The Husband – A Different Viewpoint

We’ve already had a couple of postings on Sarah, the wife of Abraham and moved on from there to Rebecca, the wife of Isaac.

But as this week’s Torah reading will be the portion describing God’s call to Abram to leave his land and his father’s house to travel to the Land that God will show him, it occurred to me as I was reading the scriptures this morning that a re-visit to the tent of Abram and Sarai might prove fruitful.  (Perhaps that’s the beauty of a blog – you can go back and forth without worrying about a logical sequence as you do in a book!)

Being human like us, did Abram, the giant of faith, experience any struggle in his effort to obey the voice of God?  I think it’s safe to assume that he did.  After all, he was not a robot; he was a flesh and blood man – with an enviable faith in the Almighty – but still a human who lived a time-space existence with all of its demands.

More specifically, did he grapple with the question: Is my decision to leave my native land, and my father’s house along with everything and everyone I know courageous?  Or is it consummate recklessness?

Courage and recklessness are two sides of the same character trait.  Courage is demonstrated when an individual, man or woman, chooses to undertake an extraordinary task or project that carries with it, inherent risks.  Recklessness, by contrast, is described as taking action without considering the consequences.  The concept of recklessness is often associated with irresponsibility and immaturity.

I like Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage: he called it “grace under pressure”, which suggests the idea that in a difficult situation, a person makes a well thought out decision that results in the best possible outcome.

Abram knew he was called to world leadership; not in a political or military fashion but in the realm of spirituality.  God had already told him, “..through you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” The outcome of Abram’s decision to follow God’s call meant that the world would come to learn that there is one true God, who loves His creation and is personally involved in the lives of His creatures.  A reckless decision would have left Abram and Sarai comfortable in Haran but the rest of the world uncomfortably and tragically ignorant of the revelation of the one True God.

The calling was clear and the beginning of the path required a geographical re-positioning. The decision, however, was Abram’s.

Would he rise to the occasion and take that first step towards his destiny?  He was called to be a light of Truth and according to God’s promise, thousands upon thousands would walk in his shadow.  It was a daunting decision.

There had to have been the naysayers who labeled him ‘reckless’ and ‘foolish’ to leave his well established home and reputation in Haran to wander off into some illusive destination.  Perhaps his own family members considered him ‘disturbed’.  Wouldn’t yours?

The Scriptures do not detail for us the inward journey of Abram in leaving his homeland, only the outward one.  But it doesn’t take a Bible sage’s prowess to understand what mental and emotional challenges Abram overcame to follow the call and will of God.

His glory is his Faith.  When circumstances threaten to overwhelm us, it is in Faith that we find our peace and our strength.

Abram wasn’t reckless; he was courageous – and more than courageous.  He was obedient to the Divine Call and because of it, innumerable thousands and hundred of thousands of individuals in every subsequent generation have been blessed with the knowledge of the one True God who is everlasting, compassionate, faithful, forgiving, just and merciful towards those who believe like Abram did and seek Him with all their heart.

One man – one decision – some five thousand years ago – and today you who read this and I who write it enjoy the benefits.

The power of one.

Selah….think about it.  No further commentary needed.

 

 

Biblical Women Series #4 REBECCA, wife of ISAAC

Biblical Women Series #4  REBECCA, wife of ISAAC

Abraham had a trusted servant, Eliezer.  As his beloved son, Isaac grew older, Abraham sent his servant to his ancestral home to search for a wife for Isaac.  Accompanied by ten camels loaded with gifts and as many servants, Eliezer made his way to Paddan-Aram.  On arrival, he asked God to give him a specific sign to indicate the girl whom God had chosen to become the wife of Isaac.

Rebecca, a teenager at the time, came to the well to draw water as she did every day.  Eliezer asked her for drink of water.  Rebecca, well trained in hospitality, immediately offered him water from her own jug and then volunteered to draw water for the camels.  Now that may not sound dramatic at first reading, but let me fill you in on some facts.

Camel owners in the middle East will tell you that a thirsty camel can actually drink up to 200 gallons of water at one time!  Eliezer had TEN camels with him.  For interest’s sake, let’s say that each of those camels was content with just 100 gallons of water.  Multiply that by ten camels and you’re looking at 1000 gallons of water which potentially Rebecca drew out of the well!  Now that’s what you call a strong and hard-working young lady!!!!

Now here’s the big question:  do you suppose that as Rebecca went back and forth drawing water from those camels, getting sweaty and tired, that it ever entered her mind that the very act she was performing was sealing her divine destiny??

I doubt it!  But the truth is that this was exactly the sign Eliezer had asked for and it signaled him that this was the girl God had chosen for his master’s son, Isaac.  Meanwhile, as Eliezer is thanking God for answering his prayer, we’re watching a 14-15 year old girl getting exhausted but never complaining; face streaked with desert dust and sweat, but not giving up until she had completely fulfilled her commitment: “I’ll draw for your camels as well.”

This was NO SMALL GESTURE!

We learn a couple of principles from Rebecca’s ‘test’.

1) None of us truly recognizes what may be our most significant decision and/or action as we go through life.  Perhaps down the road we get a glimpse, but not always.  Our concern is to do what is right and kind in each situation and let God keep score.

2) The power of keeping one’s word cannot be overestimated.  After hauling several large jugs of water, Rebecca could easily have thought, ‘I just can’t do this.  My arms hurt.  I’ll make up some excuse that I need to get home.’  She didn’t.  She fulfilled her declaration to its completion.  No quitting along the way because the task got difficult or time-consuming.  Keeping our word used to be the norm in society.  Unfortunately, it’s taken a hit in recent years and reliability is becoming a rare commmodity.

To those of us who desire to live a godly life, keeping our word is at the top of the list of honorable character traits.  Like Rebecca, let us be women who say what we mean, mean what we say and back it up with our actions.

 

Succot – the Feast of Tabernacles

SuccotThe Feast of Tabernacles begins tomorrow evening at sundown and is the last of the biblically mandated feasts celebrated yearly by the children of Israel as outlined in the book of Leviticus, chapter 23.   During these seven days, God commanded that we ‘live’ in what are called in Hebrew, succot or temporary dwellings with a loosely woven roof through which we can see the stars at night.

At Sinai when God delivered the Torah to Moses He envisioned a people who by the holiness of their lives would be a ‘living sanctuary’ of His presence in this world and serve to demonstrate to the rest of the nations what that looks like.  Sadly, the children of Israel did not live up to that high calling and after the episode of the Golden Calf, God commanded that a ‘Tabernacle’ be erected in the wilderness.  The Tabernacle was never intended to replace God’s desire for a people who would be a living sanctuary; it was instead to be a reminder, a visible expression of what their high calling.  Much later, the Temple in Jerusalem was also a sign and a reminder that what God was really looking for was a “temple” not made with hands but with hearts; a living Temple of His presence in the form of a nation, a congregation whose daily life inspired the rest of the world to love Him and follow His ways.

The feast of Tabernacles is yet another visible reminder of what the God of Israel longs for.  We carry on our activities, not in the comfort of our homes, but in our temporary ‘tabernacle’.  These take the form of a tent-like structure in which we eat our meals for seven days, and here in Israel where we enjoy sunshine until well into November, many people even sleep in the ‘succah’.

The experience reminds us of how our ancestors dwelt in the desert, provided for by God Himself.  It reminds us of what we are supposed to be, individually and corporately.  It also reminds us that our time on this earth, however long we live, is nevertheless temporary but that we have an eternal dwelling awaiting us in the presence of God.  Therefore, Tabernacles speaks to us in at least three ways.

It’s a unique time, a very enjoyable time.  Families and friends gather, visit each other’s ‘succot’, share festive meals with singing and laughter.

But when Tabernacles is over, seven days later, what is most important is whether or not we have renewed our commitment to live in such a way as to be a Godly example of love, compassion, integrity, moral character, humility and kindness to those around us; in other words, in the year to come, if someone wanted to know what God is like, could they watch our daily lives and get some idea of His goodness?

That is the call of the Feast of Tabernacles.

May we rise to that calling and make this world a better place!

 

YOM KIPPUR – The Difference between Forgiveness & Atonement

YomKippurYOM KIPPUR (or “The Day of Atonement”) is the holiest day of the year in Judaism and in this year of 2014 it falls on this coming Shabbat, from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday, October 4th.

The commandment about Yom Kippur is as follows:

 And this shall be a law to you for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall   practice self-denial, and you shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you.  For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the Lord.  It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you and you shall humble your soul.  It is a law for all time.  Lev. 16:29-31

On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. Lev. 23:27

Forgiveness vs. Atonement

Some people mistakenly think that Yom Kippur implies that the Jewish people can only receive forgiveness once a year.  This opinion betrays a lack of understanding between forgiveness and atonement.

God promises in many scriptures that when we repent, He forgives us, anytime day or night.  For example:

If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  II Chron 7:14

Forgiveness from God is available to us 24/7 in direct response to our repentance for doing wrong.

Atonement means “repairing the damage done to the relationship by the sin we have committed.”  For example, suppose you have a white carpet in your living room.  Someone visiting carelessly spills a few drops of red wine or grape juice on your white carpet.  The visitor may immediately say, “Oh, I’m so sorry.  How clumsy of me.”  He or she is genuinely ‘repentant’.  You may graciously forgive them on the spot.  However, atonement means that the one who spilled the wine, gets a rag and a bucket of cold water with white vinegar, kneels down and scrubs the spot away.  By that act of ‘repairing the damage’ he has just made ‘atonement’ for the ‘sin’ of spilling wine on your white rug.  Get it? Sin has consequences that often ‘dog’ us even though we have been forgiven.

On the Day of Atonement, it is God Himself who ‘makes atonement’ for us – in His amazing mercy and compassion, He repairs the damage that our sins of the past year  (already forgiven) have inflicted an our relationship with Him, enabling us to draw closer to Him in the days ahead. THAT, my friends, is ATONEMENT.

FASTING on Yom Kippur

The phrase “you shall humble yourselves” literally means, “afflict your soul.” While Yom Kippur is observed with a 25 hour complete fast, meaning no food and no water.  So, some may ask, is fasting the only way to do so?  Why has fasting been chosen as the appropriate interpretation for this phrase?  Applying the principle that scripture is best interpreted by related scriptures:

Psalm 35:13 David writes, “I humbled my soul with fasting.”

Isaiah 58:3, 10  “Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?” Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.”

But “afflicting one’s soul” is more than just fasting from food and water. What else might it entail?

The goal of the holiday is to deepen our bond with our heavenly Father.  Therefore, in addition to denying ourselves food and water, we do well to refrain from talking about how hungry we may feel or how thirsty.  This defeats the purpose of Yom Kippur.  The ‘humbling of our souls’ should serve a much higher purpose.

A day of rest from our physical appetites enables us to come to grips with our need for God. It is a day that He gives us to commune with Him in the most intimate and unrestricted way possible. By fasting, we force ourselves to desire only Him, to focus only on Him.

As the holiday comes to a close, the final service in the synagogue is the most moving of the entire year.  The literal cleansing of the soul which God Himself accomplishes within us, not because we deserve it, but because He promised He would do so “for all time” is palpable.  We emerge from the day as spiritual ‘newborns’.  The slate is wiped clean and we have a brand new start.  What an awesome gift.

However you choose to identify with this holy day, may you experience the love of God which energizes the soul, the peace of God which calms the soul and the atonement of God which births a new season of relationship with Him.