Isaiah has provided many images and metaphors of Israel’s restoration throughout the Haftarot of Comfort—return from exile, flowering of the Land of Israel, rebuilding of her cities, tribute and honor coming from the surrounding nations. Now, toward the end of these readings, he goes to the heart of the matter: “Your people also shall be all righteous” (Is. 60:21a).
Isaiah’s vision includes the restoration of each person to right standing with God. This promise of restoration reverberates throughout not only Isaiah, but the writings of all the prophets, along with the warnings of disobedience and its terrible consequences.
After the coming of Messiah, the tension between the promise of Israel’s right standing with God, and the in-your-face reality of Israel’s disobedience and resistance continues. Rav Shaul seeks to reconcile these two undeniable forces in Romans 9–11. How will Messiah Yeshua fulfill all the restoration promises of Israel’s prophets when Israel seems to be turning away from him? You can re-read those three chapters to find out how Shaul gets there, but his conclusion is: “And in this way all Israel will be saved.”
Interpreting Isaiah 60:21 as assurance of salvation and life in the age to come isn’t just Shaul’s idea, or ours. Each chapter of the foundational rabbinic text Pirke Avot ends with this:
All Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it is said,
“Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever;
they are a shoot of My own planting,
a work of My own hands, that I may be glorified.”
(Koren Siddur, referencing Sanhedrin 90a, Is. 60).
We’re talking about life in the Age to Come. Shaul and Isaiah assure us of Israel’s future salvation to inspire and encourage us in this age. Don’t get down about the current state of things, they’re saying, but let God’s glorious future empower you to live a fruitful life for him now.
So when I read Isaiah 60 earlier this week with a couple of friends, it raised a tough question. If we’re urging a non-Messianic Jewish friend to follow Yeshua, he might say, “Well, you might be right, but it doesn’t matter that much, since I’ll be accounted righteous in the end anyway.” How do we build a compelling Jewish case for accepting Yeshua as Messiah when someone might say, “Look, all Israel is righteous, all Israel will be saved, so why do I need to accept Yeshua? It’s all going to work out in the end anyway.”
The word that came to me as we discussed this problem was alignment.
The Scriptures paint the picture of a restored Jerusalem, a restored Israel, and ultimately a restored Creation so that we can align our individual lives with it. This picture is God’s purpose, the pattern by which and into which the whole human story is being formed—this is what it’s all about—and it’s revealed to us to inspire our individual and deliberate alignment. Otherwise we remain adrift.
Again, I’m not just coming up with this interpretation—it’s reflected in the texts. Here’s a fuller version of the mishnaic text cited above:
All Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it is said, “Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.” These have no share in the World to Come: One who says that [the belief of] resurrection of the dead is not from the Torah, [one who says that] that the Torah is not from Heaven, and one who denigrates the Torah. M.Sanhedrin 10:1
In a similar way, Rav Shaul declares, “All Israel will be saved,” but only at the end of an extended presentation of Messiah Yeshua as the source of salvation each individual needs to recognize (Rom. 10:9–13). God has a glorious, unshakeable purpose for all Israel—“For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29)—but he doesn’t reveal this purpose to us so that we can get complacent.
The Haftarot of Comfort aren’t meant to make us comfortable. At least not until we come into alignment with the source of comfort.
We’ll see the same pattern in next week’s reading. After the vision of Zion’s irrevocable restoration in Isaiah 61, the prophet continues,
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her righteousness shines out brightly,
and her salvation as a blazing torch. . . .
You who remind Adonai,
take no rest for yourselves,
And give Him no rest until He establishes
and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
(Is. 62:1, 6b–7)
As we conclude our readings in the Haftarot of Comfort, may we not get comfortable. Instead we need to be praying, especially during this season of Teshuvah, for Jerusalem and all Israel—starting with ourselves—to come into alignment with the prophetic vision. As we get aligned, we can call our Jewish friends and loved ones, and whoever else might listen, into alignment as well.