Was Abraham saved by faith or by works or both?

Genesis 26:5, Because. Based on Paul’s teaching in Romans 4, we see that the Abrahamic Covenant is the model for salvation, which is salvation by grace through faith leading to or resulting in good works or righteousness (Eph 2:8–10).

From this verse, it might appear the Abrahamic Covenant wasn’t a faith-based covenant at all, but a works based one. In other words, Abraham had to do something to be counted righteous or to come into good standing with Elohim—a concept which is commonly referred to as “earning one’s salvation through one’s good works.”

The fact is that in the Abrahamic Covenant, Abraham only had to have faith and believe in YHVH to be justified or to be considered righteous by Elohim (Gen 15:6). It was on this basis that YHVH granted him “salvation.”

But this initial step of faith on Abraham’s part and the righteousness Elohim attributed to him was but the first step in Abraham’s faith walk. From that point, he had to walk out his faith and continue trusting YHVH (see also Gen 19:5).

The apostolic writers present the idea that one’s spiritual journey is a walk, not a one time event that occurs at the beginning of that walk. Our faith walk is more than just mental assent with a few emotions thrown in for good measure. It’s more than just following the golden rule about loving our neighbor in some nebulous sort of way. It involves faithfulness to YHVH’s instructions. James clearly states in his epistle that this is how one demonstrates the legitimacy of one’s faith when he declares that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:18, 20, 26; see vv. 12–26 for context).

Abraham demonstrated his faithfulness by his obedience to YHVH’s Torah or YHVH’s Word or voice. Furthermore, as a result of this obedience, YHVH promised to bless him beyond simply being granted initial salvation or righteousness.

This two-step approach or model still holds true in the Testimony of Yeshua. One is saved or delivered from the wages of their past sin (Rom 3:25), which is death (Rom 6:23) by their faith (initial salvation), and then one ceases from that sin by continuing in the good works of Torah obedience (Eph 2:8–10).

Moreover, Yeshua and the apostolic writers in numerous instances reveal that future rewards (both temporal and eternal rewards) come as a result of one’s good works (e.g. Matt 5:19). The ultimate reward is being granted eternal life and inclusion in the family of Elohim.

 

Focus on Isaac and Rebekah—Who Were They?

Isaac—A Character Sketch

He was successful and blessed. (Gen 26:12)

He was obedient to his father.

  • At age 37 Abraham bound Isaac to the altar (in Heb. called the akeidah, Gen 22).
  • Isaac was obedient to marry Rebekah, his parents’ choice, unlike Esau who married a heathen girl.
  • He trusted and had faith in his parents even as he trusted his life with his father at the akeida.
  • He had deep and personal relationship with YHVH.
  • Here we learn that obedience to and faith in and love for parents leads to devotion to YHVH. Honoring one’s parents is the key to honoring YHVH and entering into relationship with him. That is why the fifth commandment to honor one’s parents is placed after the commands to love Elohim. In Genesis 24:63 and 25:21, (see The Stone Tanach rendering of this verse in addition, The ArtScroll Beresheis, p. 1048, which says Isaac prayed abundantly and urgingly, i.e. persistent prayer, a penetrating prayer or request), we see that Isaac had a deep and personal relationship with his Creator.

He had strong faith.

  • Though childless and barren, Isaac and Rebekah kept their faith in the promises of YHVH alive (Gen 25:19–26). In verse 21 we see Isaac seeking YHVH for the answers to life’s dilemmas and tough problems (he had a vibrant and abiding relationship with his Heavenly Father). The same can be said of Rebekah (v. 22).
  • He was a peacemaker with his neighbors to his own hurt in that he didn’t assert his personal (even legal) rights.
  • Though opposed in the digging of wells, he refused to feud over his legal rights to these wells. He avoided strife and quarreling with his neighbors. After digging the third well, YHVH brought comfort to Isaac’s weary soul (Matthew Henry’s Commentary, p. 38).
  • He was charitable toward his unsaved neighbors. Though Abimelech and his people had wronged Isaac, he did not rebuke them for stealing the first two wells. Was this a sign of Isaac’s meekness or weakness? Some biblical scholars say no (e.g., Matthew Henry) and some say yes (e.g., Gleanings in Genesis by Arthur Pink, p. 233).

What are some comparisons between the three patriarchs?

  • Abraham was the man of the altar. He built altars as a form of worship to YHVH. The altar is mentioned more times in connection with Abraham than the other two patriarchs.
  • Isaac was the man of the well. Wells are mentioned seven times in connection with Isaac.
  • Jacob was the man of the tent. ­The tent is mentioned more times in connection with Jacob.

What are the spiritual implications of the altar, the well and the tent?

The Abrahamic Covenant is the covenant of salvation (by grace through faith, see Rom 4). The spiritual significance of the altar, well and the tent are expressed in the layout of the Tabernacle (or tent) of Moses in the wilderness, which is a picture of the steps one must take to receive YHVH’s free gift of salvation or redemption from sin’s death penalty. In one’s Continue reading

 

Finding a Wife for Isaac—A Lesson in Faith and Obedience

Genesis 24:2, So Abraham said. In appointing Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham was deputizing him to become the friend of the bridegroom, or the family representative in this important mission. (For more on this subject, see notes at John 3:29.)

Genesis 24:2, 9, Your hand under my thigh. (Heb. yarek; see also Gen 47:29) Abraham’s servant literally placed his hands on Abraham’s testicles swearing an oath on Abraham’s projected progeny, even as in modern times we place our hands on the Bible. Interestingly, the word testicle or teste derives from the Latin words testis meaning “testimony, testify and testament.” Yarek is the same word the KJV translates “hollow of his thigh” in Genesis 32:25 and 32, although, in this case, it seems to be referring to the tendon of the hip.

Genesis 24:4, Take a wife for my son Isaac. Some Bible students see in Abraham’s sending Eliezer his servant an allegory of our Heavenly Father choosing a bride for Yeshua, his Son with the help of the Set-Apart Spirit. The analogy goes like this: When speaking to Abraham, YHVH refers to Isaac as “your only son…whom you love” (Gen 22:2). In this statement, it’s hard to miss the similarity with the well-known John 3:16 passage where Yeshua refers to himself as the only begotten Son whom his Father in heaven loves. Isaac is an obvious prophetic picture of Yeshua in that Abraham sacrificed a ram in place of his only son whom he loved on the very spot where, one thousand years later, the Temple of Continue reading

 

The “Sacrifice” of Isaac at Mount Moriah and Yeshua the Messiah

Genesis 22:13, A ram caught in a thicket by his horns. YHVH credited to Abraham’s spiritual account his willingness to sacrifice Isaac as if he had actually done so. In fact, there is an ancient rabbinical tradition that states Isaac actually died and was resurrected as the midrash comments on this passage: “As the knife reached his throat, Isaac’s soul flew away and left [e.g., he died]. But when a voice went forth from between the angels saying, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad’ (Genesis 22:12), his soul returned to his body” (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 31 as quoted in The ArtScroll Davis Edition Baal HaTurim Chumash Bamidbar, p. 1417) (bracketed comments are in the original). The Jewish sages also note that Scripture states that both Abraham and Isaac ascended the mountain, but that it is recorded that only Abraham descended (Gen 22:19). Isaac’s absence from the Genesis narrative until many years latter (Gen 24:62) has given rise to much speculation on the part of the sages as to Isaac’s whereabouts in the interim (The ArtScroll Bereishis Vol. 1a, pp. 812–813). 

Regardless of the rabbinic interpretations, does Scripture leave Isaac out of the narrative as if to highlight his absence, and to give the impression (albeit a prophetic allegorical one) that he was actually sacrificed? After all, what was the ram caught in the thorn bush thicket (wearing a crown of thorns) by its two horns all about? That ram is understood by many to be a substitute sacrifice prophetically picturing Yeshua the Messiah much later dying on the cross while wearing a crown of thorns. 

Moreover, who was it that commanded Abraham to lay down the knife and slaughter the ram instead? It was the Messenger (Heb. malak) of YHVH (verses 11–12, 15), who was none other than the pre-incarnate YHVH-Yeshua, the Word or Messenger of Elohim (John 1:1, 14), whose audible voice Abraham heard some 1900 years before his appearance as the Messiah in human form on earth as the Lamb of Elohim slain from the foundation of the earth.

 The Messenger of YHVH at the Binding of Isaac

In Genesis 22:11, 15–17 we read the following,

11 And the Messenger/Malak of YHVH called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I … 15 And the Messenger/Malak of YHVH called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith YHVH, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven.

In this passage, there is no mention of the Messenger of YHVH visibly appearing to Abraham in some bodily form, but only his voice calling from heaven. What we want to emphasize in this passage is that the Messenger of YHVH is equating himself with YHVH (verse 16). The biblical passages where the Malak of YHVH equates himself with YHVH while appearing in human form have perennially defied reasonable explanation by the Jewish sages.

Notwithstanding, the ancient Targum Jerusalem (the pre-Christian Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) equates the Malak of YHVH with “the Word of Elohim” in verse eight implying that YHVH and the Word of YHVH are in some way different from each other:

And Abraham said, The Word of Elohim will prepare for me a lamb; and if not, then thou art the offering, my son! And they went both of them together with a contrite heart.

Some Jewish sages asserts that “the angel speaks in God’s name, in first person” while others maintain that it was “God Himself who opened the Continue reading

 

“Remember Lot’s Wife!”

A Man Called Lot: What We Can Learn from His Life

In Luke 17 32, Yeshua warns end times believers to “Remember Lot’s wife.” What did he mean by this pointed warning? Is Lot not a picture of the typical Western saint whether Christian or Messianic? I believe so. In saying this, as a pastor and having been a watchman on the spiritual wall for many years, I see very little if any differentiation (broadly speaking) between Christians and most Messianics, for the spiritual condition of both groups is fundamentally the same. 

Primarily what differentiates the two groups is the religious jargons and nomenclatures each group uses in addition to the outward religious trapping or externals each uses to identify itself. What about Torah, you may ask? Don’t Messianics obey the Torah and Christians do not? My response is that there is not a huge difference between the two—at least not from the Creator’s perspective. YHVH looks at hearts, and not merely the superficiality of outward appearances and the religious trappings by which people identify themselves. 

In reality, both born-again Christians and born-again Messianics follow Torah principles to one degree or another. The only difference is that the former group does not claim to follow Torah, but teaches that it was “done away with.” In reality, to a certain degree, many serious Christians do follow the “moral” principles of the Torah along with tithing. On the other hand, a majority of Messianics profess loudly and proudly their Torah-obedience, but largely, in practice (except for an often half-hearted adherence to the observance of the Sabbath, the biblical feasts and the biblical dietary laws) they don’t. If so, they do so only Continue reading

 

Abraham a Torah Keeper Before Moses?

Genesis 18:19, Shall keep the way of YHVH…do justice and judgment. To what is YHVH referring here? He is referring to the Torah, something some Christian Bible teachers say did not exist before Moses and Mount Sinai (see also Gen 26:5). Let’s now see how the Scriptures define these terms and how they relate to the Torah. Genesis 18:19 says, 

“For I [YHVH] know him [Abraham], that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of YHVH, to do justice and judgment; that YHVH may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken.” (emphasis added)

Let’s define the three highlighted words above in the larger context of the Scriptures.

“The way” is the Hebrew word derech (Strong’s H1870) and is used in the following places:

Blessed are the undefiled in the way [derech], who walk in the law [Torah] of YHVH. (Ps 119:1)

I will run the way [derech] of the commandments … (Ps 119:32)

Teach me, O YHVH, the way [derech] of thy statutes … (Ps 119:33)

“Justice” is the Hebrew word tsedaqah (Strong’s H6666) meaning “righteousness.” Here is an example of its usage:

… for all thy commandments are righteousness … (Ps 119:172)

“Judgments” is the Hebrew word mishpatim (Strong’s H4941) meaning “ordinances” referring to YHVH’s moral and ethical laws as embodied in the last six of the ten commandments, which teach righteousness in one’s business and personal relationships.

 …[YHVH’s] righteous judgments [mishpat]. (Ps 119:7)

I have chosen the way [derech] of truth: thy judgments [mishpatim] have I laid before me. (Ps 119:30)

Thy word is true from the beginning; and every one of thy righteous judgments [mishpatim] endures forever. (Ps 119:160)

Can there be any doubt, if we’re to believe what the Scriptures literally say that Abraham was Torah observant hundreds of years before Moses (Abraham’s great, great grandson) was born?

 

The Significance of Circumcision Past and Present

Genesis 17:1, 22, YHVH appears to Abraham and establishes circumcision as a sign of the covenant. 

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, YHVH appeared [Heb. ra’ah meaning “to see, look, behold, show, appear, observe, have vision, present oneself, be seen”] to Abram, and said unto him, I am El Shaddai; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

YHVH proceeds to lay out to Abraham the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant including circumcision and the fact that Sarah would give birth to a son with whom YHVH would also establish his covenant. When YHVH was done Scripture records the following in verse 22,

And [YHVH] left off talking with him, and Elohim went up [Heb. alah, to go up, ascend, climb, depart] from Abraham. (KJV)

And when He had finished speaking with him, God ascended from upon Abraham. (The ArtScroll Stone Edition Tanach)

And He ceased speaking with him; and the Glory of the Lord ascended from Abraham. (Targum Jonathan)

And when He had ended to speak with him, the Glory of the Lord ascended up from Abraham. (Targum Onkelos)

And be left off speaking with him, and God went up from Abraham. (LXX)

This text does not state how YHVH appeared or spoke to Abraham, just the fact that he did. According to the Hebrew rules of biblical interpretation (and the rules of common logic when reading anything), a scriptural text is to be taken at its literal or plain (peshat) meaning, unless the text itself suggests an allegorical (drash) or mystical (sod) interpretation. The Talmud (the Jewish Oral Law) states this in Talmud b. Shabbath 63a ( … that a verse cannot depart from its plain meaning”) and Talmud b. Yevamoth 24a (“Although throughout the Torah no text loses its ordinary meaning …”). Therefore, it is evident that YHVH appeared to Abraham in some tangible form with which humans are capable of interacting. If he did so once, we have to ask, cannot he do it again in the Person of Yeshua of Nazereth, the Messiah?

Let’s note some reasons why YHVH chose circumcision to be the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Remember, physical circumcision is not passé, but is still a requirement for those desiring to be priests in YHVH’s future (spiritual?) temple (Ezek 44:7, 9):

  • It is a token or sign of spiritual things—a sign which always goes before us. (Gen 17:11)
  • It signifies purification of the heart from all unrighteousness by cutting away a piece of the flesh which would otherwise be a carrier of filth and disease.
  • It is a holy seal of righteousness—the foreskin removed is round like a ring. A ring signifies a bond or union and is worn constantly even as the seal of circumcision is worn constantly.
  • Circumcision occurs at eight days of age. Eight is the number meaning new beginnings. A new heart, a consecration of the person to YHVH; the commencement of a covenant. (Gen 17:12) 
  • The rite of circumcision is painful and humiliating. So is repentance and self denial of which circumcision is a picture.
  • From the penis flows the seed of life. Circumcision is a sign that the seed should and could be righteous and consecrated to YHVH.
  • In Romans 4:11, Paul teaches us that circumcision is a sign, mark or token, and a seal (placed on someone) or an impression or stamp made by a signet ring signifying ownership. Circumcision spoke of Abraham’s righteousness and the faith he had in YHVH and YHVH’s “ownership” of Abraham. A modern-day example of this would be the marriage ring. One can be legally married without wearing ring; however, a wedding ring is an outward and visible sign of one marriage covenant. The same is true of circumcision. It’s not a salvational requirement, yet it’s an outward sign of an inward spiritual reality.

The Scriptures make it clear that circumcision is not a requirement for salvation (see Acts 15) or else women couldn’t be saved. Circumcision is, however, an act of obedience that indicates one’s identity with the Abrahamic Covenant model of salvation and with the people of Israel. Additionally, the Torah makes it clear that circumcision is required for all men who desire to take Passover, and those who do not keep the Passover will be cut off from Israel (Exod 12:47–48), although in the New Covenant, circumcision of the heart is now the chief requirement (Rom 2:25–29; Gal 6:15; Col 2:11).