2 Kings 4:1-37 (A); 4:1-23 (S)
“Testing Abraham’s Faith”
by Mark Huey
By the time our Torah examination turns to V’yeira, readers find that the life of Abraham, and his personal trials, are mounting. Having left the comfortable confines of Ur and ventured forth into the land of Canaan, and having gone into Egypt and returned—Abraham’s nomadic journey has finally seen him settled in the region around Hebron. Abraham’s close association with his nephew has been altered, as Lot chose to move his expanding herds to the plentifully watered valleys near the wicked city of Sodom. It is from this vantage point of overlooking the distant city that Abraham had an incredible encounter with the Living God, which affirmed his close and special relationship with Him. Perhaps the most challenging test of Abraham’s faithfulness to follow the Lord is seen in V’yeira, when he is asked to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise. It is noted very early in our Torah portion that Abraham had a very exclusive call on his life, and that God had chosen Him. Would Abraham be able to live up to such a calling?
“The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him’” (Genesis 18:17-19).
God chose Abraham, for a unique role to play for all who would follow after, because He foreknew that Abraham would set a standard for his descendants to emulate. As more details about Abraham’s direct contact with the Holy One are recorded, the incredible intimacy of his relationship with Him unfolds. What might we learn, as contemporary Messianic Believers, from Abraham’s life example? How much do we need our faith in God to be intensified from what we encounter?
As V’yeira begins, Abraham experienced a supernatural encounter with the Lord. While Abraham wandered around his tent encampment, all of a sudden out of nowhere, three men appeared, who obviously had something special about them. We are not told whether there was some kind of holy aura seen or not, but without hesitation, hospitable Abraham humbly greeted them and honored them with a specially prepared meal to enjoy:
“Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, ‘My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by’” (Genesis 18:1-3).
In the course of the ensuing conversation as the meal was eaten (Genesis 18:4-8), the three inquired of Sarah’s whereabouts. It became evident to Abraham in the course of this encounter, that he had truly been communicating with God Himself. Earlier, when he had discussed the fate of Ishmael, Abraham had received a promise that Sarah would bear a child whose name would be Isaac (Genesis 17:19-22). When this promise was repeated, Abraham had to recognize that he was speaking to the Lord:
“Then they said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ He said, ‘I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?” Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah denied it however, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. And He said, ‘No, but you did laugh’” (Genesis 18:9-15).
Abraham knew that he was speaking to the Almighty God, who had given him the promises of descendants and land. As He prepared to depart, the Lord rhetorically asked whether or not He should inform Abraham about what was about to happen to the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah:
“Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?’” (Genesis 18:16-18).
After recognizing the fidelity of Abraham to Him and His ways of righteousness (Genesis 18:19), the Lord informed Abraham about the judgment that He was to unleash upon Sodom and Gomorrah:
“And the LORD said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’ Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD” (Genesis 18:20-22).
Having been informed that “their sin is exceedingly heavy” (LITV), Abraham was left standing in the presence of the Lord—surely with enough faith—to begin some kind of “negotiations” on behalf of any righteous people who might have resided in Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33). It was at this juncture that a glimpse into the expanding faith of Abraham is revealed to Torah readers. For, what ensued was that Abraham had enough faith in God and His mercy, to implore Him to suspend the intended judgment. Abraham most likely had his nephew Lot in mind, as we are informed later by the Apostle Peter that Lot’s righteousness warranted sufficient mercy for at least himself (2 Peter 2:6-8).
At this point, let us pause for a moment and consider the faith of Abraham, and most specially his boldness to get into a negotiating session with the Lord God. Can you imagine the audacity—or at least the great courage—to actually suggest to the Creator God that He would judge the righteous along with the wicked? Abraham did say, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23)?
The thought of questioning the Lord seems somewhat daring to most of us, but have you ever gotten into a debate, or even just a “vigorous discussion,” with the Lord, in prayer, on a major issue? If you truly have faith in the Lord and look to Him for salvation, direction, and provision—is it not part of your thought process to spend time asking Him for not only your personal needs, but for the needs of others as well? If you are not seeking Him in your thoughts and prayer life, who or what are you communing with as your thoughts rotate throughout the day? Believers have been instructed by the Apostle Paul to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and also to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Being able to address the Lord with a degree of frankness, is something that those who know Yeshua are to surely be able to do. The author of Hebrews further elaborates,
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Faithful Abraham helped establish an important precedent, which true seekers of God, confident in their relationship with Him, should be able to follow. If we have established some level of intimate trust with the Lord in our relationship with Him, then we should indeed “approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence” (Phillips New Testament) when we need an answer for something important!
Lot and the Fall of Sodom
After Abraham pleaded with God for mercy to be shown on any righteous people who were living in Sodom, two angels arrived at the gates of Sodom to find Lot among the leaders of the city. Their supernatural nature was likely withheld from many, but Lot must have inherently sensed that there was something special about these two strangers. He immediately offered his home as a place for them to spend the night (Genesis 19:1-3).
When word got around in Sodom that Lot had two visitors, the men in town made their way to Lot’s house and demanded that they be given over to them, because “We want to have sex with them!” (Genesis 19:5, CJB). Lot pleaded with the mob to not act wickedly (Genesis 19:6-7), and even offered his two virgin daughters to them (Genesis 19:8), which does seem a bit out of place for someone regarded as “righteous” in 2 Peter 2:6-8. We are not given a great deal of information about Lot’s personal character, even though it was surely a contrast to those inhabitants of a city about to suffer catastrophe. Lot had some degree of “faith” in the One True God, even though it was not as strong or developed as that of Abraham.
The mob outside of Lot’s home prepared to break down the door (Genesis 19:8), totally given over to its fleshly debauchery. The angels manifested themselves at this point, blinding the sight of those in Sodom, and providing the means for Lot’s family to escape from the impending judgment of the city and its environs (Genesis 19:9-14). As Lot’s company departed Sodom, the angels specifically instructed them to not look back upon Sodom, or they would suffer the consequences. The scene is marked by Lot’s wife looking back and turning into a pillar of salt:
“When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’ But Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’ He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar. The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:15-26).
Lot’s wife disobeyed the angels’ instruction and lacked belief—most probably having thought back on all of what was left behind at the home in Sodom—and she did not avoid looking back. For modern-day Believers in Yeshua, many of whom think that the End of the Age and His return are steadily approaching, He appealed to the example of Lot’s wife turning back on how many will surely turn away from the Lord when His judgment manifests:
“It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:28-33).
Yeshua is returning for a faithful group of people who have chosen to place their trust in Him, rather than in trying to preserve themselves and their possessions through their own mortal strength. The choice every seeker of God has to make is clear: one is either going to have faith (even if somewhat flawed like Lot), or have a lack of faith resulting in calamity and eternal punishment. These illustrations definitely give each of us something to seriously consider, while we meditate upon V’yeira.
Abraham and Abimelech The Birth of Isaac
At this point in V’yeira, an episode similar to the famine-driven sojourn of Abraham to Egypt is described. Abraham and his entourage relocated to the Negev desert area near Gerar, and while there they encountered another strong leader, who like the Pharaoh of Egypt, took Sarah into his harem:
“Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, ‘Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.’ Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, ‘Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? Did he not himself say to me, “She is my sister”? And she herself said, “He is my brother.” In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.’ Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours’” (Genesis 20:1-7).
Once again, Abraham employed the same tactic, to avoid problems, as he introduced Sarah as his sister (cf. Genesis 12). In this case, we see how God providentially interceded for the migrant couple, and revealed to Abimelech in a dream that Abraham and Sarah were married. Interestingly, it is shown how Abraham and Sarah were in agreement in their dealings to avoid any problems by saying that they were brother and sister. And, it was not totally untrue, either, for Abraham and Sarah were half-brother and half-sister to one another (Genesis 20:11-13). Even with some possible concern among readers today, that the presentation of themselves as brother and sister was deceptive, apparently Abraham and Sarah were allowed to use this strategy to remain alive. We see how in their encounters with Abimelech, they received additional wealth and freedom to settle in the area—and not only this, but we see how Abimelech himself was blessed by the Lord:
“Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. Abimelech said, ‘Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.’ To Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.’ Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife” Genesis 20:14-18).
After enduring this uncomfortable situation, the Lord’s promise that Sarah would conceive a child miraculously happened, and Abraham obediently named him Isaac or Yitzchak as instructed by the Lord earlier (Genesis 21:1-7; cf. 17:19). However, upon weaning Isaac, Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar’s son Ishmael erupted into a demand that Abraham cast him away. Sarah’s insistence greatly distressed Abraham, so the Lord intervened and comforted Abraham with the assurance that Ishmael would also become a nation, but that it would be through Isaac by whom his descendants would be named:
“The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.’ The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba” (Genesis 21:8-14).
The relationship between God and faithful Abraham was certainly maturing, as the experiences that He had with Him, as he followed His guidance, steadily built upon themselves. Nevertheless, at times it does appear that the Almighty had to speak directly to Abraham, to confirm the actions that he was to take. In this case, despite Abraham’s affection for Ishmael, he quickly followed God’s affirmation of Sarah’s demand. Hagar and Ishmael were sent toward the wilderness near Beersheba.
Apparently, Abraham and his entourage continued to graze their herds in the same area, as the text reveals that Abimelech was still in awe of Abraham’s blessings from the God he worshipped. In order to maintain peace among the various herders seeking water for their livestock, a covenant was made between Abraham and Abimelech by the wells of Beersheba:
“Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, ‘God is with you in all that you do; now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned.’ Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’ But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. And Abimelech said, ‘I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today.’ Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. Then Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What do these seven ewe lambs mean, which you have set by themselves?’ He said, ‘You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my hand so that it may be a witness to me, that I dug this well.’ Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for many days” (Genesis 21:22-34).
Our Torah portion affirms how Abraham was absolutely aware that it was ADONAI El Olamwho had blessed Him. Abraham’s experiences of favor from his potentially hostile neighbors, and the significant grace and mercy displayed by the Holy One, were preparing him for the most significant test that he was given: the command of the Lord to offer up Isaac, the son of promise.
Abraham Offers Up Isaac
Turning to the final and perhaps most noteworthy test of Abraham that is often highlighted in this parashah, one finds the gut-wrenching command of the Lord for Abraham to offer up his beloved son Isaac as a sacrificial burnt offering. Abraham was obviously prepared for this ultimate test by all of the previous experiences and dealings he had, because without hesitation, Abraham obeyed the command, which to human or mortal reasoning does not make that much sense:
“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’ [hineini]. He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance” (Genesis 22:1-4).
By this time in Abraham’s walk of faith with the Almighty, he certainly knew His voice—and so when he called, he immediately responded with a resounding “Here I am.” This direct reaction is reminiscent of a future response declared by the Prophet Isaiah, when he heard the voice of the Lord asking for someone to declare righteous judgment to wayward Israel:
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me! [hineini shelacheini]’” (Isaiah 6:8).
Unlike the call of Isaiah to prophesy to the disobedient, Abraham was commanded to take his son of promise—Isaac, the one to whom all of the blessings spoken to Abraham would be placed—and sacrificially offer him as a burnt offering (olah) on a mountaintop that the Lord would designate.
Imagine what a perplexing request this must have been to Abraham. Had he heard God correctly? After all, if the promised son was to be killed, how would His blessings be passed down to future generations through his descendants? To the human mind, this makes absolutely no rational sense at all. Yet, by this time in Abraham’s walk with God, he was so dependent upon Him that he did not even question the command. Abraham simply set out early the next morning in obedience.
To better understand what Abraham must have been thinking, we often find ourselves turning to the Epistle to the Hebrews, to discover that Abraham had so much faith in God, that he believed that He could raise people from the dead in order to fulfill His promises:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED’ [Genesis 21:12]. He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Abraham was totally confident that his God would fulfill His promises that He had made regarding Isaac, because he trusted in Him. If God had promised that Isaac would be the child of promise, and upon killing him Isaac remained stone dead, then God would be a total, faithless liar. But this is not what occurred.
Needless to say as this took place, the young lad Isaac was perplexed. After traveling for three days with Abraham and the servants, they arrived at the mountain together with fire and wood, but without a lamb for the offering (Genesis 2:5-6). When inquiring of his father, Abraham’s response to Isaac was that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice. Upon reaching the designated place, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood, and then bound his compliant son Isaac by placing him on the altar. Abraham was absolutely willing to slay his son, and at that moment the angel of the Lord called out his name in a voice which Abraham clearly knew. The interruption must have startled Abraham, because the stretching of his knife-wielding hand indicated that he was fully willing to sacrifice his son at the instruction of God:
“Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ And he said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’” Genesis 22:7-12).
The Lord recognized that Abraham was absolutely willing to offer his son Isaac to the Lord as a burnt offering. Surely in his mind, Abraham had already sacrificed Isaac, and only had to carry through with the physical action. As this event took place, and Abraham was told to not harm his boy, he saw a ram caught in the thicket. Abraham immediately realized that the Lord had providentially allowed a ram to get entangled near the altar, so that the provision of a substitute for Isaac was readily available. Without hesitation, Abraham aborted the sacrifice of Isaac, gathered the ram, and offered it up as the desired sacrifice:
“Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.’ Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice’” (Genesis 22:13-18).
Abraham was doubtlessly relieved that he did not have to slay his son Isaac, but he knew instead that it was the Lord who ultimately provided the substitute. After giving Him total recognition for providing the sacrificial ram, Abraham once again heard a reiteration of the covenantal blessings that God had made with him: “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth [b’zar’akha kol goyei ha’eretz] be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (ESV). Genesis 22:18 is certainly one of the most important verses in the entire Bible, as it carries a theme that resonates into the Apostolic Scriptures, as the Abrahamic promise of blessing has reached its pinnacle via the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) onto the scene of human history, and how all the peoples and nations of Planet Earth are to benefit from His sacrifice (Galatians 3:8, 16).
Historically in Judaism, this test of Abraham is referred to as “the binding” or the aqedah,and it has been revered as one of the greatest tests that the father of our faith had to endure. For the multitude of saints who believe in Yeshua the Messiah, we recognize the binding of Isaac as a main foreshadowing of His sacrifice for us. Yeshua endured the capital punishment, on the tree, which we are all worthy of because of our universal condition as fallen human sinners (Deuteronomy 21:23, Galatians 3:13). He absorbed this capital punishment onto Himself, so that in the post-resurrection era, those who acknowledge Him can receive forgiveness for their sins (cf. Colossians 2:14).
By our faith, trust, and steadfast belief in Yeshua (Jesus), the “Seed” of Abraham who died, we are saved from the commensurate penalties of sin (cf. Galatians 3:16). As we each consider the diversity of events witnessed in V’yeira this week, may we believe and place our ever-present hope in all of the promises made to the Patriarch Abraham. In so doing, may we not only live like Abraham with extreme faith in our Eternal Creator, but know the True Seed of Abraham ever more intimately, our Savior the Messiah Yeshua! (Click to Source)
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 “[A]nd if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds)” (2 Peter 2:6-8).
 Cf. Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Treasury, 2004), 1105.
 Consult the relevant sections of the article “Answering the ‘Frequently Avoided Questions’ About the Messiahship of Yeshua” by J.K. McKee.
 Consult the FAQ entries on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Colossians 2:14” and “Capital Punishment.”