Weekly Torah Commentary – Mikeitz December 30, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 41:1-44:17

Haftorah reading: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7  Shabbat Hanukkah

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For the past seven days, Jews around the world have been celebrating the festival of Hanukkah, a time in Jewish history when God delivered “the many in to the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous” (Al Hanissim Prayer). It marks a victory against tyranny and religious persecution.

It also reaffirms an uncompromising historical truth which stands firm regardless of one’s opinion on the best way to solve the modern-day conflict: for thousands of years the Land of Israel – especially the parts referenced in last Friday’s UN resolution – has been profoundly intertwined with Jewish destiny. No amount of Security Council resolutions can ever change that historical and inescapable fact.  It is amazing that the anti-Israel UN resolution was passed on the very eve of the festival of Hanukkah.

In this week’s Haftorah portion, Zechariah addresses the people of Israel, assuring them of the absolute certainty of God’s promises.  In chapter 2:6-7, God calls out to His people who live within the territory of the enemy to flee because His judgment is about to blaze forth upon the enemies of His people and He did not want His people to be singed because they were too near the flame.

The people had been exiled because of God’s judgment. It thus took a divine command and divine power to enable their return.  Though a remnant had returned to ancient Judah, most of the Jews were not living in the promised land. Thus historically this call was fulfilled when more of the Israelites returned to Judah. This prophecy also calls the Jewish people back to Israel, before God judges the north in the end of days. We have seen this gathering occurring since 1948 when Israel again became a nation after nearly 2,000 years of exile.

Notice that the call is to Zion.

Mount Zion was where David built a tabernacle and placed the Ark of the Covenant. We read, “David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it… So they brought the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it,” 1 Chronicles 15:1 & 16:1.

The Ark of the Covenant was where God dwelt, spoke from, and revealed His glory to His people, Ex.25:22; Ps.80:1; & Lev.16:2.  King David placed the ark in a tabernacle on Mount Zion, which he made as a place of worship where God dwelt in the midst of His people, 1 Chron.16:4-37; Ps.9:11.

When the ark was placed in this tabernacle, Zion then became famous for two reasons: both the throne of the king and the ark of God were there!  The throne speaks of authority, while the ark speaks of worship and God’s glory.  The significance of the throne and the ark in Zion continue on to have greater prophetic meaning throughout the scriptures.

Therefore, in the call to come out of Babylon, we see a significance that goes beyond Zechariah’s time for after all, he was a prophet, someone who speaks not only to his generation but to future generations.  The call to ‘come out of Babylon’ has its application in every generation, but never more powerfully than in the generation that has seen Israel become a sovereign nation again on its historical land.  Because of that, we who are alive today have the great hope of seeing the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy in these last days when the religious, political and economic systems called Babylon are going to be destroyed.

Inherent in this call ‘out of Babylon’ is an appeal from heaven to separate oneself from all that ‘Babylon’ represents.  On a personal level, it means choosing the Word and ways of God above all else.  Those Jews who stayed in Babylon are, spiritually speaking, symbols of those who prefer their own comfort and convenience to the ways of God.  They are symbols of seeking pleasure over purity, self-will over God’s will and earthly pursuits over eternal realities.

Zion became synonymous with the high calling of God to His people.  Those born in Zion were given high honor, Ps.87:1-6.  Mount Zion was a place of joy and safety, the city of the great King, Ps.48:1-14.  The people will see God in Zion, Ps.84:7.  There the Lord will appear in glory, Ps.102:16.

Is it any wonder then that Zechariah cries out in verse 13 of chapter 2, ‘Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord..’?

It is our tendency to pamper our fleshly, earthly existence with self-serving decisions that keep us from growing into the holiness to which we have been called, the Zion of God.  We too often prefer comfort to consecration, distraction to diligence and tradition to transformation.

Zion’s call has not changed.  ‘You shall be holy as I am holy,’ says the Lord.

In Tune with Torah this week = as the last candle of Hanukkah is lit, and the year 2017 looms in front of us, what will we choose to do with it? Will we draw closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Will we choose to seek after Zion, the place of holiness?  What steps will we take to demonstrate our consecration and diligence in pursuit of being transformed into a holy vessel for Him?

Shabbat Shalom and may the new year find you walking closer with the Holy One of Israel than ever before.

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeshev December 23, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 37-40

Haftorah reading: Amos 2:6 – 3:8

By way of introduction, Amos, an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, was active about 750 BCE during the reign of Jeroboam II, making the Book of Amos the first biblical prophetic book written. Amos lived in the southern kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern kingdom of Israel. His major themes of social justice, God’s omnipotence and role as creator, and divine judgment became staples of prophecy. Amos was the first prophet to use the phrase ‘the day of the LORD’.

Look with me at these verses from this week’s reading:

From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone.  That is why I must punish you for all your sins.  Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?…When the ram’s horn blows a warning, shouldn’t the people be alarmed? Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has planned it?  Indeed, the LORD never does anything until He reveals his plans to His servants, the prophets.  Amos 3:2-3,6-7

There are three themes here that deserve our attention.

First, the discipline of the LORD in our lives flows from relationship with Him.  Notice: ‘…I have been intimate with you…that is why I must punish you for all your sins.’  To render this concept in a simplified manner we may say, ‘Because the LORD has drawn us close to Himself, our responsibility to live a holy life is greater and when we don’t, He reprimands us in one way or another.’ Discipline is an act of love.  Parents discipline their own children, not the children of strangers.  God’s discipline of us is actually a manifestation of His Fatherhood.  Therefore we should welcome it and respond appropriately.

Secondly, the next verse must be kept in context.  ‘Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?’  The LORD through the prophet, Amos, is asking ‘How can you say you are walking with Me when you and I are going in opposite directions?’

This verse has been frequently quoted and applied as a plea for unity between people.  That can be so but in its context, there is a greater question.  Are we walking with God in such a way that it is evident we are moving in the same direction that He is moving in?  Or to put it another way: in our day to day life, are we living according to His ways and His commandments?  Are we seeking the holy life He has called us to?

At the time in history when Amos prophesied, Israel was not doing so.  They were rebellious and arrogant, according to the prophet.  Amos reminds the people that when the ram’s horn was blown on the Feast of Trumpets and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), it was a warning call: Mend your ways, examine your life, repent.

But the people weren’t listening and their indifference to the warning had consequences.

Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has planned it?  Indeed, the LORD never does anything until He reveals his plans to His servants, the prophets.

Amos could not have been more clear.  God was warning the people, ‘If you will not listen to Me, I will get your attention through circumstances.’

Therefore, the third theme this week is the same as I described in this week’s post on the COFFEE AND COMMENTARY blog. God has more than one way to discipline His children.  His preferred method is that we learn His Word and ponder it regularly so that we will recognize our own failures and repent quickly when we go astray. But if we are not paying attention to God’s Word, He may use adverse circumstances or difficulties to get our attention. Jonah experienced this when he refused to go to Nineveh.

This is precisely what Amos was saying to Israel in his day.

Application:

To ‘walk together’ with God ‘in agreement’ means to live a life of obedience to His revealed Word.  Before we apply this verse to walking in unity with other human beings, we need to realize that FIRST we need to walk in agreement with the LORD!  It is then that we can – in confidence – expect His blessings and miracles such as Jews around the world will celebrate this coming week during the festival of Hanukkah.

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hanukkah2                   christmas

This year Hanukkah and Christmas coincide exactly.  To all of my subscribers I send my warmest wishes and prayers for spiritual and physical health, peace and joy for you and your families at this season.  May our commitment to follow the LORD in all of His ways be deepened as we walk into the year 2017, and may our daily ‘walk’ with Him ALWAYS be ‘in agreement’.