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 He is not an abstract God, nor is He aloof and withdrawn but rather, He is directly and purposely involved in His creation and in particular in the lives of those who follow Him.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. – Ha’azinu September 23, 2017

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 32

Haftorah reading: II Samuel 22: 1-51

David’s song of thanksgiving in this week’s haftorah is almost identical to Psalm 18.  It celebrates the victory God has give him over his enemies.

David says of the LORD: He is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer as well as my shield and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, my refuge and my savior.

Wow! Is the LORD all of that to you today?  He is no respecter of persons, the Bible says.  That means that God doesn’t play favorites. What He was to David, He will be to you…if you let Him!

Notice that David’s relationship with the LORD is intensely personal. He says MY rock, not a rock. He calls the LORD MY tower, MY strength, MY shield and MY deliverer. To David the LORD God wasn’t just ‘a’ tower or ‘a’ hiding place or ‘a shield’ but MY shield and so on.

Without a strong, intensely personal relationship with the LORD, we are left only with religion – rituals, lists of do’s & don’ts, but empty of a living relationship.

Keep in mind that David did not spend years in a high class seminary or yeshiva. He was not highly educated at the feet of a great Rabbi. David was a shepherd, but oh, what a shepherd! As a mere teenager, he spent hours, days alone with the sheep and His God, developing a relationship with the Almighty which was founded not on great intellectual learning but on humble faith and prayer; in other words, David spent time meditating, focusing on the LORD and became His friend. That was David’s secret.

Great learning can fill your mind with much knowledge about God; time spent in His presence will fill you with Him!

In Tune with Torah this week: as we begin a new Hebrew year, 5778, let us determine to KNOW the LORD, not just about Him, but let us press in to know Him!

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – 9/15/ 2017 Nitzavim-Vayelech

Torah reading: Deut. 29:9 – 31:30  (a double portion)

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62: 1-5

This is a familiar passage to many but this week I’d like to focus on two unusual names that are in these verses for they – by themselves – have a message for us.  They are Hephzibah and Beulah.  Now, you may be thinking, what in the world do those names have to do with us?  And what parent gives such odd names to their daughters?

Hephzibah           Beulah

I’ve never met any woman with the name Hephzibah yet its meaning is beautiful: my joy is in her.  In this portion of Isaiah, God is telling the people of Israel through the prophet that though they were once rejected, they will afterward be called Hephzibah; in other words, God will find joy in them again, they will be precious, delightful and pleasing in His sight.

So we need to ask: why were they rejected and how will they become precious and delightful to the LORD again?

Earlier in Isaiah, the prophet reminds the people that God is ‘your husband’.  Therefore their sins against Him have grieved His heart and put a strain between Him and His people.  In fact, the prophet Jeremiah declares in the name of the LORD: I thought,’After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return and her faithless sister, Judah, saw this.  She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery.  Jeremiah 3:7-8  Imagine that! God says He divorced his unfaithful spouse, Israel! How was this to be remedied?

The answer was not another sacrifice for if you read the Torah carefully you quickly see that no sacrifice in and of itself erased sin; true repentance elicits God’s forgiveness and the sacrifices offered for sin under the Mosaic Covenant only had value as representations of a repentant heart.  We could go further with the analogy and say that in a manner of speaking, all sin falls under the umbrella of ‘adultery’.  That’s not my idea.  Jeremiah declares it:  I have seen your adulteries [says the LORD] and your lustful neighings, the lewdness of your prostitution on the hills in the field.  I have seen your abominations.  Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean? Jer, 13:27

Sin caused an alienation between God and Israel.  Yet all is not lost. Repentance is the path to restoration and God promises that if they turn back to Him, they will no longer be rejected but once more considered precious in His sight.

This is true on a personal as well as a national level. Of late it has become unfashionable to speak of SIN.  Political correctness has generated all manner of excuses, rationalizations and justifications for behaviors that clearly disagree with the inviolable Word of God.  Unless you call it for what it is – SIN – you have no route to restoration.  We repent for SIN, receive God’s forgiveness and our relationship with Him is restored.  If you choose instead to sugar coat ungodly behavior then you eliminate the need for repentance – a very dangerous position.

I may not be enamored of the name Hephzibah, but I sure want to be a ‘Hephzibah’ – a person precious and delightful to the LORD, someone of whom He could say ‘My joy is in her’.  Don’t you want the same for yourself?

The name Beulah means ‘married’. Marriage for a woman in bible times was more than just the norm – it was a necessity. Fail to marry, and you had no children, no income, no protection, no honor.

The story is told of a farmer who had seven daughters; six of them were lovely but the seventh was very homely.  There was nothing attractive about her appearance and she was therefore shy, lacked confidence and wallowed in her misery.  One day a very eligible bachelor came to the farmer asking for permission to court one of his daughters. The farmer was excited because the young man came from a prominent family that owned lands and wealth.  Besides that he was handsome and kind.

The farmer gathered his six daughters – the pretty ones – and brought them before the bachelor.  He looked at each one and was impressed with their intelligence and their beauty yet he didn’t choose any of them.  He turned to the farmer and said, ‘Don’t you have another daughter?’

Awkwardly, the farmer nodded in agreement.  ‘Bring her here,’ asked the bachelor.  A few moments later, the ‘ugly duckling’ of the family emerged, dressed very plainly, head bowed, eyes on the floor, her hair unkempt.  The bachelor stepped closer to her, lifted her chin and looked into her eyes for a few moments.  Then he stepped back and said to the farmer, ‘With your permission, I would like to court this one of your daughters.’ Her sisters were aghast and couldn’t understand how the young man would choose their sister over any of them.

Not long afterward, the bachelor came to see the farmer again, this time to ask permission to marry the farmer’s ‘unattractive’ daughter. He loved her and was willing to accept her just the way she was, he declared.

A year later, the ‘ugly duckling’ was no longer ‘ugly’ but had blossomed into a beautiful person, inside and out.  What changed her? The unconditional love of her spouse.

Need I say more?

In Tune with Torah this week = It could be said that the greatest need of every man and woman on the face of the earth is to learn and experience the unconditional love of God.

The story of God’s relationship with Israel is a love story.   I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you to Myself.  Jeremiah 31:3

Jer.31

Hephzibah and Beulah say to us: Without a relationship with our Father, our King, our Husband, we are all ‘ugly ducklings’.  It is His love, His kindness, His lavish grace poured out generously in our lives that make us lovely, delightful, attractive, from the inside out.  That is the kind of person of whom God can say, ‘My joy is in him/her.’  May He be able to say that of all of us.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Ki Tavo September 8, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 60: 1-22

This section of Isaiah contains a few nuggets for our inspiration.  It opens with these words:

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted, to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD’s favor has come and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.  To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for His own glory.  Isaiah 61:1-3 NLT

God raised up a prophet endowed with the Holy Spirit to bring a Word that transforms poverty into prosperity; a Word that restores broken hearts; a Word that unleashes the cage of incarcerated dreams and visions; a Word that gives perspective for vision and leadership within the discombobulated realities of post-exilic Jerusalem.

To Isaiah, love and service for the post-exilic Hebrew people were priority. Equipping the people to rebuild waste places and regaining beauty for ashes were more important to the prophet than building his own ministry.

Divine callings are validated by our willingness to submit to the Spirit that has appointed and anointed us for the particular work to which God has called us.  Isaiah, surrounded by broken communities and fear; beauty trampled into ashes; years of hard labor smashed in a little time, announces with the confidence of one who knows his calling, that the Spirit of the LORD has sent him to lift up the downcast.

This was a risky declaration. Conditions were not good in Jerusalem at that time but Isaiah does what no president, prime minister or politician could do.  He brings the hope that the people needed. How? Because the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he obeyed the prompting.

powerofone

 

This Word from God came at a time when the people felt that they were forgotten, unloved and abandoned. The message of the prophet assured Israel that God still loves and favors the abandoned.

The very same Word that spoke order in the middle of chaos in Genesis 1 is the same Word that filled the mouth of the prophet. There is something incredible that happens when the Spirit of God shows up.

  • The Spirit brings a Word to solve problems;
  • The Spirit brings a Word to undo predicaments and heal pains;
  • The Spirit comes with a Word that transforms lives and communities;
  • The Spirit comes with a Word to resolve and restoration;
  • The Spirit comes with a Word to change and challenge;
  • The Spirit comes with a Word to rescue and reveal God’s power;
  • The Spirit comes with a vision and provision;
  • The Spirit brings a Word of hope and help.

The “good news” to the broken is restoration. The “good news” to the hurting is healing.

What does this passage have to do with us today?

You and I may not be anointed as ‘prophets’ but the same Spirit of the LORD that empowered Isaiah is the same Spirit of the LORD today.  There isn’t a different one!

In 1945, Alma Androzzo penned the words to the song, “If I can help somebody as I pass along; if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, If I can show somebody he is traveling wrong; Then my living shall not be in vain.”

It is high time that we jump off the political bandwagons and take our position as God’s people seriously.  You can help solve problems, comfort the hurting, encourage the lonely and change your community – yes YOU!  The power of ONE is immeasurable, and never greater than when you have been empowered by the Spirit of the LORD for a specific task.

At the end of the day, what matters most is that we recognize the power that we each have to affect change and that we all step forward in obedience to the Spirit of the LORD. If we each take this responsibility we become many and, in this context, one is no small number. So, next time you think of yourself as “just one person” remember what a powerful thing that is. Just because you’re one doesn’t mean you’re small – it means you’re one more person who can make a difference.

It may be the lovable toddler or the wayward teen, the grieving widow or the grateful man for whom all is well. Each person is an individual. Each has divine potential. And each must be spiritually nourished and temporally cared for with love, kindness, and individual attention.

In Tune with Torah this week = Child of God, you are not here by accident or happenstance. You have a specific purpose to fulfill for God’s glory.  Let no timidity, excuse or rationalization keep you from walking in the destiny to which you were born.

The Spirit of the LORD is your strength.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Re’eh August 18, 2017

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their righteousness is from Me,” says the LORD (Isaiah 54:17).

weapons

A weapon refers to any tool or utensil used against another person. A weapon is anything that could be used against you for evil intent.  So when the LORD through the prophet Isaiah says to us, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper,”  it means that nothing built, sharpened, aimed at, or fired against you, your family, God’s kingdom, or God’s people will succeed. Though your ‘enemies’ may seem to win for a while—a job may be eliminated, a child may wander far, a life may even be lost—in the end, even these tragedies will be understood in the context of God’s agenda for prospering those who are truly His.

Why is this true? The reason “no weapon formed against you shall prosper” is not because you are a fierce warrior, but because He is.  Joshua 23:10 tells us that “One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you”. Could you single-handedly chase away a thousand soldiers? No, but God can—and it is He who fights for you. He is the Defender of His children.

Isaiah assures us our enemies’ weapons will not prosper. That word is translated succeed and prevail in certain English renditions of the Bible and the concept gives us hope. Here’s the good news: no assault against us – physical, emotional or spiritual – will be final. Even if it appears to be prospering, it’s not done yet. Even if it wins the battle, it won’t win the war. Why? Because our God takes it very seriously when someone opposes or attacks the ones He loves. You can count on that.  For example, have you heard or read about the miracles God performed for Israel during the Six Day War of 1967?

Just as your enemies’ weapons will not win, neither will their words: “And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn.”

Have you ever been a target for hurtful words because of your faith? Have you experienced ridicule in your workplace or home because of your loyalty to the Torah? Do you know the sting of scorn because of your stand for God’s truth? Have you been rebuked because of your faithfulness to God’s revealed Word?

If you answered “no” to all of those questions, that’s not a good sign. It suggests the people around you haven’t noticed a direct connection between you and God. We are called to be ‘a light to the nations’.  If the ‘light’ of God is not glowing through your life, something’s wrong!

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then savor this truth: God always wins!

You may wonder, When will this victory happen? Does God’s definition of “soon” match ours? “Soon” implies sooner than we think—especially from an eternal perspective. Before long we will be in eternity, astonished by how fast life on earth raced by.  The Prophets declare without compromise that in the end, God wins over all.  ‘And the LORD will be King over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only One and His Name the only One.’ Zechariah 14:9

And because He wins, so will you. You get to share in His victories. Isaiah says so: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” As you face the weapons and words of your enemies, as you engage in the battles of life, set your heart and hope on the final outcome. Live with eternity in view. It’s going to end well for you. Guaranteed.

In Tune with Torah this week = recognizing that no trial or difficulty lasts forever but their presence in our lives provide us with opportunity to grow closer to the LORD. Any situation we face has one of two effects: we either get bitter – or better.  Let your experiences in this life may you a better person, not a bitter one.  You do that by honoring the LORD, even on the darkest of days.  ‘I will bless the LORD at ALL times; His praise shall CONTINUALLY be in my mouth.’  Psalm 34:1

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Eikev August 11, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was but one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.  Isaiah 51:1-2

abraham-father-of-faith

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the story of Abraham and his family is covered from chapter 11 through chapter 50, while only two chapters are given to the entire story of creation. What was there in the life of Abraham that distinguished him as such a man that so great a portion of Genesis is devoted to disclosing his life in great detail?

The life story of Abraham begins in Ur of the Chaldeans where Abraham lived in a comfortable home and in pleasant circumstances. Archaeology has disclosed that Ur, located not too far from Babylon, was a prosperous city with lovely homes, beautiful parks and public buildings. Abraham was comfortable and secure in Ur, but it was also a wicked city where pagan sacrifices — including human sacrifices — were continually offered.

According to Genesis 12:1, God directed Abraham to leave Ur, leave his family, and dwell in tents for the rest of his life. Abraham started out with his father and his nephew, Lot, and got as far as Haran. Only when his father died did Abraham move on to the promised land with Lot. At long last he had come to the place of God’s appointment.  Keep in mind that when God instructed Abraham (then Abram) to leave Ur, God didn’t explain exactly where Abraham was going. He simply said, ‘Leave and go…and I’ll show you where to stop!’

From Abraham’s life, we learn and re-learn some much needed lessons. Abraham demonstrated his faith that God would care for him, provide for him and guide him by doing what God told him to do regardless of how bizarre it may have sounded to his family and friends at the time, let alone his wife!  Can you imagine your husband coming home one afternoon and saying, ‘Honey, we’re moving.’  You reply in surprise, ‘Oh? Where are we going?’  Your husband replies, ‘I have no idea.  God just spoke to me today and said we must leave here and He will show us where to settle.’  Seriously?!?!?!?  It’s probably the mercy of God towards Sarah that the scripture doesn’t tell us her first reaction!  To her credit, despite whatever her first reaction was, she followed her husband, trusting his faith in God.

Without knowing where the land was to which he was going, he accepted God’s promise that his descendants would inherit that unknown land.  Keep in mind that at the time he had no descendant and he was already advanced in years.  But Abraham understood something that we moderns too often overlook: When God speaks, our only appropriate response is to obey.  It is not ours to judge what God has said and decide whether or not we agree.  He has spoken? End of story.  Do what He said!

In the materialistic society in which we live, we need a constant reminder that earthly possessions are always temporary, and only that which is eternal abides forever. There is a world to come – an eternal world – which God has prepared for His people that they  may live with Him forever.  Our status in that world has everything to do with the quality of our faith in this one, for the degree to which we choose to love God and obey Him is determined by how genuinely we believe in Him and believe His word to us as found in the pages of Scripture.

Abraham, despite his great faith, had one great frustration. For most of his life he and Sarah, his wife, had no children. How could the promises of many nations coming from him, and of his descendants inheriting the land, be fulfilled if he had no children? According to Genesis 15:1-3, Abraham suggested that his chief servant, Eliezer, be made his heir, but God said, “This man will not be your heir” (Gen. 15:4).

Sarah, being a resourceful woman, suggested to Abraham that he have a child by Hagar, an Egyptian slave that they had brought back with them from Egypt. In those times, this was not an unusual practice if a wife was barren. In due time Ishmael was born, and Abraham’s heart was delighted. But this was not the fulfillment of God’s promise.

When Abraham was already ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety, there was really no human basis for hope that Sarah would bear a son. Nevertheless God said, “Sarah, your wife, shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (Gen. 17:19).  At that advanced age, Abraham believed what God said over the “evidence” of his and Sarah’s physical status.  How could a 99 year old man with a 90 year old wife believe they could have a child?  Some today might call them crazy!

Yet Abraham’s faith in God convinced him that if God said it would happen, that was good enough for him and he did not allow the physical circumstances to shake his faith in his God.  And so from this one man, as good as dead from a physical viewpoint, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand of the seashore.

The supreme test of Abraham’s faith was yet to come. Fiery tests of faith which occur early in life sometimes climax in much greater tests of faith in a time of spiritual maturity. So it was with Abraham.

When Isaac had reached his early teens, God told Abraham to do a strange thing. One day God said to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). What an astounding command! Abraham was to take the promised son on whom all the promises of God for the future of Abraham depended, and offer him as a human sacrifice upon an altar on a distant mountain.

Even though Abraham had been accustomed to human sacrifices in his pagan life in Ur, how could this possibly fit into the plan of God? What was to happen to all the promises that depended on Isaac? There is no scriptural record of any wavering. Early the next morning the journey began.

Taking two young men with him, his son Isaac, and wood for the offering, Abraham began the journey that on the third day brought them near to the place of sacrifice. When Isaac asked the searching question, “Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8).

When they came to the place, Abraham apparently had to tell what he was about to do. And Isaac, being a strong young man, had to be willing to be bound on the altar as God had directed Abraham. Just as Abraham took the knife to take the life of his own son, God stayed his hand, and told him to offer instead a ram caught in a thicket nearby.

The incident with Isaac reveals more clearly than any other the maturity of Abraham’s faith. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. Abraham had such confidence in God that even this confusing direction did not deter him from his utter confidence in God’s integrity and moral character.  Since God had said that through Isaac, the promised descendants would come.  Abraham considered that to be the final word.

In Tune with Torah this week = Abraham was a man of faith who believed he could live in God’s place, who believed in God’s provision for him in time and eternity, who believed the promise of the son whom God would give him miraculously, and who believed in God’s utter and incomparable integrity.  Now here’s the bottom line: Abraham believed God with this amazing faith because he knew God.It is not enough to know about God; we must, like Abraham, develop a personal relationship with Him by spending time in His presence, pondering His words and internalizing their message so that our lives are impacted.

It behooves us to remember that while Jewish tradition called Moses our ‘Teacher’; it is Abraham who is our ‘father’.  Therefore, Isaiah exhorts us ‘Look to Abraham…’  Judaism began with a man of FAITH, more than four hundred years before the Torah was given.

If we delight in being children of Abraham, than our faith today must stand on the same foundation. Like Abraham, we are called to live by faith in the living God who will accomplish for us in time and eternity all that He has promised in His love and grace.

Shabbat shalom.

 

 

 

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!