Weekly Torah Commentary – Devarim July 28, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 1: 1-27

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.  Isaiah 1:1

Isaiah

Someone has called Isaiah the ‘Shakespeare of the biblical writers’ because of his passion and eloquence.  As we will have several Haftorah readings in the next few weeks from Isaiah’s book, let’s take a look at this man – who he was and when he lived.

Who was Isaiah? His ministry spanned the reigns of at least four kings, most likely five – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and probably into the reign of Manasseh. This is a period of approximately 40 years, covering the time of the second half of the 8th century B.C. (750-700). The son of Amoz, he exercised his ministry in and around Jerusalem. Some commentators speculate that he was from a well-to-do family with ties to the royal family. He was married and had at least two sons but we are told precious little about his personal and family life.

Isaiah was a contemporary of two other prophets – Micah, who also prophesied in Jerusalem (Judah), and Hosea, who prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel. There is no mention of Isaiah and Micah knowing each other, although it is impossible to see how they could not have. There is no reference to Micah having access to the kings as Isaiah did, which again indicates that Isaiah had connections not available to Micah.

The times of Isaiah were turbulent, to say the least. King Uzziah, who reigned for fifty two years, led Judah during a period of prosperity not known since the days of Solomon. Jeroboam II reigned in Israel during most of Uzziah’s reign and had similar success. But their deaths were a turning point. By 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel were destroyed by Assyria, its people forever scattered. Judah survived the Assyrian threat, but not before being reduced to a subservient country, impoverished by paying taxes to Assyria.

Uzziah’s son, Jotham served for sixteen years, pretty much in the same vein as his father. Both were described as being faithful to God, although Uzziah for some reason let pride get the best of him and fancied himself as being able to carry out the work of a priest. He entered into the temple area, reserved only for priests, and tried to burn incense on the altar. He was struck with leprosy which resulted in his death.

Ahaz, the next king, was the consummate opportunist, guided by one principle – his own ego. It was during his reign that Assyria conquered Israel; in fact, it was at his invitation! Israel wanted Judah to join them and dethrone Ahaz, in order to place their own puppet king on the throne. Ahaz’s reaction was to entreat the king of Assyria to come to his aid. The result was utter devastation for the northern kingdom of Israel and the submission of the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahaz also used his throne to promote idolatry and even offered his own sons to the fires of false gods.

Hezekiah succeeded his father and clearly was not his “father’s son.”  He followed the Lord, using his throne to bring reform to the country. It was Hezekiah who had the courage to tear down the pagan altars. He also dealt with Assyria, but unlike his father he turned to the Lord for deliverance through the counsel and encouragement of Isaiah.

The highlight of Hezekiah’s and Isaiah’s careers occurred in their response to a siege by Assyria. There were actually two separate threats made against Jerusalem by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. In the first, he sent his general to Jerusalem to order the surrender of the city. Dismayed, Hezekiah turned to the temple to pray and sent a petition to Isaiah to engage in prayer.  Isaiah strengthened the king with an encouraging prophecy that the Assyrian king would turn away due to false reports he would receive. Hezekiah then held steady, and, true to the prophecy, the Assyrian king turned away with his army. Years later Sennacherib would renew threats to Hezekiah, who again turned to God in prayer and received another promising word from Isaiah. That time, the Assyrian army was struck with a plague.  How different from the conniving Ahaz!

All the prophets, to be sure, proclaim the salvation of the Lord, but none can match Isaiah for the sheer grandeur of proclamation regarding God’s salvation.

Steadily and masterfully, the prophet describes and expands an exalted vision of the great act of redemption and restoration for God’s people. He does not merely proclaim these things will take place, but he takes every act and concept to great magnitude.  It is Isaiah who proclaims a salvation and restoration more grand than could have been imagined, culminating a new Jerusalem ‘whose righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch, who will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.’ (Isaiah 62:1-3).

If we wanted to summarize the theme of Isaiah’s book, it would be this verse:  And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.  Isaiah 40:5

The incomparable glory of God shines through this book as the prophet expounds on the glory, majesty and holiness of the Holy One of Israel.

In Tune With Torah this week =  For Isaiah, true insight into the meaning of life is not merely that there is a God out there who loves us and offers a wonderful plan for us; it is that all things and everyone live for the glory of God. God does not exist for us; we exist for Him. The wonderful news Isaiah declares is that God is most glorified by his work of redemption.

Over the next few weeks, the haftorah readings will be primarily from Isaiah.  Expect to be enlightened and inspired by the visions and prophecies of this amazing servant of God.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – May 5, 2017 Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

Torah reading:  Leviticus 16-20

Haftorah reading: Amos 9:7-15

“On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the Lord who does this thing.  vs. 11-12

Long before the time of Amos, the northern kingdom of Israel had rebelled and rejected the house of David. Here God promises to restore David’s royal line in preparation for the Messiah to come whose titles include ‘Son of David’.  Previous to these verses the prophet has been warning of judgment upon Israel but suddenly there is this abrupt change from the stinging rebuke.  It is now declared that the reason for the divine judgment was not revenge, but the only way to usher in the restored order on which the heart of God was set.

God’s intent in rebuke and judgment is ALWAYS restoration.  He disciplines those whom He loves that we might walk more uprightly before Him.

The Tabernacle of David calls our attention to worship for that was it’s purpose: to be a place of worship and exuberant praise to the Holy One of Israel.  To be sure David had no easy life. He faced many trials but what was his strength? He had a passionate love for God which was expressed in exhilarating worship.  From his heart came such words as:  ‘I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.’

David knew the LORD to be not just the God of our good times but the God of all our times.  Therefore He is also the God of our worst times.  He is our God when all is going well and He is our God when troubles surround us.  He is our God when we have plenty to eat and He is our God when we are hungry.  In every and any circumstance, He is our God and worthy of our worship.

Worship is more than songs and the utterance of certain prayers.  Those may be experiences of worship but in truth our entire life is to be an expression of worship to our God.  Learning to honor Him and maintain an attitude of thanksgiving towards the LORD throughout our daily life, whatever our situation, is a process that never stops.  We will continue to learn it to our last breath.

You may be thinking ‘I don’t have trouble thanking God and praising Him for all the blessings He has given me but what about the hard times? What about when tragedy strikes or I’m going through a very difficult season of life?’

My answer is a question: What’s the difference between a potato, an egg and a coffee bean?  (I can hear you saying, ‘What?!? Did I read that right?!?)  Yes, you did.  Stay with me.

A potato is hard when you put it in hot water.  After boiling it for some time, it becomes soft, mushy and weak.

An egg is protected by its shell until you put it in hot water.  After boiling it for some time, the egg becomes hard.

A coffee bean starts out hard, but when you put it in hot water it doesn’t get harder and it doesn’t get mushy, instead, it changes the water into something better – fragrant, aromatic coffee!

So – praising God and thanking Him for His kindness and goodness, even in hard times, is a matter of choice.

Will I choose to be like a potato whose spirituality weakens when I face something difficult?

Will I choose to be like an egg and harden my heart with bitterness and resentment in difficult times?

Or will I choose to be like the coffee bean? To immerse myself in the love of God when times are hard and change myself into something new and better despite the ‘hot water’ I’m going through?

These comparisons are not original with me.  I read a story on Facebook where a father used these very examples to help his daughter get through a very difficult time in her life.  They were too good not to pass on to you.

My fellow coffee-lovers out there, next time you sip your brew ask yourself, ‘Am I letting God change me into a better person not in spite of but because of what I’m going through?’  Even if you aren’t a coffee drinker, it’s still a great question!

In Tune with Torah this week = whatever it takes to develop a lifestyle of worship is well worth the investment.  For our God is worthy of all our worship and praise – all the time and in all our ways.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayigash January 6, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 37: 15-28

This week’s Haftorah is one of my favorite passages in all of the prophets. God gave to Ezekiel a vision of what He would do in the end of days.

We know from biblical history that after the death of Solomon, king of Israel, the nation was divided in to the House of Judah and the House of Israel.  The House of Judah encompassed the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, while the House of Israel included the other ten tribes. Judah remained in the territory of Judah in and around Jerusalem.  The other ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, moved north to the territory of Ephraim and subsequently became known not only as the House of Israel but also as the House of Ephraim.  (I Kings 11-12)

twohouses

Ephraim was the second son of Joseph to whom Jacob on his deathbed gave the double portion blessing.  (Genesis 48)  His descendants, his grandfather prophesied, would become ‘melo hagoyim’; that is: a multitude of nations.

The northern House of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, over time rebelled against the Lord and that kingdom only lasted 70 years.  During those 70 years, the prophet Hosea was sent to them and prophesied extensively. In fact, to get an understanding of how Ephraim (Israel) turned away from the Lord, one simply has to read the prophecy of Hosea for it’s all there!  Hosea likened them to ‘a cake half-baked’ and rebuked them severely for rebelling against the LORD. One of the most famous verses of Hosea is frequently quoted in various contexts: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (4:6)

Though Hosea’s rebuke was blunt and harsh, it was not without hope and a promise.  He told them:

For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols.  Afterwards the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His Goodness in the last days.  3:4-5

The situation that developed in the northern kingdom of Israel is one of many illustrations throughout the Scriptures that convince us of God’s eternal faithfulness and patience.  But it also teaches us about the discipline of the LORD.

We don’t like discipline; some of us don’t even like the word! However, properly understood, discipline is an act of love.  A parent who never corrects, rebukes or in some way disciples his rebellious child does that child a great disservice and the irresponsible parent insures for himself heartache and grief in years to come.

God is the Father of all fathers, the most perfect, generous and patient of fathers.  He is also more LOVING than any earthly father could ever be.  It is because of His love for you and for me that He will bring correction, rebuke and discipline into our lives lest we stray so far from Him that there is no way back.

Our problem is that we sometimes don’t recognize the situations He allows in our life as discipline, as means of growing spiritually.  Instead we may get mad, disappointed or frustrated because we don’t make the connection in our own minds that EVERY difficulty or challenge we face in life is actually a GIFT.  Yes, you heard me – a GIFT.  Why?

Because each one is uniquely designed to give you and me opportunity to grow spiritually, to refine our character, to humble our self-will and to inch a little closer to the goal: ‘You shall be holy as I am holy.’   Leviticus 19:2

Thousands of years ago, God knew that the descendants of Ephraim would wander the world, many of them in later generations, completely unaware that they had any connection to the son of Joseph.

But the promise remains: in the last days (that’s now, my friends) the sons of Joseph would return to their God.  And it’s happening.

Hundreds – no, thousands – in the last 8-10 years have rediscovered that very connection and have been returning, slowly, sometimes painfully, to the LORD.  I’m not speaking about genetics necessarily though there have been many I’ve known who have learned later in life that they actually had Hebrew ancestry.

The return is not primarily physical; it is spiritual.  It is a return to relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, the Almighty, the Eternal One, the Holy One.  Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to ‘seek’ a religion.  We are, however, in several places admonished to ‘seek His face’.  It is to God Himself that our allegiance must be given.

In Tune with Torah this week = We are living in a day and age where many souls are being awakened to true spirituality.  Religion will never satisfy the hunger in one’s heart for God.  It was never designed to.  Religious practice has been developed to strengthen a relationship already in existence.

Israel’s return to the Land of Promise is the physical manifestation of the prophet’s words but it’s not enough.  There must also be a spiritual return to the God who gave the promise!

How is your personal relationship with the LORD?  Is your ‘religious’ expression flowing out of your daily communion with Him or is it just ‘what we do’?  The answer to that question is more important than you can imagine.

Shabbat Shalom