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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Hands of God

(This is a sermon for Shabbat Miketz, dealing with the hand of God in the life of Joseph and his brothers, and our lives too).

Every week when we elevate the Torah, we make this declaration: "This is the Torah which Hashem placed before the children of Israel according to the word of the Lord, by the hand of Moses." "The hand of Moses" means, not his palms, and fingers and knuckles, but his agency—God used Moses to bring the Torah to Israel.

Scripture also speaks of the hands of the Hashem, of His right hand, of "the finger of God" in the writing of the Ten Commandments on tables of stone. We remember when the magicians of Pharaoh cannot reduplicate one of Moses’ signs, they tell Pharaoh, "this is the finger of God (Ex 9:15)."

And in our Haftarah, we read "The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool—V’et kal eleh yadi asata vyihyu kal eleh—My hand created all these things and thus these things came into being" [Isa 66:2].

When Scripture speaks of God’s hands, it is speaking of his agency—of the ways in which he interfaces with the cosmos. We are not speaking here of literal hands, but of God accomplishing His will and exercising His power.

When we are in the hands of God, when we are subjects to His power, what does that mean?

Subsidiary to this question is this one: does God ever bring calamity upon us to teach us something—to get our attention and to change us in some way?

The Bible certainly teaches this. If you know no other part of the Bible than the Book of Jonah, you would know that just as Hashem prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and just as He caused the storm which resulted in his being thrown overboard, and just as Hashem prepared a gourd to shelter him from the sun, and prepared the worm to attack the gourd, so that Jonah was left baking in the sun, so God can and does sometimes prepare adverse situations for us that we might learn and grow.

I believe today’s parasha includes the first reference in Torah to consciousness of this phenomenon. And there is so much evidence that we could spend hours discussing it. We might point out how it was the hand of God that elevated Joseph to a position of power; we might point out that it was the hand of God that gave Joseph the wisdom to institute a program of public welfare to store up food for the famine that was certain to come; we might point out how it was the hand of God that caused the famine to arise which brought Josephs brothers to come down to Egypt. In this list alone, we see both "good things" and "bad things" as being caused by the hand of God.

But let us not focus there. Let's focus on chapter 42, the first time Joseph’s brothers go down to Egypt. Notice how Joseph puts his brothers through an ordeal, requiring that one of them (Simeon) remain behind while the rest return to Canaan to return with Benjamin as proof that they are not spies. Here is what the text says:

"Then they said to one another, ‘Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has come upon us.’ Reuben spoke up to them, saying, ‘Did I not speak to you saying, "Do not sin against the boy," but you would not listen! And his blood as well—behold!—is being avenged!’" (42:21-22).

And later, when they are on the road, and find their money in their sacks, instead of back there in Egypt where it belongs, they turn to one another and say, "Mah zot asah Elohim lanu?—What is this that God has done to us?" (42:28). We can see that already, this early in the spiritual consciousness of the children of Jacob, there is a sense that when unexpected calamity strikes, it just might be the hand of God.

Now, you might argue, "But, Rabbi! It wasn’t the hand of God that put them through this, but Joseph!’ And you would be right. . . and wrong, because God uses human agency as his "hands" to accomplish his will. Remember the quotation from our Torah service: It was God who placed the Torah before the children of Israel, but he did it using Moses as his agent. And it is God who is disciplining the sons of Jacob, but doing it through agency of Joseph.

Later in the parasha, when they have already returned to Canaan, and then come back again to Egypt bringing Benjamin, again, as they are returning home, the money has been hidden in their sacks, as well as a special goblet belonging to Joseph. Their reaction to being apprehended again recognizes the intevention of God: "God has uncovered the sin of your servants: Here we are: We are ready to slaves to my lord—both we and the one in whose hand the goblet was found" [44:16].

So we see that one way the hand of God works in our lives is sometimes through bringing us into hardship of some kind as a means of causing our moral and spiritual reflection, reform and transformation.

The hand of God is also seen in the ways in which he provides, as he used Joseph to save the lives not only of the people of that area, but also of all of the family of Jacob. It was the hand of God that elevated Joseph, gave him the interpretation to the dream., and used him to feed so many. As Joseph will say to his brothers in next week’s parasha, "It was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, maser of his entire household, and ruler throughout the entire land of Egypt" (45:8). And in the parasha that follows that one, after Jacob dies and the brothers are fearful Joseph will take revenge on them, he says "Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good; in order to accomplish—it is as clear as this day—that a vast people be kept alive" (50:20).

So we see, do we not, that the hand of God works in the glove of circumstance both for our chastisement and our preservation.

These two aspects of God’s dealings come together as well in our Newer Covenant reading. We read of Yeshua our Messiah seated "at the right hand of God. . until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet" (Heb 10:12-13). This is the right hand of God extended through Messiah in mercy and salvation for the needy. But then, later in the chapter, we read of God’s hands in judgment. We are warned as follows:

"26 For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy "on the testimony of two or three witnesses." 29How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know the one who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Here, the hands of God are spoken of as hands of judgment. In Jewish life, these two aspects[oe "middot] of God’s character, God’s mercy and his judgment, are often thought of as being in tension with one another. In our holy calendar, it is this middah, this attrbute, Justice, which is central on Rosh Hashanah. On Yom Kippur, it is the attribute of mercy, "midat harachamim"" or "midat chesed" which is to the fore.

So what do we do with all of this?

First, we need to develop the habit of wondering when calamity strikes if we not have some sort of unfinished business with God.

we should see whatever good fortune we encounter as part of God’s care for us.

Third, we need to accept the responsibility to be conveyors of God’s care to others. We should never say, "Let God take care of them, not me," because God uses people just like us as His hands.

Fourth, we ought to be committed enough to one another than we can, at times, be bearers of bad news—be God’s hand and voice of warning and admonition, helping each other to grow, sometimes by telling others what they would rather not hear, but need to hear nonetheless.

Finally, we need to develop some equanimity about the hand of God, not always thinking when calamity strikes us that God has somehow forsaken us or is doing us damage.

Ismar Schorsch puts it this way:

"Nor is what befalls us, even the most frightening of fates, without divine intention. The joy that flows from love detects the hand of God in everything, turning adversity into opportunity. A spark of light is embedded in every black hole that hurtles our way. This is what Moses implied when he spoke of God in the wilderness as 'bringing forth water for you from the flinty rock' (Deuteronomy 8:15). In the final analysis, faith has the capacity to extract good from evil. Despair is a function of disposition."

At 1/08/2006 1:24 AM, Blogger Tracey said...

I just discovered your blog and am thrilled that you are writing. I have been a Messianic believer for many years and have also discovered that I have Jewish heritage from both sides of my family. It was hidden from me up until my adult years. I find your treatment of this week's reading to be very even handed. I recently went through a devastating loss ( of my mentor, friend and associate) and was named executor of his Will. This past year has been fraught with many challenges and attacks upon me from those within his family who did not understand why he wanted all of his money to go to ministry. I spent much of the first few months in shock, horror and fear, praying that G-d would take this situation away from me or do something to rectify the situation so that I could be at peace. Instead, He made it clear to me through scripture and much prayer that I was to trust Him as I went through trial after trial. I am near the end of this debacle and I can see His hand throughout the entire thing. I have come to depend upon him so much more and trust His ways even when things look frightful. Thank you for your blog entry. I will be a regular reader!


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