Love: Covenantal, Irrevocable, Transformative
Haftarat Vayeshev, Amos 2:6–3:8
David Wein, Tikvat Israel, Richmond, VA
I had recently become a follower of Yeshua, it was my birthday, and I was away at college. Here I was feeling sad that no one remembered, and also somewhat guilty that I was feeling sad that no one remembered. I was part of a small Yeshua fellowship, and as we were leaving a meeting, one of my friends who had just lost someone in his family said to me, “Happy Birthday, David!” The fact that he remembered me in his own grief undid me, and I just started weeping. Another friend asked me what was wrong, and all I could muster was, “Oh, just . . . repenting.” “Nothing wrong with that,” came the reply.
I was undone by this small, loving gesture. I felt remembered and loved at the same time that I felt convicted by my own selfish nature. In a parallel way, Amos reminds the children of Jacob about how God specifically loves and remembers them:
Of all the families on earth,
only you have I intimately known. (Amos 32:a CJB)
Rak etchem yadati mikol mishpachot. I could say the same to my wife: “Of all the women on earth, only you have I intimately known.” Only my beshert have I known, and only she truly knows me: my biggest faults, my deepest dreams, my habit of leaving drawers open, etc. Only with her have I covenanted. This is the most transformative human relationship that I have. And so it is between Hashem and Israel.
It is this covenantal, rescuing love that was supposed to transform Israel. We were the only family on earth God rescued from Egypt, gave his instructions, and sent prophets like Amos to call us back when we wandered off. He gave us Shabbat, the covenants, and the Torah—the whole megillah, literally
No wonder God seems incredulous in response to Israel’s behavior:
Here is what Adonai says:
“For Isra’el’s three crimes,
no, four—I will not reverse it—
because they sell the upright for silver
and the poor for a pair of shoes,
grinding the heads of the poor in the dust
and pushing the lowly out of the way;
father and son sleep with the same girl,
profaning my holy name;
lying down beside any altar
on clothes taken in pledge;
drinking wine in the house of their God
bought with fines they imposed.” (Amos 2:6–8 CJB)
The family who was rescued from slavery has now become an enslaver of the impoverished. It almost makes me weep reading it now, some thousands of years later.
If our theological narrative includes God’s irrevocable, covenantal love toward the Jewish people, then that means that we, as Jews, and Yeshua-anchored Jews at that, are the recipients of something life-changing: an unbreakable, covenantal love which is designed to undo us in our kishkes.
Having recently read through the parashiot in Genesis of our dubious ancestor, Jacob, we might wonder whether Hashem is discrediting his own reputation in calling himself “the God of Jacob.” But the narrative of Jacob and his character issues only highlights the foundations of election, irrevocable calling, and rescuing love. In other words, the narrative of Jacob’s foibles speaks less about Jacob and more about the faithfulness of God. It is the love of this God of Jacob that transforms the character of Jacob and his descendants.
The incarnation of Yeshua has a fuller meaning in this context. Hashem limits himself, in a sense, to be deeply committed to a people in the flesh. He is intertwined with history and involved with this particular family. The fullest measure of this commitment to the children of Jacob is the indwelling of the Messiah.
Amos reminds us that this commitment is supposed to transform us. His words prompt reflection: how are we blessing the poor in our communities? How are we pursuing purity and holiness? Being his covenanted people is supposed to mark us as reflections of his restorative love.
Next week begins Hanukkah, the festival of lights and dedication. I’m sure Amos would have rejoiced at the cleansing of the Temple, the rejection of Antiochus as deity to be worshiped, and the return toward Torah in those days. About 150 years after the Maccabees, Yeshua walked along the colonnade of the temple courts during this festival. He then made a connection between himself and Hanukkah, as he frequently does with feasts, signs, and symbols in the Besorah of John:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27, NIV)
Notice that Yeshua specifically says that he knows us. It is through Messiah that we are fully known by God, which empowers us to listen and follow. The events of Hanukkah would have been in the minds of Yeshua’s original hearers—an example of God’s rescuing love to restore Israel. The rededication and cleansing of the Temple, the connection between Heaven and Earth, had occurred. But someone greater than the temple is here now. The fullness of rescuing love and rededication has entered into the story of Israel as the one-man Israel and the fullest reflection of the love of God.
This year, as we flip our latkes and spin our dreidels, let’s flip our minds and spin our hearts toward God, and rededicate ourselves to Hashem. In him are we fully known, and fully empowered to reflect his covenantal, irrevocable, and transformative love to those who need it.