Weekly Torah Commentary – Bamidbar May 26, 2017

Torah Reading:  Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Haftorah reading:  Hosea 2: 1-22

The book of Hosea describes Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and its prophetic meaning for Israel. Chapters 4–14 give excerpts from Hosea’s preaching of grace and judgment leading up to the fall of Israel in 722 BC. Chapters 1–3 are so powerful and personal that we want to look at them for if we grasp the point of chapters 1–3, we grasp the point of the book.  And what is the point?  Read on…

Hosea 2: 1-23 is one of the most tender and most beautiful love songs in the Bible. It is sung by God to his unfaithful wife, Israel. But before we look at it, glance back for a moment to chapter 3. Here we see Hosea and his wife, Gomer for the last time. She has run off and lives now with a “significant other.” So Hosea is free, right? Now he can get a divorce. She has ended the marriage once and for all. She has another man. Therefore Hosea is free. Right?

Wrong!

God would not give up on Israel, and He appointed Hosea to symbolize his undying love to his wife of harlotry. “The Lord said to me, ‘Go again and love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley.” Hosea 3:1

Hosea

Two thoughts come to me as I read these verses.  First of all, who would ever want, let alone obey, that kind of calling?  What a man Hosea must have been! Secondly, in light of what God asked Hosea to do here, we get a glimpse into what God’s love for us in our wretchedness is like.

Throughout their marriage, Gomer had been unfaithful, and finally she went off with another man. Hosea could have had her stoned according to the Torah. But God commands him to love her. “Go again, love her.” And – imagine this –  not just was Hosea to go and get her and love her, but he had to be willing even to pay this “significant other” for her.  Besides the enormous emotional demand God’s word to him presented, Hosea in the natural could not afford it! He didn’t have enough money! So he paid half in cash and half in barley: fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley. And how amazingly interesting that the total amounted to what Exodus 21:32 says a female slave costs. Gomer had evidently sunk to the lowest possible level. And God says to Hosea, “Get her back, whatever it costs, get her back. I did not create her to be a slave to sin and immorality.”

Every kind of sin a a form of adultery for every sin is a betrayal of the One Who created you, loves you, redeems you and desires to fellowship with you.  Sin is choosing to do something you like better than God’s commandments.

Perhaps one of our problems is that while we may desire to serve the Almighty as our God, we have yet to learn to love Him as our Husband.

For Your Maker is your husband; the LORD of Hosts is His name, and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called.  Isaiah 54:5

Behold the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares the LORD.  Jeremiah 31:31-32

The entire message of the book of Hosea could be summarized in these words: Love God warmly as your Husband, don’t just serve him as your Lord.

In Tune with Torah this week = God’s love for us is such that the response He desires is a love in return that is as powerful, as committed, as deep and as lasting as the love between husband and wife is meant to be. Sadly in our modern age, the examples of this kind of faithful, loving marriage are not as plentiful as in generations past.  Yet, that does not in any way lessen the truth of God’s committed love towards us and His desire that we experience powerful, deep, faithful and lasting love from Him.

If you’ve been hurt by betrayal or divorce with all of their implications, may the word of the LORD today encourage you that there is ONE who loves you faithfully and He will never betray or abandon you.  Love Him warmly as your husband even as you serve Him as your Lord.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak July 22, 2016

Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

In this week’s portion, the Torah introduces a non-Hebrew prophet, Bilam or Balaam, as most English bibles spell his name.  The children of Israel have prevailed over the Amorites and the people of Moab hear about it.  They are therefore fearful so when the Israelites set up camp opposite Moab,  Balak, the king of Moab, sends messengers to the prophet, Bilam.  He has one request of the prophet: come and curse this nation that is camped opposite us.  When they arrive at Bilam’s home, they present their request and the prophet invites them to spend the night so he can hear from God regarding the king’s request.

God’s response is unequivocal.  God said to Bilam, ‘Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.’ Num. 22:12  In the morning, Bilam sends the messengers back to the king with the message that God will not allow Bilam to curse Israel.

So far, so good.  Unfortunately the story doesn’t end here.

Balak sends another contingent of messengers, more distinguished than the last, promising honor to Bilam if he will agree to curse the Israelite nation.  One would think that Bilam would stand on his previous answer and send them back to the king.  He does make a ‘religious’ reply: ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord, my God.’ Num. 22:18 Nevertheless, he invites this group also to spend the night so he can see ‘what else the Lord may speak to me.’  A dangerous move – God had already spoken to him but Bilam is hoping for a different answer the second time around.

Have you ever known someone who goes for counseling but instead of following the advice first given, they go to a second person or even a third, until they hear what they want to hear? In Bilam’s behavior we see a clear example of a very human trait: We see what we want to see and we hear what we want to hear.

God came to Bilam that night and said to him, ‘If the men have come to call you, rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak shall you say.’  Num. 22:20  God essentially says ‘Go ahead. Do what you want to do, but you may not say anything I haven’t said!’  Bilam heard what he wanted to hear, saddled his donkey and went on his way. How many times have we acted like Bilam? Knowing what God wants us to do yet choosing to do what we want to do.

God was not pleased and sent an angel to impede Bilam’s journey. The donkey saw the angel and three times stopped moving ahead.  Bilam, not seeing the angel, beat the donkey in anger and frustration at which point, God opened the donkey’s mouth:

Bilam

‘What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?’  Bilam replied, ‘Because you have embarrassed me. If there was a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.’ The donkey replied, ‘Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all of your life to this day? Have I ever done this to you before?’  Bilam replied, ‘No.’  (vs. 28-30)

Then the Lord opened Bilam’s eyes and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way.

It seems to me that when Bilam’s donkey started talking, the prophet should have seen immediately that it was time to repent!  To be fair, he did say, ‘I have sinned,’ but look at the rest of the sentence: ‘I did not know that you were standing in the way against me.  Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I’ll turn back.’

Take a good look at those words. He’s still hedging. It’s what he didn’t say that counts.

He didn’t say, ‘Lord, my God I have sinned.  Please forgive me.  I will turn back immediately.’

It’s one thing to admit, ‘I have sinned’ but that’s not necessarily repentance.  Just to acknowledge one’s failure without asking forgiveness and taking steps to correct one’s failure is only third of the process.  In addition, he offers something of a rationalization, ‘I didn’t know you were standing there’ he says to the angel, ‘and now if you’re really displeased, then I’ll turn back.’  IF you’re REALLY displeased??? Seriously!

Bilam is STILL not submitting in his heart to what God told him the first time he asked for direction.  Do you see that?

Not a one of us can throw stones at the prophet for we have done the same thing. Every failure – no matter what form it takes – is choosing what we want over what God wants.  We see what we want to see and we hear what we want to hear.  God’s desire is that we see as He sees, hear what He says and embrace His will in ready obedience.

Bilam did go to Balak but he was utterly unable to curse the Hebrew nation.  Instead he blessed them, not just once but three times.  In the course of his blessing, he uttered words that have resounded through the generations:

God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent.  Has He said and will He not do it? Or has He spoken and will He not make it good?  Numbers 23:19

With these words, Bilam – a gentile prophet – declared to the world the integrity of the Lord God, His faithfulness to keep His word and to fulfill every promise He has made.

Our faith is built on nothing less than God’s incomparable faithfulness.  We believe Him because He is Who He says He is and His Word will never return to him void, without accomplishing that for which it was spoken. For the revelation of these words, we thank Bilam and we learn as well that God uses even the imperfect to deliver His message.

In Tune with Torah this week = Let us each ask our Father in heaven to grant us grace to see with His eyes and hear with the ears of disciples that we may live a life of loving obedience to whatever He directs us to do.  Key Word: ‘whatever’

Shabbat Shalom

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