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Isaiah 60:2 For behold, darkness will cover [the] earth and a thick cloud the peoples; but on you Adonai will rise and His glory will be seen upon you.
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The verb , a Pi'el prefix 3ms form from the root - to cover or conceal - is the only verb in the first half of the verse, doing duty for both the darkness covering the earth and the thick cloud or gloom that covers the peoples or nations. By contrast, two different verbs are present in the second half: , a Qal prefix 3ms form of - to rise, as the sun - and , a Nif'al prefix 3ms form of - to see. The use of prefix verbs - denoting incomplete action - throughout the verse marks this as future or predictive text and the wider context of the chapter makes this clear: Isaiah is speaking words of comfort for the people of Judah just before the Babylonian exile, to assure them that Jerusalem does have a future and that G-d will return to show favour to His people.
InPesikta de Rab Kahana, the ancient rabbis connected this verse to the ninth of the ten plagues with which HaShem afflicted the Egyptians in order to set Israel free.
"R. Aha bar Kahana said: For three days darkness and thick darkness [, cf. B'resheet 1:2] were called upon to serve in Egypt. The proof is the verse, 'And there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days' (Shemot 10:22). On the other hand, dark chaos and emptiness have never been summoned to serve in this world, but where will they be called into service? In the great city of Rome: 'He shall stretch over it the line of [dark] chaos, and the plumbline of emptiness' (Isaiah 34:11)."
The Isaiah verse was originally given in an oracle against Edom, which has long been used by the rabbis as a synonym for Rome: first in ancient times meaning the Roman empire which had destroyed the Temple, ploughed Jerusalem with salt and martyred the sages in order to suppress Judaism, but since then to refer to the organised church which was responsible for pogroms and persecution of the Jewish people, the crusades and the Inquisition. Edom/Rome was considered insufferably proud and arrogant, crushing others and brushing aside the truth in its pursuit of a birthright which was no longer theirs.
The rabbinic chorus then takes over from Rabbi Aha:
"The nations of the earth which have not accepted the Torah that was given out of darkness [over Sinai], of them Scripture says, 'Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples' (Isaiah 60:2). But Israel, who accepted the Torah that was given out of darkness, of them Scripture says, 'But upon you the L-rd will rise, and His glory shall be seen upon you' (ibid.)."
The nations, those who do not recognise or obey the Torah, will be in that darkness, will experience that chaos; Israel, G-d's chosen people, and those who join her in obeying the Torah, will bask in G-d's presence and His glory will be evident among them. Egypt was cast down because they refused to acknowledge HaShem - YHVH - and so they went though an intense period of darkness and chaos, to shake them and destroy their self-confidence. Israel, who followed the instructions for the Pesach offering - the blood of the lamb on the lintel and doorposts of their houses - not only had light when the Egyptians were in a darkness so thick it could be felt, but were set free from their slavery to follow the pillar of cloud and fire - a physical manifestation of G-d - as He led them through the desert towards the Promised Land.
Pesach is one of those times in the year, perhaps a unique time, to decide where we stand. The Torah is clear about the celebration of Pesach: "All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this ... but no uncircumcised person may eat of it" (Shemot 12:47-48, NASB). Those who are not circumcised, whether Israelite or a stranger - however righteous or not - are not considered part of Israel and are not allowed to eat the meal. The Christian world celebrates communion as the reality of which Pesach is the shadow; a weekly remembering of the death and resurrection of Yeshua in the matzah and cup that followed the meal in Yeshua's last Pesach Seder with His talmidim - the cup of redemption. Using thekol va'chomer argument, if only those who are circumcised physically are allowed to eat the Pesach meal, how much more so those who come to the L-rd's table to share the symbols of His body and blood. Rav Sha'ul clearly has that in view when he warns the Corinthians not to eat or drink unworthily lest "he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself" (1 Corinthians 11:29, NASB).
Since circumcision, at least for religious purposes, is forbidden to Gentiles (cf. Acts 15:19-20, Galatians 5:2-4), how are Gentile believers in Yeshua ever to participate in communion or attend a Seder? Rav Sha'ul again: "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from G-d" (Romans 2:28-29, NASB). Understand Sha'ul clearly here: he is not talking about whether Jewish men or boys should be circumcised, that is a given as a simple matter of who they are; neither is he proposing some kind of "spiritual Jew" who is somehow Jewish without being circumcised; nor is is he suggesting that all Gentile believers are really Jewish because they have come to faith in Yeshua. No, he is talking about those who will be counted as righteous in keeping G-d's covenant and so are entitled to eat from G-d's table. As David says: "Who may ascend unto the hill of the L-RD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3-4, NASB); clean hands and a pure heart come only through Yeshua.
On the day of Pesach we also start the week of matzah, unleavened bread. For seven days we eat the poor bread, cooked so quickly that it does not have time to rise. The rabbis teach that bread containing chametz - leaven, yeast - symbolises pride and arrogance for it is all puffed up and full of itself. Rav Sha'ul echoes that when he writes of "the chametz of wickedness and evil" (1 Corinthians 5:8, CJB). The simple unleavened bread, is therefore known as the bread of humility, "the matzah of purity and truth" (ibid.)). A week of eating matzah, with its hard edges and sharp corners, is quite a lesson to the mouth which can be applied in a very real spiritual sense. For the Jew who does not yet believe in Yeshua, this lesson is particularly poignant: will we humble ourselves, in spite of our millennia of tradition and the Torah that we keep and teach, in order to eat the bread of humility and accept the One who said: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst" (John 6:35, NASB). Rabbi Aha's text seems clear: do we want G-d to lay out over us His plumbline of darkness and chaos, because we refused to accept the Living Torah, or do we want G-d Himself to rise over us and display His glory once again in our midst?
Chag Pesach Sameach!
Further Study: Isaiah 55:1-3; Ezekiel 10:4; Ephesians 4:17-20
Application: Pesach comes once a year, preceded by four weeks of fervent and serious house cleaning. We expose all the dark corners of our homes in order to remove all the chametz to the light. The days before Pesach provide an opportunity to expose the inner recesses of our lives - particularly the little fusty corners where pride can ferment and grow - to the light of Messiah. Let's have a real clean out this year so that we can celebrate the Seder in truth!
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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