Isaiah 54 – 55:5 – Noah Summary
The prophet offers an oracle of hope. “Sing, O barren [woman]…for you will have children” more than the married woman [who commentators understand the gentiles]. Let go of fear and do not be ashamed because God, the Lord of Hosts will take you back. Just like God did after the flood of Noah, even if the Earth changes, God’s kindness and mercy will be with us, as will His covenant of peace with us. We will rebuild Zion (Jerusalem) with rubies and precious stones. “ All the children will be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of my children.” (Isaiah 54:13). In the future, there will be enemies which gather against you, but they will not destroy you. “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper.” (Isaiah 54:17). The haftarah ends with the first five verses from chapter 55 in which a prince …to the people will cause nations which do not know Israel to come running and glorify Israel.
Several themes are prominent:
- Israel is shamed and in a desolate state, “storm-tossed” (54:11) is to become treated with love and mercy and renewed with beauty and kindness.
- God’s description moves from “the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 54:1) and “the Holy One of Israel” who redeems Zion, to “God of all the Earth” (54:5)
- Binding Relationship between the people and God
- Marriage – a wife forlorn (the people of Israel or the city of Zion this depends on how you understand the book) or “forsaken” (54:6) will be taken back by God (the husband) in love and kindness everlasting (54:8). This same motif is found in other prophets.
- Lastly there is a theme of seeking a relationship with the Divine (55:1)
- A note about the Covenantal Language is used
- Abrahamic (54:1-3) – Brit bein Habetarim – is the basis of the circumcision. This is a suzerain covenant which Abraham is promised – land, people as numerous as the stars and sand on the sea shore and that Abraham is to be the father of many nations. We are bound to the covenant just as much as God is. God must provide and we must serve in loyalty. To break the covenant would mean a destruction for us. This covenant is renewed
- Sinaitic (4-8) – God will make us a treasured people among the nations if we follow the 10 Commandments God will hide His face, just like He did with Moses and then God will renew the covenant with compassion
- Noahite (9-10) – never again to destroy all life on Earth symbolized by a rainbow – God will always be present with us and spread peace over us, there will be no more destruction.
- Davidic (55:1-5) – David is King and his line will rule the people of Israel. Ibn Ezra offers that this section refers specifically to the promise God made with David: “I will keep My mercy for him forever.” (Psalm 89:29) or that verse 4 indicates a Messiah and all the nations will come and support Israel.
ISAIAH – PARASHAH LECH LICHA
Fear of the unknown can make us feel untethered, make us feel insecure and deeply scared. Anxiety about what events are to come following a challenging event such as losing one’s home or job can be paralyzing. I can only imagine what the Israelites felt like in Babylon following their exile. One of the greatest catastrophes of the Israelites was their exile to Babylon following the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians. Their pain is recorded in Lamentations and several Psalms (specifically 137) also several of the prophets Ezekiel and Second Isaiah. Of the Jews who were exiled, the Babylonians took only the upper class – the professionals, priests, craftsman and wealthy; while the remainder of the Israelites were left in Judah. In Judah they suffered as a result of famine and destruction as described in Lamentations. Those in exile, on the other hand, were permitted to live in a specific area together. While there they developed further their own religion and incorporated aspects of Babylonian culture and language into their own.
Prior to the Exile the theology described in the earlier prophets is of a judgmental God. The Israelites had a view that God was going to be present and protect them from their enemies, yet God was absent allowing them to undergo something devastating. There was so much lost and destroyed. Where was God?
The answer for the prophet Isaiah was that God was always there, but it was the Israelites who had betrayed God by their own acts of impurity. They were the ones who betrayed God and allowed their cultic practices and society to become corrupted. What Isaiah focuses on is not a message of judgement, but one of salvation, where God will once again keep His promises to the people of Israel.
This selection from Second Isaiah, which we read this past week encourages the Israelite community to trust in God. The message is for those who are in exile and fear that they have lost a connection to God. Instead, they are reassured to follow the same journey that Abraham went on leaving Ur and heading to Israel. The image which is presented is one of eagles who are weary, and yet rise again (Similar to a phoenix rising from the ashes). Also the eagle is a reference to the Exodus from Egypt.
The other nations of the world will fear God, since God is the most powerful and they are weak and only do His bidding. “Who has roused a victor from the East?” could refer to either Abraham or to Cyrus of Mede and this person was able to control events because God allowed it.
The final section from this haftarah is a promise from God, that God will be present with the Israelites as they begin their journey back
“Fear not, O worm of Jacob, the number of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14). Even when we are in are lowest state we are to trust in God, that God will know the events and will protect us from harm. We are encouraged to make a difficult journey back and have the ability to travel in safety. The image presented offers one which Israel will be like a thrashing board – able to break wheat from the chaff, able to break apart mountains. Israel will be strong once again.
PARSHAH VA-YEAR – 2 KINGS 4:1-37
This haftarah offers two miracles performed by the prophet Elishah. The first involves the salvation of a widow and her family from poverty and the second the birth of a child and his subsequent revival.
The widow of one the disciples (we know this by looking earlier in the book of Kings, that she is supposedly the widow of Ovadia though the text does not specify who she is.) of the Elishah has tremendous debts and her sons have been taken as slaves. Elishah then asks her to provide all the jars in her house and borrow as many as she can from her neighbor and gives her a jug of oil which does not cease to pour oil until all the vessels are full. Using the oil, she then paid off her debt.
The second story describes Elisha’s visit to Shunem. He regularly visited a wealthy woman who prepared a meal for him and went on to enclose a part of her house to create a room just for him. One day Elishah speaks to his servant Gehazi about the older woman to see what they could do for her. She assures them nothing. Then Gehazi says to Elishah that she has no son, and that her husband is old. Elishah then tells the old woman that this time next year she will embrace a son. This came to pass. When the son was older, he was out in the field with his father. He cried about a pain in his head and was brought to his mother. He died while in her lap later that afternoon. The woman went to Mount Carmel to meet with Elishah. She cried to him about how happy she was to have a son and then so sad to have her son taken from her. Elishah told Gehazi to speak to no one and go straight to the boy and place his staff on the boy’s face. Gehazi went before Elishah and the woman and did as was asked of him. Then Elishah came into the room and closed the door. He prayed to the Lord. Then he placed himself on top of the boy – eye to eye and mouth to mouth. The boy’s body began to warm. Then he bent over him once more and the boy sneezed seven times and woke up. The Shumanite woman returned to see her son alive and awake.
PARSHAH HAYYEI SARAH – I KINGS 1:1-31
The End of the life of King David was a time full of intrigue as to who was going to be his heir. There was a group of people who backed Adonijah, David’s son to become the next king; but Bathsheva and the prophet Nathan work together to put Solomon on the throne.
David was always cold, and it was not clear if he was even aware what was happening to him. To determine how aware he was, his attendants brought a young maiden from the kingdom into his chamber to attend to him and warm him. But the text says that he did not know her or engage with her in a relationship.
Adonijah son of Haggith desires to become King
Adonijah gathers fifty chariots, Joab son of Zeruiah (one of David’s generals) and the priest Abiathar to support him. He made a sacrifice at Zoheleth near En-rogel and invited all of his brothers who were princess, couturiers of the tribe of Judah, but excluded the prophet Nathan and Solomon to the festivities to declare himself king.
Nathan met with Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, and they discussed what to say before King David and how to best address him. First Bathsheba went into his chamber, where the young maiden was already waiting on the king. She bowed low and said to the king: “You yourself have sworn to your maidservant by the Lord your God: ‘Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit upon my throne.” But Adonijah is claiming the throne for himself. So, everyone is waiting for the king to decide who shall be made king, which of the two sons – Adonijah or Solomon.
Nathan then comes into the room and also reminds King David of his oath that Solomon would become King.
Then King David summons Bathseba. The King then takes another oath that he will honor the previously made oath promising Solomon to be the next King. Bathsheba bowed low to the ground so that her face touched the floor and said: “May my lord, King David live forever.”
Haftarah Toldot – Malachi 1:1-2:7
The prophet Malachi must be understood in the context of history. When he was alive, the Edomites (people living in the area south of Yehud, in the area of BeerSheva) had ransacked Jerusalem in the 5th century. There was tremendous change taking place within society as the role of the priest and the prophet were shifting from one of high prominence to one disappearing and eventually being replaced by the rabbi. There was a question as to where God was since so many people were suffering. This prophecy specifically was written in a style which is difficult to understand – a back and forth discussion between God, the prophet and the Israelites. This style is more typical of what we would see later in the Talmud.
The haftarah opens with the direct connection to the parshah – a narrative about Jacob and Esau. Esau/Edom is seen to have been temporarily victorious, but God will once again return as God did to Jacob and help rebuild what was destroyed. Nations outside of Israel will see the greatness of God. The entire book opens with this oracle – which the people of Israel will once again be brought up.
The haftarah continues with a second oracle between the priests and the people. The offerings that are brought forward are not pure; instead the animals are sick, scrawny and disabled. These are not fit to be brought by the priests to the table. In counterpoint the other nations who have taken God into their pantheon and offer incense do so with better quality and more sincerity. Furthermore the animals that are brought up from the people are not of good enough quality. In this case both the priest and the people are betraying the covenant that was made to God and not showing correct gratitude or offerings from their hearts.
The last oracle reminds the priests of the “covenant with Levi” (2:4) which they must live by and uphold. This covenant is from Numbers 25:12-13 reminds the priests to teach properly, serve God loyally and guard the people from falsehoods by acting as a messenger with God.
Issues which relate to today:
- What does it mean to offer a sacrifice to God?
- That our actions must match our words – otherwise our rituals become hollow
- That covenantal relationships between our leaders, ourselves and God hold importance…what value does our society place on its role of watching out for those in need?