The Haftarah for this Shabbat - Ki Tavo
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)
This week we are looking at the Haftarah portion, the reading from the Hebrew prophets that is traditionally associated with the scheduled Torah reading. The latter part of the book of Isaiah is concerned with a time period over a hundred years after the time of the prophet. This is one of the reasons why scholars think that the Book of Isaiah is a collection of prophetic writings of not only Isaiah, but other prophets from a later time. But since no other prophets are named, and to my knowledge, archeologists have never discovered individual sections, I prefer to regard Isaiah as the sole author. It also seems that a factor that influences the multi-author view is doubt over whether Isaiah could have spoken into these later time periods. I don’t share these doubts.
The faith necessary to accept that God empowers people to speak into the future is the same faith that can accept God’s word over and against the prevailing perspective of the masses at any period of time. Pitting God’s perspective against the majority is seen right through the Book of Isaiah.
In our Haftarah, God through Isaiah speaks of a common scriptural contrast: light and darkness. He speaks of someone through whom the light of God will shine. This is reminiscent of the pillar of fire centuries earlier that guided Israel through extremely difficult terrain. Despite the nation’s continued mistrust of God in those years, later generations would remember it as a time when God was with them in a most unusual and intimate way. According to Isaiah those days were returning. The people would likely also recall Moses shining with God’s glory when he returned from God’s presence on Mt. Sinai. Perhaps this would be experienced once more. Moses’ unique encounter would be the experience of the entire nation.
This glorious expectation, however, would not happen during pleasant times. Rather, the world would be engulfed in darkness. To be in darkness is to be in the midst of confusing and highly destructive trouble. As a result, according to Isaiah, nations and world leaders would come to Israel’s light.
While I expect this to one day come into its fulness in and through the people of Israel, it began with the coming of Israel’s Messiah. It was a dark time for Israel under Rome’s oppressive rule and the religious corruption that led to the Temple’s destruction. At the same time, the light of God had come. Thousands of Jewish people plus countless others from among the nations came to Israel’s light as emanating from the Messiah and his followers—a light that has continued to shine until today.
Dark days are returning. For many in various parts of the world they have already returned. In the Western World governments have been taking more and more control in the name of health and safety. Good is being called evil and evil, good. Freedom of speech is eroding while powerful surveillance systems are being more and more entrenched. Many think it’s no big deal. What makes it most dark is that most people are just going along, happily allowing societal power systems to determine the course of our lives.
The people of the light needn’t be overwhelmed. Some may think that the darkness needs to be beaten back, but that’s not how light works. When light shines, the darkness recedes. Those who long for light are attracted to it; those who love darkness hide away.
Followers of the Messiah shouldn’t be discouraged. Since we know the source of light, let us turn to him and allow him to shine through us again. As we put God and his word first in our lives, trusting him and following his directives, he will overcome the darkness.