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Weekly D'rash and Parsha Rosh Hashanah

A ram with two horns on it's head

This year, Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat. The Torah portions for the days of Rosh Hashanah are the “first birth story” and the “second birth story” of Isaac. Genesis 21 describes the miraculous birth of Isaac. It demonstrates the power of the promise of God. God had promised that Sarah would give birth to a son who would be the promised descendant of Abraham through whom the nations of the world would be blessed.

There was every reason to believe that this was impossible. First and foremost, Sarah was well beyond childbearing years. Second, both Abraham and Sarah made decisions that almost ended any opportunity for Sarah to give birth to the child of promise. On two occasions, Abraham was willing for Sarah to become part of the harem of a foreign king. Then, Sarah herself made the decision for Abraham to have a child with an Egyptian woman. In each case, the promise of God was never thwarted (in fact, in the case of Hagar and Ishmael, God blessed them).

This passage, Genesis 21, is usually read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah because Jewish tradition teaches that Isaac was born on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. May I suggest that this passage is appropriate for Rosh Hashanah because it reminds us of the grace and mercy of God. His purposes never change. Despite the actions of Abraham and Sarah, the promise came to pass. Despite our own sinfulness, we can rely on the promise of reconciliation with God when we embrace the Messiah. That reconciliation becomes experiential when we turn from our sins and confess them to God. God is faithful!

The story of the “binding of Isaac” (the Akedah) found in Genesis 22 shows radical faithfulness in Abraham’s obedience to God. God tells Abraham to bring Isaac up the mountain to be a burnt offering. As the text informs the reader, this is a test. But, like Job, Abraham is not informed of this and only knows what he sees and hears. He brings Isaac up the mountain, but he trusts in his heart that Isaac will return with him (see verses 5 and 8 where we read that the “boy and I will return” and “God will provide the lamb”). When Isaac is bound on the altar and about to die, God intervenes with a ram caught by the horns. Isaac is delivered and is “born” a second time! He is given a new life. Everything we read about the life of Isaac takes place after this life-changing event.

Something else significant about this story is that God provides in an unexpected way. Abraham believed that God would provide a lamb. He provides a ram. God answered Abraham’s expectation in a different way. The ram serves as the substitute for Isaac. Later we learn that the ram was used as an ordination sacrifice for Aaron and his sons (see Exodus 29 and Numbers 8). The ram is, in fact, the only burnt offering on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16).

In addition, it is a ram that was almost always used for the guilt offering. In Isaiah 53:10, we read about the Messiah: “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.” The identification of the ram with the priesthood, the Yom Kippur burnt offering, and the guilt offering remind us of Yeshua. In Yeshua, we have new life. It is because of the priesthood of Yeshua that we have entrée into the holy place and our calling as intercessors. As our guilt offering, restitution and atonement have been made for our sins. When we blow the shofar, the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah, may we be reminded that Yeshua took our guilt and shame upon himself and set us free from the bondage of sin and death.

May the new year be one of new life in Messiah!

L’Shana Tova!

Rabbi Howard

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