Weekly Torah Commentary – May 11, 2018 Behar-Bechukotai

Torah reading:  Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands, I will send the seasonal rains…I will give you peace in the Land and you will be able to sleep without cause for fear…I will look favorably upon you, make you fertile and multiplying your people…and I will fulfill My covenant with you Leviticus 26: 3, 6, 9.

Someone has said that the history of Israel could be summed up this way: Deliverance, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance – Deliverance, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance – over and over again.  To a great extent, that’s absolutely true.

But throughout that ebb and flow of Israel’s national character, one thing remains constant to this very day – GOD’S ETERNAL FAITHFULNESS to HIS COVENANT.

covenant

The people who populate the pages of your Bible and mine understood Covenant to a degree that few modern folks do.  In biblical times, covenants were linked to all kinds of relationships, whether nations, tribes, clans, families or individuals.

The English word ‘covenant’ comes from the Latin con-venire which literally means “to come together in agreement.”  The Hebrew word brit literally means ‘to bind or to fetter, a binding obligation’.  In biblical terms, the word Covenant is the ultimate expression of committed love and trust.

So we could define Covenant this way: It is a binding, unbreakable obligation between two parties, based on unconditional love sealed by blood and an oath, that creates a relationship in which each party is bound by specific undertakings on the other’s behalf. 

Westerners may feel strange or uncomfortable with the concept or confuse it with a ‘contract’ but they are not the same.  Contracts are negotiated by both parties and can be changed or even cancelled.  A Covenant is entirely different.  It is far above the exchange of things; it is the giving of oneself in committed relationship and the openness to receive from the other person. It cannot be altered or cancelled. A familiar example of this is the covenant between David and Jonathan detailed in the book of I Samuel.

The most amazing news announced to a man and his descendants was that God, in His unconditional love for us, cut a covenant with Abraham, thereby calling to all descendants of Abraham in every generation to enter into the most intimate and unbreakable bond of relationship known to mankind – a covenant relationship with Himself.  God’s covenant draws us into the circle of friendship in which God and His people are bound together.

What is perhaps equally amazing is that a perfect, all-wise and altogether holy God with no necessity within Him and no pressure from without, chose to create us with – of all things – free will.  Do you understand how incredible that is?  He created us with the capability to say ‘No’ to Him.  If I may put it this way, God took the greatest risk ever by creating man and woman in His image and likeness, yet with the ability within them to reject and rebel against the very One who created them.  If that’s not unconditional, eternal, unfathomable LOVE, I don’t know what is!

And when He did, He had already determined that He would make a covenant with the man of His choice, Abraham – a covenant that would last unconditionally throughout time and eternity, a covenant that He would never break because of Who He is – Almighty, Everlasting Eternally Unchangeable God!

There is another Hebrew word we must include in this discussion: chesed, which includes three ideas – strength, steadfastness and love – and it is commonly translated as loving kindness.  It denotes much more than loyalty and some legal obligation; it is genuine love, warmhearted generosity and goodness, an attitude of heart that goes beyond requirement to lavish giving of oneself and one’s resources.

By now, I’m sure you recognize that everything we’ve said about Covenant describes the very essence and character of our Heavenly Father.  He is unlimited Love, unconquerable Strength and unending faithfulness or steadfastness.  When God made covenant with Abraham, it was for keeps!

And so the psalmist wrote: Your (chesed) loving kindness, O Lord is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Psalm 36:5

God made Covenant not to create loving kindness but to express His loving kindness – that we might see His heart now and for all eternity.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your Faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23

Most importantly, let us not forget precisely what God promised Abraham:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai, ‘God Almighty’….This is My covenant with you. I will make you that father of a multitude of nations.  What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer by Abram. Instead you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.  I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them.’  Gen. 17:1, 4-6

This promise of ‘many nations’ – not just one – followed Abram’s declaration of Faith. And Abram believed the LORD and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith Gen. 15:6

This occurred some four hundred years before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai.  Abram was not considered righteous by God because of meticulous keeping of the law for there was no law in his day! God called him ‘righteous’ because of his FAITH.

In tune with Torah this week =  Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation and also father of ‘many nations’ which includes the Gentile nations, stands for all time as the premiere example of the power of FAITH.

At the age of 99, when every natural reality cried against it, Abram BELIEVED that God could do the impossible…and God did.  Every man, woman and child who believes in the Person and the Word of the living God is a child of Abraham, one of His spiritual descendants.

Child of Abraham, FAITH is the bedrock of our relationship with God; He cannot lie, His Word will never fail. You can trust your Heavenly Father implicitly for His Chesed – loving kindness – endures forever!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Behar May 4, 2018

Torah reading:  Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 32:6 – 27

Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.  Lev. 25:17

fearoftheLord

Why do some people take advantage of others?
Why do some people use others to reach their own goals?

The first thing that will come to your mind when you try to answer such questions is that the people who do this are just plain mean. I agree, but what drives a person to act this way? And why do other people never feel like using others even though they might gain many benefits if they did so?

Let me suggest the following reasons, though there are probably more:

Helplessness  Human beings generally will use the least effort to achieve their goals and/or unmet needs.  If they feel helpless to succeed on their own merit they use others to gain their ends. When they do, they reveal nothing about you, but a whole lot about themselves.

Lack of control over one’s own life: When someone feels as though they’ve lost control over their life, they often resort to taking advantage of others in an attempt to regain control.  A popular way of feeling ‘in control’ of one’s life is controlling others.  A hen-pecked husband, for example, may try to compensate by controlling his co-workers on the job.

Inferiority: Feelings of inferiority and worthlessness prompt some to compensate by becoming arrogant, introverted or fostering a superior attitude.  When a person takes advantage of another he might feel superior to him and as a result compensate for his feelings of insecurity.

Narcissism, codependency & double standards: Narcissists and codependent people use others in order to feel better about themselves. In order not to feel guilty or to experience shame those people usually try to convince themselves that they are better than others and therefore the ‘others’ deserve to be taken advantage of.

It’s noteworthy that the verse from this week’s Torah reading says Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of others.’  That tells me that the importance of this commandment lies in our righteous fear of the Lord or the lack of it!  It’s really not primarily about one’s ego or emotions.  It’s deeper than that.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, it says in Psalm 111:10.

And in Proverbs 10:27, we read: The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked will be shortened.

Again in Proverbs 14:27, The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
that one may avoid the snares of death.

If we knew that all of our secret thoughts, words, and actions would be displayed publicly so that everyone could watch them and evaluate them, it would make a profound difference in the way we live! We have an instinctive concern about what others think of us and how they will judge the things we do.  How much more should we be concerned about God’s evaluation of our thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, and motives?

Each of us will give an account of our lives to God, and He is fully aware of everything we think, desire, speak, and do. The fear of the LORD is the result of an awareness of these truths. It can be defined as a continual awareness that you are in the presence of a holy, just, and almighty God, and that every motive, thought, word, and action is open before Him and will be judged by Him.  It means that we live with a profound awe, respect and reverence towards Him and His Truth as we learn it from the Scriptures.

Understanding that, it makes perfect sense that the Torah reading this week would say, Show your fear of God….. by not taking advantage of one another.’

Our motivation for treating others with respect comes from our respect towards God who created us all! To take advantage of others for selfish purposes demonstrates disrespect not only to the one you take advantage of, but to God Himself.

In Tune with Torah this week = understand that taking advantage of others can manifest in several ways but the bottom line is a self-serving attitude that cares more about oneself than the other person.  But the Bible tells us not to think of our own interests only, but to care about the concerns and interests of others.

Selfishness is at the root of every sin and failure.  There’s a delightful little book I read recently which contained this wonderful statement:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.  (from The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller)

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Emor April 27, 2018

Torah reading (in Israel): Leviticus 21 -24    (Overseas schedule one week behind)

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 44: 15-31

worship

In its essence, Leviticus is a book about worship. In it, the requirements for acceptable worship are carefully detailed.. You will remember that the book opens with the tabernacle having been constructed and the glory cloud of the Lord having descended—but Moses was still on the outside of the tabernacle. After the anointing of the priesthood in chapter 8, the priests, as instructed in chapter 9, then offered their prescribed sacrifices and the tabernacle was opened for corporate worship.

Unfortunately, soon thereafter (chapter 10) two of Aaron’s sons offered an unauthorized sacrifice before the Lord and died in His presence—on the spot. Their dead bodies were transported by their tunics and they were cast outside the tabernacle.  There was still much for the Israelites to learn about holiness

God decreed that their eating habits were to be holy (chapter 11); their childbirth was to be regulated by God’s holy law (chapter 12); their personal and domestic hygiene was to be holy, as symbolized by the laws regarding leprosy (chapters 13—14) and those with reference to bodily discharges (chapter 15).

In chapter 16, the regulations for the yearly observance of the Day of Atonement were closely followed by instruction concerning the central place of the blood in acceptable worship (chapter 17). After all of this, in chapters 18-20, the Torah dealt other issues of practical, day-to-day holiness.

Clearly the central theme was God’s passion for His holiness and therefore His prescription that His people be holy. This is summed up in 19:2 with the words, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’”

The same mandate applies to every generation

This week’s reading In chapters 21—22 continues the theme by addressing the priesthood.

In chapter 21, we learn that the priests had to meet certain prescribed qualifications if they would be deemed holy enough to serve in the tabernacle. No exceptions were to be made. It was serious business to serve God’s sanctuary.

In chapter 22, further regulations are given concerning the quality of the sacrifices that the priests were to offer. The priests in other words were responsible for the kind of worship offered by those whom they represented.

The overall theme is that those ordained to lead God’s people were to display unquestioning loyalty to the Lord God alone. They were to be holy.

Leviticus calls for holiness on the part of the congregation, on the part of the priesthood, and on the part of the high priest. And with each call to holiness, the demands become stricter.

This should not surprise us since the closer one gets to the Lord the holier one must be. This is pictured for us in the tabernacle itself.

The courtyard was where the people in general would gather and they certainly had a code of holiness for which they were responsible. The priesthood then had greater demands for holiness placed upon them, for they were allowed access to the Holy Place. But the high priest had an even higher standard of holiness placed upon him, for he alone was allowed access, one day a year, beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies.

The children of Israel were to be different, and the priests of the children of Israel were to be especially different. Those with greater privilege had greater responsibility.

In Tune with Torah this week =  Let it not be said that these ancient words have no relevance to us for the scripture itself tells us that everything was written for our instruction.

First, leaders of God’s people today have the same responsibility to live in holiness.

Second, congregational members also have the responsibility to seek holiness for the admonition in last week’s Torah reading is clear: ‘You shall be holy as I am holy.’  That was spoken to the entire nation of Israel, not just the priests.

Third, the instructions to the priests provide a model of self-discipline which all of us need to apply to our lives.

Without discipline there is no holiness.  Without holiness, there is no godly congregation. Therefore the call to be holy as He is holy is at once personal and congregational.  As each of us grows in holiness, the entire community benefits.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary- April 20, 2018 Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Torah reading:  Leviticus 16-20

Haftorah reading: Amos 9:7-15

God has given us an explicit command regarding how He expects us to live.  It is a commandment found in this week’s Torah portion. Leviticus 11:44 and Leviticus 20:26 say: “You must be holy because I am holy.”

holiness2

You must be holy because God is holy…But what does it mean to be holy? What is holiness?

Let’s make it simple, shall we? Holiness is the fruit of a life wholly devoted to God and His purposes.

For some people, “holiness” is viewed as too difficult to achieve.

Depending on our upbringing and religious background, we can have legalistic notions of holiness or we can have moralistic notions of holiness. We can behave as if holiness is either outdated or something that only needs to effect a small part of our lives. Yet, God has commanded us “You must be holy because I am holy.”

When you think about being holy what comes into your mind? Thoughts of outmoded ways of dressing or the shunning of fashion and makeup? Or do you rather think in terms of morality, purity, integrity and commitment to a personal relationship with God?

What does really God expect of us?

The biblical idea of holiness, while it includes private morality, also means much, much more.  Holiness is about living the life God has planned and purposed for us. It is about living according to God’s standards and precepts, not by the world’s standards, not by our own standards, living by God’s standards. Holiness is not just for the advanced spiritually-elite.  The call to holiness is to everyone, regardless of status.

We are daily inundated with attitudes, principles and values that are diametrically opposed to the principles and values of the sacred Scriptures.  In order to successfully steer the direction and decisions of our life according to godly principles, we must know the Word of God and choose continually to live in accord with its teaching, which is the path to holiness.

Psalm 119 offers us tremendous wisdom in this regard.

You are only truly happy when you walk in total integrity, walking in the light of God’s Word. What joy overwhelms everyone who keeps the ways of God, those who seek Him as their heart’s passion.  (vs. 1-2)

God has prescribed the right way to live; obying His commandments with all our hearts. (vs. 4)

How can a young man stay pure? Only by living in the word of God and walking in its truth.  (vs. 9)

Give me revelation about the meaning of Your ways so I can enjoy the reward of following them fully. Give me an understanding heart so that I can passionately know and obey Your truth.  (vs. 33-34)

Truth’s shining light guides me in my choices and decisions; the revelation of Your Word makes my pathway clear. To live my life by Your righteous commands has been my holy and lifelong commitment.  (vs. 105-106)  All quotations from the Passion Translation.

Holiness is neither a scary calling, nor is it impossible.  Holiness is not an event but a journey which encompasses our entire life. It is a way of life marked by progress, not perfection.  It is a calling that picks us up after we’ve failed and draws us forward after we’ve been stagnant.

Holiness is simply this: living each day with the intent of pleasing our heavenly Father in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Andrew Murray of South Africa said it this way over a century ago: the greatest test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it produces an increasing humility in us. In man, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s holiness to dwell in him and shine through him. The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is lack of humility. The holiest will be the humblest.

Elizabeth Elliott: God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.

In Tune with Torah this week:  do you want to grow in holiness?  Well, then, consider this.
Let your thoughts, words and deeds by persistently God-like, determinedly holy, immovably honest, and passionately kind.

Shabbat Shalom
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For a few weeks at present, the Torah readings overseas are a week behind the Torah readings in Israel.  This post is following the Israeli schedule of Torah readings.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Tzav March 23, 2018

Torah reading:  Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 7: 21-28, 9:22-23

“Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out”  Leviticus 6:6

FireAltar

Many people find the study of Leviticus difficult as it deals with the sacrificial system, the Tabernacle and the priesthood.  What we need to understand is that every aspect of the physical Sanctuary has its counterpart in the sanctuary of God within us – our spirit.

The altar on which the continual fire was to be set was a visible physical one. As applied to us in the spiritual sense, this verse means that the fire of our love for God, though it cannot be measured outwardly, must nevertheless be outward.  Our love for God is to be of such a nature that it is evident to others in the way we live.

If a ‘fire for God’ burns continually in our spirit, what flows from that fire will be true righteousness, effective service.  A truly spiritual life is contagious.  It provokes others to reach out to a higher level of living for God.

Good works alone do not always testify to good character; but good character will always produce good works.  It is primarily the condition of our hearts that God is after.   Many good works can be done for ulterior or self-serving motives, or simply out of routine without thought of glorifying God.

Nothing great is ever accomplished in life without passion. Nothing great is ever sustained in life without passion. Passion is what energizes life. Passion makes the impossible possible. Passion gives you a reason to get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to honor God with my life today.” Without passion life becomes boring, monotonous and routine.

Passion is what mobilizes armies into action. Passion is what causes explorers to boldly go where no man’s gone before. Passion is what causes scientists to spend late night hours trying to find the cure to a dreaded disease. Passion is what takes a good athlete and turns him or her into a great athlete who breaks records.

Passion is an essential ingredient in a successful life – in the natural world and in the spiritual world. God created you with the emotions to have passion in your life and He wants you to live a passionate life.

Being passionate about God has nothing to do with either your personality or your age. Some of the most spiritual and inspiring people I’ve known – from fifteen to ninety-five – were as unique and different from each other as they could be, but in one characteristic they were all the same – they were passionate about God.  Their passion impacted me, inspired me, convicted me.  Have you met people like that?

Perhaps you may say, ‘I remember when I was passionate about God but I must admit I’m not quite that way now.’

Here are seven ‘passion killers’. Which one has robbed you of your passion?

1- Imbalance between your natural life and your spiritual life.  If all of your energies are spent on being busy, busy, busy with no time for God, you’ll lose your passion for God and passion for life.

2- unused talent – Talents are gifts from God. He did not give you special abilities just to sit on them and do nothing about it. Use it or you’re going to lose it.  This principle is easily seen in terms of the physical body. Unused muscles atrophy.

3-unconfessed sin – Few things rob your joy, your confidence and your passion, more quickly than guilt. You can’t feel guilt and passion at the same time because guilt by its very definition robs you of passion. Confess it, repent and ask forgiveness.

4-unresolved conflict – Conflict drains the passion right out of you. Do you ever start a day and it’s going to be a great day. You’re awake from the moment you get up.  You’re on the way out the door and you get in an argument with your husband, your wife or your teenager. All the zip goes out of your doo-dah. It’s like the air going out of a tire. Your passion disappears just as quickly. If you want the passion to be restored in your heart, in your life, you have to forgive. You have to let it go.

5- lack of community. Some lose their passion for God because they’re not spending time around other people who have a passion for God.  We need each other. We all stumble at times. So we all need people to help us up in our lives. The book of Ecclesiastes says it this way: “Two are better than one… because if one falls down his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”  Eccles. 4:9-10  If you want to keep your passion for God alive, you need to hang around people who are passionate for God !  It’s just that simple!

6- an unclear purpose –  Forgetting the purpose for your life is a sure way to kill your passion for life and for God. If you don’t know the purpose for life, why bother? Why put forth the effort? Why get out of bed? Life without purpose is activity without direction; it’s motion without meaning. Life without purpose is trivial, petty, and pointless.

Passion is waking up in the morning and jumping out of bed because you know there’s something out there that you love to do, that you believe in, that God made you for and you’re good at; something that’s bigger than you are and you can hardly wait to get at it again. It’s something that you’d rather be doing more than anything else.

7- an undernourished spiritual life – you must intentionally nourish your spirit. If you don’t do it nobody else is going to do it for you. How do you do that?  Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Deut. 8:3

Do you know you can have a vibrant, energetic body but a shriveled up, puny spirit on the inside?  Reality check! Our human bodies have a time limit; our spirits don’t. Death is but the transference from the physical realm to the spiritual realm where true life awaits us.  Taking care of our physical body but neglecting our inner spirit is consummate foolishness. We must feed our spirits by reading and meditating on God’s Word, by prayer and personal quiet times alone with Him.

In Tune with Torah this week = How many of these ‘passion killers’ spoke to you? Will you do something about it?  To be a light to others, there’s got to be some fire in you!  This shabbat, make an honest assessment of yourself.  Are you passionate about God? Does the fire of His love affect the way you live?

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 16, 2018

Torah reading: Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 45:18-46

Leviticus 4:29  He shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering.

atonement4

This short sentence holds a wealth of meaning.  Let’s take a close look at it.

In this one sentence, Spirit-inspired Scripture teaches us how a sacrifice benefits the one who offers it. The very same procedure for sacrifice is commanded in Leviticus 4:4, 15, 24 and 33.  There was an old saint I knew years ago who used to say ‘If God says something once in His book, pay attention. If He says it twice, really pay attention.  If He says it three or more times, stop everything and meditate on what He said.’  I am reminded of his comment every time I read through this portion of Leviticus.

Why did God command the Israelites to offer sacrifice anyway? Many people question the practice and find it a difficult concept.

 

First of all, this text is speaking specifically of the sin offering. Therefore, it implies that a sin had been committed and the person who sinned has acknowledged and repented of their sin. Under the Mosaic convenant, their repentance was verified in the offering of a sacrifice.

Secondly, the ‘sinner’ who came to present a sacrifice, by the very act of doing so, understood that there had to be a substitute to atone for his sin. Even a casual reading of the Torah awakens you to the fact that there were many sins for which the only appropriate punishment was death.  The justice of God demands death for sin, because sin – of any kind – is far more serious in God’s eyes than we generally think.  Consider: He created you, gave you life, presented you with His revealed Word, provides what you need.  To sin against such a loving God and Father is indeed despicable.  As one Rabbi said, ‘Considering all that God has done for you, to sin against Him is pure insanity.’

It was God’s love that created the principle of sacrificial substitution to provide the sinner with a second chance…and a third…and a fourth.  In the book of Lamentations we read: The LORD’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. Lam. 3:22-23

Thirdly, offering implied an acceptance by God of the victim offered.  When the priest laid his hands on the head of the sacrifice, in God’s eyes, the guilt of the sin for which this offering was being presented, was transferred to the animal who died on behalf of the sinner so the sinner could live.  Watching the slaying of the animal seared on the sinner’s conscience the seriousness of sin and was designed to act as a strong deterrent against further sin in the penitent’s life.

Under the Mosaic covenant, whoever sinned against the LORD and regretted their action, was required to sincerely repent – have a change of heart; they had to bring an animal to be slaughtered to ‘stand in’ on their behalf in order that the penitent not be stoned to death or killed in any other manner. It was not until this atonement was made, that the penitent was declared forgiven and released from the punishment due to his sin.

Now we clearly see why it is written later in Leviticus: For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’  Leviticus 17:11

In Tune with Torah this week = If you’ve ever questioned the significance of the blood sacrifices, my prayer is that you will see them in a new light. It is the LOVE of God that prompted the sacrificial system to demonstrate His understanding and compassion towards our human frailty, but also His Divine Will that we not remain in our weakness and frailty but through repentance and recognition of what the Sacrifice really means, we might grow in the knowledge and love of God, becoming men and women of holiness.

Isn’t it amazing?  All that is contained in one short sentence!

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.