Torah reading: Genesis 41:1-44:17
Haftorah reading: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 Shabbat Hanukkah
For the past seven days, Jews around the world have been celebrating the festival of Hanukkah, a time in Jewish history when God delivered “the many in to the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous” (Al Hanissim Prayer). It marks a victory against tyranny and religious persecution.
It also reaffirms an uncompromising historical truth which stands firm regardless of one’s opinion on the best way to solve the modern-day conflict: for thousands of years the Land of Israel – especially the parts referenced in last Friday’s UN resolution – has been profoundly intertwined with Jewish destiny. No amount of Security Council resolutions can ever change that historical and inescapable fact. It is amazing that the anti-Israel UN resolution was passed on the very eve of the festival of Hanukkah.
In this week’s Haftorah portion, Zechariah addresses the people of Israel, assuring them of the absolute certainty of God’s promises. In chapter 2:6-7, God calls out to His people who live within the territory of the enemy to flee because His judgment is about to blaze forth upon the enemies of His people and He did not want His people to be singed because they were too near the flame.
The people had been exiled because of God’s judgment. It thus took a divine command and divine power to enable their return. Though a remnant had returned to ancient Judah, most of the Jews were not living in the promised land. Thus historically this call was fulfilled when more of the Israelites returned to Judah. This prophecy also calls the Jewish people back to Israel, before God judges the north in the end of days. We have seen this gathering occurring since 1948 when Israel again became a nation after nearly 2,000 years of exile.
Notice that the call is to Zion.
Mount Zion was where David built a tabernacle and placed the Ark of the Covenant. We read, “David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it… So they brought the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it,” 1 Chronicles 15:1 & 16:1.
The Ark of the Covenant was where God dwelt, spoke from, and revealed His glory to His people, Ex.25:22; Ps.80:1; & Lev.16:2. King David placed the ark in a tabernacle on Mount Zion, which he made as a place of worship where God dwelt in the midst of His people, 1 Chron.16:4-37; Ps.9:11.
When the ark was placed in this tabernacle, Zion then became famous for two reasons: both the throne of the king and the ark of God were there! The throne speaks of authority, while the ark speaks of worship and God’s glory. The significance of the throne and the ark in Zion continue on to have greater prophetic meaning throughout the scriptures.
Therefore, in the call to come out of Babylon, we see a significance that goes beyond Zechariah’s time for after all, he was a prophet, someone who speaks not only to his generation but to future generations. The call to ‘come out of Babylon’ has its application in every generation, but never more powerfully than in the generation that has seen Israel become a sovereign nation again on its historical land. Because of that, we who are alive today have the great hope of seeing the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy in these last days when the religious, political and economic systems called Babylon are going to be destroyed.
Inherent in this call ‘out of Babylon’ is an appeal from heaven to separate oneself from all that ‘Babylon’ represents. On a personal level, it means choosing the Word and ways of God above all else. Those Jews who stayed in Babylon are, spiritually speaking, symbols of those who prefer their own comfort and convenience to the ways of God. They are symbols of seeking pleasure over purity, self-will over God’s will and earthly pursuits over eternal realities.
Zion became synonymous with the high calling of God to His people. Those born in Zion were given high honor, Ps.87:1-6. Mount Zion was a place of joy and safety, the city of the great King, Ps.48:1-14. The people will see God in Zion, Ps.84:7. There the Lord will appear in glory, Ps.102:16.
Is it any wonder then that Zechariah cries out in verse 13 of chapter 2, ‘Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord..’?
It is our tendency to pamper our fleshly, earthly existence with self-serving decisions that keep us from growing into the holiness to which we have been called, the Zion of God. We too often prefer comfort to consecration, distraction to diligence and tradition to transformation.
Zion’s call has not changed. ‘You shall be holy as I am holy,’ says the Lord.
In Tune with Torah this week = as the last candle of Hanukkah is lit, and the year 2017 looms in front of us, what will we choose to do with it? Will we draw closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Will we choose to seek after Zion, the place of holiness? What steps will we take to demonstrate our consecration and diligence in pursuit of being transformed into a holy vessel for Him?
Shabbat Shalom and may the new year find you walking closer with the Holy One of Israel than ever before.