For the week of January 7, 2006 / 7 Tevet 5766
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. (Ezekiel 37:21,22)
The history of the people of Israel is complex. According to the Torah our becoming a people was the result of the special intervention of God. From small beginnings and through difficult circumstances, we became a great nation in a foreign land. The land of Egypt, which at first was a place of refuge, became a domain of oppression. Eventually through God's special intervention again, we were delivered from slavery and were brought back to the Land of Promise.
Even from our earliest days we have been a divided people. Our tribal divisions would eventually find their expression in the establishment of two distinct - though always related - kingdoms. The northern kingdom was called "Israel" or "Ephraim"; the southern kingdom was called "Judah". These two kingdoms co-existed for centuries until Israel was scattered by the Assyrians in eighth century B.C.E., and Judah was exiled to Babylon over a hundred years later.
The prophet Ezekiel prophesied in Babylon beginning at the early stages of Judah's exile. When most Jewish people think of the hardships of our past, understandably our minds go to our more recent history, whether it be the ongoing turmoil in the State of Israel today or the Holocaust.
The reality is we are a people of a long and difficult history. While we have many glorious stories to tell, ours has also been a history of much turmoil.
Those of us who are truly aware of the ongoing struggle of our people are also aware of our continual division. Whether it be the days of the divided kingdom, the religious and social differences in the years prior to the modern return, or that of the current day, we are a people divided. While it is true there that there has always been an essential unity to the people of Israel, the practical reality has been very different.
God, through Ezekiel, addressed this issue of division. He predicted an experience of unity at a time when the nation was in shambles. If in the midst of such destruction and despair, these words could be delivered, how much more can we be encouraged by them in our own day.
The illustration God used was the binding together of two sticks, one each to represent the northern and southern kingdoms. Ezekiel was to tie them together to illustrate the two kingdoms becoming one in God's hand (vv. 15-19).
There are several things in this passage of which to take notice. First, the unity of Israel is something that is accomplished in the hand of God. That doesn't mean that people have nothing to do with it. But because it is an act of God, it is not something accomplished by human effort primarily. Our job is to cooperate with what God does.
Second, the unifying of the nation is intimately connected to the return to the land (vv. 21,22).
Third, a united Israel is the product of the re-establishment of a monarchy: one king over one kingdom (v.22). The identity of the king is revealed as David (vv.24,25). While some think that David himself will be resurrected to take his throne, it is more reasonable to see this as a messianic reference. It is the Messiah who brings about the unity of Israel.
Fourth, Israel's unity includes spiritual renewal (v.23). The reign of the King will bring about moral cleansing and a vital relationship with God. Just as our beginnings were rooted in the special intervention of the God of the universe, so will our destiny be.
There is much interest in unity in the world today. Many understand that the fragmentation of the human race is a great tragedy. These words to Israel are words of hope, not just to Israel, but to all who submit themselves to Israel's Messiah.
It is only as we submit ourselves to Israel's King, Yeshua of Nazareth, that the divisions between us will fall, and we will become the people God intended us to be.
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