Light from the Sidra


Genesis 44:18 - 47:27; Ezekiel 37:15-28

In our Torah and Haftorah readings this week we see, as they say, a pattern emerging. In both readings the tribes of Israel (particularly Joseph and Benjamin) are reunited, there is a national repentance and the blessings the nation receives overflow to the Gentiles.

Both passages concern salvation. In Genesis the fledgling nation – and the world – was saved from starvation by Joseph, while Ezekiel looks forward to a day when the people of Israel will be saved from their sins and live under the rule of Messiah, the shepherd king. In that day, says Dr. J.H. Hertz, “God’s Divine Presence will be clearly among them when they are true to their vocation as a Holy People. And thus too will Israel be the means of revealing God to the nations.”

The Bible is from start to finish a record of God’s salvation. Our readings this week include one of the earliest accounts of God’s salvation as well as one of the very last, and between Genesis and Ezekiel a pattern develops which reveals the way in which God saves. In the Hebrew Scriptures salvation invariably comes from the most unexpected places and from the least likely people.

An established pattern

Joseph is the prototype saviour; seemingly insignificant, despised and rejected by his brothers but paradoxically rising through suffering to become their ruler and benefactor. King David, referred to in Ezekiel’s prophecy, fits neatly into the same pattern; the youngest of his brothers, a dutiful son, and an insignificant shepherd despised by his brothers. It was David, the despised and rejected “root out of a dry ground” that God anointed to be the shepherd of his people, the one he used to weld the disparate tribes of Israel into one great nation.

Between Joseph and David the deliverers God raised to save and unite the nation fitted into the same broad pattern. Moses rose from obscurity to deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt and unify the nation under the covenant of Sinai. Because Jewish people today universally revere Moshe Rabbenu it is easy to overlook the fact that for most of his life he was an outsider rejected by his contemporaries.

In the days of the Judges God raised up insignificant and often flawed characters such as the left-handed Ehud and Jael the wife of Heber. Gideon was the youngest in a household that belonged to the most humble clan in lowly Manasseh. God chose one of the least significant men in the nation to defeat innumerable Midianites with a motley band of 300. Jephthah, the black sheep who was rejected by his own family, became the saviour of the nation even though it meant the sacrifice of his only daughter. The last of the Judges, Samson, though morally weak and betrayed into the hands of the Philistines by his own people, became Israel’s deliverer, accomplishing his greatest victory through his own death.

During the exile, Haman’s evil conspiracy to eliminate the Jews was defeated not by a great and powerful leader in the mould of Judah Maccabee, but by a young Jewish girl from the harem of the most powerful ruler in the world.

Like father like son

So, according to Ezekiel and the later prophets, Israel’s greatest deliverer, the Messiah, would fit into the established pattern. It is ironic that when some Jewish people think of Messiah as the Son of David they think only of David at his most powerful and forget his lowly origins. David, like Joseph, rose from obscurity, through humiliation to exaltation and the Messiah will fit this pattern. The prophet Isaiah reinforces this concept when he speaks of the future Messiah as:

…a tree trunk out of arid ground. He had no form or beauty, that we should look at him: no charm that we should find him pleasing. He was despised, shunned by men, a man of suffering… (Isaiah 53:2-3)

But though he suffers rejection by his own people, God says, “Indeed, My servant shall prosper … Assuredly, I will give him the many as his spoil” (Isaiah 52:13; 53:12).

Can you see the pattern? Imagine a Messiah born, like David, in the Judean backwater of Bethlehem. Like David, Joseph, Moses, Jephthah and other celebrated Jewish deliverers he is despised and shunned, rejected by the very people he comes to save. Imagine a deliverer who, instead of being outwardly imposing, appears to be the epitome of weakness, a man of suffering; a Messiah who paradoxically accomplishes the salvation of Israel through his sufferings and death. A Messiah who brings peace through his own tribulations and saves us not from outside forces but from ourselves, from our sins.

Would you believe it?

Unbelievable? But isn’t that what the prophet predicts? “Who can believe what we have heard?” (Isaiah 53:1).

No way could Messiah be like that? Listen to Isaiah again, “He was despised, we held him of no account” (Isaiah 53:3).

Was there ever a deliverer or a prophet in the pages of Scripture that all Israel wholeheartedly received? Rabbi Dr Jacob Immanuel Shochet, in his lecture Square Circles, says this is probably why God “likes us [the Jewish people] so much, because we give him such a hard time”. There were none of the prophets, he says, whom Israel did not persecute and reject. And yet he can state that if Jesus of Nazareth were the Messiah the Jewish people would have recognised and received him!

When Joseph’s brothers repented of their treatment of him, he freely forgave them. When David returned from exile following Absalom’s rebellion he forgave his enemies who repented. Whenever Jewish people recognise the sin of rejecting the true Messiah and turn to him, he forgives and receives them as his true brothers. Where do you stand? Are you like Joseph’s siblings before they recognised their brother for who he was, or have you already repented and received Messiah ben Joseph as your Saviour and deliverer?

Learn the lesson of the Haftorah and come into Messiah’s eternal covenant of peace. Rabbi Hertz observes that the promise of national unity in Ezekiel 37:23 is “not merely political reunion, but spiritual regeneration”. Through Jesus the Son of David there is spiritual regeneration, inner cleansing, salvation from sin and true shalom.

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