Weekly Torah Commentary – Oct. 6, 2017 Shabbat Sukkot

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16

Special reading:  the Book of Ecclesiastes

This week’s Haftorah details the prophecy about the war of Gog and Magog which will occur in Israel at the end of days.  Commentaries on this particular passage abound and offer various insights into this war to come.

Our purpose here is not to engage in biblical analysis or debate but to find inspiration that will make a difference in our daily walk with God.  To that end I want to focus on what is to me the most important verse in the entire narrative.  Here it is in two translations:

I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the LORD.  Ezek. 38:23  NASB

In this way I will show My greatness and holiness, and I will make Myself known to all the nations of the world.  Then they will know that I am the LORD.  Ezek. 38:23 NLT

presenceofGod

From the beginning, God has desired that we should know Him and have a personal relationship with Him. He is not an abstract God, nor is He aloof and withdrawn but rather, He is directly and purposely involved in His creation and in particular in the lives of those who follow Him.  He wants to be known by us.

The presence of God in the Tabernacle was central to the life, organization, and governance of Israel. In fact, the organization of Israel’s camp demonstrated this. Both in the order of the camp and while Israel traversed the desert, the tabernacle was central, just as God was central to the very heart of the nation.

Moses continually labored to teach the people how to live in a proper and meaningful relationship with God.  His passion to ready them for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham – entry into the Land of Israel – was unwavering. To his dying day, he urged, exhorted and challenged them to walk in holiness with the God who called them, delivered them and led them to their Promised Land.

His presence was also seen by them in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  God went out of His way to convince the children of Israel that His presence was in their midst.

How timely this message is – we are this very week observing the Feast of Tabernacles, the celebration of God’s presence among us.  There is a major difference between saying “God is everywhere” and “God is here”.  At the heart of the feast of Tabernacles is the truth that “God is HERE” – He is with us, He is always with us, He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  The question is: Do we pay attention to His presence with us? Or do we by and large ignore the fact that He really and truly IS here, wherever you are at any time day or night?

Mystics and godly men and women throughout the ages have testified to the awareness of His presence and exhorted us to seek His presence.  How do we do that?

Let’s make it really simple: a person in love doesn’t have to be coaxed to desire the presence of the one they love.  They long for it, yearn for it, and do whatever it takes to be ‘IN’ the presence of their beloved.  Love is the key.

The greatest commandment is this one: You shall LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.  Deut. 6:5  I love the way the Message Bible renders this verse: Love God, your God, with your whole heart; love Him with all that is in you, love Him with all you’ve got!

So the question is not: how do we seek His presence?

The real question is: how much do I love God?  The degree of my love for Him will dictate the measure of my desire to spend time with Him. 

In Tune with Torah this week = We humans have an incredible ability to make time for what we really want to do.

Honestly…ask yourself : how much do I really, really love God for Himself?

How much do I really, really want to know Him?

Am I more enamored with my ‘religious practices’ than with the God that they are supposed to exalt?

Or am I truly enamored with HIM?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Mattot-Maasei July 21, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 30 – 36

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 2:  4-28, 3:4, 4: 1-2

Jeremiah begins this reading by recounting the faithfulness of the Israelites to God during the early years in the wilderness. Thus says the LORD, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, how you followed Me in the wilderness through a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the LORD.’  Jer. 2: 2-3

But when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they became a bit too friendly with the locals and began to worship their gods. First they began to make friends with the Canaanites. Then they intermarried with them.  Then they began to worship the Canaanite gods of wood and stone. It was then that God punished them for their faithlessness.

Jeremiah reminded them of God’s faithfulness to them but that they, the Israelites, had abandoned him for these pieces of stone and wood. And so God says:

“For my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the spring of living waters,
and cut them out cisterns,
broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (2:13).

To this day, every drop of water in Israel is precious. The Israelites knew what it was to dig cisterns to collect runoff, and they knew what it was to lift buckets of water from the cistern and carry them to their gardens.

God said, “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water”—the mountain spring that flows faithful and pure—the artesian well that provides abundant water. “They have forsaken me…, and cut cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

The issue was idolatry—the chasing after false gods. Jeremiah called God’s people to return to the true God of their fathers.

What does this have to do with us today?  It has everything to do with us today. What is idolatry, after all, but putting something else in God’s place; giving greater value to something earthly than to the Holy One of Israel Himself?  Whatever is more important to us than God Himself and our relationship with Him is an idol – plain and simple!

Chaplain (Major General) Kermit Johnson, a former Army Chief of Chaplains used to warn chaplains about something that he called SAM, the destroyer. When a chaplain left the Army in disgrace, it was usually because of SAM. He could have said that SAM constitutes our idolatry. What is SAM? SAM stands for sex, alcohol and money.

It should not surprise us that sex would be one of the idols—one of the things that we love more than God. Sex is the goddess of the century. It pervades our media and our entertainment and presents a total perversion of what God intended it to be.  Our modern culture deludes us by promising us without consequences, making the morals of our parents and grandparents obsolete.

But sex without rules has not lived up to its promise and in many ways has been the near-ruin of the family in country after country.

Alcohol is another one of the destroyers—another idol— alcohol and drugs.  For an alcoholic or drug addict, nothing is more important than their fix! The next fix is more important than God, family or life itself. Those who are recovering alcoholics or who have been delivered from drug addiction know very well how destructive—and idolatrous—alcohol and drugs really are.

And it should come as no surprise that money is one of our modern idols—one of the things that we love more than God. Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men in America, said, “The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry.”

The Bible tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil.  Money itself is not condemned nor the possession of money but the love of money.  When our decisions are based more on money than on God’s will and His ways, that’s when money becomes an idol and a destroyer of individuals and families.

But SAM—Sex, Alcohol and Money—is only part of our idolatry. This may surprise you but it has been suggested that Health is the most modern idolatry.  Ellen Goodman, a Newsweek columnist, penned some thought-provoking words on our health fetish. She said:

“The old taboos were religious. Ours are medical.
Our ancestors talked about risks to the soul,
and we talk about risks to our bodies.…
Our focus on these matters is religious in its intensity.”

Are there not people today whose whole lives revolve around their cholesterol count? Health is important and yes, we are responsible to take care of our physical bodies but when it becomes an obsession, ‘health’ becomes another idol. When we care more about the health of the body and too little about the health of the soul, our physical health has become an idol.

At what point does anything become idolatry?  When we put something other than God on God’s throne.  And know this: there’s a certain characteristic of idols that never fails: idols will betray us.  When we put our faith in anything more than we put our faith in God, sooner or later, that ‘idol’ will fail us.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24

In Tune with Torah this week =  God’s people are His ‘cherished possession.’  He does not take it lightly when we consider anything in our lives as more important than Him.  He is jealous over us with a righteous jealousy for after all, He is our Creator and Father! Jeremiah called the people of Israel to love God and to put Him in first place in their lives. The greatest commandment is this: Hear, O Israel, the LORD is God; the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your possessions. Deuteronomy 6:4-5