Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak July 7, 2017

Torah reading: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Haftorah reading: Micah 5:6 – 6:8

This week’s reading in the prophet Micah ends with this verse:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

This well known verse is a unique summary of what biblical obedience is all about.  Let’s get something straight from the very beginning.  Obedience according to biblical texts is not about meticulously complying with endless man made rules. It is, rather, an attitude of heart which recognizes the eternal love and compassion of the  Holy One of Israel towards us as our Father and our King (Avinu Malkenu) with the result that we want to honor, magnify and emulate Him.  You shall be holy for I am holy.  (Leviticus 19:2)

Over the centuries ‘holiness’ has been described primarily in terms of outward submission to commandments or instructions.  In all of the major religions of the world, issues such as manner of dress, style of worship, and conformity to doctrine and tradition have created the misconception that ‘holiness’ is measured by outward appearance.  Nothing could be further from the essence of biblical holiness.  Even a modern secular quote agrees: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

One of the most outstanding examples in the prophets that illustrates this principle is in I Samuel 16.  After the LORD had torn the kingdom of Israel from Saul because of his disobedience, He told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem and anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons.  Interestingly, the LORD didn’t tell the prophet which son. Jesse had several.

When the first son, Eliab, appeared before Samuel, the prophet looked at him and thought, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him. I Sam. 16:6

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’  I Samuel 16:7

Apparently Eliab ‘looked’ like the perfect candidate but he wasn’t.  The ‘appearance’ of religiosity can be deceiving for mankind has a unique tendency to act one way outwardly while thinking just the opposite internally.  This is the definition of hypocrisy!

humility2

God chose the most unlikely of Jesse’s sons – the youngest, David, who was just a teenager at the time…but what a teenager!  David tended his father’s sheep, a lonely and boring task which David transformed into a consistent opportunity for worship.  He sang to the LORD on the hillsides, meditated on God’s Word while the sheep grazed, and wrote the most beautiful songs of praise and worship, the Psalms, which we enjoy to this day.  God called David, ‘a man after my own heart.‘ Wow – imagine such a compliment from the LORD!

 

David wasn’t a perfect man, but he had the qualities of heart that God loved and which Micah speaks about in this week’s haftorah.

First there is justice. Justice is a willingness to stand up for what is right. From justice comes moral integrity, honesty, a holding to God’s values. Those who are just make sure that all people are seen as valuable in God’s eyes, because they make it a point to look at everyone as created in God’s image and likeness.

The second character trait in Micah’s description is mercy.  When we are merciful we respond to hurts in peoples lives, without deepening their wounds. This motivates us to show forgiveness to those who have hurt you and done you wrong, just as God freely forgives you when you repent of your sins and failures. It also means forgiving yourself for past failures.

The third trait is humility. Humility is not about being a ‘doormat’, neither is it weakness, but it is that quality of heart that recognizes God for who He is.  The humble heart then wants to do all that God asks of you, because of who He is. It requires that we obey God even when our desire is to do otherwise. God’s will comes before our own. Humility also thinks of others more than oneself.  It is not haughty or arrogant but looks for and appreciates the good in other people.  It is the polar opposite of someone who is regularly critical, judgmental and harsh towards other people.

We could say it this way: there’s a major difference between perfectionism and excellence.  Perfectionism is concerned with doing things right (outward observance).  Excellence is concerned with doing the right thing (heart motivation).

In Tune with Torah this week = God has not called us to ‘perfectionism’ but to excellence.  We are not here to ‘perform’ before others in order to be applauded by them.  We are here to serve the living God from the depths of our hearts, loving Him, desiring what He desires and being occupied with His interests above our own.

Keep in mind that the fundamental meaning of the word ‘hypocrite’ is ‘an actor’ – someone who pretends to be someone he is not.

Let us walk before God as Micah urges: being just, showing mercy and living humbly.

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