai 65, so the track record is not
looking at all good. This is quite a leap of faith God is asking
of Avram, not just to leave all that is familiar and go to a
place where he is soon to learn others live, but he's supposed
to believe God will do the impossible through him and Sarai and
give them a son.
The second promise considers relationship with other nations.
It starts with a well-known and sometimes misused phrase, "I
will bless those from whom blessing comes to you, and I will
bitterly curse those from whom cursing comes." And then we read,
"and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you."
So the next step in the promise is, if Avram in obedience and
faith leaves his familiar pagan surroundings to follow the One
true God into a dangerous land he doesn't know, God will make
a great nation from him, and he will miraculously have a son.
Furthermore, this is not the end of the story. Things are going
to be set up in such a way that all the families of the earth
will realise that in blessing God's chosen there will be blessing
for themselves. What does that mean? Does it mean, give Avram's
descendents some good things so you can get some good things?
That is not the point. The point is that in following the God
Avram is following, coming alongside his path and offering support,
God will also take you under His wing and protection. Of course,
the reverse is true. Fighting with God and His chosen will bring
no happiness to anyone. Look at history. Despite Israel's near
total disobedience to God over many centuries, look what's happened
to those who tried to destroy Israel. The Babylonian, Greek,
Roman Turkish, and other empires have fallen. Germany was divided
in two for over 40 years at the end of the second world war.
Poland, Russia and the other nations that carried out such vicious
pogroms had to endure terrible things themselves. And now the
terrorists against Israel succeed not only in making life stressful
and dangerous for Israeli Jews, but for worsening conditions,
and reducing any hope and security for their own people.
Next we see how Avram and his family depart and go to Canaan - the
land God has shown them. Why? We don't know exactly, although
we are told in Gen.15:16 that after a sojourn in Egypt
Avram's descendents will come back again, when the sin of the
Amorites/Canaanites is complete. It seems as if they are on an
irrevocable track to being the worst of the worst and God wants
to redeem His land, His creation and turn it into a testimony
for Himself to the world.
We see Avram arrives at Shechem, and there God makes His third
promise. Firstly, we see "the Lord appeared to, or saw Avram".
It was necessary for him to have obeyed and moved to this point
in order for the final promise to be given "To your seed I will
give this land." Avram's response is to build an altar - to memorialise
what has happened and to give the Lord His due worship, and then
he carries on looking God-ward until a slip in Egypt, which we
won't talk about now, but even then God was faithful to redeem
him out of that situation. Why, because of His promise. His promise
that was so solemn to God he cut a covenant with Avram. A covenant
is the most solemn agreement that can ever be entered into between
two individuals, two nations or two families. [Explain covenant,
cut meat and sign of circumcision].
Now once again I've heard more than one respected Christian teacher
spiritualise this promise, saying it's really talking about the
growth of the Body of believers in Y'shua and not about the land.
But this is obviously a fundamentally different understanding
of the text than either Avram or more importantly God had at
this time. You can see again in chapter 15:18-21 how God reiterates
this geographic aspect of the Covenant.
So looking at the background, we still need to work out today
how this applies to us and what our position should be with all
that is going on. I'd like to take this three covenant promises
and deal with them one by one, including their spiritual fulfilment,
because these promises do also truly point forward to someone
and something yet to come.
1. Let's first look at the prerequisite - separation from all
that is familiar yet pagan, or not of the Lord. How are we doing
in this regard? If you're like me, you're probably struggling
in a few grey areas. We need accountability with one another
to help us with that. "Do you think I should be seeing these
kinds of films, playing these kinds of games, reading these kinds
of books, acting in this kind of way, spending time with these
kind of friends doing the things they do etc?" If we can follow
Avram's example, not only does a new calling and name await us,
which will reflect our true character, but we will be blessed
and we will see fruit from our walk. Y'shua says in John 15,
if you abide in me you will bear much fruit. (or words to that
effect). Can we see this? Who is being affected by our life?
How is our "nation/family/circle of acquaintances" growing for
2. Our national calling. We only have one. The first part of
the verse shows us clearly that those from the nations who come
alongside will receive blessing and those who fight against God
will reap His judgement. Through us all the families of the earth
must be blessed. Now we know in one way, this was dramatically
fulfilled in the person of Y'shua who came from the seed of Avram
to bring the possibility of salvation to the world, and Paul
talks about that in the New Covenant. However, there is a more
literal and immediate meaning from us too. This is our calling
- to be those through whom all the families of the earth are
blessed. In other words we have one reason to be on this earth.
There is one purpose in being a son or daughter of Avram - to
bring the world to know our God, the God of Israel. This is one
of the most important themes in the Bible, and is carried on
in Ex 19:6, Dt. 4:6ff), and even Paul again makes reference to
this in Romans 15:16. Why are we here in [Congregation] Sar Shalom? It's not
just to worship our God in song. It's not just to pray for our
needs. It's not just to listen to His word. It's to faithfully
pursue the calling He has given us to bring the world to know
Him. What have we done this week to try to live up to this calling?
It can be risky, but the world is full of surprises - people - God is
preparing to meet us. [Give example of Alain].
3. The Land of Israel. You know this is one of the most complex
issues of all to do with God's covenant with Avram. Should we
be pro-this or pro-that. Is Israel totally right, partially right,
rarely right? What should our position as believers be? I'd like
to suggest this as a biblical perspective in keeping with the
first two promises. Firstly for ourselves we need to define what
we mean by the land of Israel. God gives a definition in Genesis
15, but Israel never occupied all of that land to this day. Some
right-wing proponents therefore encouraged fighting to expand
to that size of territory. David and Solomon reigned over the
most land that Israel has ever possessed, and we know the history
after that of division, exile, return, occupation, exile and
then the small land of present day Israel being established in
1948. Whose land is it? How much land should it be? Well the
answer to the question might surprise some of us. The land actually
never belonged to Israel in the first place. God says, he will
give the land to Avram's descendents, but what does He mean by
give? Expansion on this theme can be read in Leviticus 25:23
"The land shall not be sold into perpetual ownership, for the
land is Mine; you are only strangers and temporary residents
with me." Makes more sense of the parables of the vineyard and
tenants now doesn't it? ... Isaiah 5 and Y'shua's parables in the
New Testament. The Land is God's and He's going to do with it
what He wants. He has called us to be tenants, but under the
conditions of the covenant - to be a witness to the nations,
who will come and say, "what other nation has a God like yours,
who is near them when they call, and what other nation has such
just and right statutes." We're also called to be a nation of
priests - intercessors for the people, and for the peoples -
yes for the Palestinians, Saudis, and all those committed to
our destruction. The Lord has called us to be a royal priesthood.
What about our attitude to what's happening? Islam will never
tolerate a Jewish government in the region. That's a fact, but
does that mean we need to kill our enemies, like Joshua. Is that
God's call for us regarding the Land? Some try to justify this
approach. The Torah elaborates even this situation. When giving
the instructions to utterly destroy the paganism and its terrifying
consequences in the land of Canaan, it was no blind, merciless
destruction of people, just for not being Jewish. God wanted
to put an end to the insecurity, barbarity and terror of the
idol-worship there, but remember, He had called Israel to be
His instrument to show the nations that He alone is God, and
relationship with Him alone brings freedom. Egypt was shown this
in Passover. Exodus 14:4 "I will harden the heart of Pharaoh
and I will get me glory and honour over all his host, and the
Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord." Just before this though,
God has given also a command for those who are not native Israelites.
In chapter 12, He says, a stranger living among you can keep
the Passover and fall under this covenant if he is circumcised
and circumcises all his males, "and he shall be as one that is
born in the land." (Vs.48). You see provision is made for non-native
Jews to come into a covenant relationship with God. In fact, it
is His intent. The Torah expounds on this even more in Leviticus
19:33-34, "And if an alien sojourns with you in your land, you
will not suppress and mistreat him. But the alien who dwells
with you shall be to you as one born among you; and you shall
love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
I am the Lord your God."
And moreover, as if that isn't enough, we're not automatically
OK in God's sight by being Israel, or by being Jewish. In Deuteronomy
13, we read that the same absolute destruction that was to befall
the pagan nations will befall any of Israel who follow the same
path of godlessness and debauchery.
"If you hear it said in one
of your cities, which the Lord your God has given you in which
to dwell, that certain base fellows have come out from your midst,
and have enticed away the inhabitants of their city, saying,
'Let us go and serve other gods, which you have not known.' Then
you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently and behold
if it be true and certain that such an abominable thing has been
done among you, You shall surely smite the inhabitants of that
city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly and all
who are in it, and its beasts, with the edge of the sword." (Dt.
So, in conclusion, what should our response be regarding the land?
Firstly, we need to recognise it isn't ours - it's God's, and we
are but tenants. Along with being tenants comes the responsibility
to act according to God's original covenant purpose. Remember,
a covenant is the most solemn agreement that can ever be entered
into by two individuals, two families or two nations. There are
consequences for disobedience and there is only one source of
security and protection - God. Battles were virtually never won
in the Tenach unless God had called them. The other cases were
just because of His grace and patience. Islam will never give
up. We are in a perilous state, and looking to human solutions
alone - diplomacy or fighting, is not going to help us. Looking
to get rid of the problem by destroying all the Arab areas, is
not only not going to help us, it's against God's call to be
a light to the nations and to treat the foreigner well so that
he wants to be part of the covenant relationship with God. Ceding
everything is also not going to be a solution because as we know
the end goal of some of these groups is our total destruction -
which God will not allow.
How do we go forward? In Israel, by praying for the peace of
Jerusalem and sending missionaries to Jews and Arabs so they
can know the Prince of Peace - the only One who can change hearts.
The One, whose new covenant with us, cut in His own blood, can
bring life from the dead.
But here, in Boston, we still have our part to play. Does God
have a purpose for Israel today? He certainly does - we're to
be His ambassadors so others come to Him. Are we living up to
our calling? When's the last time we invited people here? When's
the last time we actively prayed for witnessing opportunities
at work? When's the last time we actively prayed for opportunities
with family? The message is so important, God sent His only Son
to die to cut that covenant with us to empower us beyond ourselves
to fulfil His calling. Do we still really recognise this is a
message literally of eternal life or death?
[Go on to evangelistic invitation and call to step up to the plate.]