Light from the Sidra

Emor ('Speak [to the priests]')

Torah: Haftarah:Lev.21:1-24:23.Ezekiel 44:15-31

The lame, the blind and the ugly

What today’s employment laws would make of Leviticus 21 is anyone’s guess but you certainly can’t exclude someone from a job today because of physical disability or deformity! But it’s interesting to see that in the Ezekiel 44 priests are barred from temple service only on the basis of moral or ritual deformity.

The last nine chapters of Ezekiel look forward to Messiah’s temple, and the Haftarah. Unlike Leviticus 21, Ezekiel 40 – 48, nowhere lists physical qualities that disqualify someone from serving as a priest. Why might that be?

In Ezekiel 37:25, God promises that Israel ‘shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob My servant … and David My servant shall be their prince for ever.’ The prince, according to 37:25, is David; not the David who had been dead for hundreds of years but the son of David, the Messiah.

David was the man after God’s heart (1 Sam 13:14), the faithful shepherd of God’s flock Israel, who did justice, loved mercy and walked humbly with his God (Mic 6:8). 2 Samuel 9 is the clearest picture of David the man after God’s heart. In verse 3, David determines to show ‘God’s kindness’ (chesed) to any remaining members of the family of his arch-enemy Saul.

When David asks Ziba if there is anyone from the house of Saul to whom he can show the chesed of God, he must have been shocked by the answer. Mephibosheth was lame!

When David attacked Jerusalem in 2 Sam 5:6-8, the Jebusites had said to him, ‘You will not get in here! Even the blind and the lame will turn you back...’ David said, “Those who attack the Jebusites shall … [strike down] the lame and blind, who are hateful to David.” That is why they say: “No one who is blind or lame may enter the House”’ (Tanakh – The Holy Scriptures, New JPS Translation).

David was stung by the taunts of the Jebusites and, from what ‘they’ said afterwards, it seems David was never going to have a lame person or a blind person in his house! But chesed is not affected by feelings or temperament. Chesed is based on covenant: ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness [chesed] for Jonathan’s sake?’ (2 Sam 9:1).  

In 1 Sam 20:13-16, Jonathan knew he would never succeed his father as king. Knowing David would be the next king and that power can corrupt, Jonathan made David enter into a covenant with him: ‘May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father. But show me unfailing kindness [chesed] like that of the LORD as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness [chesed] from my family— not even when the LORD has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.’

Because of that solemn covenant, Jonathan knew he could trust David not only to be kind to him but also to show to him and his descendants the sort of kindness that God himself shows. When David heard that Mephibosheth was lame, he must have been stunned. He could simply have allowed the grandson of Saul to stay at the house of Machir ben Ammiel in Lodebar but to do so would not have been showing the kindness of God. The chesed that God showed David in Psalm 23 led David in green pastures, restored him, spread a table for him and allowed him to live in his house forever. In imitation of God, David restored to Mephibosheth all the lands of his grandfather, brought him from Lodebar (meaning, ‘no pasture’) to his own home, where he would eat continually at David’s table.

The Gospel of Matthew opens by announcing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David. He proceeds to enlarge on the theme through a chain of references in which Jesus is addressed as the ‘Son of David’. In each case, the title is associated with lame people, or blind and lame people, the very ones David would not allow in his house.

When Matthew speaks of Jesus as the ‘Son of David’, he intends us to understand that Jesus is far more than just a descendant of Israel’s greatest king (see Matthew 22:41ff). In the Bible, when someone is a ‘son of’ someone or something, it can mean they have the same character of that person or thing (e.g. a ‘son of Belial’, or a ‘son of a perverse woman’). Matthew’s understanding of Jesus as the ‘Son of David’ is based entirely on David’s treatment of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9.  

In Matthew 9:27-30, two blind men followed Jesus, calling out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ When the blind men plead with Jesus to have mercy on them, Matthew uses the Greek word eleos, the same word used by the translators of the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures to translate the Hebrew word chesed. They then come into ‘the house’, which is Jesus’ own home. Two men, who come under the category of those David hated and said he would never have in his house, call out to the Son of David for chesed. The Son of David has them in his house and heals them.

In Matthew 12:22f, some people bring a blind, mute demoniac to Jesus. When Jesus heals him, the people ask, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’

Matthew 15:22-31 relates how a Canaanite woman pleads with Jesus: ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy [chesed] on me! Immediately after that, Jesus goes on to heal the lame and the blind, as well as other sick people. Matthew records that the people are amazed when they see ‘the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel’.  

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem in Matthew 20:30-34, two blind men shout, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy [chesed] on us!’ Jesus has ‘compassion’ [chesed] on them and touches their eyes. They immediately receive their sight and followed him up to Jerusalem.

David took Jerusalem from the blind and the lame, and in Matthew 21:9-14 when Jesus enters the city he is hailed as the ‘Son of David’. When he enters the temple courts, he drives out the buyers and sellers, and overturns the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he says to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers’. Then, Matthew records, ‘The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.’ It is interesting that although the Hebrew word in 2 Samuel 5:8 is beth, the Greek Setuagint has ‘the blind and the lame shall not come into the house of the Lord’ (i.e. the temple)! 

Leviticus 19:21, says that no one who was blind or lame could serve as a priest. If any of those who were healed by the Son of David were descendants of Aaron, they would then be fit to serve as kohanim!

In Messiah’s temple, which was revealed to Ezekiel, there was no need to exclude the blind and the lame because the Davidic prince who is full of chesed is there to heal the blind and lame!

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