Weekly Torah Commentary – 9/15/ 2017 Nitzavim-Vayelech

Torah reading: Deut. 29:9 – 31:30  (a double portion)

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62: 1-5

This is a familiar passage to many but this week I’d like to focus on two unusual names that are in these verses for they – by themselves – have a message for us.  They are Hephzibah and Beulah.  Now, you may be thinking, what in the world do those names have to do with us?  And what parent gives such odd names to their daughters?

Hephzibah           Beulah

I’ve never met any woman with the name Hephzibah yet its meaning is beautiful: my joy is in her.  In this portion of Isaiah, God is telling the people of Israel through the prophet that though they were once rejected, they will afterward be called Hephzibah; in other words, God will find joy in them again, they will be precious, delightful and pleasing in His sight.

So we need to ask: why were they rejected and how will they become precious and delightful to the LORD again?

Earlier in Isaiah, the prophet reminds the people that God is ‘your husband’.  Therefore their sins against Him have grieved His heart and put a strain between Him and His people.  In fact, the prophet Jeremiah declares in the name of the LORD: I thought,’After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return and her faithless sister, Judah, saw this.  She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery.  Jeremiah 3:7-8  Imagine that! God says He divorced his unfaithful spouse, Israel! How was this to be remedied?

The answer was not another sacrifice for if you read the Torah carefully you quickly see that no sacrifice in and of itself erased sin; true repentance elicits God’s forgiveness and the sacrifices offered for sin under the Mosaic Covenant only had value as representations of a repentant heart.  We could go further with the analogy and say that in a manner of speaking, all sin falls under the umbrella of ‘adultery’.  That’s not my idea.  Jeremiah declares it:  I have seen your adulteries [says the LORD] and your lustful neighings, the lewdness of your prostitution on the hills in the field.  I have seen your abominations.  Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean? Jer, 13:27

Sin caused an alienation between God and Israel.  Yet all is not lost. Repentance is the path to restoration and God promises that if they turn back to Him, they will no longer be rejected but once more considered precious in His sight.

This is true on a personal as well as a national level. Of late it has become unfashionable to speak of SIN.  Political correctness has generated all manner of excuses, rationalizations and justifications for behaviors that clearly disagree with the inviolable Word of God.  Unless you call it for what it is – SIN – you have no route to restoration.  We repent for SIN, receive God’s forgiveness and our relationship with Him is restored.  If you choose instead to sugar coat ungodly behavior then you eliminate the need for repentance – a very dangerous position.

I may not be enamored of the name Hephzibah, but I sure want to be a ‘Hephzibah’ – a person precious and delightful to the LORD, someone of whom He could say ‘My joy is in her’.  Don’t you want the same for yourself?

The name Beulah means ‘married’. Marriage for a woman in bible times was more than just the norm – it was a necessity. Fail to marry, and you had no children, no income, no protection, no honor.

The story is told of a farmer who had seven daughters; six of them were lovely but the seventh was very homely.  There was nothing attractive about her appearance and she was therefore shy, lacked confidence and wallowed in her misery.  One day a very eligible bachelor came to the farmer asking for permission to court one of his daughters. The farmer was excited because the young man came from a prominent family that owned lands and wealth.  Besides that he was handsome and kind.

The farmer gathered his six daughters – the pretty ones – and brought them before the bachelor.  He looked at each one and was impressed with their intelligence and their beauty yet he didn’t choose any of them.  He turned to the farmer and said, ‘Don’t you have another daughter?’

Awkwardly, the farmer nodded in agreement.  ‘Bring her here,’ asked the bachelor.  A few moments later, the ‘ugly duckling’ of the family emerged, dressed very plainly, head bowed, eyes on the floor, her hair unkempt.  The bachelor stepped closer to her, lifted her chin and looked into her eyes for a few moments.  Then he stepped back and said to the farmer, ‘With your permission, I would like to court this one of your daughters.’ Her sisters were aghast and couldn’t understand how the young man would choose their sister over any of them.

Not long afterward, the bachelor came to see the farmer again, this time to ask permission to marry the farmer’s ‘unattractive’ daughter. He loved her and was willing to accept her just the way she was, he declared.

A year later, the ‘ugly duckling’ was no longer ‘ugly’ but had blossomed into a beautiful person, inside and out.  What changed her? The unconditional love of her spouse.

Need I say more?

In Tune with Torah this week = It could be said that the greatest need of every man and woman on the face of the earth is to learn and experience the unconditional love of God.

The story of God’s relationship with Israel is a love story.   I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you to Myself.  Jeremiah 31:3

Jer.31

Hephzibah and Beulah say to us: Without a relationship with our Father, our King, our Husband, we are all ‘ugly ducklings’.  It is His love, His kindness, His lavish grace poured out generously in our lives that make us lovely, delightful, attractive, from the inside out.  That is the kind of person of whom God can say, ‘My joy is in him/her.’  May He be able to say that of all of us.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

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 – Toldot December 2, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 25:19-28:9

Haftorah reading: Malachi 1:1 – 2:7

The prophet Malachi ministered to the people of Israel about 100 years after their return from Babyon and his short book contains several rebukes and corrections addressing their rebellious condition.  Before God corrects He assures them of His love. This lays a foundation for their obedience, because if they love Him, they will keep His commandments.  The book opens with these words:

The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Malachi 1:1-2

godslove2

The prophecy of Malachi is built around seven questions the people asked God. These questions revealed their doubting, discouraged, sinful heart.

· In what way have You loved us? (Malachi 1:2)

· In what way have we despised Your name? (Malachi 1:6)

· In what way have we defiled You? (Malachi 1:7)

· In what way have we wearied Him? (Malachi 2:17)

· In what way shall we return? (Malachi 3:7)

· In what way have we robbed You? (Malachi 3:8)

· In what way have we spoken against You? (Malachi 3:13)

God reminds Israel that they are chosen and will remain His chosen and favored people. When the people of Israel compared themselves to their neighbors the Edomites (the descendants of Esau), they saw that God chose to preserve Israel and punished the Edomites.  The prophet, Obadiah, had prophesied judgment against the land and people of Edom.  Apparently by Malachi’s time it had happened, and God’s protection of Israel was a demonstration of His love for them.  Yet it appears they were severely lacking in appreciation.

Being aware and convinced that God chose us before we were born and He did so because of His love, not because of anything we had done to deserve it, should engender in each of us a profound gratitude and confidence in our spiritual journey through life.  To live our life that through prism of that awareness is to demonstrate an unshakeable faith, an unswerving loyalty and a personal and passionate love towards Him in return.

That is not to say that we never have a difficult day or season; nor that everything is always perfect in our lives.  Not at all!  But it IS to say that regardless of what may be happening at any given time, our faith holds steady, our joy in knowing Him is unshakeable and our perseverance does not weaken.  He is forever the faithful, covenant-keeping God of Israel.

God through the prophet raises the issue of being ‘chosen’ in order to lay the foundation for the correction He is about to bring to Israel.  While the Bible makes eminently clear that God loves ALL the nations and ALL peoples, He chose Israel for a specific purpose.  It does not make the children of Israel better than anyone else – God forbid that anyone should think that.  Rather, it makes the children of Israel responsible for their specific mission as a nation.  It was that very responsibility that the LORD was about to address.

Our greatest error in considering God’s ‘choosing’ a nation or a person to a specific role in history is to think that God chooses for arbitrary reasons, as if He made choices in an “eeny-meeny-miny-moe” way of choosing.  Not at all! We may not understand God’s reasons for choosing and they may be reasons He alone knows and doesn’t share with us, but God’s choices are not capricious. The all knowing God has a perfect plan for the redemption of mankind, and His choices are in keeping with that eternal plan that only He sees in its fulness.

When in the next verse we read, ‘Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated’ we may be initially shocked at the statement.  This is another one of those verses that loses something in translation from the original Hebrew.  God does not ‘hate’ Jacob’s older brother like a man may have visceral hatred toward a fellow human being.  That is not what this verse means in the original text. In the Hebrew it literally means ‘loved less by contrast’.  You will remember that God promised that Esau would also be blessed and prospered but the difference is that the calling upon the children of Israel(Jacob) was a specific destiny to which they are appointed with the accompanying responsibility to fulfill that destiny.

In the next verses, God addresses Israel:

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ You offer defiled food on My altar. But you say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the Lord of hosts.  verses 6-8

To put it simply, their religious observance had no heart, no spirit in it.  Instead of offering the best they had to God, they were stingy with their offerings, keeping the best for themselves and ‘sacrificing to God’ the worst of their flocks.  In doing so, they showed that they had no fear of the LORD, no respect, no reverence.  They gave God the ‘leftovers’, not the ‘first fruits’ or to say it another way, ‘the best they had to give’.

The issue here is not so much the gift itself but the attitude of their hearts, something we too must examine in ourselves.  In our ‘offerings’ to God – whether it be in the form of money or the use of our time, do we hold back the ‘best’ for ourselves and give as little as possible, just enough to meet the minimum requirement?  Or are we ‘maximum’ kind of people?  If someone needs our help, is our first reaction to find an excuse why we can’t oblige?  Do we make decisions about how we share ourselves and our possessions by what’s best for us- ‘a me first’kind of attitude? Or have we truly learned that all that we have is a gift from God that we are to hold lightly and be prepared to share generously – our time, our skills and talents and our possessions.

At the time that Malachi prophesied to the people, the children of Israel had become self-centered, materialistic and cynical towards the things of God.  Doing the ‘minimum’ to fulfill their ‘religious’ obligations they had become so self-absorbed and self-focused that they even dared to demand of God, ‘How have we dishonored You?’

In the rest of the book, God tells them exactly what they are doing that displeases Him and exposes their hardened hearts.  But He doesn’t just rebuke; He calls them back to Himself.

In Tune with Torah this week = first, we must understand that when God corrects us, it is always for the purpose of calling us back to Him.  His correction and rebuke comes from His love for us, the same way that a conscientious parent rebukes and corrects his child when he sees that the path they are following will lead to destruction.  God loves those He disciplines and it is up to us to humble ourselves and receive His correction, choose to make those internal changes that are required in our attitudes and actions so that we will be better able to fulfill the purpose for which we have been chosen by Him.

Shabbat Shalom