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 – May 5, 2017 Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

Torah reading:  Leviticus 16-20

Haftorah reading: Amos 9:7-15

“On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the Lord who does this thing.  vs. 11-12

Long before the time of Amos, the northern kingdom of Israel had rebelled and rejected the house of David. Here God promises to restore David’s royal line in preparation for the Messiah to come whose titles include ‘Son of David’.  Previous to these verses the prophet has been warning of judgment upon Israel but suddenly there is this abrupt change from the stinging rebuke.  It is now declared that the reason for the divine judgment was not revenge, but the only way to usher in the restored order on which the heart of God was set.

God’s intent in rebuke and judgment is ALWAYS restoration.  He disciplines those whom He loves that we might walk more uprightly before Him.

The Tabernacle of David calls our attention to worship for that was it’s purpose: to be a place of worship and exuberant praise to the Holy One of Israel.  To be sure David had no easy life. He faced many trials but what was his strength? He had a passionate love for God which was expressed in exhilarating worship.  From his heart came such words as:  ‘I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.’

David knew the LORD to be not just the God of our good times but the God of all our times.  Therefore He is also the God of our worst times.  He is our God when all is going well and He is our God when troubles surround us.  He is our God when we have plenty to eat and He is our God when we are hungry.  In every and any circumstance, He is our God and worthy of our worship.

Worship is more than songs and the utterance of certain prayers.  Those may be experiences of worship but in truth our entire life is to be an expression of worship to our God.  Learning to honor Him and maintain an attitude of thanksgiving towards the LORD throughout our daily life, whatever our situation, is a process that never stops.  We will continue to learn it to our last breath.

You may be thinking ‘I don’t have trouble thanking God and praising Him for all the blessings He has given me but what about the hard times? What about when tragedy strikes or I’m going through a very difficult season of life?’

My answer is a question: What’s the difference between a potato, an egg and a coffee bean?  (I can hear you saying, ‘What?!? Did I read that right?!?)  Yes, you did.  Stay with me.

A potato is hard when you put it in hot water.  After boiling it for some time, it becomes soft, mushy and weak.

An egg is protected by its shell until you put it in hot water.  After boiling it for some time, the egg becomes hard.

A coffee bean starts out hard, but when you put it in hot water it doesn’t get harder and it doesn’t get mushy, instead, it changes the water into something better – fragrant, aromatic coffee!

So – praising God and thanking Him for His kindness and goodness, even in hard times, is a matter of choice.

Will I choose to be like a potato whose spirituality weakens when I face something difficult?

Will I choose to be like an egg and harden my heart with bitterness and resentment in difficult times?

Or will I choose to be like the coffee bean? To immerse myself in the love of God when times are hard and change myself into something new and better despite the ‘hot water’ I’m going through?

These comparisons are not original with me.  I read a story on Facebook where a father used these very examples to help his daughter get through a very difficult time in her life.  They were too good not to pass on to you.

My fellow coffee-lovers out there, next time you sip your brew ask yourself, ‘Am I letting God change me into a better person not in spite of but because of what I’m going through?’  Even if you aren’t a coffee drinker, it’s still a great question!

In Tune with Torah this week = whatever it takes to develop a lifestyle of worship is well worth the investment.  For our God is worthy of all our worship and praise – all the time and in all our ways.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemini April 21, 2017

Torah reading:  Leviticus 9-11

Haftorah reading: 2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, uncovering himself in the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!” David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people, Israel. I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these maids you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.   2 Sam. 6:20-23

Daviddances

Remember that David was a simple shepherd boy – a teenager – when the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint him the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul was reigning over Israel and when David killed Goliath, he won the king’s favor.  However, that didn’t last long for Saul became exceedingly jealous of David and his abilities as the commander of his army. Eventually David becomes King and Jerusalem becomes his city, The City of David.

In I Samuel 18 there’s an interesting verse that bears on this week’s reading: “When Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.”  (vs. 28-29)  Saul gave his daughter in marriage to David but Saul’s jealousy and fear of David continue until we read in 1 Samuel 25:44 that Saul gives his daughter who was married to David to another man by the name of Palti.

After the death of Saul, David decides he wants his first wife, Michal, back and sends one of his men to escort her back to David’s palace (2 Samuel 3:14-22). Talk about dysfunctional relationships!

This complicated relationship between David and Michael continues to the point where in this week’s Haftorah, we get this description of David taking the ark into the city Jerusalem, his City, the city of David.

David was wearing an ephod or the priestly garments as he danced with all his might before the LORD – a dance of worship, of celebrating the goodness of God, of recognizing God’s power and glory.  David worshiped with everything in him.

When he got home afterwards, Mrs. Michal had her critical speech ready and memorized! In essence she says to her husband, the king, ‘You sure made a fool of yourself today!’

Why did Michal speak so harshly to David?

There may be several reasons but here at least are a few.

Remember that she loved David and had been his first wife.  When her father tore her from him and gave her to another man because of his own (Saul’s) jealousy, perhaps she felt abandoned that David did not come after her and rescue her from this new ‘husband’ right away.  Perhaps she struggled with resentment against both her father and her husband and if that resentment festered in her, bitterness would have developed and this was the moment it poured out of her onto David.

Alternatively, could there have been some tension between the ‘wife born into royalty’ and the lowly shepherd become king? Was that the reason behind accusing him of being ‘undignified’? In modern terminology would she be calling him a ‘peasant’, ‘a country bumpkin’?

David’s answer is to point out that what he was doing, he was doing for the LORD.

It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (vs. 21-22)

David makes it quite clear to his wife that his dancing is a perfectly acceptable form of celebrating the God He loves so ardently. Though he was King of Israel, David celebrated with abandon the One Who is King of the Universe and lets Michal know in no uncertain terms that nothing she says will keep him from passionate worship of the LORD.

Good for him!

The verse that follows is ominous and one can’t escape the connection.  Michael, daughter of Saul, had no child to the day of her death.  (Vs. 23) In biblical times, infertility was seen as one of the worst judgments of the LORD against a woman.

It was not wise to criticize the one doing the dancing!  It is never wise to criticize another person’s expressions of love and devotion to the LORD, even if it’s not ‘your style’ of worship.  The worship is not addressed to you!  It’s addressed to the Holy One of Israel.  Who are we to criticize how another person worships Him?

Notice 2 Samuel 6: 16 Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; she despised him in her heart. (emphasis added)

That word despised has synonyms such as hated, loathed and detested. There can little doubt that her ardent love for David had gone cold. But somehow, I don’t think her verbal attack was only about the dancing, do you?  Resentment had been simmering under the surface for a long time.

King David reckoned himself small in comparison to the God of Israel and cared little for the opinions of men. If the maids had noticed his zeal and passion for God, well then, he was fine with that.  ‘May it inspire them to passionate love for God!’ would have been his way of looking at the situation – radically different from Michael’s.

Is there more here for us to glean so many centuries later?
Are you convinced that what God thinks of you is what really matters in life?  Or like Michal, are you overly conscious of ‘what others might think’ if you stand strong in your faith and its expression?

Michal would have been an extremely brave or extremely cheesed off woman to confront the king in the way she did. But with her upbringing her own view she saw David because of his dancing as a ‘vulgar fellow’.

In society today we encounter opposition to our faith in God, to our celebration of Him.  The secular mind calls it foolishness.  Like Michal they have their ‘reasons’, but there is NO ‘reason’ for you or I to be moved or weakened in our faith by the opinions of other people.

Was David wrong to dance, to celebrate before the Lord? This was a King who had seen the power of God in his life. He knew what it was to sense the ‘joy of the Lord’ for it was this king who had written Psalm 16 which ends with these words: ‘In your presence is fulness of joy and at Your right hand, there are pleasures forevermore.’ vs. 11

In Tune with Torah this week = Is the presence of the LORD real in your life? Do you know that you know that He is with you? That He loves you with an unconditional love? That His attitude toward you is one of blessing?  Joy is much more than a feeling; it is an attitude of life fueled by an abiding awareness of God’s personal love for you!

May your joy in Him increase this Shabbat and throughout the rest of your life.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayechi January 13, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 47:28-50:26

Haftorah reading: I Kings 2:1-12

Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; that the Lord may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,’ He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ ”  I Kings 2: 1-4

daviddeath

David, son of Jesse – Israel’s greatest king, apart from the Messiah – recognized that he was but a man and shared the common destiny of all men. Knowing he would soon pass from this life, David gave a final charge to his son, Solomon.

Perhaps David sensed some weakness in Solomon. Perhaps he knew Solomon would be tested in far greater ways than he was. Whatever the exact reason was, David knew Solomon needed strength and courage. Great responsibilities require great strength and courage.

David also knew that Solomon could not be strong or courageous without obedient fellowship with God. In this place of obedient fellowship, Solomon would prosper in all that he did.

David had a general reason to exhort Solomon to obedience, but he also had a specific reason, a specific promise of God. God promised David that as long as his sons walked in obedience, they would keep the throne of Israel. This was an amazing promise. No matter what the Assyrians or the Egyptians or the Babylonians did, as long as David’s sons were obedient and followed God with their heart and with all their soul, God would establish and protect their kingdom.

We love to read about the promises of God but sometimes overlook the condition tied to those promises.  The book of Deuteronomy is filled with the repetition of the words:  “If you will….I will…”  If WE will love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength, than HE will dispense blessing, protection and prosperity of soul and body to us in proportion to our obedience to Him.  This is an uncompromising principle in God’s Word.

Here are some examples of this principle:

Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all the nations you will be My treasured possession.  Exodus 19:5

If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep His covenant of love with you, as He swore to your forefathers.  Deut. 7:12

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from the way that I command you today by following other gods which you have not known.   Deut. 11:26-28

If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.   Psalm 91:9-10

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land… Isaiah 1:18-19

The promises of God can be likened to a spiritual bank account.  He has placed those promises on deposit, not because of anything we have done but because of His own eternal covenantal integrity.  Our means of accessing those promises is obedient faith; i.e., to believe what God has said and to walk according to His ways.  That is what ‘takes us to the bank to make a withdrawal’.  To attempt a withdrawal without the ‘access code’ will get you nowhere!  Our ‘access code’ is obedience to the conditions.

God wants us to benefit from His promises.  If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have made them!

Application:

This Shabbat would be a great time to take the scriptures quoted above and in quiet reflection, examine our own hearts to see if there are conditions we have overlooked, dismissed or ignored.  Repentance is the way back.  May we all live in such a way that the blessings of the promises of God can flow freely into our lives.

Shabbat Shalom