There are two famous stories of the bible in here- the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the binding of Isaac, called the Akedah (also the traditional reading for Rosh Hashanah services.)
How often I hear myself saying (or, more correctly, see myself writing), “There is just SO much in here to talk about!”, and I guess the reason for that is that there is so much in here to talk about.
One thing that I find interesting, a minor but (again) interesting item: there were three men who came to Abraham at the beginning of the chapter, and yet only two men went to Sodom. Actually, the two men who went to Sodom were identified as angels- according to my Chumash, the beginning of Chapter 19 is the first time they were identified as angels, even though in the prior chapter (18:17) it is the Lord, Himself, who wonders if He should tell Abraham what He is about to do.
I have heard some people discuss whether the angels of the Lord we read about being sent to humans are just angels, or are they also God? Often it seems to be God talking because there is authority in the way they speak, and yet they are called angels. Today, we read about three men, but later we can’t help but know that one of them is unquestionably God, because the Torah says “And the Lord said…” The next chapter starts with, “And the two angels came to Sodom..”, so we know neither of them is the Lord. Wait a minute! Three men came to Abraham, the Lord says He will go down to Sodom to see for Himself if the cries of injustice that have reached His ears are real, yet God isn’t there when the angels arrive in Sodom. God told Abraham He was going to investigate, but He isn’t there. What’s with that? Did God lie? Did God change His mind?
It really seems that way, doesn’t it? God told Abraham He was going to go down to Sodom, yet only the two angels that accompanied the Lord actually went there. Of course, since God is omnipresent, He can’t really go anywhere, since He is already there, right? And, likewise, because God is also omniscient, He already knew there were no righteous men in Sodom; not 50, not 30, not even 10. However, God allowed Abraham to negotiate on Sodom’s behalf as a way to test Abraham’s compassionate nature.
But God already knew Abraham’s heart, so why test?
God tests us not to find out about something He doesn’t know, but to show us what we don’t know- about ourselves! In this Parashah, Abraham is tested a few times:
1- when the angels and God appear to him, Abraham’s generosity and charity is tested
2- when an angel tells Abraham he will have a child through Sarah, his faith is tested in whether or not he believes
3- when Abraham goes to Gerar (20:2) his faith was tested, and he failed (in my opinion) to show faithfulness in God’s protection because he told Sarah to say she is his wife to protect himself
4- the greatest test was when Abraham unflinchingly offered Isaac as a sacrifice to God
Maimonides says that Abraham was tested no less than ten times: 1. God tells him to leave his homeland to be a stranger in the land of Canaan.
2. Immediately after his arrival in the Promised Land, he encounters a famine.
3. The Egyptians capture his beloved wife, Sarah, and bring her to Pharaoh.
4. Abraham faces incredible odds in the battle of the four and five kings.
5. He marries Hagar after not being able to have children with Sarah.
6. God tells him to circumcise himself at an advanced age.
7. The king of Gerar captures Sarah, intending to take her for himself.
8. God tells him to send Hagar away after having a child with her.
9. His son, Ishmael, becomes estranged.
10. God tells him to sacrifice his dear son Isaac upon an altar.
The first test was a hard one- to leave everything and everyone you know and go somewhere else without even knowing where that somewhere else is. The other tests show both when Abraham was faithful (4 and 6) and times when he was not so faithful ( 3, 5, and 7). Finally, with the willingness to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham’s faith is at it’s fullest, and Abraham reveals his own understanding of this by calling Mt. Moriah ‘the place where God is seen’- prophetic, as that will be the very foundation of the Temple in Jerusalem, thousands of years later.
We are all tested, just as Abraham was, and I doubt that we even know it is happening when we are in the midst of it. The testing becomes known to us only after it is done, and sometimes (as my own experiences have shown me) it isn’t until much later that we realize what happened. If only I, myself, was able to hear the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) more clearly then I would know I am being tested while it is actually happening. Then I would at least have a chance of passing (I confess I don’t usually do well on these types of tests.)
God tests us all, but not for His sake- it is for our sake. We can have our faith strengthened and feel more empowered to do God’s will when we realize that we have already done what is right. Looking back, do you see times when you were being tested and failed to live up to what God wanted from you? And, can you look back and see times when you were being tested and you passed? If you are like me, after you realize that you were being tested and know that you did what was right in God’s eyes, don’t you feel proud (in a good way) to know that you passed? I am so happy, and thankful, when I don’t argue back even though I am really mad, when I overcome my instincts and take the side of compassion (even though I am a cynical so-and-so), or when someone tells me they are grateful for what I did and I didn’t even realize I was doing something good for them. That is not me, trust me on this- that is not me; it is God in me doing those things.
When I write a particularly meaningful posting, give a heartfelt and spiritually uplifting message, I can say, without false humility, that I am absolutely positive it comes from God in me, from the leadership of the Ruach HaKodesh, and not from Steven. Steven is becoming holy because he is dying to self and letting God live more and more in him. But don’t get the idea that this is happening quickly- I have been a Believer for nearly 20 years and the percent of God to the percent of Steven is really small. I mean, REALLY small.
But it’s there, and as slowly as it is growing, it is growing. Every day I get a little closer: many days I fall back, I slip, and almost every day I do or say at least a dozen things I would rather not have done or said, but even with this I am closer to God than I used to be.
And the way I know this is because God tests me so I can see how well I am doing. We are tested in school to show where we are weak in our learning; we are tested in sports to show what skills we need to improve; we are tested at our workplace to show what knowledge and abilities we need to work on. And when God tests us, it is for the same reason- to show us where we need to grow.
God knows what we are, who we are, and what we really want even when we don’t know or understand what that is. I think I want something but God knows what I really need, and that is what He provides. When He does that, isn’t that also a test? A test to see if I am willing to look into myself, to see why this happened (i.e., I ask for one thing but God gives me something totally different), to trust in God’s judgement and be thankful to Him for doing what He does and not what I ask?
Look for the testings in your life- past and present. Be always watching for them , and ask the Holy Spirit to lead your understanding about what is happening while it is still happening, so that you may pass the test. We need to pass in order to get to the next class, and each class brings us closer to graduation, to a better and more intimate relationship with God….to Paradise.