Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayechi December 29, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

Haftorah reading: I Kings 2: 1-12

Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed. Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’ “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.”  Genesis 48:1-5

Jacob_Blessing_Ephraim_and_Manasseh_by_Benjamin_West

Reuben and Simeon were Jacob’s first-born sons. They were the ones who by right and by custom should have received a double portion of Jacob’s estate, twice as much as any of their brothers. But now, Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, as his own first-born sons. They will replace Reuben and Simeon as first-born sons and receive their inheritance. This elevates Joseph’s position, as the 11th born son, to an even greater position than the 1st born son. That’s because he, through his first two children, now receives four portions of his father’s estate. Usually, the first-born son receives two portions of the estate and the rest of the children only one, but Joseph gets four portions! Jacob elevates Joseph through this adoption, then he continues.

Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). Gen. 48:6-7

The elevation of Joseph to the status of 1st born, reminds Jacob of Joseph’s mother, Rachel. He still feels the pain of her loss even after all those years; but in the midst of the pain and in the midst of his own terminal condition, he looks to the future with confidence. He adopts two boys as his own and promises them a double portion of his estate even though he has nothing to give them at this time. Jacob is living in a strange land. In fact, he has no land of his own except a small burial plot hundreds of miles away.

Yet he speaks with all the confidence of a promising future for his family.

Why? Because Jacob has found his hope in the promises of God, and that’s where we find our hope as well. If we feel as though we have nothing, if we are dealing with physical or emotional pain, if this year of 2017 has been a struggle, nevertheless, as we face the onset of a new year, we can utterly depend on the promises of God, just as Jacob did. We can look forward to the coming year with an absolute assurance that God will keep His Word. We can face the future with joy in anticipation of all that God has for us in the days ahead.

Jacob spoke to Joseph not out of what he presently possessed but out of the promise of God to him, and to his father, Isaac and to his grandfather, Abraham.

A story is told about a man at the age of 75 who planted a number of very small fruit trees.  His family wondered why he did so as he would likely never live to see the trees mature.  Some years later, after the old man had passed away, his son realized that when he visits the family farm, he has an option: he can either go to the nearby cemetery to mourn over his father’s grave or he can go pick fruit from the trees his father planted and think about the legacy of hope and faith his father left to the family.’

The Bible commands us to teach our children and our grandchildren about our God and the reliability of His promises.

In Tune with Torah this week = we need to ask ourselves: are we ‘planting fruit trees’ or are we complaining about our circumstances? Are we using the days allotted to us to build a spiritual legacy for those to follow or are we wasting time moaning about the present?

Jacob teaches us that the promises of God are irrevocable, unchangeable and more sure than the sun rising in the morning.  Our confidence and faith as we enter 2018 is founded on HIS integrity, not on world conditions.  Therefore we can pray with David, the sweet psalmist of Israel: ‘Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.’ Psalm 51:12

May this new year bring each of us closer to the LORD of Glory than ever before.

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayigash December 22, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

Haftorah reading:  Ezekiel 37:15-28

Have you wondered why the account of Joseph’s plight in Egypt is interrupted by a chapter about his half-brother Judah (Gen. 38)?  Genesis 37-50 is described as ‘the generations of Jacob’. The whole of this section is more about the LORD’s dealings with all of Jacob’s sons, rather than just one of them – and through them, or even despite them, the outworking of the purposes of the LORD for all people.

No doubt the placing of the chapter about Judah’s exploits at this point in the timeline has the advantage of chronological integrity. It also serves to illustrate how the cruel and scheming half-brother of Joseph (Genesis 37:26-28) became an honorable son to Jacob: humble, sensitive and self-sacrificing; caring for his father, and protective of Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin in Genesis 44:18-34. This is the testimony of Judah.

JudahJoseph

Judah’s oldest son was ‘wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him’ (Genesis 38:7).  According to Torah, a man was obliged to marry his brother’s widow and raise seed by her so the second son made as if to fulfill this obligation, but reneged on his duty at the last moment –  ‘which thing displeased the LORD,so He slew him also’ (Genesis 38:8-10).

Judah then selfishly and insensitively deceived his daughter-in-law, sending her back to her father’s house, but never recalling her to marry his third son. So Tamar deceived Judah and posed as a cult prostitute, easily seducing him, by now a widower himself, into fornication. Judah sent his payment to the ‘prostitute’ but his Canaanite friend, ironically enough, could not find the woman Judah had slept with. In order to avoid public humiliation, Judah then thought to cover up his sin by ignoring it.

His self-righteousness and hypocrisy were displayed when Judah heard that his daughter-in-law was pregnant. He pronounced the death sentence against her. Yet when Tamar produced Judah’s pledges which he had left with her when they were intimate, Judah was brought to humble confession of his sins: ‘she has been more righteous than I’.

This encounter changed Judah.   In this week’s reading we see a repentant Judah who shows the fruits of his repentance in care and compassion towards his elderly father, his brethren and all their children, and his youngest brother Benjamin. His repentant heart finds its greatest expression in the wonderful and moving speech in which he offers himself as a slave to Joseph in order to spare his youngest brother.

Here in Genesis 44 he is sensitive care and passionate compassion  Here is humility and self-sacrifice. Here is a taking of responsibility for the well-being of others .

In Tune with Torah this week – Humility, self-sacrifice and responsibility are character traits to be emulated and taught to our children and grandchildren.  However, we cannot give what we do not exemplify.  How are we demonstrating a repentant heart? Are we willing to sacrifice for others? Do we accept responsibility when we fail?  Do we walk in humility?

Shabbat Shalom

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To all of my subscribers who will be celebrating with family and friends at this time, may the Holy One of Israel bless you with good health, joy, peace and an abundance of His love at this special time and reveal Himself to you in deeper and deeper ways in the year to come.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeishev December 8, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

Haftorah reading:  Amos 2:6 – 3:8

There is something extremely curious about the birth of a giraffe.  The mother gives birth standing up.  When the baby giraffe emerges from her womb, it literally drops to the ground, landing hard on its back.  The newborn will lay there almost motionless until after a few seconds, onlookers are shocked to see the mother give her baby a swift kick, a kick strong enough to knock the baby head over hooves.
Why does she do that? Because she wants the newborn to get up on its feet. Somehow, the baby giraffe understands what his mother wants and struggles to get up, but after a feeble try, gives us and drops back to the ground.
Boom! A second hearty kick from the mother rolls the young one over several more times. The newborn tries again to prop itself up again on its spindly legs, and finally manages to stand upright.
giraffe
But before the viewers can breathe a sigh of relief, the mother kicks the baby off its feet again!  The zoo keeper explains to the onlookers: ‘The mother wants her baby to remember how it got up.  In the wilderness where they live, if the baby doesn’t quickly get up and follow the herd, it will be picked off by predators.’ The swift kick is necessary for the baby’s life!
Perhaps we all have something in common with a baby giraffe.  Have you ever been kicked off your feet?  Have you been kicked while you were down? And have you been kicked by the very people from whom you expected kindness and understanding?
All of us have times in life when we get side-swiped by circumstances or side-lined by harsh judgments from those we most expect to stand by us. How we respond in those moments reveals the truth about what we really believe about God, about His plan for our life and about the meaning of our faith.
In this week’s Torah reading we drop in on Joseph at 17-years of age. As we open to Gen. 37:3, Joseph’s life is good and his future looks bright! But he is about to be kicked off his feet. He is about to be kicked hard while he is down. And the ones doing the kicking are his own family.
Yet somehow, Joseph managed to avoid the very thing that had consumed his brothers—the emotional stronghold of bitter jealousy. Somehow, Joseph faced trauma and the high-jacking of his dreams without becoming bitter; for his brothers, it’s a very different story. There’s a deep message for us all right here.
Bitterness is seething anger that hardens into a rebellious, vengeful conclusion. An unforgiving spirit lets anger take hold: anger over circumstances, anger at your spouse, at your children, your employer, whoever. If we embrace it, coddle it, dwell on it, it quietly takes over our entire life.  We feel entitled to hate the person, justified to desire their ruin, and energized to seek their downfall. That is the story of Joseph’s brothers. How did it happen?
Joseph2
Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons and when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than them, they hated him and could not speak a civil word to him.  Why was Joseph Jacob’s favorite? There are several reasons. Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn, Jacob most beloved wife. Rachel had died about a year before, so it is natural that Jacob would transfer his affection to their son. And Joseph was born late in Jacob’s life, giving the old man a special joy. Rightly or wrongly, Jacob cherished Joseph in ways he hadn’t shown to his other sons, and Joseph was hated for it. The brothers were jealous of his relationship with their father.
“And he made him a robe of many colors.” Jacob exercised his fatherly privilege and chose to appoint his firstborn son by Rachel as his heir.  He skipped his other nine sons and selected the youngest at that time. The symbol of the birthright was a special tunic. The Hebrew words used to describe this coat or tunic suggest that it was richly ornamented, but the most important detail the Hebrew gives us is that it was long-sleeved and extended to Joseph’s ankles.  Why is that important?  The tunics worn by working men in that day were sleeveless and stopped at the knees. A long-sleeved, tailored garment was worn by a manager, someone who had been put in charge, and was therefore exempt from the work himself. So the coat was a symbol of position. The brothers were jealous of his position. 
Verse 5 tells us: Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. In v. 6-8, Joseph tells his brothers that they were all in the field binding sheaves of grain when suddenly his sheaf rose up and their sheaves gathered around and bowed down. You don’t have to be brilliant to figure out the meaning of that dream, do you?

Verses 9-11: Joseph had a second dream, this time with different symbols, but with the same meaning. His dad heard Joseph’s dream and thought it was a joke, but his brother’s didn’t. Verse eleven reports that his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

Now if your little brother had a crazy dream, you wouldn’t get jealous unless you really believed God was speaking to him.  The very fact that Joseph’s dreams provoked such violent jealousy testifies that the brothers believed the dream! They believed that God was speaking to their younger brother.  So the brothers were jealous of God’s favor on Joseph.

Self-pity, jealousy and anger finally pushed the brothers over a dangerous line. They were mad at their father for his favoritism. They were mad at God for the good things that were coming to their brother and not to them. There was only one way to get back at them both: they would take away the darling object of affection.

The first plan suggested was ‘Let’s kill him.’ Reuben, the oldest, inserts a voice of reason and suggests instead, ‘Let’s throw him into that pit over there.’  In the end, when a caravan of slave traders comes by, they haul Joseph up from the pit and sell him into slavery, wash their hands of the troublemaker and sit down for lunch!  Problem solved…or so they thought.

It appeared to be ‘problem solved’ for some years but you all know how it ends.

Our purpose right now, however, is to focus on the early part of the story.  What does it say to us?

In Tune with Torah this week = We need to ask ourselves some pretty confrontational questions.

Do I have an issue with jealousy?  Do I have any bitterness in my heart towards someone who enjoys a relationship that I wish I had?  Am I jealous of another’s position or promotion?  Do my emotions get riled up when someone gets more favor than I do at work or in my community?

Jealousy kills spiritual growth; it is a poison of the worst kind to our souls.

Our choice is pretty clear: do we go the way of Joseph who guarded his heart against bitterness? Or do we go the way of his brothers whose bitterness poisoned their lives for years?

Shabbat Shalom

Joshua, the Man & the Book #8 December 5, 2017

Joshua 7 comes as a bit of a surprise.

The children of Israel under Joshua’s leadership have just witnessed the tremendous defeat of the city of Jericho and they are still basking in the glow of that great event. But, verse 1 tells us that God was upset with the people. Israel thought that everything was all right. They thought that they were standing on the edge of a great string of victories that would see them conquering the entire land of promise. Yet, what they didn’t know was that there was a problem in the camp. There was one in their midst who was causing a problem for the entire family of God.  Because of that, the nation was about to suffer a painful defeat.

In vs. 2-3 of chapter 7, Israel is a confident people. They looked at Ai and felt like that little town would be no problem for such a great army, but their confidence was misplaced. Israel did not realize it, but they were living through one of the most dangerous times of life. You see, the time just after a great spiritual victory is a dangerous time. Often, like Israel, we will be over confident and believe that we can handle any battle that comes our way.When we have that attitude, we are vulnerable to suffer our greatest defeats.  Why? Because we are trusting in ‘OUR’ achievement, rather than in the grace of God.

When Israel, without consulting the LORD, set out to conquer Ai they suffered a terrible defeat and 36 of their number were killed. Shock waves went through the camp. How could this happen?

Achan

Joshua, as commander, takes responsibility and goes before the LORD in prayer with a broken heart, v. 6. However, he also displays a hint of anger and accusation against the Lord.  Joshua is about to learn that prayer is the correct recourse in a time of trouble, but that prayer will avail nothing until sin has been dealt with, Psalm 66:18! Joshua wonders why Israel was powerless in the battle. He learns that the answer wasn’t to blame God, or to dispute His will. The answer was within their own camp.

When our decisions bring unpleasant consequences, it is not the time to play the ‘blame game’.  It is also not the time to accuse God of anything. We need to look within and see where the problem is.  When there is a lack of power in my life, the problem is not with God, nor is it with others, the problem is always with me!

While Joshua and Israel try to figure out what is going on, God in Heaven already knows and tells Joshua all about it.

The answer is quite simple: there is sin in the camp of Israel.

The LORD makes Joshua to understand that this sin that is hindering His power and is the cause of their defeat. Further, the LORD gives Joshua instructions on how to discover the guilty party. In these words to Joshua, God gives us some insights into sin, insights worthy of our attention.

1. God knows about our sins – vs. 11 (Proverbs 15:3)

2. God hates our sins – vs. 11 (Proverbs 6:6-19)

3. God has a plan for our sins – vs. 14-15  (Psalm 32:5)

4. Sin affects those around us – vs. 11-12

5. Sin must be dealt with; it cannot be ignored. vs. 13

Essentially, God makes clear to Joshua: Either you deal with the sin in the camp or I will. Either way, sin must be confronted.

God knew who was guilty so why didn’t He just tell Joshua who they were looking for? In my opinion, He was giving Achan time to repent and to confess his sins voluntarily. In any case, Achan was identified as the culprit.

In verse 19, Joshua speaks to Achan with love in his heart. He knows that Achan is condemned, but Joshua still cares for this man who brought so much trouble to Israel. In the next verses, Achan finally confesses his sin but grudgingly. Don’t believe for a second that Achan truly repented! He, like some others in the Bible, only confessed his sin after he got caught, when it was impossible to hide it any longer!

God’s way is for His people to throw the covers off their sins and tell God the truth that He already knows. He blesses the person who handles sin the Biblical way. However, the person who tries to hide his sins will never prosper, but will face God in judgment.  Our sins will be exposed in one way or another. You can confess them sincerely and be forgiven, or you will be forced to confess them when you face the LORD in Judgment. Either way, you will confess your sins.  Far better to be a quick repenter like David, than an unwilling repenter like Achan.

The following verses give us the sad conclusion to this tragic tale. Achan and all that he had were taken out and stoned to death by the people of Israel. It didn’t have to end this way! However, these verses demonstrate the horrible end of all sinners who refuse to repent.

Application

 

No human being is perfect or sinless.  But God in His great mercy and loving kindness, before we were ever born, had already made provision for us to return to Him after sinning: REPENTANCE.  And what is repentance? It is the decision – made sincerely – to approach the Holy One of Israel with humility to acknowledge what we have done wrong and to ask for His forgiveness.  It is coming to Him with no pretense, no hypocrisy, no mental excuses or rationalizations regarding what we have done, but to simply acknowledge the truth: I have sinned, I sincerely regret having offended You, My God, You, who have blessed me with so many blessings. I ask for Your mercy and forgiveness.

Knowing from His written Word that He is faithful to forgive us when we repent, we then thank Him for that forgiveness and pray for grace to refrain from repeating that sin again.

If Achan had only taken this course of action, his entire family would have been spared.

A sobering thought…

Weekly Torah Commentary. – Vayishlach December 1, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 32:4 – 36:43

Haftorah reading: Obadiah 1: 1-21

What do you do when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place? I’m talking about those times in life when there seem to be no good options. Your current job is almost unbearable, but there are no other jobs available—and you do need the paycheck. You need knee surgery, but you don’t have health insurance. You may or may not be between a rock and a hard place right now, but at some point in your life, you will get in on the experience.

What do you do when nothing seems to work and you don’t know what to do?

That’s where Jacob was in our Torah reading this week.

For the last 20 years he has been working for his uncle, Laban, in Mesopotamia. It has been a cat and mouse relationship: Laban constantly cheating Jacob; but Jacob coming out with increase anyway.  He had made a deal with Laban to work for Rachel’s hand in marriage. He worked the 7 years, and instead of giving him Rachel, Laban gave him his other daughter, Leah. So Jacob worked for another 7 years for Rachel. I cannot imagine the emotional pain and rejection Leah went through, but that’s for another time. After those 14 years, Jacob worked for Laban another 6 years for flocks and other livestock. During that time both men are manipulating and maneuvering. All that was stressful, but bearable.

Then Jacob overheard Laban’s sons saying how much they hated Jacob and he realizes Laban has also turned completely against him. The situation is no longer tolerable or even safe. The relationships have turned completely sour. Jacob has to leave and God gives him the go ahead to do so (Genesis 31:3).

Jacob cannot risk even telling Laban that he’s leaving so he sneaks out with his family and possessions. When Laban finds out that Jacob has gone, he is furious and pursues him. There is no telling what Laban would have done to Jacob, except that God intervened. In a dream God told Laban to not to harm Jacob. Still the bridges have been burned. Jacob cannot go back.

So Jacob proceeds to his homeland in Canaan. But there is a problem with that too. The reason Jacob had spent those 20 years with Laban is that he had to flee from Canaan because of his brother’s fury against him.

So here is Jacob’s situation. Behind him is Laban—the proverbial rock. He can’t go back there. In front of him is Esau, the proverbial hard place. He is terrified of what Esau will do—so much so that encountering a host of angels at the border of Canaan does not alleviate his fears. Consistent with his nature, Jacob develops a plan to appease Esau. He sends messengers ahead to ask favor and friendship of Esau. Maybe over time Esau’s anger has cooled. Maybe Esau will let him return unharmed. But the messengers come back with an alarming message. Esau is coming to meet you and he has 400 warriors with him (Genesis 32:6). Jacob realizes: “This does not sound good. This sounds like a disaster about to happen. And I don’t know what I can do about it. I can’t go back to Laban—that door is shut. I don’t have men to fight Esau’s warriors—all I have is a few servants, women and children. If I flee to the left or right, they will easily overtake us.”

What do you do when Esau is coming at you with 400 warriors, you have burned the bridges behind you, and there’s no place to go?

Jacobwrestles

Jacob does two things.

First, he PLANS. He divides his family and flocks up with the possibility that some might escape Esau’s attack. And he sends lavish gifts ahead to Esau with the outside chance he might be able to appease him—but Jacob’s schemes will not change Esau’s heart—and down deep Jacob knows that.

Secondly, Jacob PRAYS with intensity and fervor.    Five things happen as a result.

(1) God engages Jacob. We think of Jacob wrestling with the Angel; but verse 24 tells us that God was the initiator. God Himself is wrestling with Jacob. What is the struggle? Jacob is contending for blessing. God is contending for change in Jacob so that Jacob can receive the blessing He has already planned to give him.

When we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, God is not trying to withhold blessing from us. He has situated us in a pressure cooker that will prepare our hearts to receive the blessing we need. We try to fix the circumstances. God is wanting to fix us.

God is dealing with Jacob’s self-sufficiency. God is wearing Jacob down and teaching him the absolute necessity of God-reliance. How does Jacob ultimately prevail here? By coming to the end of himself and discovering that God is all he needs.

Have you set your heart upon the things of God as the number one priority in life? If so, you have made a giant step in the right direction. There may still be a lot to learn; there may be some hard places along the way. But at least you’re headed in the right direction.

(2) The Angel touched Jacob’s hip-socket and threw it out of joint, signifying the breaking of Jacob’s self-reliance. From that day forward, Jacob walked with a limp. In the natural, he leaves the encounter weaker than before. If you’re going to war with Esau, you don’t want to be hobbling around out there with a limp—not naturally speaking anyway. If you go on with God, you may lose some things that you were relying on quite heavily. It has cost me some things to get where I am today. But I have gained some things far more valuable.

(3) God presses Jacob for a confession. “Jacob,” verse 27, “what is your name?” The name Jacob means “schemer, trickster.” “For you to advance in my plan, you need to acknowledge the problem. The problem is not Laban; the problem is not Esau—the problem is something in you that needs to change—and I’ve wrestled with you to bring about that change. The manipulating, scheming Jacob dies right here, right now. You shall no longer live as “Jacob.” This is a watershed moment in your life. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel”. Israel means “Prince of God” or “God-governed.”

So, what has happened here?

(4) In this struggle, God has brought Jacob up from one level to a higher level. The end result of this terrible struggle in prayer is that Jacob has become a better man. This is not about Jacob wrestling a blessing away from a reluctant God. God had always intended the blessing for Jacob. This is about God taking Jacob through a process of humble and serious prayer.

Effectual, fervent prayer happens in the struggles of real life. Desperation is the fuel behind the kind of praying Jacob did this night. God Himself led Jacob to a tight spot so that Jacob could wrestle through his issues and prevail.

This night was one of three or four watershed moments in Jacob’s life. He walked away with a limp but with far less cockiness.

(5) God answered Jacob’s request. Esau did not attack Jacob; he received him with open arms. By God’s grace Jacob prevailed in prayer, and Genesis 32:29 ends with the statement, “And he (God) blessed him there.” God changed Jacob and God changed Esau.

In Tune with Torah this week = What do you do when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place? You pray, humbly, seriously and with a heart ready to repent. God brings us into those tight places so we will pray, so that He can prepare us for spiritual promotion and through it, increase His blessing on your life.

Shabbat Shalom