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 – Vayigash January 6, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 37: 15-28

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

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

twohouses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeshev December 4, 2015


Among the many events in this week’s busy Torah reading is the story of Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar, giving birth to twins. The amount of detail we are given about this birth is unusual and curious as we are told little to nothing about the births of other important biblical personages.  In addition, these details seem even more ‘unnecessary’ since we hear almost nothing more about these two boys later on.

As Tamar is giving birth, the hand of one twin emerges, and the midwife ties a string around it so she will know which child was born first. This baby then draws back his hand and his brother, Peretz, is born before him. Only then does Tamar give birth to the baby with the string on his hand, who is named Zerach.

The key to understanding lies in the names of the twins, Peretz and Zerach.

The name, Peretz, comes from the Hebrew word paratz which means ‘to break through’ – as through a barrier.  Zerach, from zorey’ach, means ‘shining’.

Birth for all of us is about ‘breaking through’ to independent life apart from our mother’s womb.  Birth is the stepping stone to individuality.  And, as a child of God, our ultimate destiny is to be a ‘shining’ reflection of the God who created us, a living tabernacle of His presence in the earth.

As we grow into maturity, each of us faces the choice, not once but many times over, to break through (paratz) any intellectual or emotional barriers that separate us from a vibrant relationship with God. This is Peretz. When we make the right choice, and seek after the God of glory, He shines (zorey’ach) His holy light upon us, as indicated by the name Zerach (literally, “shining”).

The story of this birth is replete with so much detail because it does not refer only to Peretz and Zerach; rather, it speaks to us of the potential inherent in the birth of every human being.  The Torah is teaching us that we all have the potential to ‘reach out’ and attain a relationship with God as we grow and mature.  And, we all have the opportunity to become a ‘shining’ light of His love and gracele as we walk in His ways and obey His Word.  The names of these twins convey in two words the purpose and destiny of mankind.  Amazing, isn’t it?

In Tune with Torah this week = There’s a difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.  The thermometer tells you what the temperature is; the thermostat sets the temperature.  Which one are you?

By your life and example, do you ‘set the spiritual temperature’ in your home and place of work?   Are you a thermostat for the Lord? Or a thermometer that simply reflects the preset atmosphere around you?

Shabbat Shalom