Weekly Torah Commentary. – Beshalach January 26, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 13:17 – 17:16

Haftorah reading: Judges 4:4 – 5:31

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.  Exodus 13:17-22
pillaroffire
The Exodus is a love story.   How can it not be? The story’s central theme is about a community of people, the Hebrews, held in bondage in Egypt by Pharaoh; but, a people dearly loved by God.  Therefore, He raises up Moses to lead them through a long and difficult journey to the land which God promised them.
The Exodus story leads us through a rhythmn of acts of disobedience and subsequent repentance and through it all, God, always ready to provide restoration to a
repentant people, demonstrates His abundant mercy and faithfulness over and over again. How can it not be a love story?
Is this not the same way He reveals Himself to us? God remains faithful in spite of our complaining and worrying about the inability to make things happen when we want to them to occur. This love story shows how God provides even when we don’t think there are provisions being made.
Having crossed the Red Sea, God does not allow the Israelites to enter into the Promise Land via the direct route through Philistine country; because had they done so the
Israelites would have had to pass Shur, the Egyptian wall that protected the Northeast highwaysout of Egypt. This wall was heavily guarded and could be passed only with great difficulty. If theIsraelites would have successfully crossed the border, further opposition could be anticipated from the Philistines. Instead God took them through a round about route that would take longer but had its unique purpose and reward.
We are told that the people marched like a strong army. Not haphazardly, but in formation that ensured that even though the people were taking the long way around it was done so in an orderly fashion. Why? God was allowing them to grow through the
discipline of the wilderness, so that when they were strong enough physically and mentally they would be able to come into open conflict with any formidable foes.
Did the Israelites know they were being directed the long way to reach entrance into the
“Promise Land?” They probably did. They wondered “Why so many delays?” And, we today, can empathize and understand their plight in wanting to get to the “Land of Milk and Honey” as quickly as possible; for the Israelites had suffered long enough under the Pharaoh in Egypt. We can fully understand since we know how it feels to need and
want important blessings…those blessings from God that are viewed as life altering, lifesaving, sanity-saving. Plus, it doesn’t help us in the 21stcentury that we live in an “instant society.” We want our needs to be met as soon as we identify them as being “very necessary.”
As the story unfolds describing the Israelites’ pilgrimage, God does not hold the
Chosen People’s weaknesses and complaining spirits against them. God knows they may
become discouraged, but even if the route takes longer, it’s safer for the people’s well-being. This was God’s Provision; a provision of protection. And although the Israelites were going to Canaan the long way around, Moses maintained his promise to Joseph to “carry Joseph’s bones” into the new land, an important reminder that even when blessings are delayed, it is incumbent upon us to maintain our integrity, to keep our word, to fulfill promises that we have made. It is a matter of honor to be faithful, even as God is faithful to us.
How amazing that God displays Himself as a “Pillar of Cloud” during the day and a “Pillar of Fire” during the night to the Israelites. This visible appearance of God’s presence allows the Israelites to literally behold Him. Can you imagine what it  must have been like?  And don’t we at times wish that such a visible presence would accompany us in our journey through life?  Have you ever cried out in a season of difficulty, ‘Lord, where are You?  If only I could see you?’
How do we respond when we feel as though it’s taking forever to receive an answer from God? How can we acquire a sense of peace during our marching times of walking through a painful journey that appears to never end? How do we hold on?
In Tune with Torah this week = let’s remember, the Israelites did reach the Promised Land; although it was through a roundabout way. God still made the provision and the promise was fulfilled.

Life just does not allow for everything to go as planned; as we have prayed for or hoped for. Why? Because God knows what we need, even when we don’t. It may be difficult to surrender and let go…especially when the path designed for us by God does not go in the direction we expected, dreamed about or hoped for.
However, the end goal remains.  Our journey has a destination – eternal life with God in the world to come.  If our route to get there seems roundabout, take heart.  We are in good company.  And the good news is this: the same God Who led, protected and provided for the Israelites is the same God who watches over us today. He has never failed and He will not start to do so with you.
Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary. – Bo January 19, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 10:1 – 13:6

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 46: 14 – 28

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.” But Moses said, “You must also give us sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. Our livestock also shall go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind. For we must take some of them to serve the Lord our God, and even we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there.” But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!”  Exodus 10:21-29

darkness

 

The plague of darkness brought upon Egypt was dreadful. Can you imagine living through three days of complete and total darkness, a darkness so thick you could actually “feel” the darkness?  It astonished and terrified the Egyptians. For three long days it remained so that it felt like six interminable nights.  Why did God do this?

One probable reason is that it gave Pharaoh time to consider his next steps. Spiritual darkness is spiritual bondage; while Satan blinds men’s eyes that they see not, he binds their hands and feet, that they work not for God, nor live with an eternal perspective.

So they sit in darkness. The blindness of their minds brought upon them this darkness of the air. Never was a mind so blinded as Pharaoh’s, never was air so darkened as in Egypt. Consider the dire consequences of sin; if three days of darkness were so dreadful, what will everlasting darkness be like?

Meanwhile the people of God had light in their dwellings, manifesting the favor of the Holy One of Israel upon them.  Given the stark difference between the oppressive darkness in Egypt and the light emanating from the homes of the Israelites in Goshen, who in their right mind would not have wanted to align with those who had light?

Is it any different today?  A pall of darkness overshadows much of our world today – a spiritual darkness has pervaded cultures and societies in the east and the west, in the north and the south.  No nation on earth is neutral.  As a matter of fact, the Scriptures know nothing of being “neutral”.  Joshua, you will remember, challenged the Israelites:

Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness….choose you this day Whom you shall serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.  Joshua 24:15

We do not bargain with God Almighty for His terms of reconciliation are so clear, that though men may dispute them, they cannot possibly alter them, or bring them lower. Repentance and a changed life.  That is what God expects and we must submit to His ways; we cannot, we dare not, expect that He should condescend to accommodate our pursuit of selfish pleasures.

Pharaoh had not reckoned with that truth.  He abruptly sends Moses away. Had he forgotten how often he had sent for Moses to ease him of his plagues? And now he dares to threaten Moses with death? Has Pharaoh learned nothing?   Is it not terrifying to behold what hardness of heart, and contempt of God’s word and commandments, can bring men to!

Darkness has crept into our modern world in recent times, slowly but oh, so surely.  That which would not even be spoken of in the last generation is common parlance today, even among our youth.  Honor, respect for one’s elders, integrity and courtesy are quickly becoming forgotten virtues.

In the midst of such darkness, there must be lighthouses.  Places, people who show forth the light of the LORD. Have we not been called by Him to be a “light to the nations”?

In Tune with Torah this week = Are you a light bulb for God?  Is your heart completely His?

The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those who hearts are completely His.  2 Chronicles 16:9

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Va-eira January 12, 2018

Torah reading:  Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

When Pharaoh shall speak to you, saying ‘Work a miracle, then, you shall say to Aaron, Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent. So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and they did just as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh, and his servants, and it became a serpent.” Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: and the magicians of Egypt did the same with their enchantments for they threw down their staffs, and they became serpents; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Exodus 7: 8-12

MosesAaron

This is one of the most interesting passages in the Torah. It opens our eyes to several deep spiritual truths and exposes certain things to us that may not be very clear to the way we moderns think.

There are only two major sources of spiritual power: The power of God and the power of evil.  Yes, my friends, there is Evil and it exists because of demonic forces at work in the world. From days of old, Satan has sought to mimic whatever God does.  That agenda was born in him when as the prophet Isaiah tells us, Satan sought to make himself equal with God.  The result was that he was thrown out of the heavens, out of God’s presence. (see Isaiah 14:12 – 20)

In this scripture passage we see two servants of the Holy One of Israel, a pagan ruler and his ‘magicians’.  By tapping into evil power, the magicians mimicked what Aaron did.  But realize this: the magicians’ power was severely limited.  Their serpents were quickly swallowed up by Aaron’s!  Pharaoh had several magicians so there were several snakes, but Aaron’s serpent did away with them in a moment. When a weaker power comes against a stronger power, the weaker power must of necessity bow to greater strength.

More than once in the Scriptures we see serpent against serpent: When serpents were biting the Israelites in the wilderness and Moses cried to the Lord, the solution was another serpent. God uses the coin of the enemy to pay back the enemy.

 

Spiritual warfare is not entertainment: It is real war.  The contest of the serpents was a violent one, ending in utter destruction of the magicians’ serpents.  Elijah dealings with the 850 prophets of Baal was no less violent. These two events among others in the Scriptures teach us that political correctness does not work with enemies of the most High God!

To accurately assess world conditions and international events we must be aware that there are spiritual forces at work in the world.  A great war between good and evil was launched centuries ago and continues to this day.  In the midst of this war we are too often ignorant of what the real issues are.  Instead of recognizing the implications of the contest between Moses and Aaron versus the magicians of Pharaoh, we stand and watch as if it were entertainment instead of warfare.

Mankind was created for one purpose: to know God and to enjoy fellowship with Him eternally.  Each of us has been given a span of years during which we are to learn about Him, come to know Him personally and live our days according to His principles and commandments.  The ‘sons of light’ and the ‘sons of darkness’ perspective of the Essenes in the first century addresses this clearly.

Life is made up of varying experiences.  We prefer the joys and blessings that come our way and if we could, would avoid life’s hardships, challenges and sorrows. However, a necessary part of life is its battles for it is through them that we gain maturity, wisdom and a closer relationship with our God, provided we make godly decisions in the midst of the battlefields of daily living.

In Tune with Torah this week = Thankfully, we know from the Torah and the Prophets that the Holy One of Israel triumphs. Knowing that the God we serve has secured the final triumph, it behooves us to live in such a way that our faith in His eternal victory is evident and guides our decision-making on a day to day basis.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemot January 5, 2017

Torah reading:  Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Exodus 3: 1-6

Just like every other day, Moses was tending the flock. The morning was typical, calm, and cool with the dew hanging on the leaves while Moses walked along the path. Perhaps while walking in the still silence, Moses thought back upon his life, and what had led him here. He had grown up around the inner circle of Pharaoh’s cohort, raised by the princess as her own, but when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he could not contain his rage and committed murder. Moses fled from the comfort, power, and prestige of Egypt because he was afraid. He eventually settled in Midian and married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the priest.

Moses was tending the flock that belonged to his father-in-law when he led them beyond the wilderness and came to Horeb (“wasteland”), the mountain of God. Walking along the path, filled with thoughts from the past, Moses discovered a bush on fire, and even though it was blazing, it was not consumed. Rather than continue on his journey, Moses turned aside to look at the great sight, to see why the bush was not being burned up. Then God called out from the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he replied, “Here I am.” The Lord commanded Moses to stay put, and remove the sandals from his feet, for the place where he was standing was holy ground. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

It was just an ordinary, everyday journey for Moses. A normal routine with no “religious” intentions. He was not going out to find out what God was calling him to do with his life, he was not sitting in the great temple of Jerusalem, he was just doing his job.

God chose the mountain in the wilderness as the place of revelation and change for Moses’ life. The encounter took place far and away from the sights and sounds of the religious community. This holy moment took place in the least likely of situations and locations.

A burning bush appeared in the wasteland, but the fire did not consume it. Moses was not frightened away from the bush, nor was he repelled by the sight of something strange, but instead he was drawn toward it. His curiosity propelled him forward, not for religious reasons, but because it was unknown.

God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, loves to make use of human curiosity for his own purposes. Curiosity often leads to discovery, new life, and new vision.

Moses was the one who ran away from familiarity into the unknown. He had left behind his family and calling in Egypt because he feared for his life. He escaped to the place of Midian, found a wife, and a new calling and was settled. It happened in the ordinary and mundane moment of routine life that Moses was jolted into a new reality.

God is the one with the initiative in the situation. Moses was not begging on his knees for God to enter his life, instead it is God who confronts Moses and calls him to a task.

If the story of Moses and the burning bush is to come alive for us today, then we must prepare ourselves to be encountered by the living God when we least expect it.

Being called by God into a new season of your life is not something that applies only to clergy, nor is it something that happens exclusively in worship. We are all called in one way or another to live faithful lives for the honor and glory of God, whether we are teachers or students, engineers or musicians, writers or mathematicians. We are given incredible opportunities to respond to God’s calling in manifold ways in our daily lives by loving our neighbors as ourselves, by asking the hard questions that other people are afraid to mutter, by looking at the world through the perspective of the Scriptures.

We are not abandoned and left alone. We see how gracious God is toward us in the fact that God confronts us in his incredible holiness. He refuses to let us go our own way when we act and behave as if we were people who do not need His wisdom and instruction.

In Tune with Torah this week:  We, like Moses, are confronted by the Holy One when we least expect it. He searches deep into our souls and knows what we think, what we feel, and what we believe. God is not willing to allow us to wander off and be left to our own perspectives, but meets us in the ordinary and calls us by name: Moses, Moses; Taylor, Taylor, Marilyn, Marilyn, etc.

When God confronts you in the midst of life, how will you respond? Will you continue your journey and ignore the unexpected call? Or will you say, “Here I am, LORD”?