Weekly Torah Commentary – Re’eh August 18, 2017

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their righteousness is from Me,” says the LORD (Isaiah 54:17).

weapons

A weapon refers to any tool or utensil used against another person. A weapon is anything that could be used against you for evil intent.  So when the LORD through the prophet Isaiah says to us, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper,”  it means that nothing built, sharpened, aimed at, or fired against you, your family, God’s kingdom, or God’s people will succeed. Though your ‘enemies’ may seem to win for a while—a job may be eliminated, a child may wander far, a life may even be lost—in the end, even these tragedies will be understood in the context of God’s agenda for prospering those who are truly His.

Why is this true? The reason “no weapon formed against you shall prosper” is not because you are a fierce warrior, but because He is.  Joshua 23:10 tells us that “One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you”. Could you single-handedly chase away a thousand soldiers? No, but God can—and it is He who fights for you. He is the Defender of His children.

Isaiah assures us our enemies’ weapons will not prosper. That word is translated succeed and prevail in certain English renditions of the Bible and the concept gives us hope. Here’s the good news: no assault against us – physical, emotional or spiritual – will be final. Even if it appears to be prospering, it’s not done yet. Even if it wins the battle, it won’t win the war. Why? Because our God takes it very seriously when someone opposes or attacks the ones He loves. You can count on that.  For example, have you heard or read about the miracles God performed for Israel during the Six Day War of 1967?

Just as your enemies’ weapons will not win, neither will their words: “And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn.”

Have you ever been a target for hurtful words because of your faith? Have you experienced ridicule in your workplace or home because of your loyalty to the Torah? Do you know the sting of scorn because of your stand for God’s truth? Have you been rebuked because of your faithfulness to God’s revealed Word?

If you answered “no” to all of those questions, that’s not a good sign. It suggests the people around you haven’t noticed a direct connection between you and God. We are called to be ‘a light to the nations’.  If the ‘light’ of God is not glowing through your life, something’s wrong!

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then savor this truth: God always wins!

You may wonder, When will this victory happen? Does God’s definition of “soon” match ours? “Soon” implies sooner than we think—especially from an eternal perspective. Before long we will be in eternity, astonished by how fast life on earth raced by.  The Prophets declare without compromise that in the end, God wins over all.  ‘And the LORD will be King over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only One and His Name the only One.’ Zechariah 14:9

And because He wins, so will you. You get to share in His victories. Isaiah says so: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” As you face the weapons and words of your enemies, as you engage in the battles of life, set your heart and hope on the final outcome. Live with eternity in view. It’s going to end well for you. Guaranteed.

In Tune with Torah this week = recognizing that no trial or difficulty lasts forever but their presence in our lives provide us with opportunity to grow closer to the LORD. Any situation we face has one of two effects: we either get bitter – or better.  Let your experiences in this life may you a better person, not a bitter one.  You do that by honoring the LORD, even on the darkest of days.  ‘I will bless the LORD at ALL times; His praise shall CONTINUALLY be in my mouth.’  Psalm 34:1

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Eikev August 11, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was but one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.  Isaiah 51:1-2

abraham-father-of-faith

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the story of Abraham and his family is covered from chapter 11 through chapter 50, while only two chapters are given to the entire story of creation. What was there in the life of Abraham that distinguished him as such a man that so great a portion of Genesis is devoted to disclosing his life in great detail?

The life story of Abraham begins in Ur of the Chaldeans where Abraham lived in a comfortable home and in pleasant circumstances. Archaeology has disclosed that Ur, located not too far from Babylon, was a prosperous city with lovely homes, beautiful parks and public buildings. Abraham was comfortable and secure in Ur, but it was also a wicked city where pagan sacrifices — including human sacrifices — were continually offered.

According to Genesis 12:1, God directed Abraham to leave Ur, leave his family, and dwell in tents for the rest of his life. Abraham started out with his father and his nephew, Lot, and got as far as Haran. Only when his father died did Abraham move on to the promised land with Lot. At long last he had come to the place of God’s appointment.  Keep in mind that when God instructed Abraham (then Abram) to leave Ur, God didn’t explain exactly where Abraham was going. He simply said, ‘Leave and go…and I’ll show you where to stop!’

From Abraham’s life, we learn and re-learn some much needed lessons. Abraham demonstrated his faith that God would care for him, provide for him and guide him by doing what God told him to do regardless of how bizarre it may have sounded to his family and friends at the time, let alone his wife!  Can you imagine your husband coming home one afternoon and saying, ‘Honey, we’re moving.’  You reply in surprise, ‘Oh? Where are we going?’  Your husband replies, ‘I have no idea.  God just spoke to me today and said we must leave here and He will show us where to settle.’  Seriously?!?!?!?  It’s probably the mercy of God towards Sarah that the scripture doesn’t tell us her first reaction!  To her credit, despite whatever her first reaction was, she followed her husband, trusting his faith in God.

Without knowing where the land was to which he was going, he accepted God’s promise that his descendants would inherit that unknown land.  Keep in mind that at the time he had no descendant and he was already advanced in years.  But Abraham understood something that we moderns too often overlook: When God speaks, our only appropriate response is to obey.  It is not ours to judge what God has said and decide whether or not we agree.  He has spoken? End of story.  Do what He said!

In the materialistic society in which we live, we need a constant reminder that earthly possessions are always temporary, and only that which is eternal abides forever. There is a world to come – an eternal world – which God has prepared for His people that they  may live with Him forever.  Our status in that world has everything to do with the quality of our faith in this one, for the degree to which we choose to love God and obey Him is determined by how genuinely we believe in Him and believe His word to us as found in the pages of Scripture.

Abraham, despite his great faith, had one great frustration. For most of his life he and Sarah, his wife, had no children. How could the promises of many nations coming from him, and of his descendants inheriting the land, be fulfilled if he had no children? According to Genesis 15:1-3, Abraham suggested that his chief servant, Eliezer, be made his heir, but God said, “This man will not be your heir” (Gen. 15:4).

Sarah, being a resourceful woman, suggested to Abraham that he have a child by Hagar, an Egyptian slave that they had brought back with them from Egypt. In those times, this was not an unusual practice if a wife was barren. In due time Ishmael was born, and Abraham’s heart was delighted. But this was not the fulfillment of God’s promise.

When Abraham was already ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety, there was really no human basis for hope that Sarah would bear a son. Nevertheless God said, “Sarah, your wife, shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (Gen. 17:19).  At that advanced age, Abraham believed what God said over the “evidence” of his and Sarah’s physical status.  How could a 99 year old man with a 90 year old wife believe they could have a child?  Some today might call them crazy!

Yet Abraham’s faith in God convinced him that if God said it would happen, that was good enough for him and he did not allow the physical circumstances to shake his faith in his God.  And so from this one man, as good as dead from a physical viewpoint, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand of the seashore.

The supreme test of Abraham’s faith was yet to come. Fiery tests of faith which occur early in life sometimes climax in much greater tests of faith in a time of spiritual maturity. So it was with Abraham.

When Isaac had reached his early teens, God told Abraham to do a strange thing. One day God said to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). What an astounding command! Abraham was to take the promised son on whom all the promises of God for the future of Abraham depended, and offer him as a human sacrifice upon an altar on a distant mountain.

Even though Abraham had been accustomed to human sacrifices in his pagan life in Ur, how could this possibly fit into the plan of God? What was to happen to all the promises that depended on Isaac? There is no scriptural record of any wavering. Early the next morning the journey began.

Taking two young men with him, his son Isaac, and wood for the offering, Abraham began the journey that on the third day brought them near to the place of sacrifice. When Isaac asked the searching question, “Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8).

When they came to the place, Abraham apparently had to tell what he was about to do. And Isaac, being a strong young man, had to be willing to be bound on the altar as God had directed Abraham. Just as Abraham took the knife to take the life of his own son, God stayed his hand, and told him to offer instead a ram caught in a thicket nearby.

The incident with Isaac reveals more clearly than any other the maturity of Abraham’s faith. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. Abraham had such confidence in God that even this confusing direction did not deter him from his utter confidence in God’s integrity and moral character.  Since God had said that through Isaac, the promised descendants would come.  Abraham considered that to be the final word.

In Tune with Torah this week = Abraham was a man of faith who believed he could live in God’s place, who believed in God’s provision for him in time and eternity, who believed the promise of the son whom God would give him miraculously, and who believed in God’s utter and incomparable integrity.  Now here’s the bottom line: Abraham believed God with this amazing faith because he knew God.It is not enough to know about God; we must, like Abraham, develop a personal relationship with Him by spending time in His presence, pondering His words and internalizing their message so that our lives are impacted.

It behooves us to remember that while Jewish tradition called Moses our ‘Teacher’; it is Abraham who is our ‘father’.  Therefore, Isaiah exhorts us ‘Look to Abraham…’  Judaism began with a man of FAITH, more than four hundred years before the Torah was given.

If we delight in being children of Abraham, than our faith today must stand on the same foundation. Like Abraham, we are called to live by faith in the living God who will accomplish for us in time and eternity all that He has promised in His love and grace.

Shabbat shalom.

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Va’etchanan August 4, 2017

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 40: 1-26

This chapter of the book of Isaiah is the prologue to a series of oracles and songs that follow; it has the basic themes that are found throughout the following chapters. The passage begins with an instruction to comfort the people of God (vs.1,2), followed by the oracle of the one preparing the way (vs. 3-8), and the heralds announcing the coming of the LORD in accordance with the Word of God (vs. 9-11). Israel was in need of such good news because they were in captivity at the time. The heralds bring the good tidings not to Babylon, but to Zion where the glory of the LORD will reappear when He leads His people like a Shepherd.

The second part of the chapter is an encouragement that God is able to do all this (vs. 12-26). The message of comfort is based on the omnipotence of God (vs. 12-17) and the incomparable nature of God (vs. 18-26). This portion is a passionate appeal from the prophet intended to stir the people’s faith and re-direct their focus away from their captivity to the God who is in the process of restoring them to their ancestral homeland.

The theme of the message of comfort and the hope for the people of God is God’s presence.  Two images are presented. First, He is the sovereign LORD coming with power and His arm rules for Him. Powerful majesty will be the pattern of His dominion as King. He will bring rewards to dispense to His faithful subjects.

The second image is that of the shepherd. “He tends His flock”. The figure of a shepherd was commonly used in the ancient Near East for monarchs; it is the natural figure for any culture with a great deal of animal husbandry.  It signifies the care, leadership, and provisions that the LORD will bring to His people.

The great message of comfort hangs on this point. Look to God. He is coming to establish His kingdom. He will come in power. Without Him the “sheep” are weak and frail; with His presence they find everlasting peace and righteousness.

creation

How do we know God will do this for His people?

In vs. 12-14 He is affirmed as the God of creation.  The Scripture is clear: He spoke and creation came into being. No one gave God any advice, ever! God created everything by His own design and counsel.

In vs. 15-17, God is declared as sovereign over all nations. Governmental leaders, even the best of them, are under His authority whether or not they realize or acknowledge it. In the final end of all things, it is to Him that they will answer for their leadership, its successes and its failures.  The nations exist by the sovereign will of our Father and it is to Him that they primarily owe their allegiance and their respect.  The fact that some nations don’t, nor do they wish to, doesn’t change the reality of God’s supremacy one single bit.

In vs. 18-20, Isaiah goes on to declare with emphasis and passion that there is NO ONE like our God – NO ONE. He is the true and only God. To compare Him to idols is blasphemous. Even the materials for idols comes from God (see Isa. 44). Humans who are weak and frail have made the idols; they look for ways to make idols that will last. No one made God; rather, God created humans. The question in verse 18 then is rhetorical and put there to express that there is no one to whom we may compare the Almighty.  He is totally OTHER.

If God made everything, and if He is sovereign over all nations, and if He is incomparable to anyone or anything, then all creation is under His power. Verse 21 begins this section with four rhetorical questions to remind the people of what they already knew. The repetition is meant to be a rebuke, like hammering a point home:

“Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”

They had centuries of time to have these truths sink in, but their weak faith and stubborn hearts had not taken it all to heart.  The distractions and interests of daily life clouded their thinking and removed the reality of God Almighty from their consciousness.

In tune with Torah this week = The people are called to look and contemplate the heavens and see God’s handiwork. It is by His power that the starry hosts were created and keep their order. Creation is meant to be a witness to the sovereignty of God, His existence, His creativity, His superiority over everything created.

Pondering these truths should inspire a fresh humility in our hearts; we, who so easily fall into thinking the the world revolves around us.  No it revolves around Him and it is incumbent upon us to consider His interests even more than our own.  He has made a world and filled it with people that He loves.  How are we responding to that love that He so generously pours out upon us?

Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Devarim July 28, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 1: 1-27

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.  Isaiah 1:1

Isaiah

Someone has called Isaiah the ‘Shakespeare of the biblical writers’ because of his passion and eloquence.  As we will have several Haftorah readings in the next few weeks from Isaiah’s book, let’s take a look at this man – who he was and when he lived.

Who was Isaiah? His ministry spanned the reigns of at least four kings, most likely five – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and probably into the reign of Manasseh. This is a period of approximately 40 years, covering the time of the second half of the 8th century B.C. (750-700). The son of Amoz, he exercised his ministry in and around Jerusalem. Some commentators speculate that he was from a well-to-do family with ties to the royal family. He was married and had at least two sons but we are told precious little about his personal and family life.

Isaiah was a contemporary of two other prophets – Micah, who also prophesied in Jerusalem (Judah), and Hosea, who prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel. There is no mention of Isaiah and Micah knowing each other, although it is impossible to see how they could not have. There is no reference to Micah having access to the kings as Isaiah did, which again indicates that Isaiah had connections not available to Micah.

The times of Isaiah were turbulent, to say the least. King Uzziah, who reigned for fifty two years, led Judah during a period of prosperity not known since the days of Solomon. Jeroboam II reigned in Israel during most of Uzziah’s reign and had similar success. But their deaths were a turning point. By 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel were destroyed by Assyria, its people forever scattered. Judah survived the Assyrian threat, but not before being reduced to a subservient country, impoverished by paying taxes to Assyria.

Uzziah’s son, Jotham served for sixteen years, pretty much in the same vein as his father. Both were described as being faithful to God, although Uzziah for some reason let pride get the best of him and fancied himself as being able to carry out the work of a priest. He entered into the temple area, reserved only for priests, and tried to burn incense on the altar. He was struck with leprosy which resulted in his death.

Ahaz, the next king, was the consummate opportunist, guided by one principle – his own ego. It was during his reign that Assyria conquered Israel; in fact, it was at his invitation! Israel wanted Judah to join them and dethrone Ahaz, in order to place their own puppet king on the throne. Ahaz’s reaction was to entreat the king of Assyria to come to his aid. The result was utter devastation for the northern kingdom of Israel and the submission of the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahaz also used his throne to promote idolatry and even offered his own sons to the fires of false gods.

Hezekiah succeeded his father and clearly was not his “father’s son.”  He followed the Lord, using his throne to bring reform to the country. It was Hezekiah who had the courage to tear down the pagan altars. He also dealt with Assyria, but unlike his father he turned to the Lord for deliverance through the counsel and encouragement of Isaiah.

The highlight of Hezekiah’s and Isaiah’s careers occurred in their response to a siege by Assyria. There were actually two separate threats made against Jerusalem by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. In the first, he sent his general to Jerusalem to order the surrender of the city. Dismayed, Hezekiah turned to the temple to pray and sent a petition to Isaiah to engage in prayer.  Isaiah strengthened the king with an encouraging prophecy that the Assyrian king would turn away due to false reports he would receive. Hezekiah then held steady, and, true to the prophecy, the Assyrian king turned away with his army. Years later Sennacherib would renew threats to Hezekiah, who again turned to God in prayer and received another promising word from Isaiah. That time, the Assyrian army was struck with a plague.  How different from the conniving Ahaz!

All the prophets, to be sure, proclaim the salvation of the Lord, but none can match Isaiah for the sheer grandeur of proclamation regarding God’s salvation.

Steadily and masterfully, the prophet describes and expands an exalted vision of the great act of redemption and restoration for God’s people. He does not merely proclaim these things will take place, but he takes every act and concept to great magnitude.  It is Isaiah who proclaims a salvation and restoration more grand than could have been imagined, culminating a new Jerusalem ‘whose righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch, who will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.’ (Isaiah 62:1-3).

If we wanted to summarize the theme of Isaiah’s book, it would be this verse:  And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.  Isaiah 40:5

The incomparable glory of God shines through this book as the prophet expounds on the glory, majesty and holiness of the Holy One of Israel.

In Tune With Torah this week =  For Isaiah, true insight into the meaning of life is not merely that there is a God out there who loves us and offers a wonderful plan for us; it is that all things and everyone live for the glory of God. God does not exist for us; we exist for Him. The wonderful news Isaiah declares is that God is most glorified by his work of redemption.

Over the next few weeks, the haftorah readings will be primarily from Isaiah.  Expect to be enlightened and inspired by the visions and prophecies of this amazing servant of God.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Mattot-Maasei July 21, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 30 – 36

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 2:  4-28, 3:4, 4: 1-2

Jeremiah begins this reading by recounting the faithfulness of the Israelites to God during the early years in the wilderness. Thus says the LORD, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, how you followed Me in the wilderness through a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the LORD.’  Jer. 2: 2-3

But when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they became a bit too friendly with the locals and began to worship their gods. First they began to make friends with the Canaanites. Then they intermarried with them.  Then they began to worship the Canaanite gods of wood and stone. It was then that God punished them for their faithlessness.

Jeremiah reminded them of God’s faithfulness to them but that they, the Israelites, had abandoned him for these pieces of stone and wood. And so God says:

“For my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the spring of living waters,
and cut them out cisterns,
broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (2:13).

To this day, every drop of water in Israel is precious. The Israelites knew what it was to dig cisterns to collect runoff, and they knew what it was to lift buckets of water from the cistern and carry them to their gardens.

God said, “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water”—the mountain spring that flows faithful and pure—the artesian well that provides abundant water. “They have forsaken me…, and cut cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

The issue was idolatry—the chasing after false gods. Jeremiah called God’s people to return to the true God of their fathers.

What does this have to do with us today?  It has everything to do with us today. What is idolatry, after all, but putting something else in God’s place; giving greater value to something earthly than to the Holy One of Israel Himself?  Whatever is more important to us than God Himself and our relationship with Him is an idol – plain and simple!

Chaplain (Major General) Kermit Johnson, a former Army Chief of Chaplains used to warn chaplains about something that he called SAM, the destroyer. When a chaplain left the Army in disgrace, it was usually because of SAM. He could have said that SAM constitutes our idolatry. What is SAM? SAM stands for sex, alcohol and money.

It should not surprise us that sex would be one of the idols—one of the things that we love more than God. Sex is the goddess of the century. It pervades our media and our entertainment and presents a total perversion of what God intended it to be.  Our modern culture deludes us by promising us without consequences, making the morals of our parents and grandparents obsolete.

But sex without rules has not lived up to its promise and in many ways has been the near-ruin of the family in country after country.

Alcohol is another one of the destroyers—another idol— alcohol and drugs.  For an alcoholic or drug addict, nothing is more important than their fix! The next fix is more important than God, family or life itself. Those who are recovering alcoholics or who have been delivered from drug addiction know very well how destructive—and idolatrous—alcohol and drugs really are.

And it should come as no surprise that money is one of our modern idols—one of the things that we love more than God. Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men in America, said, “The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry.”

The Bible tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil.  Money itself is not condemned nor the possession of money but the love of money.  When our decisions are based more on money than on God’s will and His ways, that’s when money becomes an idol and a destroyer of individuals and families.

But SAM—Sex, Alcohol and Money—is only part of our idolatry. This may surprise you but it has been suggested that Health is the most modern idolatry.  Ellen Goodman, a Newsweek columnist, penned some thought-provoking words on our health fetish. She said:

“The old taboos were religious. Ours are medical.
Our ancestors talked about risks to the soul,
and we talk about risks to our bodies.…
Our focus on these matters is religious in its intensity.”

Are there not people today whose whole lives revolve around their cholesterol count? Health is important and yes, we are responsible to take care of our physical bodies but when it becomes an obsession, ‘health’ becomes another idol. When we care more about the health of the body and too little about the health of the soul, our physical health has become an idol.

At what point does anything become idolatry?  When we put something other than God on God’s throne.  And know this: there’s a certain characteristic of idols that never fails: idols will betray us.  When we put our faith in anything more than we put our faith in God, sooner or later, that ‘idol’ will fail us.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24

In Tune with Torah this week =  God’s people are His ‘cherished possession.’  He does not take it lightly when we consider anything in our lives as more important than Him.  He is jealous over us with a righteous jealousy for after all, He is our Creator and Father! Jeremiah called the people of Israel to love God and to put Him in first place in their lives. The greatest commandment is this: Hear, O Israel, the LORD is God; the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your possessions. Deuteronomy 6:4-5

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak July 7, 2017

Torah reading: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Haftorah reading: Micah 5:6 – 6:8

This week’s reading in the prophet Micah ends with this verse:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

This well known verse is a unique summary of what biblical obedience is all about.  Let’s get something straight from the very beginning.  Obedience according to biblical texts is not about meticulously complying with endless man made rules. It is, rather, an attitude of heart which recognizes the eternal love and compassion of the  Holy One of Israel towards us as our Father and our King (Avinu Malkenu) with the result that we want to honor, magnify and emulate Him.  You shall be holy for I am holy.  (Leviticus 19:2)

Over the centuries ‘holiness’ has been described primarily in terms of outward submission to commandments or instructions.  In all of the major religions of the world, issues such as manner of dress, style of worship, and conformity to doctrine and tradition have created the misconception that ‘holiness’ is measured by outward appearance.  Nothing could be further from the essence of biblical holiness.  Even a modern secular quote agrees: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

One of the most outstanding examples in the prophets that illustrates this principle is in I Samuel 16.  After the LORD had torn the kingdom of Israel from Saul because of his disobedience, He told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem and anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons.  Interestingly, the LORD didn’t tell the prophet which son. Jesse had several.

When the first son, Eliab, appeared before Samuel, the prophet looked at him and thought, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him. I Sam. 16:6

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’  I Samuel 16:7

Apparently Eliab ‘looked’ like the perfect candidate but he wasn’t.  The ‘appearance’ of religiosity can be deceiving for mankind has a unique tendency to act one way outwardly while thinking just the opposite internally.  This is the definition of hypocrisy!

humility2

God chose the most unlikely of Jesse’s sons – the youngest, David, who was just a teenager at the time…but what a teenager!  David tended his father’s sheep, a lonely and boring task which David transformed into a consistent opportunity for worship.  He sang to the LORD on the hillsides, meditated on God’s Word while the sheep grazed, and wrote the most beautiful songs of praise and worship, the Psalms, which we enjoy to this day.  God called David, ‘a man after my own heart.‘ Wow – imagine such a compliment from the LORD!

 

David wasn’t a perfect man, but he had the qualities of heart that God loved and which Micah speaks about in this week’s haftorah.

First there is justice. Justice is a willingness to stand up for what is right. From justice comes moral integrity, honesty, a holding to God’s values. Those who are just make sure that all people are seen as valuable in God’s eyes, because they make it a point to look at everyone as created in God’s image and likeness.

The second character trait in Micah’s description is mercy.  When we are merciful we respond to hurts in peoples lives, without deepening their wounds. This motivates us to show forgiveness to those who have hurt you and done you wrong, just as God freely forgives you when you repent of your sins and failures. It also means forgiving yourself for past failures.

The third trait is humility. Humility is not about being a ‘doormat’, neither is it weakness, but it is that quality of heart that recognizes God for who He is.  The humble heart then wants to do all that God asks of you, because of who He is. It requires that we obey God even when our desire is to do otherwise. God’s will comes before our own. Humility also thinks of others more than oneself.  It is not haughty or arrogant but looks for and appreciates the good in other people.  It is the polar opposite of someone who is regularly critical, judgmental and harsh towards other people.

We could say it this way: there’s a major difference between perfectionism and excellence.  Perfectionism is concerned with doing things right (outward observance).  Excellence is concerned with doing the right thing (heart motivation).

In Tune with Torah this week = God has not called us to ‘perfectionism’ but to excellence.  We are not here to ‘perform’ before others in order to be applauded by them.  We are here to serve the living God from the depths of our hearts, loving Him, desiring what He desires and being occupied with His interests above our own.

Keep in mind that the fundamental meaning of the word ‘hypocrite’ is ‘an actor’ – someone who pretends to be someone he is not.

Let us walk before God as Micah urges: being just, showing mercy and living humbly.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Chukat June 30, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 19:1 – 22:1

Haftorah reading: Judges 11: 1-33

All of us have flaws and failures. There are those who are crippled by them, others can rise above them and continue to live with confidence. But all of us have them.

Flaws are the imperfections – the weaknesses we are born with, bad experiences we had, unfortunate backgrounds we come from. These are not what we would have chosen.  We have no choice. They are not under our control.

Failures are the mistakes we made in life. We chose them wrongly and foolishly. We struggle and we suffer, because we made wrong decisions. But remember this, flaws and failures in life don’t define us, ultimately. We need not stay as victims of the past, nor victims of our flaws and failures.

That’s what we can learn from Jephthah, the judge in Judges 11.  Let’s look at this story in three ways: his flaw – his unfavorable past, then his failure, the unfortunate vow he made, and lastly his faith, his simple yet unflinching faith in God.

His past is something Jephthah cannot change. His birth. His background. He is an illegitimate child. Born to a prostitute. His father sinned and he was the result. Although his father Gilead brought him home, he wasn’t really a part of the family. Gilead’s wife and her sons rejected him. They said, “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family.” (11:2)  And this was likely said because their father Gilead has died. No one is left to defend him. No one in the family can now speak out for him. So the sons drove Jephthah away. Jephthah is an outcast, not just to the family, but also to the society as well.

According to Mosaic Law, Deut 23:2 “No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.” So Jephthat is a despised man. That explains why he ended up with a “group of adventurers” (worthless crooks and villains). He became a gang-leader, hanging around with fellow outcasts.

This is his unfavorable past, something he cannot change, something beyond his control. But that doesn’t define him. Our past doesn’t define us. We may be affected by it and influenced by it, we cannot ignore it, but it does not define WHO we are. But if we hold on to the past, if we believe in the past, if we are hindered by our past, then our faith is not in God. Our faith is in “FATE”.  We are then believing in a “force” over our lives that is greater than God.

God does not take away the past, undo the past, ignore the past; He REDEEMS the past. In fact, He makes use of our past and make something new out of it. God uses our past to prepare us, refine us, teach us, and mold us into who we are today if we will have more faith in Him than in our ‘past’.

Look what happened to Jephthah. After some time, the elders of Gilead come looking for him. The Ammonites made war on Israel and the elders wanted him to lead the fight.

Judges 11:7 Jephthah asks: “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?” They have no answer. Judges 11:8 “The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.”

Jephthah sought confirmation. Judges 11:11 “So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.”

Then Jephthah made a foolish mistake. As he prepares for the fight, he made a rash vow to God that was uncalled for and unnecessary.  He must have thought he needed to bribe God in order to receive His help but it was a violation of the Mosaic Law.

Deut. 23:21-23 “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth.”

He vowed that whatever came out of his house, he would offer as a burnt offering. His only daughter came out dancing with joy when he returned triumphant from the battle.

Jephthah

Jephthah kept his promise to God! He offered his daughter to the Lord. Some says literally as a burnt offering, while others say she was dedicated to God (not going to marry but dedicating her life to serving God). I believe that latter meaning is more acceptable, because (1) human sacrifice is an abomination to the Lord and prohibited in the Law, (2) the daughter says she will never marry (not die), and the text ends with Jephthah “did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.” (11:39)

But this is not what defines him. His unflinching faith in God does.

His faith in God was evident at home. Look at his daughter’s response:

Judges 11:36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.”

It was not a simple thing. Jephthah had no other children and for his only daughter not to be married, it would mean the end of his family line.  And for her to agree with her father and willingly accept her fate is noteworthy.

Jephthah’s FAITH in God is what defines the man. And it’s our FAITH in God that defines us. God can and will redeem our past, use our flaws, and teach us through our failures.

In Tune with Torah this week = Jephthah teaches us to live free of our failures, our past and and our flaws.  To recognize that anything and everything that has happened in our lives contributes to our spiritual growth if we will seek the LORD in the midst of it is a desirable and worthy attitude to cultivate.  God is not about making us ‘happy’ but making us ‘holy’.  True happiness is found in knowing Him and growing into the mature son and daughter of a Heavenly Father.

Shabbat Shalom