For the week of December 6, 2008 / 9 Kislev 5769
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 14:10 (English: 12:12 - 14:9)
Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. (Hosea 14:1; ESV [Hebrew 14:2])
Contemporary morality can be expressed by the words "make right choices." What constitutes a right choice for people today is something of personal preference. In fact it is this kind of relative thinking - the conviction that there are no absolutes - that is perhaps the basis of the new morality of right choice making.
Don't get me wrong. I am not against making right choices, but is it really the key to right living? If the world has no meaning as some suppose, then maybe moment-by-moment choices are all we have. But if the world has no meaning, then how meaningful can our choices be? If we really are the product of random occurrence in an accidental universe, then are not our choices just more of the same randomness? Choices may feel meaningful, but unless there is more to life than the material world, what difference do our choices make? Any meaning or morality we apply to our choices are simply arbitrary. If there is no meaning and no objective morality, then you may feel like your choices have meaning, but they don't.
I suspect that most people hearing or reading this actually believe that life has meaning. They believe in absolute truth and an objective, God-given morality. Yet many of you still put an unbiblical emphasis on your personal choices. The Bible doesn't teach that we are the sum of our choices. On the contrary, our choices are the outcome of who we are.
This week's Torah portion illustrates this. Jacob was a choice maker. He strove to be successful in every way he could. When God appeared to him, conferring upon him the same promise given to his father and grandfather, he didn't just accept it, but rather told God that if God would keep his part of the bargain, then he would make him his God. It would take bringing Jacob to a place of desperation before he would become the person he was meant to be.
Jacob's choices didn't define who he was; his nature did. His predisposition to protect himself and strive with others for his own benefit drove him to make the choices he did. It was only once God humbled him that his life changed, resulting in different kinds of choices.
This is well-expressed in our Torah portion's accompanying Haftarah reading. God, through the prophet Hosea, says, "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity" (Hosea 14:1; ESV [Hebrew 14:2]). The failure of Israel to be faithful to God was not because of their bad choices. Rather their sinful state caused them to stumble or, in other words, to not live rightly.
My guess is that some people are going to respond to this message by quoting from the book of Joshua, where Joshua says to the people, "Choose this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15). But this actually backs up what I am trying to say. The choice that Joshua is calling for is a most basic one. Once the choice to serve God is settled, then the kind of lifestyle we will live is settled. Once we submit to God as Lord, then the details are the outcome of that choice. To claim that we are the sum of our choices gives the impression that every moral decision is up for grabs. We indeed may make some wrong choices, but whether to do right or wrong is no longer a choice for those who truly follow God.
If we find ourselves struggling to do right (and it is a struggle at times), we need to remember that it is God who gives us the power to live godly lives. The stumbling referred to by Hosea is only resolved through the forgiveness brought about by Yeshua the Messiah. It was his choice to give himself for us that makes all the difference.
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