|Future Perfect Messianic Judaism -- A Sermon for Haftarat Vayigash, Ezekiel 37:15-28|
By Rabbi Stuart Dauermann
Years ago, Stanley Davis wrote a book, Future Perfect, in which he taught us to do "beforemath thinking."
Usually we think in the aftermath-after something has happened, after a project is done, we do a post-mortem. But in beforemath thinking--or what Davis also calls "future perfect thinking," we instead imagine a desirable future, and then plan backwards from the future, asking ourselves, "In view of this future that is coming, how should we live now?"In today's considerations, I want to look with you at the future God has forecast for the Jewish people. This should help us consider how we ought to be living now.
I begin today by quoting from a drash by Rabbi Neil Gillman of Jewish Theological Seminary on today's haftarah. It is called "Reuniting A House Divided."
It is not unusual for the haftarah to direct us to the central theme of a Torah portion. So is it this week.
In a singularly accessible text from the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet promises a reconciliation of the two kingdoms that were formerly the unified kingdom of Israel but became divided. The northern kingdom, commonly called Israel, or Ephraim, had been exiled by Assyria in the 8th century, and the southern kingdom, commonly called Judea (or Judah) and centered about Jerusalem, had been destroyed and exiled to Babylonia early in the 6th century. Now Ezekiel, prophesying in the Babylonian exile in mid-6th century, performs a symbolic action of joining together two sticks called Judah and Joseph (the father of Ephraim) and holding them together as one in his hand.
Thus, God promises, will God reunify the two separated and now purified kingdoms under a king from the Davidic line, in a renewed Jerusalem, with a renewed Temple, under the watchful presence of God. Then, "they shall be My people, and I will be their God."
All of this follows the prophecy contained in the first part of this very same chapter 37 in Ezekiel, which is the fabled vision of the dry bones that take on flesh and live again. That prophecy of resurrection is a political metaphor. It states in vividly symbolic language that the exiled people of Israel, now apparently "dead," will live again and return to their land. Then, the second half of chapter 37, this week's haftarah, continues the prophecy of redemption by referring to the ultimate reunification of the two kingdoms.
Throughout Ezekiel's prophecy there appears the word echad (one): one stick, one people, one king. What is not present is "one God" but it is assumed throughout. The prophecy is eschatological. It speaks of an ideal age to come, some time in the indefinite future, when, in the words of another prophet, Zechariah, God, too will be echad. But that will be in the future, "bayom hahu," in Zechariah's words, "in that day," not now, not in the present age, but "in that day," some day in the future. When God will be one, then Israel, too, will be one.
Now, let's turn to the text itself, Ezekiel 37:15-28.
15 The word of the LORD came to me: 16 And you, O mortal, take a stick and write on it, "Of Judah and the Israelites associated with him"; and take another stick and write on it, "Of Joseph - the stick of Ephraim - and all the House of Israel associated with him." 17 Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand. 18 And when any of your people ask you, "Won't you tell us what these actions of yours mean?" 19 answer them, "Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to take the stick of Joseph - which is in the hand of Ephraim - and of the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I will place the stick of Judah upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand." 20 You shall hold up before their eyes the sticks which you have inscribed, 21 and you shall declare to them:
The text continues, presenting a vision for the future of Messianic Judaism:
1. A vision for the REGATHERING of Israel. 21 "Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to take the Israelite people from among the nations they have gone to, and gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land." This implies the priority of aliyah. We should be people who support and engage in aliyah.
2. A vision for the UNITY of Israel. 22 "I will make them a single nation in the land, on the hills of Israel, and one king shall be king of them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms." We should be people who think of the Jewish people as one people, and we should work toward and anticipate Jewish unity.
3. A vision for the REPENTANCE of Israel. 23 "Nor shall they ever again defile themselves by their fetishes and their abhorrent things, and by their other transgressions." We may be, and should be, enthusiasts and defenders of our people. But we must never forget that the people of God are always in need of repentance. That includes all of Israel, and certainly includes all of us. We should be a people who promotes, expects, and works and prays for the repentance of Israel-the wholehearted return of the Jewish people to covenant faithfulness and to the recognition that the Messiah whom we for the most part rejected, is the Holy One of God.
4. A vision for the REDEMPTION of Israel. "I will save them in all their settlements where they sinned. " As the Apostle Paul put it, quoting from Isaiah,
For, brothers, I want you to understand this truth which God formerly concealed but has now revealed, so that you won't imagine you know more than you actually do. It is that stoniness, to a degree, has come upon Isra'el, until the Gentile world enters in its fullness; and that it is in this way that all Isra'el will be saved. As the Tanakh says, "Out of Tziyon will come the Redeemer; he will turn away ungodliness from Ya'akov and this will be my covenant with them, . . . when I take away their sins." With respect to the Good News they are hated for your sake. But with respect to being chosen they are loved for the Patriarchs' sake, for God's free gifts and his calling are irrevocable. (Romans 11: 25-29)
5. A vision for the RENEWAL of Israel. ". . . and I will cleanse them." God will renew the Jewish people and we should always be seeking, praying for and cooperating with renewal ourselves.
6. A vision for the GOD-CENTEREDNESS of Israel. "Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God." There will come a time when all the Jewish people will be united because we will agree about God.
7. A vision for a MESSIANIC JEWISH Israel. 24 "My servant David shall be king over them; there shall be one shepherd for all of them." There will come a time when all Jews will be Messianic Jews. For the time being, a hardening in part has happened to the people of Israel.
8. A vision for the COVENANT FAITHFULNESS of Israel. "They shall follow My rules and faithfully obey My laws. 25 Thus they shall remain in the land which I gave to My servant Jacob and in which your fathers dwelt; they and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, with My servant David as their prince for all time. 26 I will make a covenant of friendship with them - it shall be an everlasting covenant with them - I will establish them and multiply them, and I will place My Sanctuary among them forever."
9. A vision for the RUACH HAKODESH upon Israel. 27 "My Presence shall rest over them; I will be their God and they shall be My people."
10. A vision for the VINDICATION of Israel. 28 "And when My Sanctuary abides among them forever, the nations shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel" The undercurrent of popular political opinion here in America, and certainly in the rest of the world, is decidedly hostile and unsympathetic toward Israel. Under its breath, most of the world mutters, "Those damned Jews!," seeing the Jewish people in the land of Israel as the blameworthy core of the problems in the Middle East and in the world. Israel is always on the hot seat having to give an account for itself.
Now, Israel is not perfect, far from it. But who can deny that the posture of the world toward Israel is slanted?
Some day that will change. Bayom hahu, in that day, not only will the Lord be One and His Name one. In that day, the nations shall know that the Lord sets Israel apart for His own glory and for His own purposes. God has chosen Israel freely and without needing to ask anyone's permission or agreement. Yes, this makes Israel more accountable to God than any nations on the face of the earth, and this is frightening. Israel has suffered, and may suffer still more, stiff rebukes from the God whom we have not always served well. But "in that day" Israel will be vindicated as God's people.
11. A vision for the CONVERGENCE of the rivers of Israel and the Church.
I am working on a book titled "Converging Destinies: A Messianic Jewish Perspective on Jews, Christians and the Mission of God." At least since the second century Epistle of Ignatius, Western civilization has reflexively assumed that Judaism and Christianity are two separate religions. For many people, these two rivers-Judaism and Christianity-entirely diverge and go in separate courses to separate ends. But our text, while applying entirely to the Jewish people, reminds us of what the Prophet Zechariah says-"In that day the Lord shall be King over ALL the earth-not just over Israel. And in that day, the Lord shall be One and His name One."
For our Messianic Jewish eyes and ears, this means that in that day, at the very least, both the Church and the people of Israel will be gathered in unity, but not in sameness, around the same Messiah, Yeshua. As God says of him through the Prophet Isaiah-"It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (49:6).
May it come in our days, speedily and soon. May all of this come speedily and soon. And may all of us in the UMJC each play our part.
Amen. And Shabbat Shalom.