Torah reading: Deut. 29:9 – 31:30 (a double portion)
Haftorah reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62: 1-5
This is a familiar passage to many but this week I’d like to focus on two unusual names that are in these verses for they – by themselves – have a message for us. They are Hephzibah and Beulah. Now, you may be thinking, what in the world do those names have to do with us? And what parent gives such odd names to their daughters?
I’ve never met any woman with the name Hephzibah yet its meaning is beautiful: my joy is in her. In this portion of Isaiah, God is telling the people of Israel through the prophet that though they were once rejected, they will afterward be called Hephzibah; in other words, God will find joy in them again, they will be precious, delightful and pleasing in His sight.
So we need to ask: why were they rejected and how will they become precious and delightful to the LORD again?
Earlier in Isaiah, the prophet reminds the people that God is ‘your husband’. Therefore their sins against Him have grieved His heart and put a strain between Him and His people. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah declares in the name of the LORD: I thought,’After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return and her faithless sister, Judah, saw this. She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. Jeremiah 3:7-8 Imagine that! God says He divorced his unfaithful spouse, Israel! How was this to be remedied?
The answer was not another sacrifice for if you read the Torah carefully you quickly see that no sacrifice in and of itself erased sin; true repentance elicits God’s forgiveness and the sacrifices offered for sin under the Mosaic Covenant only had value as representations of a repentant heart. We could go further with the analogy and say that in a manner of speaking, all sin falls under the umbrella of ‘adultery’. That’s not my idea. Jeremiah declares it: I have seen your adulteries [says the LORD] and your lustful neighings, the lewdness of your prostitution on the hills in the field. I have seen your abominations. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean? Jer, 13:27
Sin caused an alienation between God and Israel. Yet all is not lost. Repentance is the path to restoration and God promises that if they turn back to Him, they will no longer be rejected but once more considered precious in His sight.
This is true on a personal as well as a national level. Of late it has become unfashionable to speak of SIN. Political correctness has generated all manner of excuses, rationalizations and justifications for behaviors that clearly disagree with the inviolable Word of God. Unless you call it for what it is – SIN – you have no route to restoration. We repent for SIN, receive God’s forgiveness and our relationship with Him is restored. If you choose instead to sugar coat ungodly behavior then you eliminate the need for repentance – a very dangerous position.
I may not be enamored of the name Hephzibah, but I sure want to be a ‘Hephzibah’ – a person precious and delightful to the LORD, someone of whom He could say ‘My joy is in her’. Don’t you want the same for yourself?
The name Beulah means ‘married’. Marriage for a woman in bible times was more than just the norm – it was a necessity. Fail to marry, and you had no children, no income, no protection, no honor.
The story is told of a farmer who had seven daughters; six of them were lovely but the seventh was very homely. There was nothing attractive about her appearance and she was therefore shy, lacked confidence and wallowed in her misery. One day a very eligible bachelor came to the farmer asking for permission to court one of his daughters. The farmer was excited because the young man came from a prominent family that owned lands and wealth. Besides that he was handsome and kind.
The farmer gathered his six daughters – the pretty ones – and brought them before the bachelor. He looked at each one and was impressed with their intelligence and their beauty yet he didn’t choose any of them. He turned to the farmer and said, ‘Don’t you have another daughter?’
Awkwardly, the farmer nodded in agreement. ‘Bring her here,’ asked the bachelor. A few moments later, the ‘ugly duckling’ of the family emerged, dressed very plainly, head bowed, eyes on the floor, her hair unkempt. The bachelor stepped closer to her, lifted her chin and looked into her eyes for a few moments. Then he stepped back and said to the farmer, ‘With your permission, I would like to court this one of your daughters.’ Her sisters were aghast and couldn’t understand how the young man would choose their sister over any of them.
Not long afterward, the bachelor came to see the farmer again, this time to ask permission to marry the farmer’s ‘unattractive’ daughter. He loved her and was willing to accept her just the way she was, he declared.
A year later, the ‘ugly duckling’ was no longer ‘ugly’ but had blossomed into a beautiful person, inside and out. What changed her? The unconditional love of her spouse.
Need I say more?
In Tune with Torah this week = It could be said that the greatest need of every man and woman on the face of the earth is to learn and experience the unconditional love of God.
The story of God’s relationship with Israel is a love story. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you to Myself. Jeremiah 31:3
Hephzibah and Beulah say to us: Without a relationship with our Father, our King, our Husband, we are all ‘ugly ducklings’. It is His love, His kindness, His lavish grace poured out generously in our lives that make us lovely, delightful, attractive, from the inside out. That is the kind of person of whom God can say, ‘My joy is in him/her.’ May He be able to say that of all of us.