Haftarah Shemini

“Right Hand Intercession”

2 Samuel 6:1-7:17 (A); 6:1-19 (S)

by Mark Huey

Our Torah reading for this week, Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47), commences with the final stages of the consecration of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The eight days of sacrifices are being completed, and as they come to a close a fire attributed to the Lord fully consumes the available offerings. Upon witnessing this supernatural event, the Israelites first shout, and then they fall on their faces in the presence of great holiness:

“Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:23-24).

At the end of Shemini, after the dramatic description about the fiery deaths of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10), and viewing some of the specifics of the kosher dietary laws (Leviticus 11), God communicates that He desires and requires a holy people because He Himself is holy:

“For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45).

Pondering this Torah portion, the overwhelming sense of not only being in the presence of the Holy One, but also striving for personal holiness and cleanliness, should come to our minds.

When the Sages focused on this parashah, it was the apparent lack of holiness via offering strange fire that triggered the tragic deaths of Nadab and Abihu, which understandably piqued their attention. It was this supernatural event that became the link for the selected Haftarah meditation, which itself is centered around the unexpected death of Uzzah, as he merely reached out to stabilize the Ark of the Covenant as it was being transported from the house of Abinidab to Jerusalem. Note in the following two passages from our Torah and Haftarah selections, the parallel between a need for holiness missing in the actions of Nadab and Abihu, and what is termed a lack of reverence in the case of Uzzah:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.”’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent. Moses called also to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.’ So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said. Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so that you will not die and that He will not become wrathful against all the congregation. But your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the LORD has brought about. You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for the LORD’s anointing oil is upon you.’ So they did according to the word of Moses. The LORD then spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses’” (Leviticus 10:1-11).

“They placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the v with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. David became angry because of the LORD’s outburst against Uzzah and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’” (2 Samuel 6:3-9).

Contemplating these two dramatic episodes in the history of Ancient Israel, some perplexing thoughts might just percolate in your mind. Obviously for some Divine purposes, the Holy One wanted both of these incidents to be recorded in the Bible. He knew that for generations people were going to have to review these accounts, and deal with the reality of what they communicate. In Leviticus 9:1-11:47, the culmination of the eight-day altar dedication, was observed somewhat frivolously by the sons of the high priest Aaron. For unknown reasons, Nadab and Abihu placed some kind of strange, unauthorized fire on the recently dedicated altar. Many theories abound as to what actually happened to warrant such a fiery judgment (including, as the passage records, a prohibition against consuming wine or strong drink prior to ministering to the Lord). The passage does not adequately describe what the motives of Nadab and Abihu were, or even elaborate on what the “strange fire” really was. So speculation is diverse. What we know for certain is that they did something quite unholy.

On the other hand, in the case of Uzzah, the comment that he was “irreverent” indicates that he was somehow disrespectful of the Ark of the Covenant, what it represented for Israel, or perhaps its contents. Even though the Ark of the Covenant had been at the home of his father Abinadab prior to this event, Uzzah apparently did not possess a proper level of reverence for the holiness of this vessel. Some might argue that Uzzah was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that his attempt to stabilize the Ark of the Covenant was an instinctual reaction that should not have been punished with death. But there was obviously something much more condemning than just participating in the movement of the Ark of the Covenant.

After this tragic death, King David realized that the prescribed methods for transporting the Ark of the Covenant were specified in commandments detailed in the Torah, which had somehow been overlooked (Numbers 4:15; Deuteronomy 10:8). It was not until three months, after some review of God’s Law, when David discovered that the Ark of the Covenant was to be moved by the Levites, that the relocation of the ark to Jerusalem could be completed:

“Then David said, ‘No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the LORD chose them to carry the ark of God and to minister to Him forever.’ And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the LORD to its place which he had prepared for it” (1 Chronicles 15:2-3).

Our Haftarah reading describes the three-month hiatus, and the relocation of the Ark of the Covenant to its dwelling at the house of Obed-edom the Gittite:

“So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’ And David was unwilling to move the ark of the LORD into the city of David with him; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. Thus the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household. Now it was told King David, saying, ‘The LORD has blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, on account of the ark of God.’ David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness. And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet” (2 Samuel 6:9-15).

Notice the reverence which is given to God’s Ark, as displayed by King David and his entourage. A sacrifice of an ox and a fatling were being regularly offered—accompanied by exuberant celebration. The joy of adhering to the commandments for moving the Ark of the Covenant, and the opportunity to relocate it to God’s designated place on Mount Zion, could finally be accomplished. As a result of the relocation, the Lord, through the Prophet Nathan, communicated to King David some of the everlasting rewards he and his progeny would receive. These wonderful prophecies, compiling much of what is considered to be the Davidic Covenant, are recorded for future generations:

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

For Believers in Great David’s Greater Son, the Messiah Yeshua, the fulfillment of these prophecies is complete as He currently sits at the right hand of God the Father in the Heavenly realm:

  • “[W]ho is the one who condemns? Messiah Yeshua is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34).
  • “[W]hich He brought about in Messiah, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places(Ephesians 1:20).
  • “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Peter 3:21-22).
  • “[B]ut He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET” (Hebrews 10:12-13; cf. Psalm 110:1).

Thankfully, Yeshua is interceding for all of us before His Father, in ways that we cannot possibly or even probably understand as limited mortals on Earth. Contemplating this week’s Haftarah reading, I would ask you to consider these thoughts:

  • Have you ever in your ignorance or naiveté, presented an offering or gift to the Lord that might not be appropriate now that you are more mature in your walk studying the Torah and Haftarah? Could that offering have been construed as “strange fire” regarding the timing, place, or nature of it?
  • Have you ever contemplated that such an offering or gift of this manner could possibly be met with fiery judgment? Or at the very least, some kind of negative consequences?
  • What about the times when you might have said something presumptuously, or have instinctively replied to a statement, which provoked you in some kind of inappropriate provocative fashion?
  • Has your heart always been reverent to God and the things of God?

In His Sermon on the Mount, we see how Yeshua elevated human sin from not just a physical act, but to even the thought life of a person (Matthew 5:20-30). Have you ever had murderous, condemning, or lustful thoughts that according to God’s Torah could warrant a stoning? Have you ever wondered why you have not been judged by the hand of God, bringing instant death? Is it possible that the Lord Yeshua has indeed been interceding for you from His position in Heaven at the right hand of the Father? I sincerely hope He has been doing this for each and every one of us!

We should all know, from the classic case of Ananias and Sapphira recorded in Acts 5, that we have a great example of a couple involved with the company of Believers, who nonetheless had dramatic deaths as a result of their sins. In many ways, these two people dropping dead is not that dissimilar from what happened to Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah:

“But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole assembly, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:1-11).

Have you ever wondered why something as dramatic as this, in the early days of our Messianic faith, does not occur more frequently today? Surely, we find those who make personal pledges and vows, and do not fulfill them. Is it possible that the intercession of our Messiah Yeshua in Heaven is preventing judgment on those who are irreverent or thinking ungodly thoughts—or much worse, actually mocking God and His judgment?

Someday, if the Father so wills, we may know the answer to some of these questions. In the interim, may each of these examples remind us of our need to seek Him and His righteousness. Give thanks for the intercession which has kept each of us alive to this day! Even more so, intercede for those being kept alive who have yet to partake of salvation!

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