Light from the Sidra
Simchat Torah (‘Rejoicing of the Law’). 24th October 2016. 22nd Tishrei 5777
Torah: Numbers 29:35–30:1(29:40)*. Haftarah: 1 Kings 8:54–66
False prophets in the Tanakh?
Simchat Torah is one of those festivals that is not actually found in the Bible. The rejoicing stipulated by God for the seventh month was for the ingathering of the harvest, not the Torah. Solomon dedicated his temple at the festival of Sukkot and extended the event for a second week. But the rejoicing was for the Shekinah, the glory of God that filled the temple.
The last person to see the Shekinah was the prophet Ezekiel after Judah went into exile in 587 BCE, when the glory of God appeared to him by the banks of the River Chebar in Babylon. HASHEM went into exile with his people but, unlike the people, his Shekinah did not return from exile. There is no record in the Hebrew Scriptures of God’s glory ever returning to the temple.
The Haredim who sway and dance at the Western Wall in Jerusalem do so not because the Shekinah is there but because the glory has departed. They work themselves into an emotional state in an attempt to feel something of the joy experienced by the temple worshippers when HASHEM was present.
Nevertheless, a remarkable promise was given in Haggai 2:6-9: ‘For thus said HASHEM, Master of Legions… I will fill this Temple with glory… The glory of this latter Temple will be greater than that of the first.’
A similar promise is found in Malachi 3:1: ‘Behold, I am sending My messenger, and he will clear a path before Me. Suddenly the Lord Whom you seek will come to his Sanctuary, and the messenger of the covenant for whom you yearn, behold, he comes, says HASHEM, Master of Legions.’
In these prophecies, Israel’s God declares that he will fill the second temple with glory. The glory of the second temple, he says, will be greater than that of Solomon’s temple and he, the God they were seeking, would suddenly come to the temple as ‘the messenger of the covenant.’
What covenant was that? It couldn’t be the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai because, according to Jeremiah 31: 32, Israel broke that covenant and was in need of a new covenant, a greater covenant than the one established through Moses. The ‘messenger of the covenant’ must therefore have been the messenger of the New Covenant.
‘Behold, days are coming, — the word of HASHEM — when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah: not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant… this is the covenant that I shall seal with the House of Israel after those days — the word of HASHEM — ‘I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer shall each one teach — each man his fellow, each man his brother — saying, “Know HASHEM!” For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest,’ — the word of HASHEM — when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.’ (Jeremiah 31:31-37).
Those glorious promises, however, raise very important and crucial questions: When did the glory of God fill the second temple? At what point did the glory of the second temple exceed the glory of Solomon’s temple? When did HASHEM come to his house as ‘the messenger of the covenant’? When was the New Covenant sealed? How was the New Covenant sealed?
If those prophecies failed to materialise, the Jewish people have two false prophets in their Holy Scriptures because, according to Deuteronomy 18:22, the mark of a true prophet is that whatever he prophesies will come to pass.
Although under Herod the Great the second temple was enlarged and became one of the great wonders of the ancient world, the glorious architecture of Herod’s temple was no substitute for the presence of the Shekinah. On Tisha B’Av in 70AD, the magnificent second temple was burned to the ground on the very same date on which the armies of Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Solomon’s temple
If Haggai and Malachi were true prophets, at some point while the second temple was still standing, HASHEM’s Shekinah must have suddenly appeared as the messenger of the covenant in the temple.
Furthermore, Daniel 9:24 in the Tanakh, states that atonement and everlasting righteousness would be provided while the second temple was standing and, in verse 27, that the Messiah would die before the temple was destroyed. Was Daniel a false prophet?
An event is recorded in what are known as the four Gospels, which ties these four strands in Haggai, Malachi and Daniel together. In the Gospel of Matthew 21:12-13, Jesus entered the temple and drove out those who were buying and selling in the temple precincts. He overturned the tables of money-changers and the seats of the sellers of pigeons, declaring: ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you make it a den of robbers.’
By quoting Isaiah 56:7 in which God declares that the temple was his house of prayer for all people,’ and Jeremiah 7:11 in which God asks if the house that was called by his name had become ‘a den of robbers’, he was in effect declaring himself to be the God Israel was seeking. The messenger of the New Covenant was in their midst. In a stupendous statement, Jesus was therefore declaring that he, himself, was the Shekinah the Jewish people had waited half a millennium for! That sounds like blasphemy, doesn’t it? Who did Jesus think he was? HASHEM?
For more than five decades, Jewish scholars have been ‘reclaiming’ Jesus as a great Jewish moral teacher, a Rabbi, a Torah observant Jew, maybe even a prophet. But how would a mere man dare make the claims Jesus made? He would have to be a meshugener or a ligner. Either that or he really was the God of Israel who had come unexpectedly to his temple!
It certainly appears absurd to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the God of Israel, the embodiment of the Shekinah, filling the second temple with a glory greater than that of Solomon’s temple. You can, of course, reject Jesus as a madman or a liar but you can’t insist that he was a great moral teacher. If Jesus wasn’t who he claimed to be, Daniel, Haggai and Malachi were false prophets. If they spoke under the inspiration of HASHEM, that makes him to be a god who promises glory but delivers only ashes! The only sensible conclusion is that Jesus is who he and the New Testament writers say he is and we must bow to him as Lord!