Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 16, 2018

Torah reading: Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 45:18-46

Leviticus 4:29  He shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering.

atonement4

This short sentence holds a wealth of meaning.  Let’s take a close look at it.

In this one sentence, Spirit-inspired Scripture teaches us how a sacrifice benefits the one who offers it. The very same procedure for sacrifice is commanded in Leviticus 4:4, 15, 24 and 33.  There was an old saint I knew years ago who used to say ‘If God says something once in His book, pay attention. If He says it twice, really pay attention.  If He says it three or more times, stop everything and meditate on what He said.’  I am reminded of his comment every time I read through this portion of Leviticus.

Why did God command the Israelites to offer sacrifice anyway? Many people question the practice and find it a difficult concept.

 

First of all, this text is speaking specifically of the sin offering. Therefore, it implies that a sin had been committed and the person who sinned has acknowledged and repented of their sin. Under the Mosaic convenant, their repentance was verified in the offering of a sacrifice.

Secondly, the ‘sinner’ who came to present a sacrifice, by the very act of doing so, understood that there had to be a substitute to atone for his sin. Even a casual reading of the Torah awakens you to the fact that there were many sins for which the only appropriate punishment was death.  The justice of God demands death for sin, because sin – of any kind – is far more serious in God’s eyes than we generally think.  Consider: He created you, gave you life, presented you with His revealed Word, provides what you need.  To sin against such a loving God and Father is indeed despicable.  As one Rabbi said, ‘Considering all that God has done for you, to sin against Him is pure insanity.’

It was God’s love that created the principle of sacrificial substitution to provide the sinner with a second chance…and a third…and a fourth.  In the book of Lamentations we read: The LORD’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. Lam. 3:22-23

Thirdly, offering implied an acceptance by God of the victim offered.  When the priest laid his hands on the head of the sacrifice, in God’s eyes, the guilt of the sin for which this offering was being presented, was transferred to the animal who died on behalf of the sinner so the sinner could live.  Watching the slaying of the animal seared on the sinner’s conscience the seriousness of sin and was designed to act as a strong deterrent against further sin in the penitent’s life.

Under the Mosaic covenant, whoever sinned against the LORD and regretted their action, was required to sincerely repent – have a change of heart; they had to bring an animal to be slaughtered to ‘stand in’ on their behalf in order that the penitent not be stoned to death or killed in any other manner. It was not until this atonement was made, that the penitent was declared forgiven and released from the punishment due to his sin.

Now we clearly see why it is written later in Leviticus: For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’  Leviticus 17:11

In Tune with Torah this week = If you’ve ever questioned the significance of the blood sacrifices, my prayer is that you will see them in a new light. It is the LOVE of God that prompted the sacrificial system to demonstrate His understanding and compassion towards our human frailty, but also His Divine Will that we not remain in our weakness and frailty but through repentance and recognition of what the Sacrifice really means, we might grow in the knowledge and love of God, becoming men and women of holiness.

Isn’t it amazing?  All that is contained in one short sentence!

Shabbat Shalom

 

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 – 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