Weekly Torah Commentary – Shelach June 16, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 13 -15

Haftorah reading: Joshua 2: 1-24

If you were looking in the Bible for someone scandalous to write about, surely one of the first people you would consider would have to be Rahab. A pagan with a sin-ravaged past; a prostitute, who would go on to become such a hero that this entire chapter of Joshua is focused on her and some 1500 years later she is mentioned in subsequent writings along with Abraham, Moses and David as an example of heroic biblical faith.

As we consider her life, I want you to be encouraged about your own. Maybe you too have made mistakes. Maybe you too have wondered if you could ever overcome the scars of bad decisions. Rahab is about to show us that there is no ‘past’ so terrible that limits the Holy One of Israel from turning a life around and causing that very person to become a person of great significance in His overall plan.

Rahab

There are three things to learn from this week’s Haftorah:

1. First, we see Rahab’s condition spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  Verse 1 explains “she was a prostitute.” V. 15 adds “her house was in the wall.”

The Bible makes no bones about it – Rahab was a prostitute. Not only that, but she lived in the city wall. That’s where the poor and destitute lived. There were two walls that surrounded Jericho separated by a 15 foot gap. The poor built little shanties in that gap. As a result, they were the first to suffer attack from enemies, the first to die in time of war. They were human shields for the rich.

Rahab, in many ways, had never known what it was to have a life. Her poverty and sin had taken its toll. She eked out a meager living by sacrificing her dignity to the vile passions of strangers, never knowing what it was to feel protected, valued and cherished.

But God loved her. He had a plan for this woman victimized by sin. He sent his spies to her house, not simply to secure military information. God intended to show Rahab His unmerited favor. By sending these spies to her, not only did He protect the spies, He saved Rahab and her entire family.

It may well have been the very first time that two men came to her house and didn’t want her ‘services’!  It may have been the very first time that two men came to her house and treated her with respect and kindness.

Reading on we realize that Rahab had heard what God did for the Israelites in the desert.  The word had traveled far and wide and by her reaction and her acknowledgement of ‘the Lord your God’ we recognize that this was a woman whose heart had not become embittered by her difficult life but she had an awe and respect for God.  She said, ‘…for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and in earth beneath.’  Joshua 2:11b  Catch this – just based on what she had heard that God did for the Israelites, she had come to believe that He was the one and only true God!  She had no first hand experience of His miracles; only hearsay.  But what she heard stirred her heart to faith.

2. After her condition, we see her ‘conversion’.

Even a casual reading of this passage shows that Rahab, who once lived as a prostitute, had turned away from that life and put her faith in the God of Israel. How did that happen?

Verse 9 reveals that she had a righteous fear of the Lord.  Her fear moved her to throw herself upon God’s mercy.

 

The Bible says The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Solomon added, By the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.

 

Is our society in its present condition because people no longer know what it is to  ‘fear the Lord’?  Rahab did – her heart melted at the thought of what would soon happen to her and her family. And that fear motivated her to seek God’s mercy.

So did the facts – in vv. 10 and 11 she acknowledges how God had blessed Israel, empowered them to defeat their enemies, shielded them from harm – and met their needs. She saw how good God was to them and it moved her.  When she considered that the same Israelites were enroute to her city, Jericho, she knew this wasn’t like times before when warring armies made empty threats. These Israelite people had God on their side.

Therefore she was moved to act in Faith. She protected the spies, gave them safe passage, for she believed that God would bless her if she did right by them.  Perhaps at some time in her life she had heard about God’s word to Abraham, ‘I will bless those who bless you; and I will curse those who curse you.’

She obeyed the spies’ directions and placed a scarlet rope in her window as a sign of her obedience, because she believed the Lord.

3. Rahab confessed her faith openly… urgently – and her family followed her to safety! Verse 18 says, “Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household.”

It is not enough to have faith just for yourself. We are called to be ‘a light unto the nations’.  To spread abroad the truth of God’s goodness, His faithfulness and His ever abiding love is our responsibility, not just in words but also by the display of our way of living.

In Tune with Torah this week:

Rahab reminds us that our past sins do NOT have to define us! Regardless of what we have done, once we repent and receive God’s forgiveness we can rise up and impact the destinies of those we love.  If God can make a hero of a harlot, surely, surely He can use you and me!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary Beha’aloscha June 9, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 8-12

Haftorah reading: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7   (Zechariah 2:10 – 4:7 in English translations)

The prophet Zechariah served the LORD after the remnant of Judah had returned from the 70-year Babylonian exile. His prophetic ministry was active during the reign of Darius, the ruler of the Medes and Persians. His career is not marked by the reign of a king over Israel or Judah, because there was no king of Israel or Judah in this period after the exile.

Profoundly conscious of all of God’s promises to Israel throughout the centuries, and given their recent return to Jerusalem after seventy years in Babylon, the prophet urges them to be joyful.

rejoice

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion (Zech 2:10)

God doesn’t expect His people to be passive or “cool” in light of His faithfulness in bringing them back after seventy years just as Jeremiah had prophesied. God expects them to sing and rejoice, to be thankful and worshipful.  The prophet goes on with even more reasons for joy.

I am coming and will dwell in your midst (Zech 2:10

The first reason why God’s people should be excited is because He will be among them in a unique and powerful way. To this day the assurance of His presence with us is more than enough reason to be thankfully happy, even in the midst of difficult times.  David wrote in Psalm 16:11, ‘In Your presence there is fulness of joy.’  God is always with us, He will never forsake us.  You can anchor your soul in that promise for the Holy One of Israel does not lie; neither is He unfaithful.  He promised to be with us always and He is.  Is that not what faith is all about? Trusting absolutely in His revealed Word which can never, ever fail.

Zechariah goes on to give the returned exiles another reason to be joyful.

Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. (Zech. 2:11a)

This is a profoundly prophetic verse.  Read it again quietly to yourself.

First of all, we see that God’s love and His Redemption is for ALL nations.  His choice of Israel was for a purpose and a mission: to make His Name known and loved across the world, ‘a light to the nations’.

Now there’s something interesting about light.  It exposes what already exists.  Therefore, Israel’s national mission was (and is) to demonstrate individually and as a nation the power and the blessing of living in relationship with the Holy One of Israel.  Israel’s calling was never intended to be introspective; rather, their calling is for the sake of the rest of the nations.  Here He explicitly tells Israel more nations are going to become His people lest Israel become smug or arrogant about her calling.

Secondly, through the prophet, God informs us that He will bring many peoples into His Kingdom. He is making known to Judah and to all of Israel that His blessing upon them was never intended to isolate them from the rest of the world but to make them effective and impacting witnesses of His goodness for the sake of awakening the rest of the world to God’s love.  This echoes the thought we’ve already expressed: Israel was to be the model nation.  It was to their high calling that Zechariah was appealing, reminding and exhorting them to be mindful of WHY they were chosen and WHY they were brought back to Jerusalem.  It wasn’t just to make them happy; it was for the purposes of God’s eternal Redemption plan which was to encompass ALL the nations of the world.

Then I will dwell in your midst and you will know that the LORD of Hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:11b)

Thirdly, this second half of verse 11 clearly prophesies the Messianic Kingdom to come.  It jumps to future generations: ‘Then’ – or ‘At that time’ speaks of the future when King Messiah will literally ‘dwell in your midst’ and all Israel will know that the LORD of Hosts has sent Him, for the world will be at peace, wars will cease and His reign from Jerusalem will encompass the entire world.  Finally, the dream of Avinu Malkenu – Our Father and our King – will be realized as men and women, boys and girls from every nation under heaven worship Him in truth.  What a glorious day that will be!  What an amazing future awaits us!

In Tune with Torah this week = In light of the glorious future God has prepared for His people, should we not live with eternity in view? How will it impact your life today, this week, this year if you purpose to live conscious that you are just a traveler passing through on this planet but your true and eternal home awaits you?

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Nasso June 2, 2017

Torah reading: Numbers 4:21-7:89

Haftorah reading: Judges 13:2-25

This week’s Haftorah reading tells the story of the birth of Samson, the prophet of the Lord.  Though the text tells us only the name of Samson’s father, Manoah, we find Samson’s mother listed in I Chronicles 4:3 by the name of Hatzlelponi, a descendant of Perez of the tribe of Judah.

At that time the Philistines were oppressing the tribes of Dan and Judah.  The people wanted nothing to do with confronting the Philistines and were allowing themselves to be intimidated by their enemy.  God was not pleased with their attitude and chose a plan of deliverance which began with a startling revelation to a woman who longed to conceive a child.  As the story unfolds her perceptive qualities will stand in sharp contrast to her husband’s more passive character.

An angel of the Lord appears to the woman announcing the arrival of a son and invites her to participate in the lifestyle which her son will adopt for he will be a Nazarite.  She is to observe the Nazarite dietary rules during her pregnancy and never cut the child’s hair.  The angel tells her: ‘He shall be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines.’ Judges 13:5)

Knowing her husband well, Hatzlelponi reports the visitation to Manoah but purposely leaves out those elements that she knows he will object to; namely, a confrontation with the Philistines.  She also refrains from telling Manoah that the boy’s hair is never to be cut.  Her desire to see God’s plan come to fruition includes protecting the boy from his father’s objections!

Manoah declares that he wants to be included for he was not present when the angel appeared to his wife. The angel returns but appears to Hatzlelponi in the field.  It is only after she hurries to find her husband that Manoah finally encounters the angel.  It becomes quickly apparent that Manoah is far more interested in finding out the name of the angel, than learning about God’s plan for the people of Dan and Judah.  He persists in asking until the angel says his name is ‘unknowable’.  He refuses their offer of food and commands the couple instead to present an offering to the Lord.  As they do, the angel ascends to heaven in the fire of the offering.  Seeing this they fall on their faces on the ground.  Manoah is terrified and expects to die.  His wife – if you’ll allow me a modern rendition – tells him, ‘You’re not going to die.  I’ve seen the angel before and I’m still here!’

Samson1

So what do we learn from this event?

Samson’s mother is revealed as a woman who accepts the mission God gave her and is devoted to fulfilling it just as it was revealed to her.  God’s desire becomes her desire.  She is a ‘chosen woman’ as is evident from the visitation of the angel of the Lord, not just once but twice.  In her response, she echoes what her ancestors said at Sinai:  ‘We will do and we will hear.’  They committed themselves to obey God’s commandments before they heard what they were.  In other words, they declared their faith in Him.  Hatzlelponi does the same thing.  Though she was given certain details, she certainly wasn’t told everything about the life of the son she would bear.

The story of Hatzlelponi is that of a woman who embodies the spirit of willful obedience that was present at Sinai (before the sin of the Golden Calf) in contrast to her husband who haggles with the angel as if he were a merchant in the marketplace.

She also demonstrates kindness and wisdom in the way she deals with her husband’s doubt.  She does not berate him but calms him with the words: ‘had the Lord meant to take our lives, He would not have accepted the burnt offering..’  (Judges 13:23)

In the Hebrew, there is further evidence of her connection with the God of Israel: the deliberate inclusion of the Hebrew letter ‘heh’ at the beginning of her name.  That is the same letter that was added to Abram to change it to Abraham and to Sarai, to change her name to Sarah.  It is not evident in English but in the Hebrew spelling it’s immediately noticeable.  It is the favored letter indicating a connection with the Holy One and is consistently used in the names of those who are called, chosen and appointed for a specific task.

There is something else unique about her name for it is related to the name given to Joseph when he was made Prime Minister of Egypt, Tzaphenath-paneah. (Gen. 41:45)  Both names come from the same root which means ‘to conceal’ or ‘to encode’.

God took an everyday woman, concealed in her womb a child who would grow up to deliver Israel from the Philistines, and didn’t even have her name mentioned in the context of this amazing event.

Too often we can wrongly think that only the “famous” or the “well-known” can do something significant for God.  Not true!

Application:

The Lord has a plan for every individual’s life.  No one is an accident and no one is unimportant. Our responsibility is to seek Him and find out what His plan is for us, then set about walking it out with all our energy and determination.

What we need to understand is that whatever our destiny, it is important to God and therefore it is not up to us to judge its value.  If God calls you important, you are important.  He did not call any of us to be ‘human doings’ but ‘human beings’.  Your life, whatever form it takes, is what matters the most, not your career.  It’s our daily lives with all the opportunities to choose loving kindness as opposed to irritability, integrity as opposed to deceitfulness, etc., that will leave a legacy of godliness to our children and our grandchildren.

People will remember you for the kind of person you are, far more than for the job you did.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – May 18, 2017 Behar-Bechukotai

Torah Reading: Leviticus 25 – 25

Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

This week’s Haftorah reading opens with these uplifting words:

O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of distress.

With these words, Jeremiah overcomes his impatience and his struggle to believe what God has promised in light of everything he can see with the natural eye.  To Jeremiah, had come the promise of the restoration of His people to their land but the prophet was experiencing what many of us have experienced.  The outward circumstances at the time seemed diametrically opposed to what God had said and Jeremiah was tempted to waver in unbelief.  But for us, as well as for Jeremiah, the good news is that the Lord ‘remembers that we are but dust’ and shows Himself  to His people, as a strong hold to prisoners of hope, and a strong tower or place of defense to all his saints: ‘my refuge in the day of distress’. What a comforting and reassuring verse!

A few verses later (17:5-8), God speaks to the prophet again and graphically describes the difference between the man who trusts in God and the man who doesn’t.  Here are His words:

Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trust in people and makes flesh his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wasteland in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitants. (vs. 5-6)

A sobering assessment. The message here is not that we should never trust another human being. What a sad life that would be! Rather, the message is that the man who puts more trust in what other people can do for him, who looks to earthly minded and fallible human beings for all of his needs and all of his questions, is ‘cursed’; that is, he will never be satisfied for another human being can never be the final answer to our deepest need: only God is.  And the Bible tells us He is a jealous God.  You should be happy about that because it means that God loves you enough to want your undivided love and loyalty in return.

To rely on this world’s systems is utter folly. History has demonstrated the instability inherent in even the best that this world has to offer.  Why? Because this world is temporary.  As long ago as the days of Isaiah, God revealed that He would one day make a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22). At the final Redemption this will happen as sure as you are reading these words right now. For God cannot lie.  Since He said He will do it, He will.

trust

Therefore, what is man to do? The answer is in the next verses:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. (vs. 7-8)

This is one of several places in the Bible where God uses the analogy of a tree to describe man.  A tree planted on the banks of a river or a stream flourishes because of the readily available water supply to support its life.  It has no fear of summer’s heat, its leaves stay green and even in a time of drought, it brings forth fruit.

In Isaiah 44:3 the LORD says: For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon your seed, and my blessing upon your offspring.

The man who puts his trust in the LORD, rather than people, will ‘thirst’ like a tree for the living water of which Jeremiah spoke earlier in his book:  For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jer.2:13). God Himself is the living water necessary for our life.

The prophet repeats the same concept a few verses past the ones we are now studying:

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake You shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.  Jer. 17:13

Twice, God declares that He Himself is like a fountain of living water, a Source that never runs dry.  Water is essential for life; natural water for the body, spiritual ‘water’ for our souls.  And what is spiritual ‘water’? The revealed Word of God, the Bible.

The blessed man is the one who realizes and internalizes this truth and knows that he knows that he knows that in God alone is everything he will ever need or desire.  In His Word are found the understandings, the insights, the directions and the illustrations that help us understand what it truly means to have a ‘successful’ life.

Life happens; and the ‘happenings’ are not always to our personal liking.

God doesn’t ‘happen’; God IS.  He is the only reliable Source for life, health, peace, love and everything else that enriches our time on this earth.

In Tune with Torah this week = whatever your need is today, God is the answer.  Whatever your question is, God has the answer. Whatever may be confusing you, God has the solution.

Blessed is the man who TRUSTS in the LORD.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Tzaria-Metzora April 28, 2017

Torah reading: Leviticus 12 – 15

Haftorah reading: II Kings 7:3-20

A little background: What we read about this week takes place during the time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim/Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  This is also the time of the long and impressive ministry of the prophet Elisha, the successor to Elijah, who received a double portion of the anointing that had been on his mentor.

At the time of this narrative Israel and Aram (Syria today) were almost continuously at war.  In the previous chapter (chapter six), the king of Aram, Ben Hadad, had laid siege to Samaria, the capitol city of the northern kingdom. That meant no one went into the city and no one came out of the city.  A siege was designed to starve the inhabitants of a city into either surrender or else to reduce them to a state of such weakness as to be unable to put up any resistance when once the wall was breached.

As our passage begins, a very severe famine is driving the people even to cannibalism! Two women approach Joran, an evil king of Israel reigning at that time, one of them complaining that the previous day she and her neighbor had struck an agreement: that day they would eat her son, and the following day the other woman’s son. So they boiled and ate the first woman’s son, but the next day the second woman had hidden her son. When the king hears this, he tore his robe – but not in repentance. He reacts with rage, directing his anger at Elisha. He swears an oath before God to have Elisha’s head cut off.

elijah-mantle-falls-on-elisha

King Joram arrived at Elisha’s house the next morning. Elisha, being a prophet, knew beforehand that the king was coming, and what he intended to do. But instead of a stinging rebuke, Elisha gives the king some interesting news – great news!

Then Elisha said, “Listen to the word of the LORD; thus says the LORD, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour will be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.’”  II Kings 7:1

In other words, the famine will be over, and food will once again be plentiful. The very next day grain and flour would be sold at completely normal prices. That would require a miracle, given the desperate situation at hand. But that’s exactly what is being promised. Elisha, the prophet of God, has declared “Thus says the Lord…”

Would God really rescue a rebellious people? Yes, because of His covenant. After all, if God only rescued the deserving, where would that leave you and me?  Mankind would long ago have ceased to exist if God’s mercy depended on our ‘worthiness’. His mercy is an expression of His faithfulness to His own covenant.  It’s a matter of God’s integrity.

One of the king’s officials is skeptical but Elisha assures him that he will see the miracle.

Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why do we sit here until we die? “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die.”

Leprosy is just about the worst thing that could happen to someone in ancient times. Lepers were complete outcasts from society. These four lepers are sitting outside the gate of the city, and suddenly it dawns on them that they have absolutely nothing to lose! They can’t go inside the city because they’re lepers, and they can’t just sit there and starve to death. They realize they have only one option that doesn’t guarantee death: go out to the army camp and surrender to the Syrians. If the Syrians let them live, they’ll at least be able to eat and stay alive. If the Syrians kill them, they’ll just die a little quicker.

It’s amazing how much clarity you can have when you’re out of options. These four lepers “threw caution to the wind” and took the only logical step left, surrender to the enemy.  Was it a good idea?

They arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Arameans; when they came to the outskirts of the camp of the Arameans, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, even the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.” Therefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents and their horses and their donkeys, even the camp just as it was, and fled for their life. vs. 5-7

Well, well, well! God had gotten involved! The Arameans heard such a loud sound that they were sure thousands of horses were approaching.  Yet it wasn’t a real army! God caused them to hear something that wasn’t even there! So, for the sake of a rebellious people who made up the Northern Kingdom, the covenant keeping God of Israel caused trained warriors to run like rabbits so that the deliverance of Israel was completely God’s doing.  And it happened when Israel was hardly deserving of the miracle!

God’s love and faithfulness are far greater than we realize.  He is faithful because He is Who He is, even when we are not faithful or obedient. That’s called Mercy.

When these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they entered one tent and ate and drank, and carried from there silver and gold and clothes, and went and hid them; and they returned and entered another tent and carried from there also, and went and hid them. Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”

The biggest “losers” turn out to be the biggest winners! While initially acting on impulse to eat, drink, grab the gold and silver, the lepers are stricken by their consciences. “We may be outcasts in Israel, but our people Israel are dying at this very moment, and we’ve found food; we’ve made a discovery that will save our people – how can we keep this good news to ourselves?”

So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Arameans, and behold, there was no one there, nor the voice of man, only the horses tied and the donkeys tied, and the tents just as they were.” The gatekeepers called and told it within the king’s household. vs. 10-11

The lepers had to call to the watchmen from outside the gates to announce the good news as they were not allowed in the city.  I am impressed by their selflessness. Other lepers may have collected as much silver and gold as they could and thought “I’m taking care of me – I couldn’t care less about the rest of that bunch.”

An integral part of growing in spirituality is learning to be selfless, instead of selfish. We are called to care about others, not just ourselves.  We are part of God’s larger family, not islands adrift in a troubled world.

Then the king arose in the night and said to his servants, “I will tell you now what the Arameans have done to us. They know that we are hungry; therefore they have gone from the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, ‘When they come out of the city, we will capture them alive and get into the city.’” vs. 12

The king was not a godly, believing man; he assumed the worst. Never mind that Elisha had promised just a day earlier that the very next day God would provide food in abundance. It’s happening, just as promised, but the king isn’t making the connection.

Prideful cynicism can be deadly.  Every moment King Joram delayed, people in the city of Samaria were dying. Thankfully, at least one of the servants in his court had the presence of mind to offer a wise suggestion.

One of his servants said, “Please, let some men take five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city. Behold, they will be in any case like all the multitude of Israel who are left in it; behold, they will be in any case like all the multitude of Israel who have already perished, so let us send and see.” They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the army of the Arameans, saying, “Go and see.”  They went after them to the Jordan, and behold, all the way was full of clothes and equipment which the Arameans had thrown away in their haste. Then the messengers returned and told the king. So the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. Then a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD.  Verses 13-16

So the messengers go and sure enough, there were all the clothes and equipment left behind by the Arameans. They reported back to the king that Israel was indeed delivered according to the word of the Lord through the prophet, Elisha.

In Tune with Torah this week = Giving praise to God at all times in every kind of situation is always the right thing to do for we never know when God is at work without our knowledge, causing all things to work for our good like He did for Israel.  Let us choose to be devoted and full of faith like Elisha, rather than skeptical like the evil king.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 31, 2017

Torah reading:  Leviticus 1-5

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23

“This is what the LORD says – Israel’s King and His Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).

In this passage, the LORD says a number of things about himself to reveal his true nature to His people. What we end up seeing is a multi-faceted God who is many things to his people.

First, God gives his name in the Hebrew, YHVH. That is the most holy name of God, the personal name of the covenant God.

Then he expresses one of his titles, the King of Israel. Above and beyond the great David and the wise Solomon, the real King of Israel is still the LORD God Himself.

Thirdly, the LORD calls himself Redeemer, the One who delivers his people from bondage and sin, gloriously demonstrated in the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders.

Isaiah44

Isaiah had employed these names before in speaking of God, but this next one is new.

The LORD Almighty can be translated the ‘YHWH of Armies’ or the ‘LORD of hosts.’ What it means is that our God has at his disposal all armies, earthly and heavenly. God has the resources to carry out anything and everything He desires or decrees.

If we could meditate on those names alone we would wrestle for a lifetime with all that they mean. But there is more.

He says he is the First and the Last. The first and the last…mysterious, inspiring and captivating descriptions.

The LORD is First in that He does not derive His life from anywhere else. He is self-existing and self-sufficient. He is eternally present and the eternal “I AM.”

He is the Last in that He remains at the end of all things supreme and totally fulfilled. He is so complete that no one can add or take away anything from Him. He is the beginning and the end; the Creator and the Judge; the full revelation and the final authority. The LORD says, “…apart from me there is no God.”

What an awesome God! “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it,” says the LORD. Dumb idols made of rock cannot speak. That is so plain to see…or is it?

What the LORD wanted His people to do was stand as witnesses that there is only One God. “You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (44:8).

Now there we have yet another metaphor for our God – He is the Rock. There is nothing else reliable to rest upon. The Rock is a symbol of refuge, trustworthiness and changeless integrity. Did you know that Moses wrote the first rock song? In Deuteronomy 32 God is called “the Rock” several times and Moses cries out at one point, “For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede” (32:31). This hard rock song belts out the fact that God is a great foundation to build on and a matchless Savior. Who is like our God? Other rock songs sing the same tune: “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Ps 62:6).

Why then were the Jews making images out of rock, wood and other precious items and calling them gods in the time of Isaiah? One reason stands out: people want gods they can control. As Pascal said, “God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment.”

What are idols? “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame” (44:9). Idols are nothing. But those who worship them reverse creation. God turned the chaos in Genesis 1 into his wonderful creation crowning it with the creation of humankind. When people make idols they form gods in their own likeness and turn creation back into chaos.

In Isaiah 44:10-13 we see that idols reflect the frailty of their makers. They create gods out of stone and wood and then build houses for them. How ridiculous. A man sweats and tires himself out creating a god that cannot move, speak or protect himself from the elements. Then he worships this thing. Would the true God need a house or require food? Does he have the same limitations as a man?

To be created in the image of God means that we are His servants; when we try to make God in our image means that we think He is our servant.  Wrong..wrong…triple wrong!

The truth about idols is this: What you can produce by your own intelligence and your own power is no more powerful than you yourself. If you cannot deliver yourself from your difficulty, how do you expect something you have made with your own hands to be able to do it?

What are our idols today? We don’t take a piece of wood and fashion it into our own image and worship it. Idols have different meanings today. An idol is simply this: anything you consider more precious, more important than God. Is there something that controls your life other than God? What drives us further from God? Consider these possible modern day idols or, shall we say, values:

Individualism: This idol has been predominant in our society for a few decades. I do what I want when I want and when I feel like it. My ideas and thoughts and judgments are significant; I will consider what God has to say but ultimately it’s my choice. The result is a lifestyle of your own choosing. Sex before marriage, homosexuality, and adultery are all on the rise because “no one can tell me what to do.” Respect for human life is on the decline because of our “right to choose.”

Wealth: Money drives us and opens up the doors of opportunity and pleasure in our world. But how many of our decisions are based on money as opposed to what God wants? If we have the money do we think we can do anything? Even more important, do we really think the money we have is “ours” alone? Does not the Torah teach us that money is a gift of God and therefore it is His right to direct us how to use the money He entrusts to us?  What controls our investments: Retiring with a nest egg or dying with treasures in heaven?

Entertainment: Do you seek after bring entertained? If it’s not fun then we don’t want to do it. Do you want to learn about God’s Word or do you want to do something more “fun”? We have become “fun addicts” so that if you are not enjoying yourself it’s pointless.  Really? Have you experienced the joyful excitement of learning God’s Word and discovering truth, revelation, wisdom, and guidance in its pages?

Good Deeds: A lot of people still believe that as long as you do good things and live a good life God will welcome you to heaven when you die; God is good so he won’t hold your beliefs against you as long as you are good enough.

That, my friends, is the creed of the secular philanthropist, not the faith system God has commanded His people to live by.  The prophet Habbakuk said it succintly: The righteous shall live by faith. (Hab. 2:4)  This is not to minimize good deeds such as kindness, compassion, integrity, caring for the poor and the widow and so on.  But it IS to say that good deeds for the sake of good deeds is not enough.  For it is FAITH that pleases God.  Abraham, long before the Ten Commandments were given, was considered righteous in God’s sight because of his FAITH, not for the ‘good deeds’ he had done.

Only the God who saves is worthy of praise! Isaiah returns to the truth about God in v. 21 and points out that there is one thing only God can really do: Save us!

“Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you” (44:21).

We see the basis for God’s faithfulness in saving his people: He made us. Man does not make God; God makes man. It’s so simple even a child knows this. Because he has made us for this grand purpose of worship he will not forget us. He wants us to love Him because He first loved us.

One of the greatest things He has done for us is that He has forgiven us. There is no perfect man on the face of the earth.  All have sinned, all have fallen short of the high calling of God. But He says: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (44:22). Think of the darkest, cloudiest day that you can remember. God has swept away those clouds with His powerful arm and revealed blue skies and golden, sun-drenched fields. That is the imagery Isaiah uses to paint the removal of sin. To take advantage of this great forgiveness all a person has to do is return to the LORD with humble hearts and repent of their wandering ways. Cry out to the LORD and he will save you with his abundant forgiveness.

Then we will see the glory of the LORD in all of creation. “Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel” (44:23).

In Tune with Torah this week = taking time to meditate on Isaiah 44 is a vehicle for renewing your love, your faith and your humility before such a loving and awesome God.  He is for you; He has prepared a way for you to have an intimate, personal relationship with Him. Let not the idols of man pull you away from the greatest relationship every offered to man: a relationship with the God of Israel, the Holy One, your Redeemer.

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