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 – Beresheit October 27, 2016

Torah reading this week:  Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 42:5 – 43:10

For three weeks we will be reading portions from the book of Isaiah as companion readings to the weekly Torah.  In this section that is partnered with Genesis 1-6, the reading begins with the verse:

Thus says the Lord God who created the heavens and stretched the out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.  Isaiah 42:5

This verse clearly refers back to the account of creation and establishes the rationale for the arrangement of the Haftorah readings in the yearly cycle.  Each section was chosen by its ability to mirror a principle or truth which the Torah reading holds forth from week to week.

fearnot

Chapter 40 of Isaiah begins the second half of the book of Isaiah and it is from this second half that the readings for this week and the next two weeks are taken.   In Chapters 1 to 39, God warned his people about judgement for their national sins. At that time, Assyria was the enemy and Isaiah himself lived through the events of this period.

In Chapters 40 to 66, God promises comfort to his people. (The word ‘comfort’ appears 13 times.) In these chapters, Babylon rather than Assyria is the enemy. God’s people have been exiled to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness to God. What Isaiah describes in this second half of the book he will not live to see for the events occur two hundred years later.

In Chapters 40 and 41, Isaiah reminds the people that God rules over nations and over history.  He reminds the people that sin has consequences and that false gods have no power.  He also assures His own people of His abiding love and care for them.

I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you….I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another nor My praise to graven images.  42:6,8

The prophet cries to Israel to sing a new song to the Lord – to praise Him unreservedly.

Tell the whole world to sing a new song to the Lord. Tell those who sail the seas to join in the song. And tell those who live in distant places to join in too. Let people who live in the deserts and in the cities sing aloud to praise God. Let the people in Kedar praise him. Let the inhabitants of the city called Sela shout for joy from the tops of the mountains.  Let the inhabitants of distant nations praise the Lord. Let them give him great honor.  42:10-12

From its earliest days, Israel was taught to praise the Lord, to worship Him as the one and only true God of heaven and earth.  That truth is foundational to all of the Scriptures and is encapsulated in the well know words of Deuteronomy: Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is One.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your strength.

The revelation of God as One Supreme Being was first recognized by Abraham who spread that truth far and wide and passed it on to his descendants ‘that the world might know…’

Yet despite all their miraculous history, Israel had not learned as a nation to walk in the righteousness they were called to and God raised up Isaiah to warn them as a loving father does his children.  The spiritual blindness of the people, their disobedience to His instructions would bring discipline in the form of exile from their Land; yet, even in the stern warning there was a promise of future redemption.

 But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel.  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine!  43:1

This is the promise that to this day the people of God can rely on with absolute faith for as it says in another place in scripture, God is not a man that He should lie…

From before creation, God, who is love, had a plan which issued from His very being; a plan to create not only a physical earth and heavens but a people who would come to know Him, to learn from Him, to listen to Him and to live according to His ways.  As He is all knowing, it was not hidden from Him that many among mankind would rebel against His ways, and refuse to walk according to His commandments.  But His dream of a people who would fellowship with Him was not minimized by the reality that some would refuse His love.  Rather, His vision was towards those who would respond with hearts of faith and of love and seek to know Him, follow Him and live out their days in His presence and according to His Word.

Here is the wonderful truth: if you believe in Him, love Him and have dedicated yourself to living according to His ways, He was thinking of you – YES, YOU! – before creation.  That in itself is an amazing truth that boggles the mind.  But it’s true – absolutely true – and should elicit from all of us a ‘new song’ of praise and thanksgiving for His abundant goodness and love.

For we have all failed Him during our journey of seeking to walk in His ways.  Yet His promise of redemption can never fail us for unlike us, He is eternally, irrevocably, immutably faithful. What He has said, He will do. And when God sets out to do something, no power in the universe can stop Him!

He knows you by name and has provided eternal redemption because of  His love.

Should we not be moved to love such an awesome God in return? To lay aside anything and everything that would hinder us from walking according to His ways and His Word?

This week’s Haftorah urges us to remember and appreciate the wonders of creation, the glory of the Creator and our precious opportunity to show our gratitude by living in obedience to the One Who has so loved us.

Shabbat shalom