For the week of May 20, 2017 / 24 Iyar 5777
Be-Har & Be-Hukkotai
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14
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Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
Jeremiah provides us with a beautiful illustration of the outcome of trusting in God. These verses are similar to the first Psalm, where we read of the person who rejects ungodliness and whose life focus is upon God’s Word: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Tehillim/Psalms 1:3). But Jeremiah’s metaphor is a little surprising. While the Psalm speaks of a healthy life, Jeremiah tells us something more, something extraordinary in fact. He says that the person who trusts in the God of Israel, “is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8).
Simply surviving a year of drought would be impressive. But bearing fruit while everything else around is drying up and dying? That’s superb! This is a tree, notes Jeremiah, whose roots have found their way to a sufficient water supply in spite of (or perhaps because of) the dry conditions. Not only does this tree survive in an extremely hostile environment, it becomes an essential source of nourishment when little else is to be found.
This is what a person who truly learns to trust in God is like. Whatever hardships may come, a person who trusts in God continues to thrive and benefit others. It is in the most difficult circumstances we realize on whom or upon what we have been depending. When the heat is on, it becomes evident where we have been sending our roots.
Sometimes when I am struggling with life’s challenges and don’t seem to be like this kind of tree, I try to find comfort by comparing myself to others. Whether my assessment is accurate or not, as long as I think I am doing better than the other guy, I assure myself that I must be okay or at least good enough. But there is something about Jeremiah’s tree that doesn’t let me get away with this illusionary version of myself. It would be one thing if surviving, whatever that means, was sufficient. But people who really trust in God, don’t just survive, they thrive.
I will never truly thrive unless I admit I don’t. Ironically – and thankfully! – that’s the first step in learning to trust God. For it is only as I accept that my roots are not digging down deep into the true Source of Life that they can be redirected to him. And trusting God isn’t achieved through effort anyway. It can’t be achieved at all. It can only be realized by letting go of misdirected reliance on self, others, or things, and learning instead to rest in God’s enduring love and presence in Yeshua the Messiah.
The dryness I experience from time to time is God’s way of reminding me to redirect my roots to him. The sense of failure I experience can easily become a temptation to give up, condemn myself, and despair. But that’s only until I am reminded of Jeremiah’s tree. Being exposed to the truth of God’s written Word calls me back to the genuine source of rejuvenating life. This is when I receive God’s comfort that, contrary to incorrectly thinking I was slipping away from him and his Truth, he is, in fact, using times of spiritual dryness to prepare me for when life will be even more difficult. And this is the greatest comfort of all: as I experience God’s redirecting of my roots, I can rest assured that he will enable me to thrive in the hardest of times.
All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible