Our reading this week contains one of the most unique stories to be found in scripture. In it we see the fall and rise of a man by the name of Jephthah. Jephthah was the son of Gilead and was born of a harlot, and although know as a man of valor, was ostracized by his half brothers and outcast from the family.
Jephthah took up residence in another part of the country and gained the reputation of being a great warrior. We also see that he became a man with both diplomatic and social skills. As we explore the story of Jephthah, we will see how this story from the time of the judges has some important lessons for the modern state of Israel today. The story of Jephthah also illustrates the power and majesty of the God of Israel in protecting and providing for His people both then and now.
When the children of Israel entered the land, they lived in tribal communities coming together only during the pilgrimage feast days three times a year. Each tribe had their own elders and leaders. During this nearly four hundred year period, the children of Israel repeatedly turned away from the LORD and worshiped other gods. God responded by allowing them to fall into the hands of their enemies. In their distress, Israel eventually repented and turned back to the LORD. Then, God would raise up a judge to deliver them and rule over them for the period of the judge’s lifespan. This cyclical pattern continued until the time of Samuel. Like so many of the judges’ sons before him, Samuel’s sons were corrupt and took bribes. Further, there was yet another threat rising up against Israel. This time it was a resurgence of the Ammonites who were attacking from the east. Who would lead the children of Israel this time? It certainly wouldn’t be the sons of Samuel! How could Israel stop these constant infringements on their territory? How could they come together as more than a collection of tribes?
In this Haftarah, we are introduced to a woman, Rahab who lived in Jericho at the time when the Children of Israel conquered the city in a dramatic event. Rahab is one of the more interesting women mentioned in the Bible. Not only did these spies find lodging at Rababs home, she also hid them, protecting them from the king of Jericho. She is about to play an important role in the conquest of the land of Canaan. As the story of Rahab plays out, we see that she rejects her own heritage, culture, and religion to be joined with the Israelites and their God. What is her purpose in doing so? What did she hope to gain? As we dig deeper into the story of Rahab, we will see that she plays a vitally important role in not only the conquest of Jericho, but in the salvation of her family and the future salvation of all of Israel.
We usually think of Zechariah’s prophecies in connection with Yeshua’s first and second comings. Zechariah does speak a lot about the coming Messiah, however, his message or messages would have been first understood in the context of rebuilding the temple seventy years after its destruction by the Babylonians. At the time of Zechariah, Babylon had been defeated by the Medes and Persians. King Cyrus was the ruler over the entire empire and had proclaimed that the Jews could return to their homeland and rebuild the temple.
However, from the very beginning, there was opposition to building the temple resulting in a complete cessation of the work under Artaxerxes. In addition to the opposition from the other occupants of the land, many of the Jews had intermarried and were worshiping the gods of their foreign wives. The returnees were dispirited, discouraged and feeling defeated. They were in desperate need of comfort and encouragement. Was it truly God’s will for the people to return and rebuild the temple? Would He act on behalf of His people?
In this week’s Haftarah, we encounter an Angel of the LORD who appears to the wife of a man named Manoah. She is barren, having no children. The angel has a special message for this woman; she is to have a son. This would not be just any son, but would be a special son, set apart for a special purpose. There are some interesting things in this Haftarah that are worth exploring. Why were Manoah and his wife chosen to bring forth this miraculous child? But most importantly, who is this Angel of the LORD?
God uses two metaphors interchangeably in His message to Israel in this Haftarah. The first is a marriage and family relationship. Woven through this metaphor is an agricultural metaphor of planting and harvesting. God instructs Hosea to marry Gomer, a woman of dubious character. The firstborn son of this union is Jezreel because judgment will fall on Israel in the Valley of Jezreel, the site of bloodshed caused by Kings Ahab and Jehu.
However, the name Jezreel, number 3157 in Strong’s Concordance, means God will sow. The meaning of Jezreel’s name brings in the deeper metaphor of sowing and harvesting. In both of these metaphors, Jezreel represents Israel. What is God’s message to Israel through Hosea’s son Jezreel? What do these metaphors tell us about redemption and God’s plans for His people? Finally, how does Yeshua fulfill these plans?
Over the last several weeks and months, as we have examined the prophecies and writings of the prophet Jeremiah, we have seen a continual pattern of judgment and redemption. Our Haftarah portion this week, Jeremiah 16:19 through 17:14 is no different with one key exception. Unlike most of the book of Jeremiah, this section is in a poetic form.
Contained within this Haftarah are some often quoted verses, many of which are quoted by Yeshua as well as the disciples in their writings and letters. Virtually every verse in this Jeremiah passage is also found in the Psalms.
This section of scripture contains the usual identification of the sins of Israel and Judah along with a promise of a future redemption. But what is so special about this prophecy of Jeremiah? And why was it so important to Yeshua and the disciples?
Our haftarah portion this week begins with Jerusalem under siege by the Babylonian army. It is the tenth year of the eleven year reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. Jeremiah, the prophet who warned of the coming fall and captivity of Judah, was in the prison in Jerusalem because King Zedekiah didn’t want to believe the words of the LORD through Jeremiah. For Jeremiah, who knew the words of the LORD were certain, things couldn’t be looking bleaker. Jeremiah faithfully brought the message of repentance to Judah, but Judah didn’t hear. He faithfully warned them about the coming destruction, but Judah didn’t hear. Now, when Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians, Jeremiah was helpless to act being held in prison by his own people. Jeremiah could only watch the destruction as it came. Was there any hope for his people? Would they ever again be the people of God or would they be swallowed up by their conqueror never to exist again? In the midst of Jeremiah’s darkest days, God spoke and gave him hope.
Our Haftarah this week concerns the priesthood in a future Temple envisioned by the prophet Ezekiel. The description of the duties of this future priesthood closely match those described in Leviticus as recorded by Moses. As we have learned earlier, Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet of God. He was among the first to suffer exile to Babylon and witnessed the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
But God gave Ezekiel a vision of a future priesthood and a grand, new Temple far exceeding the beauty and majesty of Solomon’s Temple.
Ezekiel records his vision beginning in chapter 40 where the opening verses say that this vision of this beautiful and grand temple was given to Ezekiel at the time when the children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon and Assyria. Why was Ezekiel given this vision at this time? We know now that the Second Temple, built after a remnant returned from Babylon, did not fulfill this vision, so what was God’s purpose in revealing this Temple to Ezekiel at this time?
In a non-leap year cycle, this passage, Amos 9:7-15, is paired with last week’s passage of Ezekiel 22:1-18. As such, it is a continuation of the judgment pronounced on Jerusalem even though Amos was written about one hundred years earlier than Ezekiel and the subject of Amos’s prophesies was the northern kingdom of Israel not Jerusalem or Judah. These passages are linked through the theme of exile as a means of purifying or refining his people.
The Ezekiel passage from last week ends in judgment and exile, however the Amos passage ends in restoration and prosperity. How does the judgment on the northern kingdom of Israel apply to the judgment on Jerusalem, the City of God’s name? How does the refining process lead to hope, and ultimately, the coming of the Messiah?