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. – Vayishlach December 1, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 32:4 – 36:43

Haftorah reading: Obadiah 1: 1-21

What do you do when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place? I’m talking about those times in life when there seem to be no good options. Your current job is almost unbearable, but there are no other jobs available—and you do need the paycheck. You need knee surgery, but you don’t have health insurance. You may or may not be between a rock and a hard place right now, but at some point in your life, you will get in on the experience.

What do you do when nothing seems to work and you don’t know what to do?

That’s where Jacob was in our Torah reading this week.

For the last 20 years he has been working for his uncle, Laban, in Mesopotamia. It has been a cat and mouse relationship: Laban constantly cheating Jacob; but Jacob coming out with increase anyway.  He had made a deal with Laban to work for Rachel’s hand in marriage. He worked the 7 years, and instead of giving him Rachel, Laban gave him his other daughter, Leah. So Jacob worked for another 7 years for Rachel. I cannot imagine the emotional pain and rejection Leah went through, but that’s for another time. After those 14 years, Jacob worked for Laban another 6 years for flocks and other livestock. During that time both men are manipulating and maneuvering. All that was stressful, but bearable.

Then Jacob overheard Laban’s sons saying how much they hated Jacob and he realizes Laban has also turned completely against him. The situation is no longer tolerable or even safe. The relationships have turned completely sour. Jacob has to leave and God gives him the go ahead to do so (Genesis 31:3).

Jacob cannot risk even telling Laban that he’s leaving so he sneaks out with his family and possessions. When Laban finds out that Jacob has gone, he is furious and pursues him. There is no telling what Laban would have done to Jacob, except that God intervened. In a dream God told Laban to not to harm Jacob. Still the bridges have been burned. Jacob cannot go back.

So Jacob proceeds to his homeland in Canaan. But there is a problem with that too. The reason Jacob had spent those 20 years with Laban is that he had to flee from Canaan because of his brother’s fury against him.

So here is Jacob’s situation. Behind him is Laban—the proverbial rock. He can’t go back there. In front of him is Esau, the proverbial hard place. He is terrified of what Esau will do—so much so that encountering a host of angels at the border of Canaan does not alleviate his fears. Consistent with his nature, Jacob develops a plan to appease Esau. He sends messengers ahead to ask favor and friendship of Esau. Maybe over time Esau’s anger has cooled. Maybe Esau will let him return unharmed. But the messengers come back with an alarming message. Esau is coming to meet you and he has 400 warriors with him (Genesis 32:6). Jacob realizes: “This does not sound good. This sounds like a disaster about to happen. And I don’t know what I can do about it. I can’t go back to Laban—that door is shut. I don’t have men to fight Esau’s warriors—all I have is a few servants, women and children. If I flee to the left or right, they will easily overtake us.”

What do you do when Esau is coming at you with 400 warriors, you have burned the bridges behind you, and there’s no place to go?

Jacobwrestles

Jacob does two things.

First, he PLANS. He divides his family and flocks up with the possibility that some might escape Esau’s attack. And he sends lavish gifts ahead to Esau with the outside chance he might be able to appease him—but Jacob’s schemes will not change Esau’s heart—and down deep Jacob knows that.

Secondly, Jacob PRAYS with intensity and fervor.    Five things happen as a result.

(1) God engages Jacob. We think of Jacob wrestling with the Angel; but verse 24 tells us that God was the initiator. God Himself is wrestling with Jacob. What is the struggle? Jacob is contending for blessing. God is contending for change in Jacob so that Jacob can receive the blessing He has already planned to give him.

When we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, God is not trying to withhold blessing from us. He has situated us in a pressure cooker that will prepare our hearts to receive the blessing we need. We try to fix the circumstances. God is wanting to fix us.

God is dealing with Jacob’s self-sufficiency. God is wearing Jacob down and teaching him the absolute necessity of God-reliance. How does Jacob ultimately prevail here? By coming to the end of himself and discovering that God is all he needs.

Have you set your heart upon the things of God as the number one priority in life? If so, you have made a giant step in the right direction. There may still be a lot to learn; there may be some hard places along the way. But at least you’re headed in the right direction.

(2) The Angel touched Jacob’s hip-socket and threw it out of joint, signifying the breaking of Jacob’s self-reliance. From that day forward, Jacob walked with a limp. In the natural, he leaves the encounter weaker than before. If you’re going to war with Esau, you don’t want to be hobbling around out there with a limp—not naturally speaking anyway. If you go on with God, you may lose some things that you were relying on quite heavily. It has cost me some things to get where I am today. But I have gained some things far more valuable.

(3) God presses Jacob for a confession. “Jacob,” verse 27, “what is your name?” The name Jacob means “schemer, trickster.” “For you to advance in my plan, you need to acknowledge the problem. The problem is not Laban; the problem is not Esau—the problem is something in you that needs to change—and I’ve wrestled with you to bring about that change. The manipulating, scheming Jacob dies right here, right now. You shall no longer live as “Jacob.” This is a watershed moment in your life. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel”. Israel means “Prince of God” or “God-governed.”

So, what has happened here?

(4) In this struggle, God has brought Jacob up from one level to a higher level. The end result of this terrible struggle in prayer is that Jacob has become a better man. This is not about Jacob wrestling a blessing away from a reluctant God. God had always intended the blessing for Jacob. This is about God taking Jacob through a process of humble and serious prayer.

Effectual, fervent prayer happens in the struggles of real life. Desperation is the fuel behind the kind of praying Jacob did this night. God Himself led Jacob to a tight spot so that Jacob could wrestle through his issues and prevail.

This night was one of three or four watershed moments in Jacob’s life. He walked away with a limp but with far less cockiness.

(5) God answered Jacob’s request. Esau did not attack Jacob; he received him with open arms. By God’s grace Jacob prevailed in prayer, and Genesis 32:29 ends with the statement, “And he (God) blessed him there.” God changed Jacob and God changed Esau.

In Tune with Torah this week = What do you do when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place? You pray, humbly, seriously and with a heart ready to repent. God brings us into those tight places so we will pray, so that He can prepare us for spiritual promotion and through it, increase His blessing on your life.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeira November 3, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 18:1 – 22:24

Haftorah reading: 2 Kings 4: 1-37

This week’s Torah reading has a profound message for us right now in November 2017.  Across the world we see turmoil and chaos increasing at an alarming rate. Scandals, hate speech, racism and other factors consume the news media and become the topic of heated – sometimes vicious – exchanges on social media.

Abrahamintercedes

While we may admire Abraham’s hospitality in this week’s reading, I think there is something else that displays a high degree of spirituality and maturity in the Patriarch. The brilliance of Abraham’s character is seen in his intercession with the Lord for the sparing of the righteous in Sodom.

The Lord and the two angels made their way down toward Sodom, escorted part way by Abraham. It would seem that the Lord turned to the two angels as He asked, almost rhetorically,

… Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:17b-19) .

The intimacy of the relationship between God and Abraham served as the motivation for God’s disclosure of His purposes for Sodom. Further, the Abrahamic Covenant provided the foundation on which that relationship was based. In verse 19 the necessity for Abraham’s faith to be communicated and continued by his offspring is stressed.

In contrast to the faithfulness of Abraham’s descendants is the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.

And the Lord said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know’ (Genesis 18:20-21).

Verses 20 and 21 dramatically portray the sin of Sodom and the righteous response of a holy God to it. The sin of the city is so great that it virtually cries out to heaven for retribution. God’s personal interest and focused attention is depicted as ‘going down’ to deal with it. God is not ‘going down’ to learn the facts, but to take personal interest in them and to invade the situation. So it is that Abraham discerned that God was about to destroy the city, although it was not stated specifically.

The two angels went on toward Sodom, leaving the LORD and Abraham alone, overlooking the city (19:27,28). While speaking reverently, Abraham manifested a boldness with God never seen before.

And Abraham came near and said, ‘Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?’ (Genesis 18:23-25).

Abraham’s appeal is based on the justice of God.  He recognizes the evil in the city but his thoughts turn to the possibility of righteous people in the midst of it. Certainly he was concerned for his nephew, Lot and Lot’s family, but at the same time, Abraham also understood God’s mercy and his appeal may well expose his hope that if the city were spared because of the few righteous, perhaps the wicked might yet come to faith in God.

Abraham boldly asserts that it is against God’s nature to treat the righteous and the wicked in the same way.  Therefore, if a sufficient number of righteous could be found in Sodom, there is every reason for God to spare the city from destruction.

The LORD entertains Abraham’s plea and the bargaining begins.  How many righteous will it take?

God agreed to spare the city if 50 righteous could be found (verse 26). Abraham must have doubted that such a number could be found, and so he began to plead for a lower figure.

And Abraham answered and said, ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, wilt Thou destroy the whole city because of five?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there’ (Genesis 18:27-28).

From here, Abraham was encouraged to attempt to further reduce the minimum number of righteous required to spare Sodom. First it was 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10. We almost sigh with relief here, for one might fear that God would lose His patience with Abraham. Personally, I believe the heart of God was warmed by Abraham’s compassion and zeal. This was no selfish petition, but intercession for others.

Why, then, did Abraham stop with ten? Why would he not have gone on to five or even one? Some may think that he did not dare to press God farther. Perhaps so, but I do not believe that Abraham would have ceased until he were confident that Lot and his family were safe from the wrath of God.

As we know from chapter 19 Abraham’s hopes exceeded reality. This would have resulted in tragedy were it not for a great divine truth: God’s grace always exceeds our expectations.

In the final analysis there were only three righteous in Sodom, Lot and his two daughters. Some might well question the righteousness of the daughters from their actions in the next chapter. However, God did comply with Abraham’s petition. While He did not spare the city of Sodom, He did spare Lot and his daughters.

In Tune with Torah this week = in our day, nation after nation across the world is in turmoil.  Scandals, riots, violence and chaos are regular items in the daily media.  In the midst of a broken society, what are the children of Abraham to do?

Abraham, our father, is our example.

You will notice that Abraham did not spend precious time denouncing the wickedness of  Sodom.  It was obvious enough and needed no further commentary.  Abraham turned to the only One who held out any hope for a remedy.

Never underestimate the power of prayer.

Shabbat Shalom

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 – Korach June 23, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 16 – 18

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 11:14 – 12:22

The Torah reading this week narrates the rebellion of Korach and his followers against the leadership of Moses.  In keeping with that account, the Haftorah reflects the same theme albeit in terms of the whole congregation of Israel.  It is especially interesting that it is Samuel, a descendant of Korach, who deals with the present situation in a vastly different manner than his ancestor.

From Israel’s earliest days, God had always provided the nation with a righteous leader – either a prophet or a judge, and it was God’s intent to continue to do so.  He reserved the position of King for Himself and rightly so.  Samuel understood this well and the thought of any ‘king’ over Israel other than the Holy One Himself was totally outside of Samuel’s understanding and thinking.

But the people wanted a king; they wanted to be like the other nations, not unique in their national character.  Samuel the prophet inquired of the LORD who allowed him to anoint Saul as king over Israel.

So all the people went to Gilgal.  There they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal; and there they slaughtered feast peace-offerings before the LORD; and there Saul, as well as all the men of Israel, rejoiced exceedingly.  I Sam. 11:15)

Saul

Over and over again, Samuel instructed the people that such a king must be different than the kings of other nations.  He himself must be subservient to God’s laws and be careful to promote God’s honor rather than his own.  He must be a servant to the people, not a master who rules arbitrarily.  He must guide Israel in the ways of the LORD. Saul did well as king for awhile, but the end of his story is tragic.

Samuel continually pleaded, argued and instructed the people to follow the LORD and to live according to His ways, but over and over again, they sought their own will and went astray.

Hidden in this account is a principle that we do well to learn.  Anytime we pursue and actively ‘make happen’ something that is not God’s will for us, tragedy of one sort or another follows.  I am reminded of a verse in the psalms:  He gave them their request but sent a wasting disease with it.  (Psalm 106:15)  When the children of Israel were in the desert, they frequently complained and begged Moses – and God – for what they did not have.  Their complaining was so persistent that at one point, God granted their request for meat by sending quail into the camp.  However, their reaction was not to thank God but to eat gluttonously until they made themselves sick.  It is that picture that I believe the psalmist had in mind when he penned psalm 106.

What does that say to us today?

We do not always know what to ask God for.  Truth be told, we may well pray misguided prayers more often than not.  We find it difficult to really trust that our Father in heaven does know what is best for us.  We have our plans; we have our ideas.  His plan is better every time.

Have you ever prayed and prayed and prayed for something in particular and after a while, God answers but once you have it, you think to yourself, ‘Why did I want this?’  It turns out not to be everything you thought it was going to be?  That is what the psalmist meant when he said, ‘He gave them what they asked for but sent a wasting disease with it.’

God is not unkind or cruel to do so.  He hears your petition and I believe He genuinely tries to get our attention, correct our thinking and steer us in a different direction.  But we are a stubborn people.  We get fixated on what we want and don’t hear that still small voice within saying, ‘Go this way instead.  It’s better.’

So when we don’t listen, He sometimes answers but with the answer comes conditions or results that we didn’t expect.  That’s exactly what happened when Israel demanded a king and it’s exactly what happens to us as well.

In Tune with Torah this week = Think back over your life. Can you think of times you prayed for something in particular and God didn’t give it to you? Later on, did you realize that your Father knew best and you wonder why you ever asked in the first place?  It became so obvious that what you thought you wanted would have ended in disaster.

Perhaps now you’ve been praying a long time for something your heart is set on.  Have you asked the LORD: Is this Your best for me?  If not, please change my heart and re-focus my attention.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Chayei Sarah November 25, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 23:1-25:18

Haftorah reading: I Kings 1: 1-31

In this week’s Haftorah reading, King David is described as ‘advanced in years’, his body showing signs of the years of hardship he had endured.  He was about 70 at this time but seems even older than his years; for David, it wasn’t just the years – it was the mileage. He seemed to live the lives of four or five men in his lifetime.

David’s diminished ability shows that question of David’s successor had to be addressed. King David could not last much longer, and his family history had been marked by treachery and murder. At this point, it was worth wondering if there could be a bloodless transition from David to the next king.

Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; and he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.  (I Kings 1:5)

2 Samuel 2: 3-5 describes the sons of David and lists Adonijah as the fourth son. Two of the three sons older than Adonijah were dead by this time (Amnon and Absalom), and we suspect that the other older son (Chileab) either also died or was unfit to rule because he is never mentioned after 2 Samuel 3:3.  As the oldest living son of David, by many customs Adonijah would be considered the heir to the throne. But the throne of Israel was not left only to the rules of hereditary succession; it was God who determined the next king.

However, Adonijah violated a basic principle in the Scriptures – that we should let God exalt us and not exalt ourselves.

For exaltation comes neither from the east, Nor from the west nor from the south.
But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another. (Psalm 75:6-7)

humility

The late John R.W. Stott once said: “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.”  His succinct statement about pride and humility goes straight to the heart of what the Bible teaches about the deadly root of our sins and sorrows.

Some would say that pride is the special problem of those who are rich, powerful, successful, famous, or self-righteous. However, pride takes many shapes and forms and affects all of us to some degree for pride is essentially a preoccupation with self – my wants, my ways, my desires, my will.  As a famous Harvard psychologist observed,
Any neurotic is living a life which in some respects is extreme in its self-centeredness…  the very nature of the neurotic disorder is tied to pride.

Pride can be summarized as an attitude of self-sufficiency, self-importance, and self-exaltation in relation to God. Toward others, it can manifest as an attitude of superiority, contempt and/or indifference. However, chances are good that most of us do not see pride in our lives. For while it is easy to see pride in others, it is very difficult to see it in ourselves.

Like Adonijah, we all have a ‘pride problem’ which is why there are multiple verses throughout the Scriptures that urge us to humble ourselves before the LORD for just as pride is the root of all sin, so “humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.”  The simplest definition of humility that I know is this one:  Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

Mother Teresa, the venerable nun who worked among the poorest of the poor in India, wrote in her book, The Joy of Living:

These are the few ways we can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one’s self.
To mind one’s own business.
Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.
To avoid curiosity.
To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one’s dignity.
To choose always the hardest.

So how should we think of ourselves?  On the one hand, we are God’s creatures: small, finite, dependent, limited in intelligence and ability but we are also God’s children: created, loved, and redeemed by God’s grace alone and gifted by God with certain unique abilities, resources, and advantages, which are to be used for His glory for whatever we have, we have received from Him.

Adonijah was not content with his state in life; he wanted what was not his to have, for God had already decreed that Solomon, not Adonijah, was to succeed David as the next king of Israel.  His arrogance brought him to an early grave.

Humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s word and opens our hearts to his Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God, who knows the proud from afar, but dwells with him “who is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15).

Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant of the LORD does not happen over night. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. But it grows quietly in our innermost being as we make those choices that enable humility to grow.

In Tune with Torah this week =  a commitment to make those choices, the most important being to consistently seek a closer relationship with God in prayer and in meditation on His Word.  For those who truly know their God will be humble and those who truly know themselves cannot be proud.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 18, 2016

Leviticus 1 – 5

The third book of the Torah, Leviticus, (Vayikra in Hebrew) begins in an unusual way and reminds us that originally the Torah was not divided up into chapters and books but was one continuous narrative.

lifeofholiness

“And (He) called out to Moshe, and God spoke to him. “  The previous book, Exodus, came to an end rather abruptly and the story continues into the first chapter of Leviticus, a fact lost on some readers who don’t make the fundamental connection between the two books.

Of course, God calling out to man – especially to Moshe – is not an unusual occurrence in the Torah; however, this opening verse is different. For the first time, God calls out from within the completed Tabernacle. When we begin to read Leviticus in the context of the final verses of Exodus, we suddenly realize that this new book is the culmination of the Exodus itself.  The prophet, Jeremiah, actually helps us gain insight:

“Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says God: I remember the kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2)

According to Jeremiah, God reminisces about the early days of His relationship with the Jewish People. Having rescued them from Egypt, the ex-slaves follow Moses into the desert, destined for Mt. Sinai.

Initially the experience at Sinai between God and His people strikes us as outstanding, amazing, stupendous. But no sooner is the covenant between them established, turmoil ensues as the Hebrews erect a golden calf and fall into idolatry. Is the relationship with the Almighty over?

Moses intercedes, and soon there is regret, repentance, and a restoration of the relationship. Moses ascends the mountain again and returns with the second set of Tablets which include the detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle. And as the construction is completed, the book of Exodus comes to a close.

But the Tabernacle, in and of it self, does not produce what God is ultimately after: intimacy with His people.  And that, my friends, is what Leviticus is truly all about.

Certainly God has spoken to Moses many times, but this is different; now, man has made place for God down on earth, indicating a sense of permanence to this relationship. A home has been built for them to share. Exactly like a marriage, now their relationship requires a commitment of a totally different degree.  Israel must begin to nurture and maintain the love between themselves and God in a consistent, stable and personal relationship. It is a new challenge for the congregation of former slaves and it is a challenge posed to God’s people in every generation.

Just as a magnificent home that welcomes a newlywed couple does not create intimacy and permanence in marriage, neither did the Tabernacle, nor the Temple centuries later; only personal relationship does.  Religious rules and traditions do not create intimacy with the Holy One of Israel; personal relationship with Him does.

The model of marriage plays well to our understanding.  Without personal communication between husband and wife, the marriage weakens and ultimately will fail.  Without you and I spending quality time with God, talking to Him in our own words, sharing our deepest thoughts and desires with Him and learning to listen to that still small voice within our own soul – that voice that answers us when we call upon Him – we may have religion, but we do not have relationship.

There is none so sad as he who thinks that relationship with God is simply a perfunctory habit of man-made rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is not looking for robots; He desires hearts that love Him with passion and devotion.

In Tune with Torah this week = Just as ‘He called out to Moses..’, He calls out to us in our own day.  Are we listening? Have we made it a priority to spend personal, intimate time with our God?  Are we consistent in our study of His inspired Word?

Shabbat Shalom