Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak July 7, 2017

Torah reading: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Haftorah reading: Micah 5:6 – 6:8

This week’s reading in the prophet Micah ends with this verse:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

This well known verse is a unique summary of what biblical obedience is all about.  Let’s get something straight from the very beginning.  Obedience according to biblical texts is not about meticulously complying with endless man made rules. It is, rather, an attitude of heart which recognizes the eternal love and compassion of the  Holy One of Israel towards us as our Father and our King (Avinu Malkenu) with the result that we want to honor, magnify and emulate Him.  You shall be holy for I am holy.  (Leviticus 19:2)

Over the centuries ‘holiness’ has been described primarily in terms of outward submission to commandments or instructions.  In all of the major religions of the world, issues such as manner of dress, style of worship, and conformity to doctrine and tradition have created the misconception that ‘holiness’ is measured by outward appearance.  Nothing could be further from the essence of biblical holiness.  Even a modern secular quote agrees: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

One of the most outstanding examples in the prophets that illustrates this principle is in I Samuel 16.  After the LORD had torn the kingdom of Israel from Saul because of his disobedience, He told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem and anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons.  Interestingly, the LORD didn’t tell the prophet which son. Jesse had several.

When the first son, Eliab, appeared before Samuel, the prophet looked at him and thought, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him. I Sam. 16:6

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’  I Samuel 16:7

Apparently Eliab ‘looked’ like the perfect candidate but he wasn’t.  The ‘appearance’ of religiosity can be deceiving for mankind has a unique tendency to act one way outwardly while thinking just the opposite internally.  This is the definition of hypocrisy!

humility2

God chose the most unlikely of Jesse’s sons – the youngest, David, who was just a teenager at the time…but what a teenager!  David tended his father’s sheep, a lonely and boring task which David transformed into a consistent opportunity for worship.  He sang to the LORD on the hillsides, meditated on God’s Word while the sheep grazed, and wrote the most beautiful songs of praise and worship, the Psalms, which we enjoy to this day.  God called David, ‘a man after my own heart.‘ Wow – imagine such a compliment from the LORD!

 

David wasn’t a perfect man, but he had the qualities of heart that God loved and which Micah speaks about in this week’s haftorah.

First there is justice. Justice is a willingness to stand up for what is right. From justice comes moral integrity, honesty, a holding to God’s values. Those who are just make sure that all people are seen as valuable in God’s eyes, because they make it a point to look at everyone as created in God’s image and likeness.

The second character trait in Micah’s description is mercy.  When we are merciful we respond to hurts in peoples lives, without deepening their wounds. This motivates us to show forgiveness to those who have hurt you and done you wrong, just as God freely forgives you when you repent of your sins and failures. It also means forgiving yourself for past failures.

The third trait is humility. Humility is not about being a ‘doormat’, neither is it weakness, but it is that quality of heart that recognizes God for who He is.  The humble heart then wants to do all that God asks of you, because of who He is. It requires that we obey God even when our desire is to do otherwise. God’s will comes before our own. Humility also thinks of others more than oneself.  It is not haughty or arrogant but looks for and appreciates the good in other people.  It is the polar opposite of someone who is regularly critical, judgmental and harsh towards other people.

We could say it this way: there’s a major difference between perfectionism and excellence.  Perfectionism is concerned with doing things right (outward observance).  Excellence is concerned with doing the right thing (heart motivation).

In Tune with Torah this week = God has not called us to ‘perfectionism’ but to excellence.  We are not here to ‘perform’ before others in order to be applauded by them.  We are here to serve the living God from the depths of our hearts, loving Him, desiring what He desires and being occupied with His interests above our own.

Keep in mind that the fundamental meaning of the word ‘hypocrite’ is ‘an actor’ – someone who pretends to be someone he is not.

Let us walk before God as Micah urges: being just, showing mercy and living humbly.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayetzei December 9, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 28:10-32:3

Haftorah reading: Hosea 11:7 – 14:10

O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods.’ for in You the fatherless finds mercy.  Hosea 14:1-3

The book of Hosea contains several rebukes to the house of Israel which has wandered away from God and from His Torah.  The prophet speaks sharply and repeatedly, warning Israel of the consequences of their rebellion and sinfulness.  Yet as the last chapter of the book opens, we find one of the most outstanding chapters in the entire Word of God that expresses His tender mercies and compassion.

The first thing to notice is this: the LORD calls Israel to repent and to ‘take words with you’.

There is a place for sharing the inarticulate feelings of the heart with God, but that is not the essence of fellowship and prayer with Him. The worship of God is intelligent, and God made us able to communicate ideas and feelings with words.It isn’t enough to sit before the Lord and feel love towards Him.Instead, take words with youtell God that you love Him.It isn’t enough to feel repentance before the Lord. Instead, take words with you and tell God you repent before Him. And we do so in full confidence that He is merciful towards those who repent ( re-turn, that is – turn around and come back to Me).

In the very next verse the LORD promises: I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. This is the certain result when we repent of our ungodly ways, of our indifference or apathy towards the things of God, and turn back to Him.  The mercy of God is beyond amazing!

The LORD’s appeal to Israel (and to us)  is compassionate: I will heal their backsliding.This shows God looks on our backsliding more like a disease than a crime. He does not say, “I will pardon their backsliding.”Rather, it is “as though He said, ‘I do remember that you are but dust; that you are liable to a thousand temptations, and that you easily go astray; but I will not treat you as though you were rebels, I will look upon you as patients, and you shall look upon me as a physician.’”

The LORD’s appeal is certain: I will heal their backsliding.Not “I might heal” or “I could heal” or “I can try to heal,” but I will heal their backsliding.Come to God for healing of your backsliding, and He will do it!God is too great a physician to allow any patient to leave His office without being healed.

The LORD’s appeal  is personal: I will heal their backsliding. He speaks to His people, and addresses them personally.We have to come to the Great Physician and say, “Heal my backsliding.I want to be the ‘their.’” To get the healing, you have to count yourself among the backsliders.

What is backsliding?  One definition is ‘the gradual drifting away from fervently following the LORD and walking in His ways because of compromise and/or apathy.’

Think of it this way:  If you see a tree uprooted and fallen because of a windstorm, it’s easy to think that it was the wind that caused its destruction. But if you look closer, you will often see that insects have been at work a long time on the tree, making it weaker and weaker. It really wasn’t the wind that toppled it for other trees around it are still standing tall. It was the slow decline of strength, as insects nibbled away month after month.

The insects represent the distractions, the selfish pursuits, the so-called “little” sins that eat away at our spiritual strength slowly but consistently until one morning we wake up and find ourselves going through an entire day – or longer – with hardly a thought about God and His enduring Word.

This is what had happened to Israel and can easily happen to us if we are not vigilant in maintaining our personal relationship with the LORD in daily prayer and study of His Word.  It’s exactly like a friendship or a marriage; if you don’t maintain the relationship it gradually declines and fades away.

In Tune with Torah this week = is your love for God alive and well?  Do you spend time regularly in studying His word, in personal prayer with Him?  Is He often in your thoughts throughout the day?  Do you turn to Him naturally in every day life?

Vs. 9 of the last chapter of Hosea tells us what to do:  Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Shabbat Shalom