Our Divine Use

Abraham Leaves Haran (1560 and 1592) by Francesco Bassano the Younger

Parasha Lech L’cha


Shabbat shalom! Today’s parasha, Lech L’cha (translated “Go forth”) spans Genesis chapters 12-17, and is, I think, a sorely needed refresher in God’s ability to use His children for mighty things.

I would like to preface this parasha with a word of encouragement. At any given time, God is acting in one of three ways in your life: offering to use you, preparing you for His use, or using you. These Spirit-inspired transformations are the building blocks of your personal story and, ultimately, the story of God redeeming the world. The question is not if God will use you; it is to what end will God use you, and will you resist him in His efforts?

Abram illustrates this point beautifully. At age 75, he was not too old to be used for a divine purpose. God called on him to leave behind all that was comfortable and familiar, and after pronouncing a seven-fold blessing over him, he didn’t hesitate to become God’s nomad, bringing with him his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot on the journey. Leaving his father’s basement was step one: responding to God’s offer to use him.

He sojourned a great distance before encountering step two: God preparing him to be used. In this case, through a series of trials. The first was a famine which sent Abram seeking refuge in Egypt. Only, he had lost sight of the prize for which God had called him. It was the fear of man—the fear that the Egyptians would kill him for his beautiful wife—that compelled him to pretend Sarai was his sister. Presented with an opportunity to display sacrificial love, honesty, and faith, Abram instead chose cowardice and deception.

Per usual, the benefits of his sins were short-lived. Pharaoh took Sarai as his wife, and God, in His justice, sent plagues on Pharaoh’s household. When all was settled, Abram and company were banished from Egypt.

Humbled, he retraced his steps to Bethel. It was actually wise for him to return to the land where he constructed his second altar. Once the place of close encounter with Adonai, it now served as a place of rededication after his spiritual crisis. In a fallen world, the progress of an righteous man occurs in a “two steps forward, one step backward” manner.

Had Abram given up and returned to home in Haran, he would have given the devil more than his due, a heinous sin. But he didn’t; he remained in Bethel; long enough, in fact, for his capital to outgrow the land. As Lot and Abram’s flocks grew, quarrels broke out between their herdsmen. Generously, Abram generously offered Lot first choice, to settle whichever land he desired. Lot chose the more superficially prosperous (albeit morally insidious) of the two, the region of Sodom. Predictably, from expediency grew misfortune. A war broke out that ultimately engulfed all of Sodom, and Lot and his family were captured by an allied army of four kings.

Upon receiving word of this, his second trial, Abram chose not cowardice but rather sacrificial love and faith foreshadowing that of Messiah: he left the ninety-nine, as it were, for the one. Abram rounded his army of 318 men, led them to victory, and rescued his nephew.

In the aftermath of this war, two kings turned up at his doorstep. The first, the king of Sodom, a luciferian figure, offered earthly spoils. The other, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, whom some maintain to be the preincarnate Messiah, offered bread, wine, and a blessing. Abram elected to receive the gifts of the High Priest, tithed to that enigmatic priest-king, and pressed onward.

God was pleased with Abram’s courageous faith and rewarded his willingness to be used. At Abram’s request, Adonai consented to a formal covenant with him. Abram was instructed to sacrifice certain animals and line them in two rows, after which a “dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.” In that deep sleep, Adonai promised Abram that his offspring would inherit the promised land, but not before being enslaved for 400 years.

To consummate this covenant rite, it was customary for both parties to walk through the animal halves. When Abram awoke, however, he saw a smoking firepot with a blazing torch passing through. The Lord, it seems, had ratified this covenant unilaterally! In the words of Jonathan Edwards, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”

Next, Abram faced his third refining trial, this time with Sarai’s influence. Sarai was a faithful wife who yearned for God’s will, her promised boy. Yet, her faith faltered here, and she pressed Abram to circumvent God’s plan by instead producing a son through her young servant, Hagar. Just as with Pharaoh, the human plan almost worked. Hagar birthed Ishmael, a donkey of a man, who received the blessing of prosperity, but the curse of lifelong contention and strife.

Like Sarai, our hubristic ambitions turn a good thing wicked for want of patience and humility, ultimately resulting in a perversion of the original Good God intended. In Sarai snickering “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” one can almost hear Pilate asking sarcastically, “Are you King of the Jews?” Cynically, we suppose that what God has promised is too good to be true. Boy, are we wrong!

At the end of our story, Abram and Sarai realized just how wrong. After 25 years, they received the greatest, unlikeliest, and earliest gender reveal in history with God’s pronouncement of Isaac, the prophesied son. In one year’s time, little Isaac would enter the world, the trunk of a family tree which would eventually produce not only the flowering community of believers we see today but the Messiah himself.

By gradually submitting to God’s intended character-building, Abram and Sarai graduated from the offer to be used by God, to being prepared to be used by God, to finally step three: being used by God for this, their destiny. To find God’s use for us is to find our identity, so, as part of this covenant, Abram and Sarai were renamed Abraham and Sarah. And, to show that they had some skin in the game, Abraham was circumcised with every male in his household, present and future.

Foreshadowing Messiah, this ordinary man was destined for greatness, simply because he could say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” When God used trials to prepare him, Abraham obeyed; and when he failed, he quickly returned to God in repentance. Today, we celebrate him as the Father of the Faith because of that simple obedience.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, wherever you are along the path, obey the Lord. He is either offering to use you, preparing you for His use, or using you. Pray for understanding of to what end God is trying to use you, and press on in that endeavor. And when trials bring doubt, remember that your identity rests in Him and His purposes.

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