Light from the Sidra

Ki Tavo

Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8.Haftarah:Isaiah 60:1-22

Do you remember that jaunty little chart song back in the eighties by a band called Timbuk 3? Each verse featured the lyrics: ‘Things are going great, and they’re only getting better/I’m doing all right, getting good grades/The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

In this week’s Torah reading, the future for Israel looks far from bright. We noted in our comments on the first three chapters of Deuteronomy that the book is structured like an ancient suzerain treaty. The first five verses of Deuteronomy serve as the Preamble; they introduce Moses as the mediator of the covenant. The rest of chapter 1 to the end of chapter 4 comprises the historical Prologue, the covenant history of Israel on their journey from Egypt to Canaan. Chapters 5 to 26 consist of stipulations, instructing the nation about life under the covenant of their great king, and the following three chapters describe the blessings for covenant keeping and the curses if Israel was not faithful to the treaty. The final four chapters deal with the continuity of the covenant.

This week’s Parasha concludes the section which lays down the covenant stipulations and takes us through the promised blessings for compliance with the covenant and curses for disobedience. Sadly, throughout most of her subsequent history, Israel was never obedient to God for long enough to experience the full benefits promised in Deuteronomy 28:1-14. However, the rest of Deuteronomy 28 read like the history of the Jewish people for the next two-and-half millennia. And indeed it is. For the last 2,400 years, the miseries foretold in chapter 28 have been an intrinsic part of the Jewish experience.

Little wonder the rabbis chose Isaiah 60 as the Haftarah. There, the future for Israel is bright in every sense of the word:

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned; the presence of the LORD has shone upon you … and nations shall walk by your light, kings, by your shining radiance… No longer shall you need the sun for light by day, not the shining of the moon for radiance [by night]; for the LORD shall be your light everlasting… (Tanakh – The Holy Scriptures. The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. Jewish Publication Society, 1988)

This prophecy was given not because Israel was ‘doing all right’ and ‘getting good grades’. A glance at Isaiah 1 is evidence enough of that. Isaiah is addressing a people in exile because they had broken God’s covenant at every level. The prophecy of Isaiah 40 is given because God keeps covenant, even if the Jewish people don’t. Isaiah can promise a bright future to Israel because, according to chapter 40:1,2, her term of hard service was over and her guilt was paid off because she had ‘received at the LORD’s hand double for all her sins’ (see comments on Va’etchanan).

Under the terms and conditions of the covenant at Sinai, Israel went into exile. But God had entered into a covenant with Israel’s father Abram in Genesis 15 that was unconditional. Under that covenant, Abraham and his ‘seed’ were promised a land in perpetuity (see comments on Lech Lecha).

Chapters 40-66 abound with promises of a new, everlasting covenant of peace that God will make with Israel, and the glorious bright future promised in Isaiah 60 is inextricably linked to the Messiah, the righteous suffering servant of chapter 52.

That is why the writers of the New Testament can hold out to the Jewish people not only the promise of land but also of a glorious, pure New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven of which God and the Messiah are the light. There is a vision in chapter 22 of the New Testament book of Revelation that reveals in an even more graphic manner the glorious promise of Isaiah 60:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… Then came one of the seven angels … And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God… And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations.

This is the glorious future of Israel foreseen not only by Isaiah but also by all the Hebrew prophets; a future brought about not by Israel but by God’s righteous servant the Messiah.

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