Ki Tavo (When You Enter) Deut. 26:1–29:9; Is. 60:1–22; Luke 23:26–56
In this week’s parasha, God instructed Israel to bring their first-fruits (‘bikurim’) to the Tabernacle when they entered Canaan (ch.26:2): “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, (Tabernacle)…” (ESV)
God deserves nothing less than our best and the measure we love Him is demonstrated by the measure we submit our lives under His Lordship, (living sacrifices) regardless of our position in life, (kings or slaves) our material possessions (rich or poor) our education, background or any other outward criteria by which we may be classified. Anything less than our best (our bikkurim) falls short and robs Him of what rightly belongs to Him. Everything we have originates from Him except our free will. Many are called but few are chosen because few choose this path. What is your choice today?
Therefore, God is not so interested in the level of our gifts or talents compared with the first fruits of a life consecrated to Him. Better to overcome much with very little than much with an abundance – to contend for the faith wholeheartedly no matter how meagre our provision appears to be.
Our faithfulness as God’s custodians in even the smallest things will be reflected in our reward in Heaven. Yeshua illustrated this in Matt.10:42. He said that, “…whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”
We need to regularly reflect how much we are fully submitted to God, giving Him our best not just the scraps under the table? Our best is good enough, but anything less than this is a slap in His face and idolatry because in effect we are telling Him other things take priority. This is the standard, the level playing field in the Kingdom of God.
In Deut 28: 1-14, the terms of God’s covenant with His people reflect these things presented to the Israelites that if they would faithfully follow His commandments, He would set them high above all the nations of the earth with abundant blessings that would characterise their lives: if they were obedient and obeyed His commandments being careful to do them.
From v.15 for the following 10 verses, all the blessings promised by God are described followed with the consequences should anyone chose instead to ignore them, or stray to the right hand or to the left, or go after other gods to serve them.
The number 5 is the biblical number representing God’s grace as we see the occurrence of the conditional clause, ‘if’ is repeated in this short section five times. We are saved by grace and blessed because of His grace, mercy, compassion and forgiveness, but free will and choice is also interwoven within our lives and determines whether we be adorned in rags or the garments of His glory – in spiritual poverty or riches.
God gave the Israelites the choice between blessing or His judgement. The word to bless in Hebrew is, “Barakh” meaning bringing a gift on bended knee, the same word we use in the Aaronic blessing. This is an incredible picture of a loving God who pours out His blessings upon us with infinite care, love and humility! “God demonstrated His love for us that while we were sinners…” (Rom.5:8)
In all of this, I want now to relate some of these things to the month of Elul that we are now in. In Jewish tradition God created the universe on Rosh haShanah. This is on the basis that the first word in the Hebrew bible (B’resheet) “In the beginning” when rearranged forms the phrase “Aleph” (1st) of “Tishrei”.
The sages interpret this to mean that on the 1st of Tishrei God created man (not the universe) who was given authority to govern the universe on the 6th day. This means that the universe was established 6 days earlier on ELUL 25, in Gen.1:3 when God said, “Let there be light.”
The sages argued that the gematria for “let there be light” (yud-chet-yud) is 25 and the 25th Hebrew word in the Bible is “light” which is why Hanukah (the Feast of Lights) is celebrated on the 25th Kislev in the 9th month of the Hebrew calendar.
It was on that date much later on in history the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem were completed in the 2nd Temple period under Nehemiah (Neh.6:15). This is significant because God wants to rebuild the walls of our lives. That which was broken down and rendered a heap of rubble through sin is being rebuilt stone by stone by God that we might live in a restored and intimate relationship with Him even as it was before the Fall.
The choice which God provides us with seems so simple and obvious, so why do many people struggle with it? Scripture states that, “ …Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also get rid of every weight and entangling sin. Let us run with endurance the race set before us, (many people allow themselves to be filled with distractions and the cares of this world) 2 focusing on Yeshua, the initiator and perfecter of faith. (God calls us to make Him the centre of our lives) For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame; and He has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and lose heart. (Heb. 12:1-2)
Today is the 19th day of ELUL, the month of Teshuva; of returning both to God and putting our lives right with others. This is an opportunity that, although is ongoing, we are reminded of in this month that we dare not pass by; an action closely connected to the Jewish value of ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world) by repairing the damage caused by sin. God is not concerned with damage limitation or sticky plaster solutions but to put us back together again and rebuild the walls of our lives with Divine love and precision. The things in our lives that have been broken down through sin and rendered a heap of rubble, God is rebuilding stone by stone, and all He needs is our permission to have His perfect way – and we are changed from glory to glory into His image by His Spirit. Our garments of mourning are transformed into garments of joy; though they were stained and soiled, they shall become as white as snow! And this is why the season we will soon be entering is called “The Time of our Joy,” “Zeman Simchateinu!”
Although the history of the Jewish people is permeated with tragedy, many times due to a failure to live in relationship with God, they have nonrtheless never lost the capacity to rejoice because it is a mechanism to survive even the worst that life can throw at us! As we approach the Feast of Sukkot in several weeks time, we focus upon leaving the security and comfort of our houses and instead live in a sukkah (a temporary dwelling) exposed to the wind, the cold and the rain. Yet we call it ‘zeman simchatenu, our season of joy – an outflow of the infinite blessings, some disguised and some apparent, that is not dependent on our circumstances!
The word JOY occurs in the Bible 10 times more frequently than the word HAPPINESS because happiness is circumstantial but the joy of the Lord is our strength without which we eventually wither up and die. The joy of the Lord is contagious but too many believers have the Holy Spirit but no joy and instead are bowed down by fear and chains of enslavement. Joy is something we don’t pursue but rather it pursues us when we willingly submit ourselves to God.
The Haftarah portion from Isai.60 defines the joy available for believers: “Arise [from spiritual depression to a new life], shine [be radiant with the glory and brilliance of the Lord]; for your light has come, And the glory and brilliance of the Lord has risen upon you!” These words are in context with the end times we now live in. Verse 2 describes the conditions we are currently in: “2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and dense darkness [all] peoples, but…
The end of the story has yet to unfold: “the Lord shall arise upon you [O Jerusalem], and His glory shall be seen on you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 Lift up your eyes round about you and see! They all gather themselves together, they come to you. Your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried and nursed in the arms.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant, and your heart shall thrill and tremble with joy [at the glorious deliverance] and be enlarged; because the abundant wealth of the [Dead] Sea shall be turned to you, unto you shall the nations come with their treasures.”
This momentous event that will usher in the Millennium will be preceded by the Rapture that is imminent: “15 We are telling you what the Lord taught. We who are still alive when the Lord comes will not go into his kingdom ahead of those who have already died. 16 The Lord will come from heaven with a command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the dead who believed in Christ will come back to life. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive will be taken in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. In this way we will always be with the Lord. 18 So then, comfort each other with these words! “ (1 Thes. 4)
These things are a cause for joy in the midst of the perilous times in which we are living that provide us with a blessed hope as described in Titus 2: 11-15:
“11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
15 Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority.”