Light from the Sidra

Ki Tetze

Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19.Haftarah:Isaiah 54:10

Back in the Fifties when I was a little kid, there was a record by Frank Sinatra that seemed to be played on the wireless (that’s a ‘radio’ to anyone born after 1970) just about every day. The song was ‘Love and Marriage’ and, according to the lyrics, the two ‘went together like a horse and carriage’. Not any longer it seems. But if we have problems with love and marriage today, the Torah reading reveals that people had the same problems (maybe worse) three-and-a-half thousand years ago. The way things are going, some of the laws and precepts in Deuteronomy 21 to 25 might once again become relevant to British law.

The Haftarah addresses Israel in exile and pictures her as a barren, forsaken wife. Israel had gone into exile for her sins but Yahweh was going to redeem her. He was going to make her fruitful once again. What God did for Israel when she was in Egypt, he will do for her when she is in Babylon.

The Exodus from Egypt is the fundamental biblical paradigm of redemption and the prophets of Israel, particularly Isaiah, foresaw a redemption that would follow the pattern established at the Exodus from Egypt but would far exceed it in terms of power and scale.

In Isaiah 54:8, God assures Israel that he is her ‘Redeemer’. The title ‘Redeemer’ occurs some eighteen times in our English Bibles, thirteen of those occurrences being in the last twenty-seven chapters of the book of Isaiah, where the Lord declares that he is ‘the Redeemer of Israel’. In ancient Israelite society ‘the redeemer’ was the firstborn of the family and had three basic, God-appointed responsibilities. His first duty was to avenge the blood of murdered family members; secondly, it was his responsibility to buy back family property that had been lost through poverty; thirdly, he had to act as husband to the widow of a relative who had died childless.

Yahweh redeemed Israel from Egypt according to this pattern. First, he avenged the blood of his ‘firstborn’ Israel by smiting the firstborn of Egypt, substituting a lamb for the firstborn of Israel; secondly, he took Israel to be his bride; thirdly, he brought Israel into the inheritance that was theirs by virtue of his covenant with Abraham.

Through Isaiah, Yahweh revealed that although he would send his disobedient people into exile, he was, nevertheless, their Redeemer and would avenge them:

‘I will contend with him who contends with you, and I will save your children. I will feed those who oppress you with their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine. All flesh shall know that I, the LORD, am your Saviour, and your Redeemer’ (Isaiah 49:25,26).

He would restore them to their lost inheritance:

‘So the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away.’ (51:9-11)

He would protect them in their widowhood and raise up children for them:

‘“Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not laboured with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,” says the LORD…. “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel”.’ (54:1-8)

But there was an even greater Redemption to come than the return from Babylon. The Jewish writers of the New Testament cherished the hope of the Redemption promised through the ancient Hebrew prophets. In the first chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, the father of John the Baptist praises God that he has come to redeem his people from their enemies but looks beyond the Roman occupation of the Promised Land to the prospect of God’s people serving him without fear in righteousness and holiness.

The Redemption motif of Isaiah and the prophets enables us to make sense of the enigmatic title given to Messiah in Colossians 1:13-15: ‘He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.’

This is Exodus language. God redeemed Israel from Egypt by slaying the firstborn of Egypt and spared the firstborn of Israel. In the New Testament, Messiah, God’s ‘Firstborn’, redeems his people through his own death. He avenges his people by destroying their great enemy ‘the Satan’; he takes them for his bride and raises up children for them; and he recovers the kingdom of heaven, the heavenly Zion, for them.

It is a great tragedy that although observant Jews long for the ‘Era of Redemption’, they don’t understand what form that redemption will take. And so long as they don’t know what the longed-for ‘Redemption’ looks like they won’t be able to see that it has happened already.

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