Haftarah Mattot-Mas’ei

“Consequences”

Jeremiah 1:1-2:3

Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4 (A);
2:4-28; 4:1-2 (S)


by Mark Huey

This week we come to the concluding double portion for the Book of Numbers, Mattot-Ma’sei (Numbers 30:2-32:42; 33:1-36:13). Our selection of the Haftarah reading (2009) is altered from a thematic choice to one dictated by the Hebrew calendar. During the Summer period between Shavuot and Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah—the months of Tammuz and Av—remembering various traumatic events that occurred in Jewish history takes precedence. So for the three weeks prior to the infamous Ninth of Av, the Sages decided to choose Haftarah readings which would remind the Jewish community about the consequences of sin—manifested by the destruction of the First and Second Temples on the Ninth of Av. These three Haftarah selections begin after the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple.

Rabbinic commentary often refers to the period between the 17th of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av as bein ha’mitzarim or “between the breaches.” This is derived from Lamentations 1:3, where we see, “Judah has gone into exile under affliction and under harsh servitude; she dwells among the nations, but she has found no rest; all her pursuers have overtaken her in the midst of distress” (Lamentations 1:3).

Additionally, between these two fasts, the time period is also liturgically referred to as the “Three Weeks of Admonition.” The theme of the three Haftarah readings turns to admonishing the Ancient Jews for falling into sin, resulting in the loss of the Temples.

With all of this in mind, some passages from Jeremiah (1:1-2:3; 2:4-3:4), who witnessed the fall of the First Temple, are traditionally read for the first two Sabbaths during this period. This is followed by Isaiah 1:1-27.[1] This year, with Mattot and Ma’sei being considered together, Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 is read. When Mattot and Ma’sei are read individually, then the Haftarah is Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4; or 4:1-2 (depending on the Ashkenazic or Sephardic preference).

This year the opening verses of Jeremiah will be considered. What does the opening chapter of the Book of Jeremiah communicate to us as Bible students? It encourages us to engage and reflect upon some of the historical tragedies that came upon God’s people. The first chapter of Jeremiah actually speaks about Jeremiah’s call into service as a prophet or mouthpiece for the Holy One of Israel. The Lord states through these oracles that He will anoint spokespersons who will declare His word as a means to not only admonish people, but warn them of impending judgment. Note in the opening verses not only Jeremiah’s humble response to his appointment, but the declarative statement that the Lord is watching over His word to perform it:

“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month. Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Alas, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the LORD. Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’ The word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ And I said, ‘I see a rod of an almond tree.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it’” (Jeremiah 1:1-12).

Now that we know Jeremiah had been called of the Lord for service, and that what he stated would be accomplished by the Lord, the word that judgment was coming from the north interrupts the narrative. Babylon was not mentioned by name, but rather a more general declaration regarding all the families of the “kingdoms of the north.” Since many nations of the Earth were at odds with Israel, God would personally pronounce His judgments on them for their idolatrous ways through the mouthpiece provided by Jeremiah:

“The word of the LORD came to me a second time saying, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘Out of the north the evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land. For, behold, I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north,’ declares the LORD; ‘and they will come and they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about and against all the cities of Judah. I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the LORD. Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the first of His harvest. All who ate of it became guilty; evil came upon them,’ declares the LORD”’” (Jeremiah 1:13-2:3).

The reminder that God will protect His people is comforting, as He recalled their devotion to Him during their youthful sojourns. In fact, the admonition is to return to such a level of devotion to the Holy One of Israel.

So what does this passage from Jeremiah help us imagine, as we read Mattot-Ma’sei in conjunction with the historical realities of judgment as will be seen by the Temple destructions on the Ninth of Av? What about the consequences for sin, which can be simply seen by the principle of reaping what one sows? This foundational principle of God’s created order applies not only to the physical realm, but also the spiritual realm. Just consider a few Proverbs that address this basic truth:

“The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward. He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death” (Proverbs 11:18-19).

“He who sows iniquity will reap vanity, and the rod of his fury will perish” (Proverbs 22:8).

“There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him. He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf. He who troubles his own house will inherit wind, and the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls. If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!” (Proverbs 11:24-31).

As you reflect on these wise sayings, consider the consequences that befell Ancient Israel as a direct result of its sin. As the people increasingly became idolaters and fell away from the ways of the Lord, judgment took place. Whether it was the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians, or the destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Romans, the consequences of moving away from the Lord are consistent. And even though there may no longer be a physical Temple to graphically destroy, God’s eternal principle of reaping what is sown still applies. So what kind of future judgment can be expected?

It is apparent from Proverbs that the judgment takes place in the very heart and soul of those who sow iniquity or unrighteousness. This is a serious consequence to consider, because the breadth of Scripture is replete with examples of what happens to those who disregard this reality! Jeremiah reminds us that there are consequences for our actions. May we all be mindful not only during this season of reflection between the 17th of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av, but every day of every year!

God is watching over His Word to perform it—and He will—in His time and with the consequences He desires to achieve.

NOTES

[1] Eisenberg, 304.


This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope Haftarah Exhortations by William Mark Huey.