About Leah Houseman

Author & Inspirational Speaker

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

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Toldot November 17, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 20:18-42

This week’s reading begins by telling us of other sons whom Abraham had by Keturah, his second wife whom he married after the death of Sarah.  We are also told of Abraham’s death and burial;  we read a list of Ishmael’s descendants; and, a description of the birth of Esau and Jacob. Frankly, this reading at first glance doesn’t seem very relevant to where we all live.

So what was Moses’ purpose in writing it?

Moses was writing to a people about to go in and conquer the land promised to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac. The previous generation had the opportunity to conquer that land, but they died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. Now this generation had an opportunity to obey God in His redemptive plan of giving the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. God’s purpose as promised to Abraham will be fulfilled. The question is, will this generation be used of God to fulfill it, or will they, too, be set aside?

I believe that the main point Moses was trying to convey was that God’s purpose according to His choice will stand. God is sovereign; what He says, He will do. But even so, His chosen people must submit and commit themselves to His purpose if they want His blessing.

manseashore

Whenever a great leader, who has founded a work or a movement, passes away, there is concern for who will carry on. However, with God’s program, there is no such concern. His purpose is greater than any man. The most certain thing in this world is that God will do what He has said. Nothing can thwart His purpose.

This section of Genesis shows that God keeps His promises. God had promised to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations (17:4). The list of Abraham’s sons through Keturah, several of whom grew into nations, shows a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise. Even though we don’t recognize most of these names, Israel did. The existence of these nations was a demonstration to Israel that what God promises, He does.

The text goes on to make the point that Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac (25:5). While he gave some gifts to Keturah’s sons, he sent them away.  It is not that he rejected them; rather we learn from ancient records, that Abraham commissioned Keturah’s sons to go to distant lands to teach the people about the one true God – the God of Israel. Isaac, on the other hand, was God’s choice to continue the calling of Abraham, and thus God blessed him after Abraham’s death (25:11). As they were Isaac’s descendants, the generation going into the Land needed to see their part as God’s chosen means of fulfilling His promises to Abraham, and they needed to obey God in taking the promised land.

Then Moses lists the generations of Ishmael (25:12-18). Why? To make the same point–that God’s purpose according to His choice will stand. Abraham had asked God that Ishmael might live before Him (17:18). God denied that request because He had chosen Isaac, but He promised Abraham that Ishmael would become the father of twelve princes, and that He would make him into a great nation (17:20). Moses records the fulfillment of that in 25:18. The point again is, God’s purpose according to His sovereign choice was accomplished.

Moses hammers home the same concept in the account of the birth of Esau and Jacob. If God was going to make a great nation of Abraham through Isaac, then obviously Isaac needed to have children. But Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren. For 20 years there were no children in their marriage. But Isaac prayed and the Lord answered in accordance with His promise to Abraham.

But even in that situation, God made a choice. He told Rebekah that two nations would come from the twin sons in her womb, and that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). Esau became the father of the Edomites. Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, became the father of that nation. It was God’s purpose that Israel’s descendants, those to whom Moses was writing, fulfill God’s purpose according to His choice of Jacob, by conquering the promised land.

So everything in the text is there to make the same point–that God chooses certain people for His purpose and that His purpose according to His choice will be accomplished.

These verses reveal two striking things about God’s choice:

First, God’s choice usually runs counter to man’s wisdom.

If we were going to pick a man to be the father of a multitude of nations, we’d probably run the couple through a fertility test and then pick the one who looked the most promising. God picked a couple who couldn’t produce any children. Then, we’d make sure that his son and his wife were fertile. In God’s sovereignty, the son’s wife was barren. His half-brother, Ishmael, didn’t seem to have any problem producing twelve sons, but Isaac could produce only two, and that only after 20 years of pleading with God. If we had to pick between the two sons, we’d pick the oldest. He seemed to be the strongest. The youngest was a wimp and a deceiver! God picked him. That’s how God’s choice usually runs–counter to man’s wisdom.

If God chose those who were strong in themselves, they would boast in themselves and God would be robbed of His glory. If God chose those who first chose Him, they could brag about their intelligent choice. So God chooses those whom the world would never choose. When His purpose is fulfilled through them, He gets the glory.

Secondly, God’s choice operates on the principle of grace, not merit.

One of the most difficult, but most rewarding, truths in the Bible to grasp is that God doesn’t operate on the merit system. He doesn’t choose those who have earned it or who show the most potential. He doesn’t choose on the basis of birth order or strength. If He did, He would have picked Ishmael over Isaac. Ishmael was tough; he grew up by surviving in a hostile desert. Isaac was a mild, blah sort of guy, not noted for much except digging a few wells.

This bothers people, because it humbles our pride, but it’s one of the most rewarding concepts in the Bible to lay hold of. It means that your redemption does not depend on you and your feeble hold on God, but on God and His firm grip on you.  It casts you totally on God and His sovereign grace, which is a good place to be. It floods you with gratitude as you consider His goodness and His mercy in choosing you in spite of your sin.

That doesn’t mean we can do anything we want. While God is sovereign, He has given me the responsibility to obey Him. I can’t presume on being one of the elect and go on living for myself.

Our responsibility is simply to submit to God and seek to obey what His Word clearly reveals, namely, that God’s sovereign purpose according to His unconditional choice will stand. When I quit fighting and submit myself to God and His ways, my relationship with Him flourishes.

The Lord didn’t wave His wand over the land of Canaan so that Israel could move in without any struggle. They had to commit themselves to God’s purpose and fight to get it.

Abraham is the example in our text. He submitted and committed himself to God’s purpose, and God blessed him abundantly. We read that he died “satisfied with life” (25:8). The expression is literally “full of years,” but it means more than just old. It implies that he couldn’t ask for anything more from life than God had given him. The only way you can truly die that way is if you have lived to further God’s purpose.

In Tune with Torah this week = Sometimes it’s easy to look at all the evil in the world and get discouraged because it seems like God’s side is losing badly.  The great truth is that God will accomplish His sovereign purpose. Let us therefore encourage one another to submit ourselves wholeheartedly to our heavenly Father and devote ourselves without reservation to His purposes.

Shabbat Shalom

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Weekly Torah Commentary – Chaya Sarah November 10, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 23:1-25:18

Haftorah reading:  I Kings: 1-31

Moses writes, “Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”  Genesis 23:1-2

As commentators over the centuries have noted, Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose age at the time of her death is revealed. At 127 she is no young woman. But the death of Sarah would have seemed untimely because of her apparent youthfulness. Even at the age of ninety she was a woman attractive enough to catch the eye of King Abimelech (20:1-2). Was she the original Mrs. Oil of Olay? Her youthfulness and beauty would have certainly concealed the fact that death was coming upon her.

Abraham mourned and wept, meaning that in addition to the crying he went through the traditional mourning customs of his day: tearing clothes, cutting his beard, spreading dust on his head, and spending the seven days of mourning which have been traditional in the Middle East from the most ancient times. We read in Genesis 50 that when Jacob died and was buried in Hebron, his family mourned him for another 7 days. This tradition is still followed today in Jewish homes around the world.

Sarahdies

Genesis 23:2 is the first record of a man’s tears in the Bible. It is fitting that it should be a husband weeping and mourning over the death of his loyal wife of 60 years. It is remarkable that this is the only time we are ever told that Abraham wept. He had been through so many bitter disappointments and heartaches in his life: He was disappointed when Lot left him (13:5-12). He was heartbroken when he sent Ishmael away (21:9-14). He was devastated when he had to offer Isaac (22:1-10). But the only time the Scriptures reveal that he wept was when Sarah died. This reveals the depth of his grief and love for this woman.

The death of a loved one has always been a time to think about eternal realities. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” In light of this eventuality, two of the most profound and beneficial questions I think we can ask ourselves are:

(1) How do you want to be remembered at your funeral?

(2) What steps do you need to take for that to happen?

Abraham recognized and believed that God’s promises are still in the future. Sarah’s death may well have reminded him that there were still others of God’s promises for him to receive.  He could also have been reminded that his death may not be very far away for he was older than Sarah.

This could have been be a deeply trying moment for Abraham’s faith. Yet the scripture demonstrates that he continued to believe faithfully for the future and act accordingly, despite many difficulties. He expected God to fulfill every one of His promises whether he lived to see them all come to pass or not.

In this way, Abraham serves as an example to every generation since. We must have  faith for the future; we must have a confidence in God that goes beyond even this life for the fulfillment of His promises.  This is the faith that waits expectantly for the coming of Messiah.

In 23:3-6, Moses writes, “Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’” Abraham’ first words are “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you” (cf. Lev 25:23; 1 Chron 29:14-15; Ps 39:12).

Abraham refers to himself as a ‘stranger’ and a ‘sojourner’ because he realized that Canaan was not his final home. He was living for his future home beyond the grave in the world to come. Eternal life in the presence of God was a reality that dictated how he lived – by faith.  The prophet Habakkuk echoed Abraham’s guiding principle when he wrote: The just shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)

Notice that the sons of Heth call Abraham “a mighty prince among us.” Apparently, Abraham’s influence counted for something.

How do you want to be remembered?

In Tune with Torah this week =  Are you so caught up with your life here and now that you don’t live with eternity in view? Our goal in this life is not to build up a sizable estate, but to live our life as a pilgrim on the way to our true home, the world which is to come.

Does your life influence others towards God? Or are you on a spiritual auto-pilot?

Are you stuck in a spiritual rut, doing what you’ve been doing for years but not demonstrating in your daily life that God is alive to you, that you are passionate about Him and seek His presence?

There is an old saying that people will drive from all over to see a fire burn. The same is true in regard to our congregational and personal lives: If we are allowing God to work in our lives, people will drive from all over to see someone on fire for God.

Why shouldn’t it be you?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeira November 3, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 18:1 – 22:24

Haftorah reading: 2 Kings 4: 1-37

This week’s Torah reading has a profound message for us right now in November 2017.  Across the world we see turmoil and chaos increasing at an alarming rate. Scandals, hate speech, racism and other factors consume the news media and become the topic of heated – sometimes vicious – exchanges on social media.

Abrahamintercedes

While we may admire Abraham’s hospitality in this week’s reading, I think there is something else that displays a high degree of spirituality and maturity in the Patriarch. The brilliance of Abraham’s character is seen in his intercession with the Lord for the sparing of the righteous in Sodom.

The Lord and the two angels made their way down toward Sodom, escorted part way by Abraham. It would seem that the Lord turned to the two angels as He asked, almost rhetorically,

… 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, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:17b-19) .

The intimacy of the relationship between God and Abraham served as the motivation for God’s disclosure of His purposes for Sodom. Further, the Abrahamic Covenant provided the foundation on which that relationship was based. In verse 19 the necessity for Abraham’s faith to be communicated and continued by his offspring is stressed.

In contrast to the faithfulness of Abraham’s descendants is the wickedness of 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’ (Genesis 18:20-21).

Verses 20 and 21 dramatically portray the sin of Sodom and the righteous response of a holy God to it. The sin of the city is so great that it virtually cries out to heaven for retribution. God’s personal interest and focused attention is depicted as ‘going down’ to deal with it. God is not ‘going down’ to learn the facts, but to take personal interest in them and to invade the situation. So it is that Abraham discerned that God was about to destroy the city, although it was not stated specifically.

The two angels went on toward Sodom, leaving the LORD and Abraham alone, overlooking the city (19:27,28). While speaking reverently, Abraham manifested a boldness with God never seen before.

And Abraham came near and said, ‘Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?’ (Genesis 18:23-25).

Abraham’s appeal is based on the justice of God.  He recognizes the evil in the city but his thoughts turn to the possibility of righteous people in the midst of it. Certainly he was concerned for his nephew, Lot and Lot’s family, but at the same time, Abraham also understood God’s mercy and his appeal may well expose his hope that if the city were spared because of the few righteous, perhaps the wicked might yet come to faith in God.

Abraham boldly asserts that it is against God’s nature to treat the righteous and the wicked in the same way.  Therefore, if a sufficient number of righteous could be found in Sodom, there is every reason for God to spare the city from destruction.

The LORD entertains Abraham’s plea and the bargaining begins.  How many righteous will it take?

God agreed to spare the city if 50 righteous could be found (verse 26). Abraham must have doubted that such a number could be found, and so he began to plead for a lower figure.

And Abraham answered and said, ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, wilt Thou destroy the whole city because of five?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there’ (Genesis 18:27-28).

From here, Abraham was encouraged to attempt to further reduce the minimum number of righteous required to spare Sodom. First it was 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10. We almost sigh with relief here, for one might fear that God would lose His patience with Abraham. Personally, I believe the heart of God was warmed by Abraham’s compassion and zeal. This was no selfish petition, but intercession for others.

Why, then, did Abraham stop with ten? Why would he not have gone on to five or even one? Some may think that he did not dare to press God farther. Perhaps so, but I do not believe that Abraham would have ceased until he were confident that Lot and his family were safe from the wrath of God.

As we know from chapter 19 Abraham’s hopes exceeded reality. This would have resulted in tragedy were it not for a great divine truth: God’s grace always exceeds our expectations.

In the final analysis there were only three righteous in Sodom, Lot and his two daughters. Some might well question the righteousness of the daughters from their actions in the next chapter. However, God did comply with Abraham’s petition. While He did not spare the city of Sodom, He did spare Lot and his daughters.

In Tune with Torah this week = in our day, nation after nation across the world is in turmoil.  Scandals, riots, violence and chaos are regular items in the daily media.  In the midst of a broken society, what are the children of Abraham to do?

Abraham, our father, is our example.

You will notice that Abraham did not spend precious time denouncing the wickedness of  Sodom.  It was obvious enough and needed no further commentary.  Abraham turned to the only One who held out any hope for a remedy.

Never underestimate the power of prayer.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Lech Lecha October 27, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 20: 18-42

The week’s Torah reading provides us with a shift in the direction of the narrative thus far.  During the first eleven chapters of Genesis, there has been a consistent theme of sin followed by punishment.  It began with Adam and Eve.

Before long we had the days of Noah in which mankind had already sunk into untenable moral decay. God saw the condition of mankind as a whole and He destroyed the earth and all its people, except for Noah and his family, with a flood.

Not too long afterward, there was the Tower of Babel where mankind had gathered together and decided to build a tower that would reach the heavens in order to ‘make a name for ourselves.’ (Gen. 11:4)  At first glance, it seems as though the human situation is looking up. The people were unified, they all spoke the same language and they were co-operating together on a common project.  Yet God punished them – the whole group of them – by confusing their language and scattering them across the earth.

What was their sin? ‘…let us make a name for ourselves..’ It could very well be that had they attempted to build a tower in order to be closer to God and His heaven – in other words – to exalt the Name of the LORD instead of their own name – the story would have ended differently.

Therefore in the early chapters, we see the recurring theme of man’s failure to exalt His Creator and instead to follow the evil intent of his own mind which brought upon them the chastisement of the Almighty.

Now, as we move on to chapter 12, suddenly God speaks to one man, to an individual, Abram, instead of to mankind in general.

Abram

Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you, I will curse.  And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ Gen. 12:1-3

Abram wasted no time in arguing with God or procrastinating about what he’d been told. The text indicates he obeyed without hesitation and with his wife, his nephew Lot and others of his household, he set off after the call of God.   At the time he was 75 years old. (take courage, it’s never too late to be used by God!) Not until he was 100 was Isaac born.

Abram embraced the call and the promise of God quickly then awaited its fulfillment patiently, much longer than he anticipated having to wait.

From that one man would eventually arise a people with the mandate to be ‘a light to the nations’.  It never fails to impress me that in the days of Abram, whom God re-named Abraham, there was no Torah, no written scripture of any kind, no Bible study groups.

But there was a man of FAITH. There was a man whose faith did not waver, whose trust in the one true God did not dissipate and whose confidence in his God’s integrity he never questioned.

Abraham’s greatest legacy to us is the value of FAITH.  It is faith that pleases our God and centuries later the prophet Habakkuk would write, ‘the righteous man shall live by faith.’

It had to begin with Abraham; it could not have started with Moses.  For unless the faith came first, the commandments are meaningless, a compilation of do’s and don’ts fit for robots.  It is FAITH in the Holy One of Israel that prompts us to want to honor His Name not just in word but also in deed.

Abraham is the father of the Hebrew people because of his exemplary faith.  It is faith that pleases God, first and foremost,  It is faith that causes us to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our resources.’  Deut. 6:5

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith is more than mental assent.  Biblical faith is a conviction in the heart that our God is real, He is Almighty, Everlasting and utterly Faithful.  He has drawn us to Himself and loves us with an unending and extravagant love.

The saying ‘Seeing is believing’ is backwards when it comes to spiritual understanding.  The truth is ‘Believing is Seeing.’

If your faith is in need of strengthening, take some time this Shabbat to read His Word and ponder it quietly in your own heart. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you.  He will.

Shabbat shalom.

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