Ezekiel was a priest and prophet who lived in Babylon at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of God. Although Ezekiel wasn’t in Jerusalem to physically see this destruction, he saw it in a vision. Ezekiel also saw a vision of a new temple or house of God. In this portion of the scriptures, Ezekiel 43:10-27, God commands Ezekiel to describe this temple to the house of Israel.
Ezekiel 43:10 NKJV 10 "Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern.
A description of the altar follows this interchange, not a description of the temple. Further, why would describing the temple to the house of Israel make them recognize and be ashamed of their iniquities? And what patterns were they to measure?
The haftarah portion of the scriptures that we will examine today is the account of Solomon building the temple. On the surface, it is uninteresting, merely an account of where Solomon obtained the materials, who did the work, and where it was done. Sort of like telling someone all about the process of building a house, from the first step of choosing an architect and builder, including who actually worked for them; to the selection of the counters, cabinets and fixtures. Really boring—unless you were a builder. So, why is this recorded? What does this tell us about Solomon and the other people involved? What does this tell us about God and His relationship to His people?
The Torah portion title for this week is Mishpatim which means enactments or judgments and outlines the conditions and dispositions of slavery within the community of God’s people. In our Haftarah reading this week we return to the book of Jeremiah where it opens with two rather profound and complex verses.
Jeremiah 33:25-26 NKJV 25 "Thus says the LORD: 'If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, 26 'then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return and will have mercy on them.'"
Why would this Haftarah open with these two verses then skip to a section of the next chapter which focuses on slavery? What is the connection? As we dig a little deeper, we will see that this Haftarah is about much more than just slavery.
The prophet Isaiah prophesies in Judah during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The section of Isiah’s prophesies that we will examine here in Isaiah 6:1 through 9:7 involve the time from the death of Uzziah to the middle of Ahaz’s reign. Over the course of this interval of time, Judah would go from one of its most prosperous states under Uzziah to the lowest it had ever been. It would, of course, fall even further in the days leading to its exile, but at this time exile was still far away and Judah experienced near destruction under the reign of Ahaz.
Isaiah’s name, Yesha-Yahu in the Hebrew, means Yehovah has saved. The overall theme of Isaiah’s prophesies are that Yehovah is the source of salvation and that He will save His people. This is dramatically demonstrated in this passage when Judah faces utter destruction for the first time with the house of David being the focus of that destruction. In what way does Isaiah reassure the people that the line of David will continue? In what way does he condemn the people for their continued pride and idolatry and condemn Ahaz? How will the house of David prevail?
Certain women of the Bible play a key role in the history of the Children of Israel. These women are far more than just support for the men. They provide a kind of glue which holds the pieces of society together. They not only bear children, bringing new physical life into the world, in many cases, they also bear a kind of spiritual life that only they can provide.
This is true of our Haftarah reading this week with Judges chapters four and five with the story of Deborah. This Haftarah tells the story of a powerful Canaanite leader who severely oppressed the Children of Israel for twenty years, and Deborah, who was both Judge, or ruler of all Israel, and a prophetess of God, who led her people with her chosen army commander in a great battle to deliver them from this oppression.
With the story of Deborah, we not only have a woman who ruled Israel, but who also wrote a portion of the scriptures. This is the only place in the Bible where this is found.
Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah during the tumultuous time encompassing the fall of the Assyrian Empire, the brief domination of Judah by Egypt, followed by the rise of Babylon culminating in Judah being taken into exile in Babylon. Jeremiah’s contemporary, Ezekiel prophesied during this time period as well, except he was prophesying from Babylon to the Jewish people who were already in exile with him. In a way, we can look at Jeremiah and Ezekiel as twin prophets both prophesying about the inevitable fall of Judah as well as judgment coming against the nations. Jeremiah’s main focus was warning the leaders of Judah that the fall of Jerusalem was coming and, unless they changed their ways quickly, it was inevitable. For all this, though, God told Jeremiah that he was a prophet, not to Judah, but to the nations.
Jeremiah’s words in chapter 46 verses 13-28 focus on the judgment coming on Egypt. What is God’s word through Jeremiah to the nations? What can we learn and apply today? Do his words have implications for the future?
Last week at our Shabbat Service, our discussion questions included one about how we sanctify or hallow God’s name. Since, because of time constraints, we didn’t get to it to any degree, we assigned the question as “homework” for our congregation. It just so happens that this week’s Haftarah reading from the prophet Ezekiel is all about how God’s name will be sanctified or hallowed in Israel and the nations. Ezekiel is telling his readers, and us, that Israel will be regathered from their exile and reestablished in their land. Through this restoration, God will be sanctified or hallowed before the entire world. Everyone will see that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the creator of the universe. How is this sanctification accomplished by God’s actions and dealings with these other nations? Ezekiel’s prophesy in this Haftarah reading is primarily dealing with Egypt, however Egypt is often a metaphor for the nations in general.
Isaiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Judah during the reigns of four kings, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. During the seventy or so years that Isaiah prophesied in Judah, Judah was at odds with Israel. In the kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam the second ruled when Isaiah began to prophesy. At the time of Isaiah’s prophecies in chapters 27 and 28, Israel still existed as a nation, but judgment was quickly coming. In the midst of prophesying about judgment, Isaiah brings God’s words that judgment won’t be forever; restoration will come.
But this restoration was for a future time and Isaiah turned his attention to what was going on in Israel and Judah in the present. We know that the kingdom of Israel from the time of its inception under Jeroboam did evil in God’s sight. They continued to do so during the time of Isaiah. But what about the kingdom of Judah; were they following in the ways of David or doing evil like the kingdom of Israel? In what way did Isaiah chastise Judah in this passage What judgment was in store for Judah?
David was arguably the greatest Israelite since Moses, yet his passing is barely mentioned in the Book of 1st kings. In this week’s haftarah reading we see that David is about to die and we read of David’s last words to his son Solomon whom he had chosen as his successor.
Through all of David’s struggles, his victories, his defeats and his personal triumphs and failures, David had a heart for God and a deep desire to serve the LORD in spirit and truth. As he reached the end of his life, David desired to pass on this great legacy to Solomon; to see that his covenant with God would continue through his chosen heir, and that there would always be a Son of David on the throne of Israel.
Ezekiel was a priest who was taken into captivity with the first wave of captives as Babylon began the takeover of Judah. He prophesied during the entire time of the fall of Judah with his final prophecy fifteen years after the fall of Jerusalem. As a prophet among the captives, God sent Ezekiel to warn the children of Israel about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, to exhort them to repent of the acts that led to their exile, and to encourage them that God had not abandoned His people. The subject of this passage in Ezekiel, chapter 37 verses 15 through 28, is the reunification of Israel and Judah under one king of the lineage of David.
At the time of this prophecy, the northern tribes of Israel had been in captivity for over one hundred years, and the city of Jerusalem had recently been taken. The nation of Israel was no more; their leaders had failed them! However, God assured His people through Ezekiel that He still cared for them.
What did the future hold for the children of Israel? How could this deeply divided people become a nation once more? Who could they trust to lead them?