Weekly Torah Commentary – May 11, 2018 Behar-Bechukotai

Torah reading:  Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands, I will send the seasonal rains…I will give you peace in the Land and you will be able to sleep without cause for fear…I will look favorably upon you, make you fertile and multiplying your people…and I will fulfill My covenant with you Leviticus 26: 3, 6, 9.

Someone has said that the history of Israel could be summed up this way: Deliverance, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance – Deliverance, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance – over and over again.  To a great extent, that’s absolutely true.

But throughout that ebb and flow of Israel’s national character, one thing remains constant to this very day – GOD’S ETERNAL FAITHFULNESS to HIS COVENANT.

covenant

The people who populate the pages of your Bible and mine understood Covenant to a degree that few modern folks do.  In biblical times, covenants were linked to all kinds of relationships, whether nations, tribes, clans, families or individuals.

The English word ‘covenant’ comes from the Latin con-venire which literally means “to come together in agreement.”  The Hebrew word brit literally means ‘to bind or to fetter, a binding obligation’.  In biblical terms, the word Covenant is the ultimate expression of committed love and trust.

So we could define Covenant this way: It is a binding, unbreakable obligation between two parties, based on unconditional love sealed by blood and an oath, that creates a relationship in which each party is bound by specific undertakings on the other’s behalf. 

Westerners may feel strange or uncomfortable with the concept or confuse it with a ‘contract’ but they are not the same.  Contracts are negotiated by both parties and can be changed or even cancelled.  A Covenant is entirely different.  It is far above the exchange of things; it is the giving of oneself in committed relationship and the openness to receive from the other person. It cannot be altered or cancelled. A familiar example of this is the covenant between David and Jonathan detailed in the book of I Samuel.

The most amazing news announced to a man and his descendants was that God, in His unconditional love for us, cut a covenant with Abraham, thereby calling to all descendants of Abraham in every generation to enter into the most intimate and unbreakable bond of relationship known to mankind – a covenant relationship with Himself.  God’s covenant draws us into the circle of friendship in which God and His people are bound together.

What is perhaps equally amazing is that a perfect, all-wise and altogether holy God with no necessity within Him and no pressure from without, chose to create us with – of all things – free will.  Do you understand how incredible that is?  He created us with the capability to say ‘No’ to Him.  If I may put it this way, God took the greatest risk ever by creating man and woman in His image and likeness, yet with the ability within them to reject and rebel against the very One who created them.  If that’s not unconditional, eternal, unfathomable LOVE, I don’t know what is!

And when He did, He had already determined that He would make a covenant with the man of His choice, Abraham – a covenant that would last unconditionally throughout time and eternity, a covenant that He would never break because of Who He is – Almighty, Everlasting Eternally Unchangeable God!

There is another Hebrew word we must include in this discussion: chesed, which includes three ideas – strength, steadfastness and love – and it is commonly translated as loving kindness.  It denotes much more than loyalty and some legal obligation; it is genuine love, warmhearted generosity and goodness, an attitude of heart that goes beyond requirement to lavish giving of oneself and one’s resources.

By now, I’m sure you recognize that everything we’ve said about Covenant describes the very essence and character of our Heavenly Father.  He is unlimited Love, unconquerable Strength and unending faithfulness or steadfastness.  When God made covenant with Abraham, it was for keeps!

And so the psalmist wrote: Your (chesed) loving kindness, O Lord is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Psalm 36:5

God made Covenant not to create loving kindness but to express His loving kindness – that we might see His heart now and for all eternity.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your Faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23

Most importantly, let us not forget precisely what God promised Abraham:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai, ‘God Almighty’….This is My covenant with you. I will make you that father of a multitude of nations.  What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer by Abram. Instead you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.  I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them.’  Gen. 17:1, 4-6

This promise of ‘many nations’ – not just one – followed Abram’s declaration of Faith. And Abram believed the LORD and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith Gen. 15:6

This occurred some four hundred years before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai.  Abram was not considered righteous by God because of meticulous keeping of the law for there was no law in his day! God called him ‘righteous’ because of his FAITH.

In tune with Torah this week =  Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation and also father of ‘many nations’ which includes the Gentile nations, stands for all time as the premiere example of the power of FAITH.

At the age of 99, when every natural reality cried against it, Abram BELIEVED that God could do the impossible…and God did.  Every man, woman and child who believes in the Person and the Word of the living God is a child of Abraham, one of His spiritual descendants.

Child of Abraham, FAITH is the bedrock of our relationship with God; He cannot lie, His Word will never fail. You can trust your Heavenly Father implicitly for His Chesed – loving kindness – endures forever!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Mishpatim Feb. 24, 201

Torah reading: Exodus 21-24

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25-26

This week’s haftorah reading is directly related to the first verse of the Torah reading in Exodus 21, in which God commands that anyone who has a Hebrew slave must grant him freedom after six years and send him away  with provision that will enable him to begin a new life.

The words in Hebrew translated as ‘Hebrew slave’ are eved ivri, which literally means a Hebrew worker or employee, not a ‘slave’ in the context of that word in modern thinking.  In ancient times, someone who had a debt they could not re-pay would voluntarily ‘work off their debt’ by serving in the household of the one to whom they owed the money.  In the Torah, God made clear that no one was to be such an eved ivri for more than six years and in fact, when the master released the worker, he was to provide him with whatever was needed for the newly freed servant to establish a new life.  The fundamental concept is that we are always to treat others with dignity, even and especially if they have fallen on hard times.

Fast forward to today’s haftorah:

“The word that came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people that were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them; that every man should let his man-servant, and every man his maid-servant, that is a Hebrew or a Hebrewess, go free; that none should make bondmen of them, of a Jew his brother. And all the princes and all the people obeyed, that had entered into the covenant, that everyone should let his man-servant, and everyone his maid-servant, go free, that none should make bondmen of them any more; they obeyed, and let them go. But those owners changed their minds and forced their former servants back into slavery. Jeremiah 34:8-9

 

Jeremiah addresses a situation in the Jerusalem of his day in which the population conducted a hypocritical ceremony of emancipation of their household servants only to re-‘enslave’ them shortly afterward.  God was outraged at such behavior and considered it treacherous and shameless, particularly because those who did so were themselves descendants of slaves that God Himself undertook to deliver from Egypt in a miraculous way.  He commanded in the Torah that His people were to be ‘holy as He is holy’ and to treat one’s fellowman as He treated them.

Therefore, the punishment inflicted upon them was justly deserved.

What made the peoples’ sin even worse was that they broke a covenant. To break a covenant was a grievous sin – and still is.  Therefore, the people suffered the consequence.

This reading reminds us that every decision has consequences not only for ourselves but for those around us.  And the decisions we make regarding how we treat each other are particularly important to God.

Has God been merciful to you when you needed mercy? Yes. Then in turn you are to be merciful towards those in need, towards those who have offended you, towards those who disagree with you.

Has God been good to you? Yes.  Then in turn you are to show goodness and kindness towards others.  It should be the natural result of your own awareness of God’s kindness towards you?

Has God been patient with you? We can all say a resounding ‘Yes’! Then it behooves us to learn patience in dealing with those around us, as the proper expression of gratitude to the LORD for His patience with us.

This is the lesson the Israelites had not learned and therefore, they paid the consequence.

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service’. But your fathers did not listen to Me or incline their ears to Me.  You recently repented and did was what right in My eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before Me in the house that is called by My name.  But then you turned around and profaned My name when each of you took back his male and female servants, whom you had set free according to their desire and you brought them back into subjection.  Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed Me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor.  Behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence and to famine, declares the LORD.  I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.  Jeremiah 34:12 -16

God did not take lightly the fact that the people promised ‘in the house that is called by My name’ to obey the Word of the LORD and then almost immediately, took it back.  It was a mockery and an insult to His holiness and God took it personally.

He still does.

When we mistreat others in violation of His commandment that we are to love one another, it is grievous to the heart of our heavenly Father.  When we make a promise to Him and then ignore or dismiss it, it is grievous to the heart of our heavenly Father.

Application:

At least two questions arise out of this passage.  1) Am I treating others with the same kindness with which God treats me?  2) Am I a person of my word? When I make a promise, do I keep it?

The answers to those questions are supremely important to our God.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Noach November 4, 2016

Torah reading:  Noach  Genesis 6:9-11:32

Haftorah:  Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5

noahark

As chapter 54 of Isaiah opens, the prophet announces future blessings: the expansion of Israel, the blessings of safety and peace, and the portion of righteousness.

This chapter anticipates the ultimate salvation and restoration of Israel, begun in part at the restoration of the exiles from Babylon in 536 B.C. but for the most part yet in the future, for as this chapter unfolds it will become clearer and clearer that the return from Babylon did not fulfill all the promises of God. There yet remains the final culmination of the entirety of God’s covenant promises at the end of the age. In fact, as these chapters progress to the end of the book, the vision gets more glorious, and the hope for what we will see in the end of days that much more strengthened.

We have here Isaiah’s glimpse at the promises of the new covenant God promised to make with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. He does not provide the details of Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel 36, but he complements what is there.

The verses describing the new covenant promised: a restoration to the land for Israel and to the pure worship and spiritual service as priests, the long awaited arrival of King Messiah to Israel,  the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh so that the Torah will be written in their hearts, the end of war and oppression in the land and in the world, and the reign of the Messiah in righteousness. Beginning with the restoration from exile, some of this was fulfilled, but not all; only with the coming of Messiah will all these things be completely fulfilled. Isaiah 54 lays out some of the promised blessings, but does not say when they will be fulfilled in part or completely.

But this chapter is also immediately practical as much for us today as it was for ancient Israel. The prophet describes clearly the plans God has for His holy people in this world; but the clues in the chapter, and the related contexts of the time, let us know that attaining these promises to the full called for spiritual service—which is why the chapter ends with the reminder that this is the heritage of the righteous servants of the LORD.

In verses 5 and 6 we are reminded that the promise is based on the relationship that the nation has to God; in His faithfulness to His covenant.

For your Maker is your husband,

the LORD of armies is His name;

and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,

the God of the whole earth shall He be called.

In creation He is our ‘Maker’ but now the prophet reminds us that not only did He create us, but, as clearly proclaimed in the book of Exodus, God is also our ‘husband’, a covenant term which calls to mind a marriage. The ‘husband’ is described as the sovereign Creator, the LORD of armies, the Holy One of Israel, the Redeemer, and the God of the whole earth. Any people related by covenant (marriage) to such a One need not fear anyone—except God Himself.

The condition of Israel is addressed as a wife that is bereaved, grieved in spirit, forsaken, and cast off. But will she be cast off forever?

The following verses affirm that the exile was a temporary manifestation of God’s wrath to purge the rebels and faithless from the nation.

Verses 7-10 record the speech of the LORD to assure Israel of future peace. The poetry is exquisite:

For a small moment I have forsaken you,

but with great mercies will I gather you;

In overflowing wrath I hid my face from you for a moment,

but with everlasting love I will have mercy on you.

The whole Babylonian captivity is referred to as a “small moment” when God turned His back on Israel. Seventy years may not seem like a ‘moment’ to us but in the context of God’s eternal plan of redemption, it is indeed but a moment.

The regathering of the Tribes will be with tender mercies. The exile is described as God’s wrath when He hid His face, a very human description to convey withholding mercy, but the restoration is a display of His everlasting loyal love and His absolute dependability. God is speaking to the nation as a whole; His anger was against sin, the exile was for the purpose of purging the rebels and drawing contrition and faith from the remnant. Now the restoration would show that the judgment time had passed, that there would be a new beginning.

The announcement is similar to the Noachide Covenant. So the comparison is made with the “waters of Noah”. Here too the LORD seals His promise with an oath, just as He did in the days of Noah.  And therein is the connection with this week’s Torah portion about Noah and the great flood.

It is noteworthy that the end of days is described elsewhere as being ‘like the days of Noah’ and as we look around our world today, it’s not difficult to see the connection.  While Noah built the Ark, the people around him scoffed, mocked and ridiculed him for obeying God, oblivious to the judgment that was about to be poured out on them for their national sins and rebellion.  In the end, eight people – only EIGHT – survived the Flood, a tiny remnant.

In Tune with Torah this week: we would do well to read Genesis 6 along with all of the Haftorah and consider the message as it relates to our world at this very moment in time.

What does it say personally to you, to your family?  If you had been alive at the time of Noah, would you have joined the mockers in belittling Noah for acting in faith?