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Rumination #5: Why are the flawed people of Scripture called righteous?

Some believers have quite a bias against being righteous it seems. They think that their Bibles teach that "no one is righteous," that all are sinners. In a way, they are correct. All have sinned, and ultimately, no one is righteous when compared to the perfect example of righteousness, HaShem Himself. But they are quite wrong if they think that no one is righteous. Scripture is replete with the history of righteous people living righteous lives. Do a concordance search for "righteous." You might be shocked at how many times the People of G-d are called righteous. Of course, the critic will say that Scripture is referring to "imputed righteousness" because in the critic's mind, "no one is righteous." In that regard, they are confusing theology with the plain text of Scripture. Face it; the Scriptures say that those that do righteousness are righteous. Let the theologian spin it any way they can, but they are only deceiving themselves:

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices [present tense] righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.
1John 3:7

What is more difficult is why flawed characters in Scripture are sometimes called righteous. For example, Lot.

...and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)...
2Peter 2:7-8

How about Abraham himself? Or Sarah? What about David? These are men and women with real flaws. Consider the lying of Abraham and Sarah - that David had a man murdered after stealing his wife! If that is a righteous man, who is wicked?

As Hebrews 11 shows us, these flawed men and women are known not by their flaws, but by their faith and by their righteousness. Their faith as evidenced by their righteous deeds gives witness to the ideal man, or the ideal woman. Although we see their flaws, we also see a persistent pressing on to know HaShem. The balance of their lives is not their flaws, but the shining example of their obedience. In those moments, we see the ideal man, the ideal women in them.

Our flaws are many, but may our faith and obedience to HaShem be evidence of the ideal man, and the ideal woman that HaShem desires us to be.

And HaShem commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear HaShem our G-d, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before HaShem our G-d, as He has commanded us.
Deuteronomy 6:24-25

Parashat Chayei Sara - 'The Life of Sarah' (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

The title for this week's Scripture portion is found in the first verse.

Vayihyu chayei Sara mea shana v'esrim shana v'sheva shanim sh'nei chayei Sarah.

Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.

Sarah was not her name before Genesis chapter 17. Before that she was known as Sarai. In a cursory view of the Genesis account, we are presented with a woman who seems at times to be less than ideal: the entire account with Hagar and Ishmael; the laughing at the promise of HaShem; etc. However, we would do well to remember what Hebrews says about our mother Sarah.

By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful Who had promised.
Hebrews 11:11

So who is this woman, and what are we to think of her? What does the Torah really teach us of Sarah?

First, she was not Abraham's half-sister as is often understood by some commentators. The explanation that Abraham offers to Avimelech in Genesis 20:12 is often misunderstood because of ignorance of Ancient Near East adoption practices. The fact that Isaac uses exactly the same excuse with Rivka [Rebekah] further explains this. Instead, traditionally Sarah is understood to be Abraham's niece. That is derived from Genesis 11:29:

Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah.
Genesis 11:29

Iscah is traditionally understood to be Sarah's birth name. Iscah means, "one who watches" or "one who foresees."  Sarah's name before Genesis 17 was Sarai, which is a derivative of name that HaShem gives her in Genesis 17:15. Most Bible dictionaries will give you the definition of these names as "my princess" and "princess" respectively. There are varying views of this. The Sages make a point of the exchange of the Hebrew letters hey and yod between Sarah and Joshua (from Hosea). All those things may be, but if we focus upon them, we may miss the point of the name change. Let's look into that, because I think it is significant in light of Hebrews 11.

Sarai and Sarah share the same Hebrew root, the verb sarar, which means to exercise power, or to prevail. It is where we get the Messianic title Sar Shalom [Prince of Peace]. With this in mind, the name Sarai [my power] becomes "Power" with the change to "Sarah." Sarah is truly a woman of power. She is remembered in this week's portion, when she dies, by being a woman of life. It is the life of the Promised Seed - and the power is the power of HaShem. She is a noble woman, a woman of virtue. She is an Eshet Chayil as Proverbs 31:10ff details.

Eshet Chayil [Woman of Virtue, Woman of Accomplishment] is the ideal woman. This is what the writer of Hebrews was reflecting on in remembering Sarah as an example of faith. Proverbs 31 details how Eshet Chayil reminds us of ideal Sarah. Setting aside her failures we see her as the ideal woman of G-d. All women of faith are to be Eshet Chayil. To be an Eshet Chayil is be a daughter of Sarah - to be a woman of power - a woman of the power of HaShem. All those who follow her ideal example are her daughters.

We find a poignant moment toward the end of this week's portion that tells us about the first recognized "daughter of Sarah":

Then Isaac brought her [Rivka, Rebekah] into his mother Sarah's tent; and he took Rivka [Rebekah] and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.
Genesis 24:67

This week, as you study the Torah portion, reflect not only upon our mother Sarah, but also how Rivka demonstrates how she shows herself to be a "daughter of Sarah" - and how both of them are exemplified in Proverbs 31, and the Eshet Chayil.

Eshet Chayil from Proverbs 31 is what I sing over my wife each Erev Shabbat as our way of beginning the Shabbat. I sing to her before she lights the candles that for us divide the days of work, from the day of rest. As all women of faith should model themselves after our mother Sarah, my wife is a daughter of Sarah. She is an Eshet Chayil. Here is the end of that passage:

Oz v'hadar l'vushah vatischak l'yom acharon
Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come.

Piha patchah v'chochma v'torat chesed al l'shonah
She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the Torah of kindness.

Tzofi'ah halichot betah v'lechem atzlut lo tochel.
She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Kamu vaneha vay'ash'ruha ba'lah vay'hal'lah.

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.

Rabot banot asu chayil v'at alit al kulanah.
Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.

Sheker hachen v'hevel hayofi ishah yir'at HaShem hi tit'halal

Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears HaShem, she shall be praised.

T’nu lah mip'ri yadeiha vihal'luha vash'arim ma'aseha.

Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.

Proverbs 31:25-31

Haftarat Chayei Sara - 'The Life of Sarah' (1Kings 1:1-31)

The focus of parashat Chayei Sarah is on two righteous women, Sarah and Rivka. These two matriarchs are remarkable examples for godly women everywhere to emulate. Sarah is the embodiment of submission and grace. Peter says of her:

For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in G-d also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
1Peter 3:5-6

This week's haftarah portion is linked to parashat Chayei Sarah by reason of the phrases:

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; Genesis 24:1a
Now King David was old, advanced in years; 1Kings 1:1a

This haftarah is about succession. Like Abraham's concern for a successor through his son Isaac, so too we have concern for the successor to David.

David had promised that his son Solomon would succeed him. Solomon was the son of Batsheva [Bathsheba, daughter of an oath]. Batsheva does not often come to mind when people think of righteous women. Maybe it was because of David's sin with Batsheva. Maybe it was because too many have been taught to blame a woman "bathing" upon a roof-top instead of King David. Rest assured, Batsheva is indeed a righteous woman.

Although only mentioned a few times in Scripture, what we learn of her is in fact that she was righteous, submissive, and bold. She was a woman of faith.

Batsheva was the wife of Uriah. Uriah was one of David's generals. He was also one of David's men of valor from the days when he fled from Saul. They were not mere acquaintances. They were like brothers. Likewise, Batsheva's father Eliam who also one of David's men of valor. No doubt as a young girl she grew up with the stories of those days of exploits - with the accounts of the great David.

That she is a righteous women is clear from the first time she is mentioned in Scripture:

Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king's house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, "Is this not Batsheva, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.
2Samuel 11:3

Don't miss Batsheva's righteous deed when you read of David's sin with her. When David spotted her, she was not "bathing," she was immersing following her time of niddah [separation]. Although her husband was away at war, she was still faithful in going through the steps of purity following her menses. She was following the instructions from Leviticus 15 even though her actions were not known to anyone else. Her adornment was not merely outward, she was obedient to Torah, and thus adorned within.

Where we see Batsheva truly shine is in our haftarah reading. David is elderly and his son Adoniyah has declared himself king, not even waiting for his father to die first. The prophet Nathan went to Batsheva and motivates her, like Esther, to approach the king.

So Nathan spoke to Batsheva the mother of Solomon, saying, "Have you not heard that Adoniyah the son of Chagit has become king, and David our lord does not know it? Come, please, let me now give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go immediately to King David and say to him, 'Did you not, my lord, O king, swear to your maidservant, saying, "Assuredly your son Solomon shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne"? Why then has Adoniyah become king? Then, while you are still talking there with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words."
1Kings 1:11-14

Batsheva is not as interested in self-preservation as she is in the fulfillment of an oath. She is the "daughter of an oath" [bat sheva = daughter of an oath]. In this case she is interested in David fulfilling his oath regarding Solomon. Here is how she did it. Think about Esther as you read it:

So Batsheva went into the chamber to the king. (Now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was serving the king.) And Batsheva bowed and did homage to the king. Then the king said, "What is your wish?" Then she said to him, "My lord, you swore by HaShem your G-d to your maidservant, saying, 'Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.' So now, look! Adoniyah has become king; and now, my lord the king, you do not know about it. He has sacrificed oxen and fattened cattle and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Aviatar the priest, and Joav the commander of the army; but Solomon your servant he has not invited. And as for you, my lord, O king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, that you should tell them who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it will happen, when my lord the king rests with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted as offenders."
1Kings 1:15-21

David heard the complaint and responded.

Then King David answered and said, "Call Batsheva to me." So she came into the king's presence and stood before the king. And the king took an oath and said, "As HaShem lives, who has redeemed my life from every distress, just as I swore to you by HaShem G-d of Israel, saying, 'Assuredly Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,' so I certainly will do this day." Then Batsheva bowed with her face to the earth, and paid homage to the king, and said, "Let my lord King David live forever!"
1Kings 1:28-31

The oath was remembered and the promises of 2Samuel 7 were realized. Solomon was established on the throne. He would go on to build the Holy Temple and further establish the royal house of David. From Batsheva, we eventually saw our Messiah come. Consider all these righteous women in our Master's line: Rivka, Rachel, Tamar, Rachav [Rahab], Rut [Ruth], Batsheva, and Miriam His mother.  All "daughters" of Sarah our mother. Interestingly, Batsheva, an ancestor of Yeshua proclaims the Messianic declaration: "King David live forever!" Indeed, Messiah will reign upon His father David's throne. "David" lives even now.

How appropriate that righteous Batsheva's son Solomon should write down Proverbs 31:10-31 for us. Proverbs 31:10-31 is called "Eshet Chayil" [Women of Virtue]. It a traditional Scripture passage and song associated with the Shabbat on Friday evening.

Prayer Focus for Chayei Sara -  'Y'hi Ratzon' [May It Be Your Will]

After lighting the two Sabbath candles, traditionally the women of the house prays this prayer:

May it be Your will HaShem, my G-d, and G-d of my forefathers,
that You show favor to me, my husband, my sons,
and my daughters,  and all my relatives;
and that You grant us and all Israel a good and long life;
that You remembers us with beneficent memory and blessing;
that You consider us with a consideration
of salvation and compassion;
that You bless us with great blessings;
that You make our households complete;
that You cause Your Presence to dwell among us.

Privilege me to raise children and grandchildren
who are wise and understanding,
who love HaShem and fear G-d, people of truth, holy offspring,
attached to HaShem, who illuminate the world with Torah
and good deeds and with every labor in the service of the Creator.
Please, hear my supplication at this time,
in the merit of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah, our mothers,
and cause our light to illuminate
that it not be extinguished forever,
and let Your countenance shine so that we are saved. Amein.


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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
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