The Future is Looking Good
Seventh Haftarah of Consolation, Isaiah 61:1–63:9
Rabbi David Friedman, Jerusalem
Our haftarah brings out a true confession in me. Living here in Israel, my heart is sometimes made heavy by the attitudes and spiritual life that are displayed here. Sometimes it is hard for me to see beyond the strife, beyond society’s ills, and beyond the emptiness that is evident in so many people’s lives. And so I wonder what will become of my people, who yearn to be like the Western world: liberal, economically well-to-do, sophisticated, self-confident, internationally suave, mixed in among the nations, and popular.
It’s not that we are bad in character . . . no, not at all; but we are often so lost, so far removed from the reason Almighty God called us out among the nations, so far distanced from the covenants of blessings and promises that he gave to our forefathers. When I see this played out in my locale, it is a distressing situation.
Various things touch off such a situation for me. This week, a very sweet religious man told me about his living situation: he is the sole person who prays from a particular siddur (prayer book) in his town. The religious leader of the town warned others not to ever pray with him because the town’s residents should pray from a different siddur, not the one used by this man. Due to his affiliation within Judaism, this person was ostracized from his neighbors by a gentleman’s agreement. Brothers mistreating each other. Such pettiness. Such bullying. Such division within our people, who need to be unified. I think at times like these that we are really missing the boat.
Our haftarah has comforted me and reminded me of some incredible things. Isaiah 61:9 encourages us to know that a day is coming, an era will break upon human history, during which . . . “their (Jewish) descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall recognize that they are seed that the Lord blessed”(Chabad translation, with one change).
Isaiah’s reaction to the coming of this time period is a joyful one:
I will rejoice with the Lord; my soul shall exult with my God, for He has attired me with garments of salvation, with a robe of righteousness He has enwrapped me; like a bridegroom, who, priest-like, dons garments of glory, and like a bride, who adorns herself with her jewelry.” (Isa 61:10, Chabad)
Our haftarah goes on to describe what this era will be like for the people of Israel:
And nations shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you shall be called a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall pronounce. And you shall be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord and a kingly diadem in the hand of your God. (Isa 62:2–3, Chabad)
Isaiah describes what Israel will be like in that coming time period:
No longer shall "forsaken" be said of you, and "desolate" shall no longer be said of your land, for you shall be called "My desire is in her," and your land, "inhabited," for the Lord desires you, and your land shall be inhabited. (Isa 62:4, Chabad)
Putting these verses together forms a picture for us of what is going to happen to the people of Israel. And it is a wondrous, restorative, powerful set of events that will cause these realities to take place. Such events will cause the desires of the present generation in our Land to be totally redefined. Our people, in our nation, will live for the purposes that God himself has given to us. And his reaction to Israel during this time period? Isaiah wonderfully sums it up: “Your God will rejoice over you” (62:5b, my translation). He will be so happy when Israel is living the way he intends for us to live.
The word for “righteous” back in verse 2 is tsedek; this word is connected to the instructions given by God on Mt. Sinai. In other words, we will be a people who are faithful to the covenant and instructions given to us on Mt. Sinai.
Israel will also be a crown of glory in God’s possession. This matches the picture that Moses taught us when he described Israel as an am segulah, that is, “a people who are a royal treasury.” And the treasures belong to God (Exod 19:5–6). Additionally, our haftarah teaches that God will desire to be with us: “the Lord desires you” (62:4).
Isaiah 61:10 shows that our nation will function in our priestly calling and will additionally be a “bride” to the Holy One. Our condition will be seen and recognized by all nations (61:9), which again is a fulfillment of our national calling (see Deut 4:5–10).
Isaiah adds: “And they shall call them the holy people, those redeemed by the Lord, and you shall be called, ‘sought, a city not forsaken’” (62:12, Chabad). Our people will be known as a holy people. In Hebrew, “holy” is defined as “separated for the purposes of God.” Then our people will be living according to the calling given to us, as in Exodus 19:5–6, to be a separated people for the purposes of God.
When I consider what I see with my eyes today, I understand something very clearly—an absolutely miraculous transformation has to spread across Israel in order for Isaiah’s words to be fulfilled. And it will! Zechariah 13 denotes an internal cleansing, a spiritual purging, and a national renewal of Israel’s calling. This could be the doorway to our haftarah’s picture, leading up to what Isaiah describes above, in chapters 61 and 62.
Of course, the centerpiece for the attainment of this reality is our holy Messiah Yeshua, who is also described in our haftarah:
The spirit of the Lord God was upon me, since the Lord anointed me to bring tidings to the humble, He sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to declare freedom for the captives—and for the prisoners, to free them from captivity. (Isa 61:1, Chabad)
According to our Jewish calendar, our haftarah today is considered the last of the seven Haftarot of Consolation. Accordingly, we have been reading out of Isaiah each week, focusing on messages of hope, comfort, and having the favor of God. In my mind, today’s haftarah offers such consolation. I am much encouraged as I consider Isaiah’s message apropos to the times that we live in.
Rosh Hashana begins in a few days. It is a time of re-evaluating our lives, and of new beginnings. It is encouraging at this time in the calendar to read of our nation’s new beginning to take place in the future, when we begin to live according to our true identity! Our haftarah teaches us that we are God’s bride, God’s desired people, holy and righteous people, priests to the world, and a people who make God happy. That is one wonderful identity!