Light from the Sidra

Pesach 2

Torah: Exodus 13:17-15:26; Numbers 28:19-25. Haftarah: 2 Samuel 22:1-51

Now that’s what I call music!

Most people sing out loud but apart from the extroverts who appear on The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent most of us sing in the shower, the bath, the car or other places where we (hopefully) can’t be heard. But there are times when we can all be persuaded to engage in community singing. Everybody joins in to sing ‘Happy Birthday To You,’ for example, and (apparently) no one seems to mind if you sing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order. We sing at weddings and funerals, and every year in London’s Royal Albert Hall thousands belt out ‘Land of H at the Last Night of the Proms. We sing on such occasions because we feel that what we are singing has some significance.

In the Bible, God’s people celebrated their great deliverances by singing. After the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites sang:

I will sing to YHWH,

For he has triumphed, yes, triumphed,

The horse and its charioteer he flung into the sea!

My fierce-might and strength is YAH,

He has become deliverance for me.

This is my God—I honour him.

The God of my father—I exalt him.

(Exodus 15:1-3, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation with Introductions, Commentary and Notes by Everett Fox)

In the Haftarah, ‘David addressed the words of this song to the LORD, after the LORD had saved him from the hands of all his enemies …

‘O LORD, my crag, my fastness, my deliverer!

O God, the rock wherein I take shelter:

My shield, my mighty champion, my fortress and refuge!

My saviour, You who rescue me from violence!

All praise! I called on the LORD,

And I was delivered from my enemies!’

(2 Samuel 22:2-4, Tanakh – The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text)

There are some remarkable similarities between the song of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea and David’s final psalm. Both exalt Israel’s God and give thanks to him for his salvation. In 2 Samuel 22 David, one of history’s greatest warrior kings, composes a song that sums up his life. However, it is no Sinatraesque boast about having done things ‘my way’. Apart from the shameful episode of Bathsheba, David lived his life God’s way and in Psalm 51 he expresses shame and remorse for his sin. His autobiographical swan song in 2 Samuel 22 is full of praise to the faithful God who has saved him from all his enemies.

The Jewish people today have much reason to praise God. The story of Israel is a tale of survival against all the odds. The establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 and its triumph over its enemies was remarkable. Israel’s June 1967 victory over forces bigger and better armed than themselves in less than six days remains unparalleled in the annals of military history. The Israeli victory over their enemies in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 was astonishing, and the nation’s numerous contributions to science, medicine and technology while under a state of virtual siege is quite unique.

Israel has reason to sing of what God has done for them in the past and what he is doing for them in the present. But what of the future?

The day after he was inducted as the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks stated on BBC Radio that Israel has survived because the last chapter of history has not yet been written. Much as I admire Lord Sacks as a moral philosopher, on this he was wrong. Israel survives precisely because the last chapter has been written.

I can’t resist quoting a song from the vision of a close friend of Jesus, which is recorded in the last book of the New Testament. In the vision, Johanan sees twenty-four elders representing Israel and Gentiles redeemed from their sins by the Messiah, falling face down before the Lamb of God and singing a song of redemption:

‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’

Now that’s what I call a song!

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