Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayechi December 29, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

Haftorah reading: I Kings 2: 1-12

Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed. Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’ “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.”  Genesis 48:1-5

Jacob_Blessing_Ephraim_and_Manasseh_by_Benjamin_West

Reuben and Simeon were Jacob’s first-born sons. They were the ones who by right and by custom should have received a double portion of Jacob’s estate, twice as much as any of their brothers. But now, Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, as his own first-born sons. They will replace Reuben and Simeon as first-born sons and receive their inheritance. This elevates Joseph’s position, as the 11th born son, to an even greater position than the 1st born son. That’s because he, through his first two children, now receives four portions of his father’s estate. Usually, the first-born son receives two portions of the estate and the rest of the children only one, but Joseph gets four portions! Jacob elevates Joseph through this adoption, then he continues.

Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). Gen. 48:6-7

The elevation of Joseph to the status of 1st born, reminds Jacob of Joseph’s mother, Rachel. He still feels the pain of her loss even after all those years; but in the midst of the pain and in the midst of his own terminal condition, he looks to the future with confidence. He adopts two boys as his own and promises them a double portion of his estate even though he has nothing to give them at this time. Jacob is living in a strange land. In fact, he has no land of his own except a small burial plot hundreds of miles away.

Yet he speaks with all the confidence of a promising future for his family.

Why? Because Jacob has found his hope in the promises of God, and that’s where we find our hope as well. If we feel as though we have nothing, if we are dealing with physical or emotional pain, if this year of 2017 has been a struggle, nevertheless, as we face the onset of a new year, we can utterly depend on the promises of God, just as Jacob did. We can look forward to the coming year with an absolute assurance that God will keep His Word. We can face the future with joy in anticipation of all that God has for us in the days ahead.

Jacob spoke to Joseph not out of what he presently possessed but out of the promise of God to him, and to his father, Isaac and to his grandfather, Abraham.

A story is told about a man at the age of 75 who planted a number of very small fruit trees.  His family wondered why he did so as he would likely never live to see the trees mature.  Some years later, after the old man had passed away, his son realized that when he visits the family farm, he has an option: he can either go to the nearby cemetery to mourn over his father’s grave or he can go pick fruit from the trees his father planted and think about the legacy of hope and faith his father left to the family.’

The Bible commands us to teach our children and our grandchildren about our God and the reliability of His promises.

In Tune with Torah this week = we need to ask ourselves: are we ‘planting fruit trees’ or are we complaining about our circumstances? Are we using the days allotted to us to build a spiritual legacy for those to follow or are we wasting time moaning about the present?

Jacob teaches us that the promises of God are irrevocable, unchangeable and more sure than the sun rising in the morning.  Our confidence and faith as we enter 2018 is founded on HIS integrity, not on world conditions.  Therefore we can pray with David, the sweet psalmist of Israel: ‘Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.’ Psalm 51:12

May this new year bring each of us closer to the LORD of Glory than ever before.

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemot January 20, 2017

Torah reading:  Exodus 1:1-6:1

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 27: 6-28:13, 29:22-23

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valleys, to those who are overcome with wine! Behold, the Lord has a mighty and strong one, like a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, like a flood of mighty waters overflowing, who will bring them down to the earth with His hand. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, will be trampled underfoot; and the glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valley, like the first fruit before the summer, which an observer sees; he eats it up while it is still in his hand. Isaiah 28: 1-4

The prophet addresses the northern kingdom which was known as the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Ephraim.  This is the kingdom that was established in the territory given to Ephraim when Joshua divided the nation after they entered the Promised Land.  It was to this geographical location that the ten tribes moved when they rebelled against Judah who was located in Jerusalem and its environs.  Rather quickly the northern kingdom demonstrated their rebellion by changing times and seasons, changing instructions given in the Torah to suit their own preferences and eventually were conquered after only 70 years and dispersed among the nations.

A fundamental root of their rebellion is identified in the opening words: Woe to the crown of pride…

John R.W. Stott, a remarkably humble man of great abilities and accomplishments is credited with this succinct statement about pride and humility. It goes straight to the heart of what the Bible teaches about the deadly root of our sins and sorrows. Stott said: “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.”

We haven’t heard much lately about this topic, have we? What throughout history has been recognized as the deadliest of vices is now almost celebrated as a virtue in our present society. Pride and arrogance are conspicuous among the rich, the powerful, the successful, the famous, and celebrities of all sorts, and sadly, even some religious leaders. And it is also alive and well in ordinary people, including each of us. Yet few of us realize how dangerous it is to our souls and how greatly it hinders our intimacy with God and love for others.

Humility, on the other hand, is often seen as weakness, and few of us know much about it or pursue it. For the good of our souls, however, we need to gain a clearer understanding of both pride and humility and how to renounce the one and embrace the other.

Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where we see the devil, that “proud spirit” as some have described him, using pride as the avenue by which to seduce our first parents. Taking the form of a serpent, his approach was simple yet deadly. First, he arrogantly contradicted what God had said to Eve about eating the forbidden fruit and charged God with lying. This shocking rejection of God’s word introduced Eve to the hitherto unknown possibility of unbelief and stirred up doubt in her mind about the reliability of God. In the next breath, the devil drew her into deeper deception by contending that God’s reason for lying was to keep her from enjoying all the blessings of her state. His goal was to undermine Eve’s faith and cause her to question God’s truthfulness.

As Eve in her now confused and deceived state of mind considered the possibilities, her desire to become ‘Godlike’ grew stronger. The forbidden fruit became more attractive. Desire increased, bringing with it the inclination to rationalize and thereby erode any inclination of her will to resist the temptation being offered.

Finally, weakened by unbelief, enticed by pride, and ensnared by self-deception, she disobeyed God’s command. In just a few clever and devious words, the devil was able to use ego to bring about Eve’s downfall and plunge the human race into spiritual ruin. This ancient but all-too-familiar process confronts each of us daily.

Temptation to choose self over God is a daily issue.  Self-indulgence, self-pity, self-aggrandizement, self-will, taking oneself too seriously and thinking more of oneself than we ought to think are all symptoms of a pride in the heart that is displeasing to our God. The prophet Micah put it this way:  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 before your God?  Micah 6:8

Pride can manifest itself in many ways, spiritual pride being the worst of them all. To consider yourself better than others because of your race, nationality, talents, achievements or religious affiliation is obnoxious to God.  What do any of us have that we have not received as a gift from our heavenly Father?  Even those things that we call ‘our’ achievements could never have come about without God’s sustaining and enabling grace being operative in our lives.  None of us is guaranteed ‘tomorrow’ – sudden and untimely deaths are a common occurrence of which we are all aware.

It behooves us to recognize that apart from the LORD’s blessing upon our lives, we would be sorry creatures indeed.  Understanding how much He has blessed us should inspire continual gratitude to Him through thick and thin.  David, a man who endured many difficult trials, understood this principle and so he wrote: I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.  Psalm 43:1

Humility is called the queen of all virtues.  Solomon wrote:

By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honor, and life. Prov. 22:4

Better to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. Prov. 16:19

A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall come to the humble in spirit.  Prov. 29:23

Let’s be very clear about this issue.  A parent may be rightfully proud of their child for choosing to do right and/or succeeding academically, for example, through discipline and hard work. There is a kind of ‘pride’ that is acceptable in appropriate situations; a pride that focuses on the success of others, rather than oneself.

However, a pride that focuses on oneself, even in one’s own eyes, is reprehensible and must be avoided. That is the kind of pride that the LORD abhors.  It is undisciplined ego.

In Tune with Torah this week: if you go on and read the rest of the haftorah portion, you quickly learn that the pride of the Ephraimites brought their downfall.  That is the sure result of pride: downfall of one type or another.  May the only ‘crown’ we seek to wear be the crown of Humility.

This Shabbat let us examine our own hearts and humble ourselves before our God, acknowledging His goodness and kindness to us and thanking Him sincerely for all He has done for us.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayigash January 6, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 37: 15-28

This week’s Haftorah is one of my favorite passages in all of the prophets. God gave to Ezekiel a vision of what He would do in the end of days.

We know from biblical history that after the death of Solomon, king of Israel, the nation was divided in to the House of Judah and the House of Israel.  The House of Judah encompassed the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, while the House of Israel included the other ten tribes. Judah remained in the territory of Judah in and around Jerusalem.  The other ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, moved north to the territory of Ephraim and subsequently became known not only as the House of Israel but also as the House of Ephraim.  (I Kings 11-12)

twohouses

Ephraim was the second son of Joseph to whom Jacob on his deathbed gave the double portion blessing.  (Genesis 48)  His descendants, his grandfather prophesied, would become ‘melo hagoyim’; that is: a multitude of nations.

The northern House of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, over time rebelled against the Lord and that kingdom only lasted 70 years.  During those 70 years, the prophet Hosea was sent to them and prophesied extensively. In fact, to get an understanding of how Ephraim (Israel) turned away from the Lord, one simply has to read the prophecy of Hosea for it’s all there!  Hosea likened them to ‘a cake half-baked’ and rebuked them severely for rebelling against the LORD. One of the most famous verses of Hosea is frequently quoted in various contexts: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (4:6)

Though Hosea’s rebuke was blunt and harsh, it was not without hope and a promise.  He told them:

For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols.  Afterwards the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His Goodness in the last days.  3:4-5

The situation that developed in the northern kingdom of Israel is one of many illustrations throughout the Scriptures that convince us of God’s eternal faithfulness and patience.  But it also teaches us about the discipline of the LORD.

We don’t like discipline; some of us don’t even like the word! However, properly understood, discipline is an act of love.  A parent who never corrects, rebukes or in some way disciples his rebellious child does that child a great disservice and the irresponsible parent insures for himself heartache and grief in years to come.

God is the Father of all fathers, the most perfect, generous and patient of fathers.  He is also more LOVING than any earthly father could ever be.  It is because of His love for you and for me that He will bring correction, rebuke and discipline into our lives lest we stray so far from Him that there is no way back.

Our problem is that we sometimes don’t recognize the situations He allows in our life as discipline, as means of growing spiritually.  Instead we may get mad, disappointed or frustrated because we don’t make the connection in our own minds that EVERY difficulty or challenge we face in life is actually a GIFT.  Yes, you heard me – a GIFT.  Why?

Because each one is uniquely designed to give you and me opportunity to grow spiritually, to refine our character, to humble our self-will and to inch a little closer to the goal: ‘You shall be holy as I am holy.’   Leviticus 19:2

Thousands of years ago, God knew that the descendants of Ephraim would wander the world, many of them in later generations, completely unaware that they had any connection to the son of Joseph.

But the promise remains: in the last days (that’s now, my friends) the sons of Joseph would return to their God.  And it’s happening.

Hundreds – no, thousands – in the last 8-10 years have rediscovered that very connection and have been returning, slowly, sometimes painfully, to the LORD.  I’m not speaking about genetics necessarily though there have been many I’ve known who have learned later in life that they actually had Hebrew ancestry.

The return is not primarily physical; it is spiritual.  It is a return to relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, the Almighty, the Eternal One, the Holy One.  Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to ‘seek’ a religion.  We are, however, in several places admonished to ‘seek His face’.  It is to God Himself that our allegiance must be given.

In Tune with Torah this week = We are living in a day and age where many souls are being awakened to true spirituality.  Religion will never satisfy the hunger in one’s heart for God.  It was never designed to.  Religious practice has been developed to strengthen a relationship already in existence.

Israel’s return to the Land of Promise is the physical manifestation of the prophet’s words but it’s not enough.  There must also be a spiritual return to the God who gave the promise!

How is your personal relationship with the LORD?  Is your ‘religious’ expression flowing out of your daily communion with Him or is it just ‘what we do’?  The answer to that question is more important than you can imagine.

Shabbat Shalom