God's promises to Abraham and his descendants
Throughout his life Abraham receives two promises from God - both these promises are repeated to Abraham five times. The first promise is regarding the land of Canaan. Time and time again, he is told by God that the land which he has traveled to will be an inheritance for him and his descendants. For example:
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north, soth, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring for ever. Go walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you."
The second promise is that he will have children and be the father of great nations - also repeated five times.
I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.
God has therefore promised to Abraham that the land of Canaan will be an everlasting position to him and his offspring. He has also promised that Abraham will have as many children as the dust of the earth, the stars in heaven and the sand on the seashore. However, we find Abrham with one child that will carry on his legacy and no land at the beginning of this week's portion.
There are two central events that take place in this week's portion:
- The purchase of the cave of Machpelah as a burial site for Sarah
- Finding a wife for Isaac
Both these themes are seemingly disconnected, however when put into the context of Abraham's life, the promises he has received from God, it becomes clear that Abraham is not sitting back waiting for God to deliver on his promises, he is in fact taking action to make these promises a reality.
First he enters into a negotiation with the Hittites to purchase a field and a cave in which to bury Sarah. At first the Hittites offer him their best tomb in which to bury Sarah, Abraham rejects this offer. Then Ephron, the owner of the land offers him the cave for free, Abraham rejects this offer as well and instead insists on paying for the field and the cave. Ephron then proposes and outrageous sum for the purchase - Abraham accepts the offer even though he knows that it is well above the reasonable value. The Torah details the agreement and leaves no doubt that Abraham and his descendants are the legal owners of this small piece of Canaan.
Now Abraham has possession in the land of Canaan - this is the only piece of land that Abraham will own during his lifetime.
The continuation of the Jewish people and the security of the Land of Israel - these are our concerns today!
Next he deals with the second promise from God - that he will become the father of many great nations. Once again this is a costly endeavour. He sends his man-servant to find a girl from his native land of Aram, from his extended family. The man servant prays to God and finds Rebecca, however securing her release from her family is a very costly effort. The man servant brings out gold, silver and expensive clothes. Her family agree to letting her marry Isaac, however they wish to wait ten months before letting her go. Once again a tough negotiation takes place and eventually Rebecca is allowed to leave.
God is therefore challenging us to act on his behalf and bring his promises to realization.
The two concerns that Abraham has are the same concerns that have worried the Jewish people since that time: The continuation of the Jewish people and the security of the Land of Israel - these are our concerns today!
God has empowered us, given us the strength and the passion to make his promises a reality
The other most important lesson that we learn here is that God will not fulfill his promises without action from us. God is therefore challenging us to act on his behalf and bring his promises to realization. Believing in God does not mean sitting back and waiting for God to do things for us, it does not mean being passive. It means being proactive and taking an active role in bringing God's promises to fruition. God has empowered us, given us the strength and the passion to make his promises a reality.
Just as Abraham understood this, we must understand that in order to make change in our lives, it's not enough to pray to God and wait for the answer, we must be proactive and show God that we are here to make that change happen with his help.