Weekly Torah Commentary – Bamidbar May 26, 2017

Torah Reading:  Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Haftorah reading:  Hosea 2: 1-22

The book of Hosea describes Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and its prophetic meaning for Israel. Chapters 4–14 give excerpts from Hosea’s preaching of grace and judgment leading up to the fall of Israel in 722 BC. Chapters 1–3 are so powerful and personal that we want to look at them for if we grasp the point of chapters 1–3, we grasp the point of the book.  And what is the point?  Read on…

Hosea 2: 1-23 is one of the most tender and most beautiful love songs in the Bible. It is sung by God to his unfaithful wife, Israel. But before we look at it, glance back for a moment to chapter 3. Here we see Hosea and his wife, Gomer for the last time. She has run off and lives now with a “significant other.” So Hosea is free, right? Now he can get a divorce. She has ended the marriage once and for all. She has another man. Therefore Hosea is free. Right?

Wrong!

God would not give up on Israel, and He appointed Hosea to symbolize his undying love to his wife of harlotry. “The Lord said to me, ‘Go again and love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley.” Hosea 3:1

Hosea

Two thoughts come to me as I read these verses.  First of all, who would ever want, let alone obey, that kind of calling?  What a man Hosea must have been! Secondly, in light of what God asked Hosea to do here, we get a glimpse into what God’s love for us in our wretchedness is like.

Throughout their marriage, Gomer had been unfaithful, and finally she went off with another man. Hosea could have had her stoned according to the Torah. But God commands him to love her. “Go again, love her.” And – imagine this –  not just was Hosea to go and get her and love her, but he had to be willing even to pay this “significant other” for her.  Besides the enormous emotional demand God’s word to him presented, Hosea in the natural could not afford it! He didn’t have enough money! So he paid half in cash and half in barley: fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley. And how amazingly interesting that the total amounted to what Exodus 21:32 says a female slave costs. Gomer had evidently sunk to the lowest possible level. And God says to Hosea, “Get her back, whatever it costs, get her back. I did not create her to be a slave to sin and immorality.”

Every kind of sin a a form of adultery for every sin is a betrayal of the One Who created you, loves you, redeems you and desires to fellowship with you.  Sin is choosing to do something you like better than God’s commandments.

Perhaps one of our problems is that while we may desire to serve the Almighty as our God, we have yet to learn to love Him as our Husband.

For Your Maker is your husband; the LORD of Hosts is His name, and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called.  Isaiah 54:5

Behold the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares the LORD.  Jeremiah 31:31-32

The entire message of the book of Hosea could be summarized in these words: Love God warmly as your Husband, don’t just serve him as your Lord.

In Tune with Torah this week = God’s love for us is such that the response He desires is a love in return that is as powerful, as committed, as deep and as lasting as the love between husband and wife is meant to be. Sadly in our modern age, the examples of this kind of faithful, loving marriage are not as plentiful as in generations past.  Yet, that does not in any way lessen the truth of God’s committed love towards us and His desire that we experience powerful, deep, faithful and lasting love from Him.

If you’ve been hurt by betrayal or divorce with all of their implications, may the word of the LORD today encourage you that there is ONE who loves you faithfully and He will never betray or abandon you.  Love Him warmly as your husband even as you serve Him as your Lord.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayechi December 25, 2015

Genesis 27:28 – 50:26

This is the last Torah reading in the book of Genesis. It ends with the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers and the death of Jacob.

Afraid that he had not really forgiven them for their betrayal of him, the brothers send Joseph a message after the death of Jacob, asking for forgiveness.  The message grieves Joseph who has indeed forgiven long ago.  He replies:

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen. 50:19-21)

This message bears a great resemblance to an earlier one. When he revealed himself to them seventeen years before, he said:

“I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no sowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:3-8)

These two interactions between Joseph and his brothers are critical moments in the history of biblical faith.  These are the first occasions recorded in the Scriptures when one person forgives another for an offense.  But that’s not all: these two exchanges also establish the principle of Divine Providence.

History, as has been noted, is “His Story” – the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose for mankind. Though we think we are in command of our destiny, the truth is that God is on His throne and it is He Who reigns over our days. His purposes are accomplished, often in ways that we do not understand, but nevertheless work for our good and, more importantly, for His overall plan of Redemption.  There are no coincidences with God; no accidents.  God never says “Oops!”

Joseph’s greatness was that he sensed this. He learned that nothing in his life happened by accident. The brothers’ betrayal, the plot to kill him, his tenure as a slave, the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife, his time in prison, and his disappointed hope that the chief butler would remember him and secure his release – all these events failed to throw him into an unredeemable depression.  Rather, to his credit and for our example, they became stepping stones in the journey towards the fulfillment of his destiny.  How? Because along the way, Joseph chose to learn from his experiences rather than rail against them.

No leader succeeds without facing opposition, envy, false accusations and repeated setback. Given his closeness to his father, Jacob, before he was separated from him, it is reasonable to expect that Joseph learned this principle from Jacob, himself.

I don’t know if Winston Churchill read the Bible but he certainly reflects the life journey of Joseph in his famous quote:  “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

What sustained Joseph through the many trials he endured was his faith.  Somehow Joseph internalized that life was not just about him, but about something much bigger.  The faith he learned from his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather stabilized him in the midst of chaos, encouraged him in the darkness and humbled him in success.  It as that very humility that enabled him to say to his brothers, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”

In Tune with Torah this week = By recognizing, like Joseph, that we are no more than co-authors of our lives, we are empowered to survive without resentment towards the past or despair about the future. Trust in God despite any obstacles or setbacks is his message to us this week. Whatever malice other people may harbor against us, if we can say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,” we will survive, our strength intact, our energy undiminished.  May the God of Joseph, Whom we also serve, grant us that same perspective.

If you have found this message helpful, pass it on to a friend.

Shabbat Shalom and blessings to all at this season.