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 He is not an abstract God, nor is He aloof and withdrawn but rather, He is directly and purposely involved in His creation and in particular in the lives of those who follow Him.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 Beha’aloscha June 9, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 8-12

Haftorah reading: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7   (Zechariah 2:10 – 4:7 in English translations)

The prophet Zechariah served the LORD after the remnant of Judah had returned from the 70-year Babylonian exile. His prophetic ministry was active during the reign of Darius, the ruler of the Medes and Persians. His career is not marked by the reign of a king over Israel or Judah, because there was no king of Israel or Judah in this period after the exile.

Profoundly conscious of all of God’s promises to Israel throughout the centuries, and given their recent return to Jerusalem after seventy years in Babylon, the prophet urges them to be joyful.

rejoice

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion (Zech 2:10)

God doesn’t expect His people to be passive or “cool” in light of His faithfulness in bringing them back after seventy years just as Jeremiah had prophesied. God expects them to sing and rejoice, to be thankful and worshipful.  The prophet goes on with even more reasons for joy.

I am coming and will dwell in your midst (Zech 2:10

The first reason why God’s people should be excited is because He will be among them in a unique and powerful way. To this day the assurance of His presence with us is more than enough reason to be thankfully happy, even in the midst of difficult times.  David wrote in Psalm 16:11, ‘In Your presence there is fulness of joy.’  God is always with us, He will never forsake us.  You can anchor your soul in that promise for the Holy One of Israel does not lie; neither is He unfaithful.  He promised to be with us always and He is.  Is that not what faith is all about? Trusting absolutely in His revealed Word which can never, ever fail.

Zechariah goes on to give the returned exiles another reason to be joyful.

Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. (Zech. 2:11a)

This is a profoundly prophetic verse.  Read it again quietly to yourself.

First of all, we see that God’s love and His Redemption is for ALL nations.  His choice of Israel was for a purpose and a mission: to make His Name known and loved across the world, ‘a light to the nations’.

Now there’s something interesting about light.  It exposes what already exists.  Therefore, Israel’s national mission was (and is) to demonstrate individually and as a nation the power and the blessing of living in relationship with the Holy One of Israel.  Israel’s calling was never intended to be introspective; rather, their calling is for the sake of the rest of the nations.  Here He explicitly tells Israel more nations are going to become His people lest Israel become smug or arrogant about her calling.

Secondly, through the prophet, God informs us that He will bring many peoples into His Kingdom. He is making known to Judah and to all of Israel that His blessing upon them was never intended to isolate them from the rest of the world but to make them effective and impacting witnesses of His goodness for the sake of awakening the rest of the world to God’s love.  This echoes the thought we’ve already expressed: Israel was to be the model nation.  It was to their high calling that Zechariah was appealing, reminding and exhorting them to be mindful of WHY they were chosen and WHY they were brought back to Jerusalem.  It wasn’t just to make them happy; it was for the purposes of God’s eternal Redemption plan which was to encompass ALL the nations of the world.

Then I will dwell in your midst and you will know that the LORD of Hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:11b)

Thirdly, this second half of verse 11 clearly prophesies the Messianic Kingdom to come.  It jumps to future generations: ‘Then’ – or ‘At that time’ speaks of the future when King Messiah will literally ‘dwell in your midst’ and all Israel will know that the LORD of Hosts has sent Him, for the world will be at peace, wars will cease and His reign from Jerusalem will encompass the entire world.  Finally, the dream of Avinu Malkenu – Our Father and our King – will be realized as men and women, boys and girls from every nation under heaven worship Him in truth.  What a glorious day that will be!  What an amazing future awaits us!

In Tune with Torah this week = In light of the glorious future God has prepared for His people, should we not live with eternity in view? How will it impact your life today, this week, this year if you purpose to live conscious that you are just a traveler passing through on this planet but your true and eternal home awaits you?

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Pekudei March 11, 2016

As the book of Exodus draws to a close, a cloud envelops and fills the newly completed Tabernacle.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Moses was not able to enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the Tabernacle day by day and there was fire on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.  Exodus 40:34-38

We may not have noticed but the cloud has been a major element throughout the book of Exodus.

cloud

When the Israelites first left Egypt, the cloud accompanied them:

The Lord went before them by day with a pillar of cloud, to guide them along the way. By night it appeared as a pillar of fire, providing them with light. They could thus travel day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night from before the people.  Exodus 13:21-22

From the day they left Egypt, like a brooding mother, the cloud protected them. It separated their encampment from that of the Egyptians, it led them through the sea and at the appropriate time, God Himself descended on Mt. Sinai ‘in a cloud’ which the people could see.

God said to Moses, ‘I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that all the people will hear when I speak to you. They will then believe in you forever.’ Exodus 19:9

When God called Moses to the top of Mt. Sinai, he had to make his way through that cloud:

Then Moses went up the mountain and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord rested on Mt. Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud.  And to the eyes of the sons of Israel, the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain.  Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. Exodus 24:15-18

These verses bear a striking resemblance to the verses quoted above describing the completion of the Tabernacle. The key concept in both is the ‘cloud’.

Think back to the incident of the golden calf. The people became impatient and confused; they felt abandoned due to Moses’ lengthy stay on top of the mountain. While that is understandable in the natural, the sin of the golden calf was the fruit of their lack of appreciation for God’s Presence in the midst in the form of the cloud. Because they turned a blind eye toward the ever-present manifestation of God, taking the ‘cloud’ for granted, they fell into sin.

Herein lies a key that applies to every person in every generation.

Though we may not see with our physical eyes, the ‘cloud’ of God’s presence with us by day and by night, the truth is that He is just as present today as He was then for He is the same – yesterday, today and forever.

Holy men and women throughout the centuries have taught the importance of living each day mindful of God’s presence with us.  That consciousness serves to protect us just as much as the cloud in the desert protected the Israelites.  When we do not take the ‘cloud’ for granted, as they did, we recognize more quickly the danger of entertaining temptation to do wrong and choose instead the ways of righteousness more readily.

In simple terms, cultivating the awareness of God’s presence with us at all times is a deterrent towards falling into sin, like a child who chooses to behave properly in his father’s presence while in the father’s absence may be more likely to transgress his parents’ instructions.

In Tune with Torah this week = look back over the past week and consider: how often have I been aware of God’s presence with me?  Are there times when I acted or spoke in ways that would not meet with the Lord’s approval?  If I had stopped then to consider His presence with me, would I have spoken or acted differently?   Let us be like David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, who declared:

I have set the Lord continually before me. Psalm 16:8
Shabbat Shalom