Weekly Torah Commentary – Oct. 6, 2017 Shabbat Sukkot

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16

Special reading:  the Book of Ecclesiastes

This week’s Haftorah details the prophecy about the war of Gog and Magog which will occur in Israel at the end of days.  Commentaries on this particular passage abound and offer various insights into this war to come.

Our purpose here is not to engage in biblical analysis or debate but to find inspiration that will make a difference in our daily walk with God.  To that end I want to focus on what is to me the most important verse in the entire narrative.  Here it is in two translations:

I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the LORD.  Ezek. 38:23  NASB

In this way I will show My greatness and holiness, and I will make Myself known to all the nations of the world.  Then they will know that I am the LORD.  Ezek. 38:23 NLT

presenceofGod

From the beginning, God has desired that we should know Him and have a personal relationship with Him. He is not an abstract God, nor is He aloof and withdrawn but rather, He is directly and purposely involved in His creation and in particular in the lives of those who follow Him.  He wants to be known by us.

The presence of God in the Tabernacle was central to the life, organization, and governance of Israel. In fact, the organization of Israel’s camp demonstrated this. Both in the order of the camp and while Israel traversed the desert, the tabernacle was central, just as God was central to the very heart of the nation.

Moses continually labored to teach the people how to live in a proper and meaningful relationship with God.  His passion to ready them for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham – entry into the Land of Israel – was unwavering. To his dying day, he urged, exhorted and challenged them to walk in holiness with the God who called them, delivered them and led them to their Promised Land.

His presence was also seen by them in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  God went out of His way to convince the children of Israel that His presence was in their midst.

How timely this message is – we are this very week observing the Feast of Tabernacles, the celebration of God’s presence among us.  There is a major difference between saying “God is everywhere” and “God is here”.  At the heart of the feast of Tabernacles is the truth that “God is HERE” – He is with us, He is always with us, He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  The question is: Do we pay attention to His presence with us? Or do we by and large ignore the fact that He really and truly IS here, wherever you are at any time day or night?

Mystics and godly men and women throughout the ages have testified to the awareness of His presence and exhorted us to seek His presence.  How do we do that?

Let’s make it really simple: a person in love doesn’t have to be coaxed to desire the presence of the one they love.  They long for it, yearn for it, and do whatever it takes to be ‘IN’ the presence of their beloved.  Love is the key.

The greatest commandment is this one: You shall LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.  Deut. 6:5  I love the way the Message Bible renders this verse: Love God, your God, with your whole heart; love Him with all that is in you, love Him with all you’ve got!

So the question is not: how do we seek His presence?

The real question is: how much do I love God?  The degree of my love for Him will dictate the measure of my desire to spend time with Him. 

In Tune with Torah this week = We humans have an incredible ability to make time for what we really want to do.

Honestly…ask yourself : how much do I really, really love God for Himself?

How much do I really, really want to know Him?

Am I more enamored with my ‘religious practices’ than with the God that they are supposed to exalt?

Or am I truly enamored with HIM?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Emor May 12, 2017

Torah Reading: Leviticus 21-24

Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 44: 15-31

But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord GOD.  vs. 15

The first question that arises when we read this passage is ‘Who are the sons of Zadok? And who was Zadok?’

“Now these are the ones who came to David at Ziklag, while he was still restricted because of Saul the son of Kish… For day by day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army like the army of God… also Zadok a young man mighty of valor, and of his fathers house twenty two captains” (1 Chronicles 12:1,22,28).  Long before David was crowned king, Zadok followed him faithfully because he knew what God had said through the prophet Samuel.

Zadok

Later, Zadok was the high priest during the reign of King David. When all of Israel went astray and followed after Absalom when he usurped his father’s throne, Zadok picked up the ark and followed David even though it seemed that this would mean certain destruction.

Zadok never followed the path of the politically expedient.  He did what was right. He knew that the Lord had anointed David as king and that He had not anointed Absalom. David was still the king, even though “all Israel” did not see it that way. The crowd paid a dear price, but Zadok’s reward would last forever. To this day, his sons are those whom are closest to the Lord.

Not once did Zadok ever look back. He proved to be righteous because he proved to be faithful! He was there when David needed him! And when so many others were being carried away with the rebellion of Absalom, Zadok remained faithful through it all.

“The king also passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over toward the way of the wilderness. Now behold, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him carrying the ark of the covenant of God… And the king said to Zadok, Return the ark of God to the city… The king said also to Zadok the priest, Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Abimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me” (2 Samuel 15:23-25,27-28).

Note David’s question:“Are you not a seer?” This meant, “Zadok, you have the gift of discernment! You know what is evil and what is holy. You are strong enough, faithful and committed enough to Me to go into that realm of rebellion and idolatry and save the kingdom!” The king said to Zadok, “Return to the city.” God now had a holy priest to guard the house of God from ruin!

Though a whole nation was in rebellion, in Gods house there was a holy remnant. Is there anything that America, Israel and all the nations of the earth need more today than this? That “the sons of Zadok” – the remnant of God of which the prophets spoke – would stand in the gap and change the course of history, not by armies and weapons, but by prayer and faithful devotion to the truths of God’s Word.

Meanwhile, God was building for Zadok an enduring house, a priesthood that fulfilled the prophecy of the man of God who prophesied to Eli. This is that “faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul.”

The holy remnant, the faithful priesthood of today, these servants of the Lord whose hearts are blameless and faithful – these are the spiritual offspring of Zadok! These are “near to the Lord” who minister to Him. Ministry to the Lord is the mark of the Zadok remnant.

Who are the sons of Zadok? The sons of Zadok are the ones who do the deeds of Zadok. They have the faith in God and the substance of character to follow the way that is right, even if everyone else goes the other direction. That was the resolve of Zadok which he taught to his sons and it was to them that the LORD entrusted His work in a time of great political chaos in Israel.

Across the globe today there is an enormous vacuum of godly and righteous leadership which makes this a dangerous time.  Throughout history,  a lack of strong and righteous leadership has always provided the greatest opportunities for tyranny.

The answer is not to pursue leadership, but to pursue the repentance that will lead us back to God’s favor, and then He will raise up righteous leaders. In II Chronicles 7:14 we are promised, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin an heal their land.”  Four things are required to heal a land:

1)   Humility

2)   Prayer

3)   Seeking His face

4)   Repentance from wickedness

This is the time for courage and unyielding resolve.  There is no place for cowardice in true faith. This is our time. This is our watch.

In Tune with Torah this week = Will we show the courage that is demanded of the true servants of the King?  Will we, like the sons of Zadok, be those who spend time in the Lord’s presence, seek His face and feed our spiritual man on His Word?  Will we stand up and speak up for what is right, even if no one stands with us?

Where are the sons of Zadok today?

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Passover Sabbath – April 14, 2017

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

Haftorah reading:  Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Can these bones live?  (vs. 3)

drybones

That is the question which the Spirit of the Lord asked Ezekiel in his famous vision of the valley of dry bones.

The Spirit of the Lord set Ezekiel down into a valley filled with bones that were ‘very dry’. The prophet experienced this vision after God had directed him to prophesy the rebirth of Israel in chapter 36. God announced, through the prophet, that Israel will be restored to her land in blessing under the leadership of “David, My servant [who] shall be king over them”  clearly a reference to the future Messiah, descendant of David. However, this promise seemed impossible.  At that time, Israel was “dead” as a nation, deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. She had been divided and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed utterly impossible. So God gave Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones as a sign to reinforce the promise.

God directed Ezekiel to speak to the bones. Ezekiel was to tell the bones that God would make breath enter the bones and they would come to life, just as in the creation of man when He breathed life into Adam. Ezekiel obeyed, the bones came together, flesh developed, skin covered the flesh, breath entered the bodies, and they stood up in a vast army.

This vision symbolized the whole house of Israel then in captivity. Like unburied skeletons, the people were in a state of living death, pining away with no end to their judgment in sight. They thought their hope was gone and they were cut off forever. The surviving Israelites felt their national hopes had been dashed and the nation had died in the flames of Babylon’s attack with no hope of resurrection.

The reviving of the dry bones signified God’s plan for Israel’s future national restoration. The vision also, and most importantly, showed that Israel’s new life depended on God’s power and not the cleverness of the people. Putting “breath” by God’s Spirit into the bones showed that God would not only restore them physically but also spiritually.

As with all of scripture, there is always more than the simple meaning. We understand the promise to Israel but we also derive personal encouragement and hope from this passage.

Typically in the scripture, valleys are places of hardship or trial.  The verse from Psalm 23 comes to mind, Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me.  The implication is that walking through a valley could be a fearful thing but we are assured that the LORD is with us, even then.

When we go through valleys in our life, sometimes dreams die. Sometimes our hope dies, our faith dies. Sometimes promises die. Sometimes circumstances happen tragically, things just go wrong in our life. Sometimes things are out of our control and sometimes they are in our control, but regardless of whether they are in or out of our control, we are assured that whatever has been lost in those valleys and wherever there has been trauma or grief or sorrow and death, it is the LORD and He alone who can breathe on the dry bones and restore life.

Is there a dream, a hope, a goal you’ve had that seems at present utterly impossible? Has an important relationship gone wrong?  Have you suddenly lost a job? Or has someone you love been diagnosed with a life threatening disease?

Any of these could be seen as a ‘valley experience’ in our life. Maybe your dream has been dead so long that it’s like the bones Ezekiel saw: very dry.

This Haftorah gives us resounding hope and divine reassurance of redemptive restoration, no matter what lies dead in your valley.

In tune with Torah this week = The festival of Passover is a wonderful time to re-visit old dreams and desires, to bring them before the LORD in prayer and listen for His word of hope.  For the same God who transported Ezekiel into that valley is the God who hears your hearts’ desires today.

Shabbat shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Ki Tisa March 16, 2017

Torah reading: Exodus 30:11-34:35

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 36:22-36

Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.  And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.  Ezek. 36:22-23

Grace

This week’s Haftorah reading opens with a powerful declaration by God Himself.  It is a definitive explanation regarding His plan and purpose and removes any and all thought that His miraculous intervention on behalf of Israel was somehow connected to their good deeds, but rather it is God Himself, vindicating His own holiness and His exalted name.  The benefits to Israel are a byproduct but the central message is God’s vindication of Himself.

Vindication for us human beings is simply the need to feel right.  At an extreme, vindication translates to “I win; you lose.”  This is an identity-based need and relates to face-saving.

At some point, all of us have been hurt to the point that we want to retaliate or at the very least, make the other person feel something close to what we feel. We are naturally prone to desire vindication if we have been misunderstood, maligned or slandered.  If we are wrongly accused we vehemently defend ourselves and actively seek to prove the accuser wrong. We do not want people thinking evil of us, nor do we tolerate unjust speech about us that could damage our reputation in the eyes of others. In a word, when anything like that happens, we want to be vindicated, we want to be proven right.

However, God is not a man like us. When He speaks of ‘vindicating His Holy name’ it’s an entirely different issue.  The human desire for vindication is self-centered; it’s about ‘me’. Not so with God. Ezekiel’s passage above tells us:

God created us for his glory:  ‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.’ (Isaiah 43:6-7)

God called Israel for his glory:  You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Isaiah 49:3).

I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. (Jeremiah 13:11)

God rescued Israel from Egypt for his glory:  Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works . . . but rebelled by the Sea, at the Red Sea. Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, that he might make known His mighty power. (Psalm 106:7-8)

God raised Pharaoh up to show his power and glorify his name:  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)

God defeated Pharaoh at the Red Sea to show his glory:  And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord . . . And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen. (Exodus 14:4, 18; cf. v. 17)

God spared Israel in the wilderness for the glory of His name:  I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. (Ezekiel 20:l4)

God gave Israel victory in Canaan for the glory of his name:  Who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? (2 Samuel 7:23)

God did not cast away his people for the glory of His name:  Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord . . . For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake. (l Samuel 12:20, 22)

God saved Jerusalem from attack for the glory of his name:  For I will defend this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of my servant David. (2 Kings 19:34; cf. 20:6)

God restored Israel from exile for the glory of his name:  Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name.. . . And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name. . . . And the nations will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 36:22-23; cf. v. 32)

Vindication from God’s point of view is that all men everywhere might know His love, His goodness, His faithfulness, His power, His might and His strength.  He doesn’t need vindication to make Him feel good!  He IS God, after all.  The vindication of His holiness is when God Himself displays His wondrous goodness to an unbelieving world.

In Tune with Torah this week = human vindication is self-centered; God’s vindication is redemption centered.  God wants all men everywhere – every nation, tribe and tongue – to recognize Him for Who He is – Creator, Sovereign King, Heavenly Father, Caring Shepherd, Abundant Supplier of all we need, Healer, Deliverer, Redeemer.  He is all that and more and His love for mankind is boundless.  May our individual lives reflect that love to those around us that men and women, boys and girls who have yet to appreciate the goodness of God may learn of it through our lives.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary -Tetzaveh March, 2017

Torah reading: Exodus 27:20-30:10

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 43: 10-27

Then the man brought me to the gate facing east and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. vs. 1-2

Under the Mosaic Covenant with Israel, the LORD gave the people many signs and symbols of His presence and protection, especially after the Exodus from Egypt. The Tabernacle and the Levitical Priesthood were all designed to teach a covenant people how to live in harmony with a holy God. Of special interest was the visible cloud pillar which spread over the camp of Israel during the day–and the fiery pillar which was present at night. This supernatural presence of God is called in Hebrew “the Shekinah,” from the root schachan, which means “dwelling.”

MosesQuail

Throughout the period of the Kings, the Shekinah cloud of glory was always associated with the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies, in the temple of Solomon.

As the Jewish captivity into Babylon was underway, Ezekiel was given a great vision of the impending destruction of Jerusalem.  In his visionary tour conducted by “a man,” (most likely “THE angel of the Lord,” Ezekiel witnessed the soon-departure of the Shekinah from the temple, albeit in stages.

Now the glory of the GOD of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. Ezekiel 9:3

What is the glory of God? Some say it is an otherworldly form or a divine energy force that floats in the atmosphere – something ethereal or mystical. But the glory of God goes beyond these things. The glory of God is His character and His divine nature; it is the very essence of his presence.

Throughout the Scriptures we read about the glory of God coming upon the people and visiting them in various ways.  It may come as thunder and lightning or a very loud trumpet blast (Exodus 19:9, 16). Sometimes the glory comes as a cloud (2 Chronicles 5:13-14, Exodus 40:36); sometimes it comes as a flame of fire (Exodus 40:38). Sometimes the glory comes as dew upon our clothes (Judges 6:37-38).  Sometimes the glory comes as manna or provision from above (Exodus 16).  God has an infinite number of ways in which He can demonstrate His character and His nature.

The Lord wants us to recognize His glory! He has created an incredibly beautiful and marvelously expanding universe to proclaim His glory and omnipotence. He does not withdraw Himself, cover Himself and hide Himself. He is bringing a revelation of His glory throughout all His creation, and He will be seen in all the earth.

Moses asked God to show him His glory, and God said that His GLORY is His GOODNESS. (see Ex. 33:17-19) The word used in Greek denotes the manifested perfection of God’s character – His splendor, brightness, magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, grace and majesty.

The scriptures declare that the earth is filled with the glory of God.

“The whole earth is full of His glory.” (Is. 6:3)

“But indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD.” (Numbers 14:21)

“And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen.” (Ps. 72:19)

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk. 2:14)

God’s purpose for the tabernacle was that He might dwell among His people, speak to them, reveal Himself to them, and to lead and guide them. Without His presence, it failed to serve its purpose.  It is the same with us.  For Jeremiah prophesied that God would impart His spirit to us and write His Torah on our hearts. (Jeremiah 33) As that happens, we become living Tabernacles, created to shine forth His love, His goodness, His mercy and His kindness to all around us.

In Tune with Torah this week = I’ve heard it said that ‘the only Bible some people may ever read is your life’. I think that’s a true statement.  If you and I are living in such a way that the glory of God – the manifestation of His character – is expressed through us, then in fact it could be very true that you may be the only ‘bible’ some people ever read.  As they watch your life, do they see love, goodness, kindness and graciousness?  If they do, you are manifesting the glory of God.  Nourish your soul by feeding on the Word of God and soon others will be able to see that goodness flow out of you to them.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Va’eira January 27, 2017

Torah reading:  Exodus 6:2-9:35

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

On the first day of the first month of the 27th year during our exile, the LORD spoke to me. ‘Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army fight hard against Tyre. They struggled until they all had bald heads and sore shoulders. But he and his army gained nothing from the fight with Tyre. Therefore, the LORD your King says: I will give the country called Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He will ruin it and he will rob it. He will carry away all its wealth. With this, he will pay wages to his army. I have given him Egypt as a reward. In what he has done, he worked hard for me. This is what the LORD your King says. At that time, I will make Israel to become strong again. You will speak to them. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’  Ezek. 29: 17-21

In the first sixteen verses of Ezekiel 29, the LORD spoke to Ezekiel to prophesy against Egypt.  He describes the king of Egypt as being like ‘a great crocodile in the river’, warns him that another nation (Babylon) will attack and conquer them and He (God) will ruin the country.  For forty years Egyptians will be banished and scattered from their country but after that time, they will return and this shall be a sign to the Israelites that they, too, will return to their native land.  More importantly, it will be a sign to Israel that the LORD’s promise to them is sure and will indeed come to pass.  For when they see this prophecy of Ezekiel’s against Egypt come to pass, they will know that his prophecy that Israel will be restored will also come to pass. Notice the last words: At that time, I will make Israel to become strong again.  You will speak to them. Then they will know that I am the LORD.

There is the key: …that they will KNOW that I am the LORD.

Throughout biblical history, we are confronted with the issue of faith vs. fear.   Though the Israelites knew about God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as the covenant at Mt. Sinai, along with all the miracles the children of Israel experienced through the centuries, nevertheless in Ezekiel’s day, they still doubted Israel’s restoration.  Every visible indication was that Israel as a sovereign nation on the land promised to Abraham was finished, thrown into the dustbin of history…that is, if you only looked at what was visible.

However, the promises of God are not dependent on what is visible, but on His eternal and intrinsic integrity.  God cannot lie.  When Israel was exiled because of her sinfulness, He nevertheless had promised they would eventually return, that the God of heaven would keep His Word to Abraham and his descendants.

But given the conditions around them, the people of Ezekiel’s day doubted.

Aren’t we too often so much like them? On the one hand, we declare that we believe the Scriptures to be the eternal, inviolable Word of God but when visible situations or our earthly circumstances seem to contradict what we believe how easily are we prone to doubt.  In times like that, we may even say things like ‘I know God can help me but I’m not sure He will in this instance.’  May God forgive us!

Sometimes we are simply impatient.  We want an answer and we want it now.  We want to see a situation change and we want it yesterday!  It is precisely in times like these that it is vital to remember all the blessings God has already provided us in our lifetime.

One of the most powerful deterrents to doubt is an attitude of gratitude.  Giving thanks to our heavenly Father on a daily basis is to the soul like Vitamin C to the body – it strengthens your immunity against the ‘dis-ease’ of doubt!

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth, we read in Psalm 34:1.

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!  Psalm 106:1

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136:1

John Henry Howett wrote: Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.  How true!

thanks

To train ourselves that our first thought on waking up will be ‘Thank you, my God, for another day to live and serve You’ is a worthy pursuit. Beginning our day with thanksgiving sets an atmosphere, a positive outlook that makes the new day an adventure instead of a drudgery.

In Tune with Torah this week = check out your ‘gratitude attitude’.  How is it doing?  On a scale of 1 – 10, how grateful were you this week for God’s daily blessings in your life?  We too often focus on the ‘big’ things and forget to thank Him for the multitude of so-called ‘little’ things He does for us continually.  He deserves our thanks for EVERYTHING!

Shabbat Shalom