Before Abraham Was, I AM

Torah Portion: Vayera (Gen. 18:1-22:24)
Gospel Reading: John 8:48-59; Hebrews 11:8-19
Commentary by: Chris Knight

Vayera is translated as “He appeared” in English. In this week’s portion, it is in reference to the Lord, YHVH, appearing to Abraham at his tent. Interestingly enough, God’s appearance to Abraham takes the form of three “men” or “angels.” However, when reading this passage of the Torah in Hebrew, it becomes evidently clear that there is something distinctive about one of the three men in particular. In Genesis 18:1-3 we read, “Then YHVH appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, 'My Lord (Adonai, singular), if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your (singular) servant.'

It is interesting, to say the least, that Abraham only appears to address one of the three men before him by the grammar he used. One might shrug this off as a misreading of the text, that perhaps these words of Abraham were a prayer to God and weren’t directed toward any of the men before him at all. (This is unlikely since it is noted that “he ran to meet them” before he speaks.) As the reading continues, however, more evidence to the contrary begins to amass. In verse 22 we read, “Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before YHVH.” The text seems clear and simple enough. Abraham stays to talk with God while the men travel down to Sodom. We then have the famous dialogue between Abraham and God as Abraham pleas on behalf of Sodom that God would have mercy for the sake of the potential righteous living within the city. Our understanding of the men going to Sodom while Abraham stays with YHVH is shaken, however, as we stumble upon the arrival of the men to Sodom. Genesis 19:1 says, “Now the two angels (messengers) came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom…

We are required to ask ourselves, “What happened to the third guy!?” I submit to you that the text is very clear on the whereabouts of our missing third character when it stated in Genesis 18:22, “Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before YHVH.” Could it be that the reason Abraham appears to only esteem one of the three men, even to the point of addressing him as “Adonai,” is because that the third man IS Adonai? This explanation, though not popular in modern Judaism, does clear up many of the questions that arise when reading the text in its original language. This understanding is hard when we consider that God has no body. We know that God has no image or form which would mean that this third character is none other than the “image of the invisible God,” the Messiah Yeshua.

Yeshua was known for making claims about His nature or origin that caused great controversy and upset within the community of religious leaders. One of the most famous of these claims is in regards to Abraham and can be found in John 8:48-53 where it reads, “Then the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?’ Yeshua answered, ‘I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, “If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.” Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?’ Yeshua answered, ‘If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, “I do not know Him,” I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Yeshua said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Yeshua hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

The beauty of this text is that it teaches us that Yeshua was not some afterthought in the mind of God. Yeshua was not God’s “plan B” if nothing else would work. Yeshua was not merely an ordinary man in history that God had happened to choose and anoint for a task. Rather, Yeshua is pre-existent and pre-eminent. He is greater than Abraham and greater than David. In the words of Paul, “He is before all things and in Him all things consist.” Yeshua is and has always been the “fullness of the Godhead bodily” as stated in Colossians 2:9.

My belief is that the name of this portion, Vayera, is quite literal in that Yahweh “appeared” to Abraham in the same way He appears to each and every one of us, through the person of His Son, Yeshua.