Joshua, the Man & the Book #8 December 5, 2017

Joshua 7 comes as a bit of a surprise.

The children of Israel under Joshua’s leadership have just witnessed the tremendous defeat of the city of Jericho and they are still basking in the glow of that great event. But, verse 1 tells us that God was upset with the people. Israel thought that everything was all right. They thought that they were standing on the edge of a great string of victories that would see them conquering the entire land of promise. Yet, what they didn’t know was that there was a problem in the camp. There was one in their midst who was causing a problem for the entire family of God.  Because of that, the nation was about to suffer a painful defeat.

In vs. 2-3 of chapter 7, Israel is a confident people. They looked at Ai and felt like that little town would be no problem for such a great army, but their confidence was misplaced. Israel did not realize it, but they were living through one of the most dangerous times of life. You see, the time just after a great spiritual victory is a dangerous time. Often, like Israel, we will be over confident and believe that we can handle any battle that comes our way.When we have that attitude, we are vulnerable to suffer our greatest defeats.  Why? Because we are trusting in ‘OUR’ achievement, rather than in the grace of God.

When Israel, without consulting the LORD, set out to conquer Ai they suffered a terrible defeat and 36 of their number were killed. Shock waves went through the camp. How could this happen?

Achan

Joshua, as commander, takes responsibility and goes before the LORD in prayer with a broken heart, v. 6. However, he also displays a hint of anger and accusation against the Lord.  Joshua is about to learn that prayer is the correct recourse in a time of trouble, but that prayer will avail nothing until sin has been dealt with, Psalm 66:18! Joshua wonders why Israel was powerless in the battle. He learns that the answer wasn’t to blame God, or to dispute His will. The answer was within their own camp.

When our decisions bring unpleasant consequences, it is not the time to play the ‘blame game’.  It is also not the time to accuse God of anything. We need to look within and see where the problem is.  When there is a lack of power in my life, the problem is not with God, nor is it with others, the problem is always with me!

While Joshua and Israel try to figure out what is going on, God in Heaven already knows and tells Joshua all about it.

The answer is quite simple: there is sin in the camp of Israel.

The LORD makes Joshua to understand that this sin that is hindering His power and is the cause of their defeat. Further, the LORD gives Joshua instructions on how to discover the guilty party. In these words to Joshua, God gives us some insights into sin, insights worthy of our attention.

1. God knows about our sins – vs. 11 (Proverbs 15:3)

2. God hates our sins – vs. 11 (Proverbs 6:6-19)

3. God has a plan for our sins – vs. 14-15  (Psalm 32:5)

4. Sin affects those around us – vs. 11-12

5. Sin must be dealt with; it cannot be ignored. vs. 13

Essentially, God makes clear to Joshua: Either you deal with the sin in the camp or I will. Either way, sin must be confronted.

God knew who was guilty so why didn’t He just tell Joshua who they were looking for? In my opinion, He was giving Achan time to repent and to confess his sins voluntarily. In any case, Achan was identified as the culprit.

In verse 19, Joshua speaks to Achan with love in his heart. He knows that Achan is condemned, but Joshua still cares for this man who brought so much trouble to Israel. In the next verses, Achan finally confesses his sin but grudgingly. Don’t believe for a second that Achan truly repented! He, like some others in the Bible, only confessed his sin after he got caught, when it was impossible to hide it any longer!

God’s way is for His people to throw the covers off their sins and tell God the truth that He already knows. He blesses the person who handles sin the Biblical way. However, the person who tries to hide his sins will never prosper, but will face God in judgment.  Our sins will be exposed in one way or another. You can confess them sincerely and be forgiven, or you will be forced to confess them when you face the LORD in Judgment. Either way, you will confess your sins.  Far better to be a quick repenter like David, than an unwilling repenter like Achan.

The following verses give us the sad conclusion to this tragic tale. Achan and all that he had were taken out and stoned to death by the people of Israel. It didn’t have to end this way! However, these verses demonstrate the horrible end of all sinners who refuse to repent.

Application

 

No human being is perfect or sinless.  But God in His great mercy and loving kindness, before we were ever born, had already made provision for us to return to Him after sinning: REPENTANCE.  And what is repentance? It is the decision – made sincerely – to approach the Holy One of Israel with humility to acknowledge what we have done wrong and to ask for His forgiveness.  It is coming to Him with no pretense, no hypocrisy, no mental excuses or rationalizations regarding what we have done, but to simply acknowledge the truth: I have sinned, I sincerely regret having offended You, My God, You, who have blessed me with so many blessings. I ask for Your mercy and forgiveness.

Knowing from His written Word that He is faithful to forgive us when we repent, we then thank Him for that forgiveness and pray for grace to refrain from repeating that sin again.

If Achan had only taken this course of action, his entire family would have been spared.

A sobering thought…

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 – Noah October 20, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 66:1-24

It took only nine generations from Creation for mankind to descend into a moral decay of such magnitude that God announced to one man His intent to destroy the world with a flood.  Noah, the Bible says, was ‘righteous in his generation.’ A great grandson of Enoch, Noah had a powerful spiritual heritage.  In the book of Enoch we read that Enoch entrusted the revelations God gave him to his son, Methuselah, who subsequently passed them on to his son, Lamech, who then taught them to his son, Noah.

Remember that Noah’s grandfather was still alive as Noah grew up, married and had children.  In fact, Methuselah died seven days before the rains began, on the very day that Noah and his family entered the Ark.

After the flood, when the waters receded, God spoke to Noah again:

And God said to Noah and his sons: I will keep My covenant with you and your descendants…and never again will a flood destroy all of life, and there will not be another flood destroying the earth….This is the sign I am making, testifying to the covenant between Me and you and all living souls, forever: I have put My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Myself and the world. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember the covenant between Myself and yourselves and all living souls, and there will never again be a flood to destroy all life. The rainbow will be in the clouds and I will see it and remember the eternal covenant between G‑d and all the living souls on earth.  Genesis 9: 11-17

After the Flood, the LORD God promised that—in spite of how man might sin—He would never again cause a flood that would destroy the whole world. As a sign of that covenant, He created the rainbow.

rainbow

In Jewish thought, the rainbow has two very significant meanings.

First, the appearance of a rainbow is a sign that sin is proliferating in a nation or region.  As such, it is seen as an appeal for repentance.  There are accounts in Jewish history of generations that never saw a rainbow which the Sages understood to mean that within the population there was a remnant of righteous and holy people whose godly living and sincere worship of Almighty God were preserving factors for the entire generation.

Hmm – think about that for a while…..

The second meaning attributed to a rainbow declares that though the Flood brought destruction to the world, there was also an aspect of it that was a blessing. The Flood waters purified the world and gave to mankind a second chance, the ability to recover the meaning of their existence. The clouds, which are formed from the mist that rises from the ground, represented this transformation of the natural to the supernatural.

I suggest that there is yet another sign inherent in the rainbow.

The prophet Ezekiel described a vision in which he had seen the divine presence “like a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, with a corona around it; this was how the glory of God appeared, and I saw it and fell on my face and heard a voice speaking….”

The rainbow, therefore, is also a sign of the presence of God and the glory of God.Therefore on those occasions when we do see a rainbow, it serves to remind us that we serve a God in the heavens who is true to His word, His faithfulness extends to all generations and His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations .3:22-23)   Every sighting of a rainbow in the sky is an opportunity to give thanks and praise to an ever faithful and loving Heavenly Father.

Continuing with Jewish thought, in Zohar 13, it is written that just before the Messiah appears, mankind will see an especially bright and vividly colorful rainbow in the sky.

In Tune with Torah this week = throughout history the rainbow has been used as a symbol in a wide variety of ways.  Our purpose here is to look at its origin and what God said about it. For the devoted Bible believer, the rainbow is a sign of His covenant, His faithfulness and His mercy, even in times of grievous sin in a nation or culture.

Let  us be thankful that our God is merciful as well as just, faithful as well as loving. His heart has not changed since the days of Noah.  He is the same today as He was then. It took 120 years for Noah to build the Ark.  From ancient sources we know that during that entire time, his grandfather Methuselah, a righteous man, appealed to the people to turn from their wicked ways lest God’s judgment fall upon them.

If only they had listened…..

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Beresheit October 13, 2017

Welcome to a new year of Torah learning.  We completed the Hebrew year of 5777 and have now embarked on the year 5778 on the Hebrew calendar which means we start over at the very beginning of the Bible, the first book, Genesis or Bresheit in Hebrew.

Torah reading this week = Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Haftorah reading this week = Isaiah 42:4 – 43:10

Adam and Eve – the first human beings created by God and placed in a magnificent garden with everything they could ever desire and then some.  There was no lack of food and as the earth was perfect then, everything would have had the most exquisite taste and texture.

EveAdam

Yet as we know so well, they sinned and humanity has felt the results ever since.  Normally we describe their sin as disobedience for after all, God had clearly told them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The serpent came along, tempted Eve, she ate and then gave some to Adam and he ate as well.

But let’s take a closer look for a moment, shall we?  Yes, of course, they disobeyed the direct command of God.  But why? Was it really just about an attractive, perhaps fragrant, fruit?  Really?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.  And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’  Genesis 3: 1-5

Look at that again carefully and think with me.  Adam and Eve had everything in that garden that they could ever want, desire or imagine.  It was an absolutely perfect place.

Yet the serpent – devious as he was – tempted Eve with the ONE thing that she and Adam did not have and never could have.  Look at it again.

The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God...’ 

Do you see it? The serpent went after the only thing he could use to stir up jealousy and envy in Eve.  The one thing that she and Adam could never be: equal to God.

We shouldn’t be surprised for do we not read in Isaiah that this same serpent who was once a magnificent cherub in the heavens thought in his heart: ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north.  I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’  Isaiah 14:13-14

Satan’s attempt to become equal with God was his eternal downfall. Seeing the sweet fellowship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God as they walked together in the cool of the evening, that serpent was jealous, insanely jealous.  He therefore decided to tempt them with the very sin that had caused his own expulsion from the heavens.

But it was a lie – a dastardly, heinous lie – and resulted in their expulsion from the Garden, just as he was cast out of the heavens.  Yet have we not continued through the generations to repeat Eve’s regrettable sin? In various ways, we have all sought in one way or another to be ‘our own god’.  Does that sound harsh? Well, it is a bit yet it’s the truth.  Every time you or I have violated God’s commandments, what we are doing is choosing our own will and way instead of His which is exactly what Eve did and persuaded Adam to do as well.

It’s not politically correct nowadays to talk about ‘sin’.  People don’t like to hear that. However, sin is still sin whether you talk about it or not. Whatever the specific action or behavior involved, in one way or another, sin happens when I choose to be ‘my own god’ in opposition to the ways and the Word of the Almighty God of the Universe, our Heavenly Father.

In Tune with Torah this week = as we begin a new year of study in Torah, our very first lesson is this: God is God and we are not!  He created you, knew you even before you were in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139), has a perfect plan for your life (Jeremiah 29) and loves you with an unconditional love.  The only rational response to such love is to embrace His Word and His ways, to repent when we miss it, pick ourselves up and go on to do better the next time.  I dare say that the devil is not our biggest enemy; our stubborn self-will is.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Emor May 12, 2017

Torah Reading: Leviticus 21-24

Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 44: 15-31

But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord GOD.  vs. 15

The first question that arises when we read this passage is ‘Who are the sons of Zadok? And who was Zadok?’

“Now these are the ones who came to David at Ziklag, while he was still restricted because of Saul the son of Kish… For day by day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army like the army of God… also Zadok a young man mighty of valor, and of his fathers house twenty two captains” (1 Chronicles 12:1,22,28).  Long before David was crowned king, Zadok followed him faithfully because he knew what God had said through the prophet Samuel.

Zadok

Later, Zadok was the high priest during the reign of King David. When all of Israel went astray and followed after Absalom when he usurped his father’s throne, Zadok picked up the ark and followed David even though it seemed that this would mean certain destruction.

Zadok never followed the path of the politically expedient.  He did what was right. He knew that the Lord had anointed David as king and that He had not anointed Absalom. David was still the king, even though “all Israel” did not see it that way. The crowd paid a dear price, but Zadok’s reward would last forever. To this day, his sons are those whom are closest to the Lord.

Not once did Zadok ever look back. He proved to be righteous because he proved to be faithful! He was there when David needed him! And when so many others were being carried away with the rebellion of Absalom, Zadok remained faithful through it all.

“The king also passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over toward the way of the wilderness. Now behold, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him carrying the ark of the covenant of God… And the king said to Zadok, Return the ark of God to the city… The king said also to Zadok the priest, Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Abimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me” (2 Samuel 15:23-25,27-28).

Note David’s question:“Are you not a seer?” This meant, “Zadok, you have the gift of discernment! You know what is evil and what is holy. You are strong enough, faithful and committed enough to Me to go into that realm of rebellion and idolatry and save the kingdom!” The king said to Zadok, “Return to the city.” God now had a holy priest to guard the house of God from ruin!

Though a whole nation was in rebellion, in Gods house there was a holy remnant. Is there anything that America, Israel and all the nations of the earth need more today than this? That “the sons of Zadok” – the remnant of God of which the prophets spoke – would stand in the gap and change the course of history, not by armies and weapons, but by prayer and faithful devotion to the truths of God’s Word.

Meanwhile, God was building for Zadok an enduring house, a priesthood that fulfilled the prophecy of the man of God who prophesied to Eli. This is that “faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul.”

The holy remnant, the faithful priesthood of today, these servants of the Lord whose hearts are blameless and faithful – these are the spiritual offspring of Zadok! These are “near to the Lord” who minister to Him. Ministry to the Lord is the mark of the Zadok remnant.

Who are the sons of Zadok? The sons of Zadok are the ones who do the deeds of Zadok. They have the faith in God and the substance of character to follow the way that is right, even if everyone else goes the other direction. That was the resolve of Zadok which he taught to his sons and it was to them that the LORD entrusted His work in a time of great political chaos in Israel.

Across the globe today there is an enormous vacuum of godly and righteous leadership which makes this a dangerous time.  Throughout history,  a lack of strong and righteous leadership has always provided the greatest opportunities for tyranny.

The answer is not to pursue leadership, but to pursue the repentance that will lead us back to God’s favor, and then He will raise up righteous leaders. In II Chronicles 7:14 we are promised, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin an heal their land.”  Four things are required to heal a land:

1)   Humility

2)   Prayer

3)   Seeking His face

4)   Repentance from wickedness

This is the time for courage and unyielding resolve.  There is no place for cowardice in true faith. This is our time. This is our watch.

In Tune with Torah this week = Will we show the courage that is demanded of the true servants of the King?  Will we, like the sons of Zadok, be those who spend time in the Lord’s presence, seek His face and feed our spiritual man on His Word?  Will we stand up and speak up for what is right, even if no one stands with us?

Where are the sons of Zadok today?

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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Weekly Torah Commentary — Nitzavim September 11, 2015

Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20

This week’s portion is always read in close proximity to Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana – the Feast of Trumpets – begins at sundown Sunday evening and continues through sundown on Tuesday.

During this season, teshuva (“return to God”) is the main focus and verses from this week’s reading reflect that.

And it shall come to pass, when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you shall return to your heart [while in exile] among all the nations, where the Lord your God has driven you. And you shall return unto the Lord your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul…. And you shall return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command you this day. And the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in every work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land, for good; for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, as he rejoiced over your fathers. If you shall listen to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the Torah, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul. (Deut. 30:1-10)

While the season leading up to the fall Festivals of the Lord has a heavy emphasis on self-examination for purposes of repentance, let us not make the mistake of getting stuck in the past. The priority of repentance is to catapult us into a better tomorrow!
We repent for failures in order to walk more closely with God. This is the message of the Feast of Trumpets.

We are living in critical times. There are many voices in both the Jewish and Christian communities urging us to prepare for the coming of Messiah. Some who hear will scoff; others may dismiss it with a cynical ‘I’ve heard that before’ kind of attitude. The reality is that the appointed festivals detailed in Leviticus are and have always been important signposts on God’s calendar of redemptive history and should not be taken lightly.

Rosh Hashana is the annual reminder that life is a journey and every journey has a destination. One day each of us will stand before the heavenly Throne to give account of what we have done with the gifts and blessings we received during our life on earth.

Life is also a test. The pattern was set with the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. What was the test in the Garden of Eden? It wasn’t about eating a piece of fruit! Rather, in God’s command to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil was the implicit question to Adam and Eve: Do you believe that I, Your Creator, have your best interests at heart? Or do you think you know better?

It was fundamentally a test of Faith.

It still is.

Rosh Hashana is a ‘mini’ judgment day, as it were. It is the time to judge ourselves at and ask: Do I really trust God? Am I persuaded that He is what the Scriptures tell me He is – my King, my Father, my Redeemer, my Provider, my Wisdom, my Rock and my Strength? Do I need to repent for leaning on my own limited understanding? The wise King Solomon warned against that when he wrote: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 And the Psalmist declared: It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. Psalm 118:8

If repentance locks you in the past, you’ve missed the point. Repentance is not an end in itself; it’s the door to a new beginning.

In Tune with Torah this week = Stop looking at your past life and instead focus your sights on where you are going. Keep pressing on to fulfilling the purpose for which the God of Israel put you on this earth.

May you and your family be abundantly blessed during this season of the Lord’s festivals.
May we all draw closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in this new year and walk more diligently in His ways.

Shana Tova v’ metuka! (May you have a good and sweet year.)

Shabbat Shalom