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?
There is something special about the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is referred to in the scriptures by many titles, not the least of which is the City of God’s name. In Zachariah it is known as the City of Truth. The prophet Isaiah uses several euphemisms for Jerusalem; the Faithful city in 1:25; Joyful City in 22:2 and the Lion of God in 29:1 among many others. It doesn’t take much reading of the Bible to realize that Jerusalem is central throughout history and ground zero for the events of the Bible. Israel had made a covenant with God at Mount Sinai. The covenant was between God and the entirety of the people as a nation. In our Haftarah this week Ezekiel lays out a series of condemnations against the people phrased in terms as if the city of Jerusalem is the one who sinned. Why is it that the city of Jerusalem is referred to as a person? What does the city represent and why is it that the city faces judgment?
This haftarah portion falls during the Feast of Unleavened Bread following the Feast of Passover. In this haftarah portion, 2 Samuel 22:1-51, David praises God for delivering him from the hand of Saul and all his enemies.
We don’t know when in David’s lifetime that he wrote this Psalm, but this Psalm stands out because it is not just recorded in the book of Psalms as Psalm Eighteen, it is recorded in the narrative of David’s life. David wrote many Psalms throughout his life; he is credited with writing seventy five of the one hundred fifty Psalms recorded in the book of Psalms. So, why is this Psalm recorded in the narrative? What can we learn from David who was far from perfect yet described as a man after God’s own heart? And why was this passage chosen to be read during the Feast of Unleavened Bread?
When God spoke to Moses from out of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, He gave Moses instructions on how to draw near to Him through the five different offerings. The important thing to remember is that this occurred after God brought them out of Egypt, from their bondage to slavery, and after He took them for His people through the covenant mediated by Moses. This system of offerings was designed to allow God’s already chosen and covenant people to draw near to Him. When we accept Yeshua as our offering that allows us to draw near to God, we need to realize that this happens after we are taken out of our slavery to sin. It is after this that we enter into the New Covenant.
How does this work? Are the offerings and sacrificial system instituted at Mount Sinai a shadow of salvation through Yeshua? How exactly are we redeemed from our slavery to sin? And how do we enter into the New Covenant? It all begins back in Egypt with the original Passover sacrifice.
Our haftarah portion this week tells the story of four lepers who brought good tidings to the besieged city of Samaria. Samaria was the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel. At this time, Ahab’s son Jehoram, who is, also, called Joram, is king of Israel. Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, had been trying to take over Israel since the death of Ahab. After Elisha stopped an attempted assassination of Jehoram by Ben-Hadad, Ben-Hadad brought his army against Samaria and quickly surrounded it.
The inhabitants of Samaria were slowly starving to death and many of them had even resorted to cannibalism. The Samarians were in desperate need of good tidings of salvation! The improbable messengers of this good news were four lepers. Why did God choose four lepers to bring this news? Why did God wait so long to bring deliverance?
Most of us are familiar with the story of Yeshua traveling in the Galilee region, healing the sick and lame, and preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. On one particular Sabbath, Yeshua was in the Synagogue at Nazareth and was invited to read from the book of Isaiah. After reading, Yeshua then goes on to tell those present that this scripture is now fulfilled in their presence. This is one of the most powerful and provocative claims Yeshua makes as to His office of Messiah!
After Yeshua finished further teaching, the Scribes and Pharisees present became very angry with Yeshua. What were they angry about? Were they angry at Yeshua for not finishing the Isaiah passage? Were they angry at His claim of Messiahship? Or was it something else? Was it something between the lines that set them off?
David faced many “giants” in his path to becoming the king of Israel. He faced lions and bears while he was a shepherd over his father’s flock. He faced the Philistine giant Goliath who held all Israel hostage to his demands. He faced the giant of rejection by his beloved King Saul. After Saul’s death, David faced rejection again when the leaders of the tribes of Israel rejected him from being their king even though they knew God had chosen and anointed him as king. Finally, David overcame and defeated the Philistines who tried to snatch the kingdom away from him after he had taken Jerusalem. The Philistines came at David from the Valley of Rephaim meaning the Valley of Giants and David drove them back almost to the Sea. When it was time to celebrate his victories, what better way to do that than to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the new capital city of Jerusalem?
The Ark of the Covenant was on the move to its new home in Jerusalem escorted by specially chosen men of Israel. This is reminiscent of the journey of the Ark of the Covenant to the Promised Land. Like with the journey in the wilderness, there were difficulties along the way. What were the difficulties and victories that David experienced in bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem? How does this journey warn and encourage us in our journey to God’s Promised Land?
Our Haftarah reading this week is perhaps one of the saddest passages in all of scripture. The prophet Jeremiah is delivering a sharp rebuke from God to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. The people had gone far astray into idolatry and adopted the worship practices of their neighbors. They had forsaken the covenant that God had made with them and rejected the prophets that God had sent to them.
They had perverted the sacrificial system and at best were just going through the motions in their offerings and sacrifices to God. They may have been doing what was commanded and bringing the proper sacrifices, but were they doing it for the right reason? Were the offerings coming from their heart in love for God?
One of mankind’s perpetual quests is to answer the question of “What is my purpose in life?” Mankind wants to know that who they are and what they do have significance and meaning. God says that, specifically, the nation of Israel, more generally, His chosen people, and by extension, all of mankind were formed for and by God. Our purpose is to declare God’s praises. This sounds like God wants us to be like robots predictably and on command shouting out praises. Can you imagine making and programming a robot to tell you how wonderful you are whenever you push a button? While this might be kind of cute and somewhat gratifying at first, the words themselves would be empty and without meaning. Alternatively, God could take the route of some of our more infamous dictators who demanded allegiance and praise which their subjects give out of fear of torture and death.
But, God doesn’t want either of these methods of praise. So, what kind of praise does God want? What are we to give Him praise for? How can we declare His praises if we haven’t called on Him and experienced His answers?