Mattot-Mas’ei

Mattot

Tribes

Numbers 30:2[1]-32:42
Jeremiah 1:1-2:3

Mas’ei

Stages

Numbers 33:1-36:13
Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4 (A); 2:4-28; 4:1-2 (S)

“Final Instructions”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s double selection, Mattot and Mas’ei, concentrates on the final instructions that are given to the Ancient Israelites as they were preparing to enter into the Promised Land. The forty years of wandering in the wilderness were coming to a close. God has some additional commandments that will assist the people as they enter into their inheritance.

As you read these instructions, you will note that they cover a wide variety of topics. They deal with issues concerning oath-taking by daughters and wives,[1] the astounding military victory over the Midianites,[2] the details about the spoils of war and how to divide them,[3] and the request by the Reubenites and Gadites to settle on the east side of the Jordan.[4] We also see a roadmap summary of Israel’s entire journey through the wilderness,[5] and a description of the proposed borders for the land they will receive,[6] including delineation of the tribal leaders[7] and the establishment of cities for the Levites to occupy.[8] Details concerning cities of refuge[9] and how the justice system was to operate are given,[10] as are details on how inheritance for daughters was to be handled.[11] This wide array of material seems to wander all over the board. As you read and meditate upon these final instructions, you might wonder if there is any rhyme or reason for how broad they are. If there is one thing for certain: there are many background studies that can be launched from Mattot-Mas’ei, for better understanding of how these laws were to be followed in an Ancient Near Eastern context.

One hint that there was a sense of urgency, to get these last instructions communicated, comes at the opening of Numbers ch. 31, as the Lord told Moses to prepare the Israelites for the battle against the Midianites:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered to your people’” (Numbers 31:1-2).

If you will recall from last week in Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1[29:40]), Moses had just reiterated the details about the daily offerings and the appointed times (Numbers 28-29), and how important it was for Israel to remember these commemorations in a very specific manner. Just prior to this, Moses had laid his hands upon his successor Joshua, who, with the high priest Eleazer, was preparing to replace the duo of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 27:15-23). Moses knew his days on Earth were winding down. Just after the census was taken to determine who had died in the plague resulting from the idolatry and licentiousness induced by Balaam’s advice to Balak (Numbers 26), Moses knew that the Promised Land would be apportioned out to the Israelites, but he was also mindful that the Levites were not to receive a physical inheritance because they were to be in full time service to minister. Moses was also confronted with the issues about inheritance for these ancient families, particularly those who only had daughters and no sons. In Numbers 27, he relayed God’s thoughts on the rightful means for handling the process of passing property on to the future generations. After he did this, the Lord told Moses that once he saw the Promised Land he would die:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up to this mountain of Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the sons of Israel. When you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was; for in the wilderness of Zin, during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to treat Me as holy before their eyes at the water.’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd’” (Numbers 27:12-17).

At this point in the narrative, it appears that Moses was finally resigned to his impending death, and like any good shepherd, his concern was for the sheep of his fold. Interestingly, Moses did not suggest Joshua, but instead asked the Holy One to only appoint someone over the people. He was not presumptuous about whom he might have chosen, but instead was still depending on God’s voice to make the selection. In MattotMas’ei we realize that the defeat of the Midianites will trigger his death, and so Moses was rapidly explaining to Joshua and Eleazer some last minute details about how to handle the issues I previously listed.

Moses had to be very pleased with what he was witnessing in his final days of life. Even though his life was a very unique adventure from the bulrushes of the Nile to now overlooking the Jordan, he witnessed an astounding victory over the Midianites that must have been comforting, considering all of the errors that Israel committed along the way. It is recorded for us that after companies and squads were selected for the army from each of the twelve tribes, the cohesiveness of the people of Israel was finally on display:

“Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war. So there were furnished from the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war with them, and the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand” (Numbers 31:3-6).

It appears from the reading that the Israelites were finally “getting their act together.” Not only were they prepared to induce God’s vengeance upon the Midianites for the sin of Baal Peor, but the victory was blessed incredibly by Him, as not a single Israelite died in the ensuing battles:

“Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, approached Moses, and they said to Moses, ‘Your servants have taken a census of men of war who are in our charge, and no man of us is missing’” (Numbers 31:48-49).

Can you imagine how proud Moses must have been when he got this report? Not one of the soldiers sent into battle was missing. This is an incredible testimony to show that when Israel worked together in harmony, victory was achievable. When you read the account of how the Levites performed their functions via the guidance of Phinehas, and that all of the kings, including Baalam, were slain, that all of the cities were captured and burned, all of the booty was taken, and all of the people and livestock were captured (Numbers 31)—you see a vivid picture of absolute victory.

In spite of Moses’ aged condition, Moses still had the faculties to give some final details to the Israelites about how to handle the captured people and the booty. This is particularly poignant, so that the men of Israel did not fall back into temptation over possible sexual favors. Moses also wanted the people to avoid becoming unclean by contacting corpses, garments, and various vessels confiscated in the war:

“Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the congregation went out to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. And Moses said to them, ‘Have you spared all the women? Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves. And you, camp outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves, you and your captives, on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify for yourselves every garment and every article of leather and all the work of goats’ hair, and all articles of wood’” (Numbers 31:13-20).

At this juncture, we are reminded that Balaam had actually counseled Balak to have the Israelites bring curses upon themselves (Numbers 31:17). While Israel as a nation cannot be cursed by outsiders, it can curse itself by falling into the sin of fornication or being contaminated by the spoils of war. Moses knew his people well, and he also knew the sinful inclinations of the human heart. To the very end of his life, he warned and continually instructed the people of Israel.

As you contemplate this, this is probably the way we should all depart this Earth. For those of you who have children and grandchildren, imagine wanting to continue to give instructions to your beloved all the way to your last breath. For someone like Moses, who had such a huge spiritual responsibility, the urge, to continue correcting and fine-tuning his protégées to the very end, is what one would expect. Now that the victory over the Midianites was complete, echoing in the back of his mind had to be the comment from God about being “gathered to your people” (Numbers 27:13). Over the course of nearly forty years, Moses had witnessed the Exodus generation die off. In these remaining chapters of Numbers, he spoke out instructions that would aid the new generation, which would take inheritance of Canaan.

As you read each of the different vignettes of Mattot-Mas’ei, the final instructions from Moses were earnest attempts to communicate about issues that he knew would be addressed in the years, if not millennia, after his departure. Since Moses had the spiritual authority over such an unruly group of people, and understood the human propensity for individuals to “do their own thing,” he faithfully communicated what God wanted, so order could be present as the Israelites entered into the Promised Land.

How should these instructions from Moses affect us today, as we seek to obey God’s Torah and incorporate its principles into our lives?

We need to recognize that the problems with humanity are not that unique, as they often repeat themselves over the generations in different places and times. What we see today are patterns firmly imbedded in the human psyche. But for Believers in Yeshua today, things should be different. With those of us who have the Holy Spirit to guide us, we should be moving closer to desiring order and direction in our lives. As we grow and mature in faith, we are to become more and more like our Lord and Savior, Yeshua, every day. Today, however, far too many who claim belief in the Messiah have moved not only away from words of Moses’ Teaching, but His own teachings as well!

The question we have to ask ourselves, as we come to the close of Numbers, is whether we will be willing to study and inculcate the Torah’s instruction into our hearts and minds, so that the Ruach HaKodesh can bring them forth in an orderly manner. Are we willing to submit our wills to the will of the Holy Spirit who resides inside of us, and who desperately wants to use us to perform God’s work? Are we willing to pass our knowledge and wisdom onto the succeeding generations? Where will you be in your relationship with God when you are preparing to die? Are you committed to fully serving the Lord?

Consider the words of Paul imprisoned in Rome, as he reflected back on his life, and perhaps thought that he would die soon:

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Messiah Yeshua. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Messiah Yeshua. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Philippians 3:12-17).[12]

Paul, just like Moses, had a vision for his life and understood that he was called to the service of the Holy One. Both understood order and the pattern of life that they were called to walk in order to glorify the Almighty. But what about your life? Have you discovered what God has called you to do in today’s emerging Messianic movement?

If you have not discovered what you should be doing, I would recommend that you read and listen again to the final instructions that have come down through the ages, from the many servants of God who have preceded us. Most importantly, look at the ministry example of Messiah Yeshua, and understand that you are being conformed to His likeness. You will be amazed at just how profoundly you are empowered to perform God’s tasks in the Earth when you take His Word seriously!

My friends, these final instructions are important for all of us to consider. In the coming weeks, we will be examining even more final words from Moses as we approach the end of the Torah cycle and read through Deuteronomy. Of course, in Deuteronomy we will witness Moses reiterate many of his earlier teachings—but who among us does not need to continually rehearse the truths of who we are and know who our spiritual forbearers were? We need to understand and emulate their triumphs, and likewise hopefully avoid their mistakes. If we can do these things, we will be able to have victory over the battles that we face through the power of Yeshua!


NOTES

[1] Numbers 30:1-16.

Be sure to consult the previous teaching on this subject, offered in TorahScope, Volume I.

[2] Numbers 31:1-24.

[3] Numbers 31:25-54.

[4] Numbers 32:1-42.

[5] Numbers 33:1-49.

[6] Numbers 34:1-15.

[7] Numbers 34:16-29.

[8] Numbers 35:1-5.

[9] Numbers 35:6-15.

[10] Numbers 35:16-34.

[11] Numbers 36:1-13.

[12] Many scholars are agreed that Paul was released from the imprisonment described here, but that he eventually was arrested again. The Epistle of 2 Timothy may actually be considered Paul’s farewell address.

Pinchas

Pinchas

Phinehas

Numbers 25:10-30:1[29:40]
1 Kings 18:46-19:21

“Wise Choices”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week as we turn to the study of the Torah in Pinchas, we find that the beginning verses are actually an extension of what was mentioned at the end of Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9) last week. The attempts of Balak to utilize the prophet for hire Balaam to curse the Israelites have failed. Instead of cursing Israel, Balaam actually blessed Israel, much to the displeasure of his benefactor Balak. We do find later on, that although Balaam was never allowed to verbally curse Israel, he did advise Balak about how to make it possible for the Israelites to actually curse themselves:

“Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam [b’davar Bil’am], to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD” (Numbers 31:16).

Apparently, while Balaam was not permitted to curse the Israelites, he did have the understanding that people can actually curse themselves by their own freewill choices. While still encamped upon the plains of Moab near Abel Shittim, Balaam advised Balak to have the women of Moab and Midian enter into the camp of Israel and sexually entice the men, that they might worship Baal of Peor:

“While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3).

It is difficult to imagine that some of the men behaved in this abominable fashion as they encamped in the presence of God’s Tabernacle, with the pillar of fire at night and the cloud during the day. Considering the impressive and orderly encampment of Israel’s twelve tribes—that Balak and Balaam surveyed from the surrounding mountain tops—makes it even more perplexing. But obviously, being in the shadow of the cloud, illuminated by the pillar of fire, or seeing the orderliness of Israel—did not necessarily deter or cover up what was in the hearts of some men in the camp. We read that some men, despite these tangible realities, chose to enter into promiscuity with the Moabite women and worship Baal. This resulted in fatal consequences (Numbers 25:4-9).

Are there any lessons we can learn from these tragic circumstances? How was it possible for these Israelites to choose sinful actions while in such proximity to the presence of God? How does the power of fleshly inclinations, or biology, overcome the fear of the Lord and the consequences of sin? How can this be applied to men and women who claim to be children of God today?

As I pondered these, and many other questions, my mind seemed to settle on a rather controversial issue that has baffled Protestant theologians since the Reformation. This issue is the concept of “eternal security,” and many of the misconceptions that have been taught by well-meaning teachers of God’s Word.

First, allow me to say that when I was initially saved I was subject to the teaching of a Bible church that was highly influenced by Calvinistic theology. Terms such as election, predestination, and the sovereignty of God were concepts that I heard quite frequently. As far as soteriology or the study of salvation was concerned, I heard lectures and sermons on the great divide between the teachings of John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. Apparently, while their doctrines were agreed on many points, the issue of eternal security was not among them. Without going into any great detail, let me just say that from some of Calvin’s teachings, is derived the modern concept of “once saved, always saved” taught in many churches. On the other hand, one primary distinction, where Arminian theology differs, is the concept that one can lose his or her salvation. Needless to say, I was for years a convinced Calvinist who believed that it was impossible to lose your salvation, if you were truly saved.

I then fell in love and eventually married my wife Margaret, who was raised a Methodist and whose theology was Wesleyan. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, was an Arminian. During our premarital spiritual and theological discussions, we decided that we would not rehash the debates about our two different viewpoints. Early on, I learned that I would not convince her of Calvinism, as she was not going to convince me of Arminianism. We concluded that it was best to just leave these subjects alone, recognizing that the debate would probably never be settled in our lifetimes.

After we married, our spiritual journey was definitely influenced by our agreement to avoid this debate. We decided not to attend a Bible church or a Methodist church. Instead, the Lord led us on a sojourn with a relatively brief period in the charismatic movement. In 1994 we went on a tour to Israel that led us to attend a Messianic Jewish congregation in Dallas, Texas in just over one year. Since 1995, we have been pursuing a Messianic lifestyle, and along the way, the consistent study of the Torah has definitely fine tuned our understanding of the Holy One and His revealed Word.

In our family’s pursuit of the Lord, He has used the study of the Torah in remarkable ways to deepen our understanding of His Word. In many ways, it has taken us beyond the teachings of Calvin or Wesley, into a fuller understanding of how Yeshua and the Apostles actually lived.[1] Consider this familiar passage from the Gospel of John, which in my pre-Messianic walk would have been used as a “proof text” for the concept of “once saved, always saved”:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

In this description of how Yeshua’s sheep or followers receive eternal life from Him, the reality that they will never perish is stated. His words are that “no one will snatch them out of My hand.” For years, I found great comfort in these statements. In fact, I would often use these verses when getting into discussions with Margaret about the Calvinistic doctrine of eternal security.

However, as I have read and reread our Torah portion this week, and reconsidered some of the previous words from Balak that are linked to the opening verses of Pinchas, another perspective came to light. Let us consider the fact that as Ancient Israel stood on the plains of Moab, the people had the protection of God or His “security.” No doubt, Balaam understood this as he was told the following directly by God:

“God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed’” (Numbers 22:12).

Balaam had to remind Balak that the people of Israel could not be cursed or denounced, because they were blessed by God:

“How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8; cf. 23:20).

The Scripture tells us that those whom God has blessed, no one can curse, as God protects His children from the curses of their enemies. If you move ahead to the statements of Yeshua regarding His sheep, what He says could be taken as a reiteration of this: “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). This is a comforting fact to consider, similar to how God will not let anyone curse those who have been blessed, just like He did not let Balaam curse Israel.

However, there is something I want you to consider as you ponder these verses and think about what transpired on the plains of Moab millennia ago. The blessed Israelites were not able to be cursed by the prophet for hire Balaam. Balaam clearly understood that those whom God had blessed cannot be cursed by mortal beings. However, Balaam also knew that every person has the capacity to bring curses upon themselves by making freewill choices. Consequently, Balaam advised Balak to have the young women of Moab enter in the encampment of Israel, in order to entice the men of Israel into sexual sins that would lead to the worship of Baal of Peor.

It is not a matter of someone else cursing the Israelites, but people making volitional choices to follow their fleshly desires into abominable sin, by which the men of Israel cursed themselves. By so doing, the curses of God that are articulated throughout the Torah for sexual immorality and idol worship now come into force. In this specific case, many Israelites died from the plague that ensued. Just how many of these were idol worshippers or sexually promiscuous is not stated, but the consequences were devastating for the whole community. The only way the plague stops is by Phinehas performing his zealous act in front of Moses and all the congregation:

“Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. Those who died by the plague were 24,000” (Numbers 25:6-9).

As I contemplated this reality in light of the concept of “eternal security,” I came to the conclusion that our protection from the Lord comes as a result of our fidelity and loyalty to Him. Just because Ancient Israel was a blessed people, did not overcome the possibility that some will willfully choose wickedness and subsequently relinquish the blessings. In this vivid example played out on the plains of Moab, we witness the inability of Balaam to verbally curse Israel. However, in an ironic twist, we witness the men of Israel, by their freewill choices, engage in sexual immorality and idol worship. The consequence of their poor choices is recorded for posterity, so that we will not make their mistakes (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:8).

Considering these passages was very sobering, when I see that even modern-day Believers in the Messiah still have the ability to make freewill choices. God has not made us into robots or automatons, but instead has continued to let each one of us make choices on a multitude of levels. I believe God truly wants to know if we really love Him with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Do we really appreciate what He has done for us by the sacrifice of His Son Yeshua? Does the fact that we have been brought into His family with commensurate blessings prompt in us a desire to please Him through our obedience?

Of course, for the truly born again Believer, who has the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, submitting to the promptings and leading of the Spirit should not be that difficult. But be reminded that according to the Apostle Paul, even Believers have the ability to quench or grieve the Holy Spirit:

“Do not quench the Spirit…Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30).

Our human will, even in those filled with the Holy Spirit, can cause us to choose to do bad things rather than good things—incurring negative consequences for what is done. Perhaps you can remember a time when you did not follow the promptings of the Spirit, and instead chose to exert your will. I believe that if we are truly honest with ourselves, we can admit to times when we did things as Believers we should not have done. Consider all the times when you have been attacked by someone for your beliefs or actions resulting from your beliefs. After all, according to Yeshua, there are people who will curse those who are His followers:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

When this happened to you, how did you respond? Did you respond in anger, or did you ask God to bless your enemies in your prayers? Were you able to forgive them for their actions? Did you at least leave the people alone for the Lord to deal with?

If you think about it, responding according to the commands of Yeshua requires a volitional choice. We have to relinquish our wills, which have a tendency to strike back and enact a degree of harsh vindication—and instead submit to the will of the Spirit by praying for those who curse us and forgiving them for their actions. Let us never forget that according to Yeshua, forgiveness is one of the highest priorities we have in our roles as His followers. It is absolutely clear from the Lord’s Prayer that one must forgive in order to receive forgiveness:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Yeshua also teaches us that when someone does not forgive another person, that he or she will be tormented. In fact, people who cannot forgive will be turned over to the tormentors:

“And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers [tormentors, KJV] until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:34-35).

I have also come to the conclusion that while no one can remove us from the Father’s hand, by our own volitional choices we can remove ourselves from His blessings. Do these blessings include eternal life in His presence? The author of Hebrews puts it this way, regarding those who choose to sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES [Isaiah 26:11]. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.’ And again, ‘THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE’ [Deuteronomy 32:35, 36]. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:26-31).

Is it possible that someone can come to the saving knowledge of the sacrificial work of the Messiah, and then set it aside as meaningless and worthless? This is a huge theological debate, on which there will be no consensus opinion until He returns. But we should never be in the position where we ever forget the Lord’s atoning work for us, or His continual work for us in Heaven. If we decide that we want nothing to do with Yeshua (Jesus) and His work, the result is that “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Hebrews 6:6).

Many of the Ancient Israelites saw the glory of God surround the Tabernacle, and still they sinned. Sometimes God’s awesomeness is not enough when we do not consider the consequences of rejecting Him. I urge each and every one of you to seriously consider the words that Paul writes the Philippians. He instructs them to consider the exalted state of Yeshua, and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. This is a scene even more awesome and significant than what the Israelites saw in the wilderness:

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Yeshua EVERY KNEE WILL BOW [Isaiah 45:23], of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:9-13).

Just like the Ancient Israelites who were blessed on the plains of Moab—who were still given the opportunity to choose—so also are Believers in Yeshua today given a choice. We can choose to follow the Lord, submit our wills to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, or we can choose to do our own will. Whether this results in choosing to follow the temptations of the flesh, idol worship, choosing not to forgive someone, or even choosing to trample on the blood of the Messiah—the fact remains that we are each given choices. What are you going to choose?

We must each follow the advice given to us by the Prophet Micah, as he summarized what our Creator expects from each human being:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:5-8).

Certainly, we all have choices. I pray that we all choose wisely.


NOTES

[1] For some further thoughts on this issue, consult the FAQ entry on the Messianic Apologetics website “Calvinist-Arminian Controversy.”

Balak

Balak

Destroyer

Numbers 22:2-25:9
Micah 5:6-6:8

“Self-Inflicted Curses”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, Balak, chronologically finds the Ancient Israelites further down the trail on their arduous and circuitous march to Canaan, the Promised Land, but without the able counsel of Aaron to co-administer with the aging Moses. Following the death of Aaron (Numbers 20:24-29), the indigenous populations of the desert areas begin an incessant military attack on the migrating Israelites. A brief engagement with the Canaanites is described in Numbers 21, as Israel must turn to the Holy One for guidance and deliverance to secure victory.

Israel’s journeys take a turn to avoid the conflict with the Edomites, who earlier had refused passage through their territory (Numbers 20:18-21). At this point, the complaints of Israel once again centered around their perceived lack of bread and water (Numbers 21:5). To chastise the Israelite grumblers, God sent snakes into the camp with a deadly venomous bite (Numbers 21:6). This judgment created an opportunity for Israel to gaze, by faith, upon the brazen serpent fashioned by Moses in order to receive physical healing (Numbers 21:7-9). The lifting up of the bronze serpent in the wilderness, is intended to parallel the lifting up of Yeshua the Messiah on the cross:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Rather than elaborate on the significance of this to our faith, I would like to instead focus on how the Torah goes on to record the continuing sojourn of the Israelite survivors in the wilderness. The journey continues as a series of encampments are detailed from Oboth to Moab to Zared, to beyond the Aram at the border between the Moabites and the Amorites (Numbers 21:10-14). Apparently, more specific details of these different encampments and the conflicts that ensued were contained in another text called “the Book of the Wars of the LORD” (Numbers 21:14), that today is no longer extant.[1] Some additional locations are cited as the sojourn proceeds “from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the land of Moab, at the top of Pisgah which overlooks the wasteland” (Numbers 21:19-20).

Many Bible scholars have attempted to trace the exact locations of these wanderings, and Biblical archaeologists are often very interested as to where they might have been located in the Ancient Near East. Time does not permit us the luxury of researching these specific places, but most assuredly, we know that God gave His people more instruction and admonition at each stop.

As the Israelites reached the border with the Amorites, they again, similar to the pleas made with Edom, sent messengers to their king to receive passage through their territory on the “king’s highway” (Numbers 21:22). The belligerent Amorites, fearful of the perceived invasion of their lands, challenged Israel to battle. A war erupted when the Amorites refused passage. Once again, Israel prevailed, and even occupied some of the cities built by the Amorites (Numbers 21:23-31). In a short time, with the favor of the Almighty, Israel began to receive a regional reputation as a powerful army when the Amorites are defeated.

After occupying the Amorite cities and towns, the final encampment finds Israel bivouacked in martial array by tribes on the steppes of Moab, across the Jordan River from Jericho (Numbers 22:1). One can just imagine how awesome a sight this must have been, as the victorious Israelites prepared themselves for the final assault on the stronghold that was protecting the eastern flank of Canaan. It is at this point that Balak, the king of Moab is introduced, and his dread of the Israelites is recorded (Numbers 22:2-4). Fearing a military defeat if his army challenges the Israelites, Balak instead chose another method to thwart their advance into his domain. Rather than engage Israel in battle, Balak decided to call upon the infamous Balaam, a renowned prophet, whom he enticed to come meet him, that he might verbally curse the people of Israel:

“So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, ‘Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.’ So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak’s words to him” (Numbers 22:5-7).

The diviners in Balak’s court were accustomed to bringing down curses upon anyone whom their master asked them to curse. Probably not unlike Pharaoh’s magicians we see in Exodus, these diviners were associated with the black arts. Some of what they performed may have been nothing more than “parlor tricks,” but there were those few who were demonically empowered and could use the supernatural to please Balak. In the case of Balaam, Balak hired someone who was particularly keen on using the supernatural.

Threatened by the presence of God’s glory emanating from the Tabernacle, with the tribes of Israel positioned in a semblance of military order, King Balak decided that Balaam would curse the Israelites for him. He had heard of Balaam’s fame, and that he might have some kind of influence with Israel’s God. He wanted Israel to be cursed and ineffective, lest they did to him what they had done to some of the other surrounding nations.

Balaam received the messengers sent from Balak, who informed him of the problem that the king wants solved (Numbers 22:8-11). Yet in their interactions, we learn some interesting things. Balaam had supernatural power because of some kind of relationship he had with the Creator God (Numbers 22:13, 18-20). Balaam knew who the God of Israel was. Whether the Lord is only one of many deities that Balaam knew, or was the only one he knew, we cannot be entirely certain. Some would suggest that Balaam may have been a descendent of Abraham, and carried on the traditions of Abraham’s God, having mixed them with other local religions. Others may speculate that Balaam, as the able profiteer, was quite inclusive about what deities he would commune with, as he was ultimately interested with only money. Regardless of which is the case, the God of Israel allowed Balaam to communicate with Him, although Balaam could only speak the things that the Lord allowed him to:

“Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God. Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the LORD will speak to me.’ God came to Balaam at night and said to him, ‘If the men have come to call you, rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do.’ So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab” (Numbers 22:18-21).

On the journey to meet with Balak, Balaam had an encounter with the angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:22-35). As he traveled, this angel blocked Balaam and his donkey. Balaam struck his donkey three times, and his donkey actually talked back to him (Numbers 22:28-30). The angel of the Lord asked what Balaam had been doing, as he had failed to realize how the donkey saw the angel and was saving Balaam in the process—as the angel would have surely struck down Balaam (Numbers 22:33). Balaam was told to continue on his way, but that he would only be able to speak what the Lord allowed him to speak (Numbers 22:35). When arriving to see King Balak, Balak inquired as to what has delayed Balaam, and all Balaam could tell him was that he could only speak what God would let him speak:

“When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the Arnon border, at the extreme end of the border. Then Balak said to Balaam, Did I not urgently send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I really unable to honor you?’ So Balaam said to Balak, ‘Behold, I have come now to you! Am I able to speak anything at all? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak’” (Numbers 22:36-38).

Balaam, only being allowed to speak what God allowed him to speak, could not do anything else than bless Israel in the words that he would utter forth. This he did twice (Numbers 23:7-10, 18-24), invoking a stern rebuke from King Balak: “Do not curse them at all nor bless them at all!” (Numbers 23:25). Yet, with the wheels in motion and Balaam commissioned by Balak to speak forth something to the Israelites, all Balaam could respond back with was, “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the Lord speaks, that I must do’?” (Numbers 23:26). The third time, situated where he could see the Israelites, undoubtedly included the most significant of the words of blessing that Balaam was compelled to speak forth:

“When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him. He took up his discourse and said, ‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, how fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside the river, like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from his buckets, and his seed will be by many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted” (Numbers 24:1-7).

In this scene we find Balaam high up on a hill overlooking the encampment of Israel, noting that they were camped in an orderly way around the Tabernacle. Can you imagine seeing several hundred thousand people arrayed around the Tabernacle from such a vantage point? If you have ever been to Israel today, and have looked at this specific area, you might be able to vaguely picture what Balaam was seeing. But the curious thing is that as Balaam began his utterance, perhaps beginning to curse Israel, all he could say was: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel” (ATS), Mah-tovu ohalekha Ya’akov mishkenotekha Yisrael.

The Mah Tovu is now an important part of the Shabbat liturgy used in the Jewish Synagogue.[2] I consider it to be quite ironic that something that Israel’s enemy intended for gross evil, has ended up being included in a hymn recited at the beginning of most morning Shabbat services—including many throughout the Messianic movement![3]

In his fourth oracle, Balaam looked prophetically into the future, and described the ultimate end of the nations that will be harassing Israel:

“He took up his discourse and said, ‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, while Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, and will destroy the remnant from the city.’ And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, ‘Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.’ And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, ‘Your dwelling place is enduring, and your nest is set in the cliff. Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; how long will Asshur keep you captive?’ Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, and they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; so they also will come to destruction.’ Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way” (Numbers 24:15-25).

As you read this prophecy, you will note that Balaam started this oracle with the same recognition that he started his third oracle with when he blessed Israel. But this time, as Balaam got a peek into the future for Israel, he got a vision of a “star” (Heb. kokav) with power coming forth, crushing its enemies. I believe that this is a strong prophetic picture of the Second Coming of Yeshua when He will return to execute judgment upon the nations of the Earth and restore the Kingdom of Israel. It reminds me of the description that the Apostle John gives in the Book of Revelation when He is shown Yeshua in His exalted glory:

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS [Deuteronomy 10:17; Daniel 2:47]’” (Revelation 19:11-16).

One actually gets a prophetic glimpse at the future work of Yeshua through the oracles of Balaam, which when we compare to the declarations made by some of the Prophets of the Tanakh, are really no different. This demonstrates that the Lord can communicate His message for humanity through a large number of vessels—even those on the outside trying to harm His people.

Finally, as our Torah portion concludes, we discover that there is one piece of counsel that Balaam did provide Balak that goes beyond his inability to verbally curse Israel. Since Balaam was unable to issue any verbal curses against Israel, he does tell Balak that the men of Israel can be given over to their biological fleshly lusts, and would thus be responsible for cursing themselves by disobeying their God. By enticing the men to take up lascivious relationships with the women of Moab, their actions should bring God’s judgment upon them in just a short matter of time. This is described in the closing verses of Balak, and will continue next week with more details given in Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1[29:40]):

“While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3).

We see that the gross sexual activities that the Israelite males performed with the local prostitutes, ultimately brought the anger of the Lord down upon them. This is because their sexual debauchery would ultimately lead to idolatry and them sacrificing to other gods. We see that the God of Israel is quite serious about disloyalty to Him, and He does not appreciate His chosen people engaging in sin. This is one of the reasons that the curses levied for disobedience, including the vile sins of sexual immorality and worshipping other gods, are repeated continually throughout the Scriptures. Even if some restitution can take place between God and His people, the consequences of such sin often remain.

When we turn to this week’s corresponding Haftarah reading, taken from the Prophet Micah, we are admonished about the human propensity to do things that people hope will appease God for their wicked ways:

“‘My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab counseled and what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and from Shittim to Gilgal, so that you might know the righteous acts of the LORD.’ With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:5-8).

As you read the concluding statement, you will note that Micah reminded his ancient audience that the Holy One of Israel is not at all impressed with the burnt offerings of animal sacrifices, or even the presentation of one’s firstborn as something special for Him. Instead, the focus turns to what the Lord is most concerned about for His people, as He desires that they perform justice, love, kindness, and walk humbly before Him. This is what pleases our Heavenly Father. These qualities are a total reflection of who He is—qualities and traits perfectly embodied in the Person of Yeshua the Messiah.

Is there any other who humbled Himself more than Yeshua? Certainly, even though Moses is referred to as the humblest human who ever lived upon the Earth (Numbers 12:3),[4] Moses’ humility, however, is quite insignificant compared to the Son of God who emptied Himself of His exaltedness and power in Heaven—to come down to Earth as a lowly human:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Yeshua the Messiah, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [exploited, NRSV],[5] but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Yeshua EVERY KNEE WILL BOW [Isaiah 45:23], of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

This degree of humility is almost beyond our comprehension. This is the same Yeshua who admonished the Pharisaical leaders of His era, that they had widely forgotten the weightier matters of justice emphasized by the Torah:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24).

Here, the Messiah rebukes these Pharisees for their obedience to relatively minor aspects of the Torah, but who forget to do the most important things. The problem that Yeshua addresses is that one’s adherence to the minute details of the Torah, although good, will do nothing to negate a neglect for the weightier provisions that deal with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. If all one focuses on is doing outward things, rather than exhibiting what it means to be just, loving, merciful, and compassionate to others, then he or she is desperately missing the point of why one is to obey God. Obeying God includes the mission of demonstrating His goodness to others—so that they may come to know and serve Him as well!

Problems inevitably come when we decide to disobey God, and/or ignore His instructions for us. If we do not obey our Heavenly Father, we will incur consequences for our disobedience to Him. In the case of the Ancient Israelite men who cohabitated with Moabite prostitutes, how many of them had bastard children as a result? Certainly, while these men could be reconciled to God, damage was done and many of them likely had half-Israelite children to deal with. This is not only a sin that remains confined to ancient times—because the sins of adultery and fornication always bring consequences. And this is certainly not the only sin that can create generational problems (but we will leave these discussions for another time).

In Jude’s epistle we see warnings that in his generation, over a millennia after the incident with Balak, some gross sinful activities were occurring among those claiming to follow Yeshua. We should not be surprised when we see similar things today, and instead know that we can turn to the Scriptures to be prepared for the inevitability of God’s judgment:

“Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these men that Enoch…the seventh…from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’ These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 8-19).

What we particularly need to be mindful of in this era of mass communication, is that the same demonic influences that were present among the diviners in Balak’s court, or in the Apostolic era, are still able to influence people today. They are looking for willing vessels, and lamentably they find them far too often in those who are not only open to sin and are in open rebellion against God, but may even be masquerading as men and women of God. Instead of being truly humble men and women of God, who are totally satisfied with the assignments and tasks that He has given them, they exercise their free will and do things motivated at the best by their flesh, and at the worst by Satan himself. The Apostle John warns us about this:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Certainly in our reading this week, we can see that Balak and Balaam were both motivated by the world system that John would later warn his audience about. The questions we should be asking ourselves today when we consider this are innumerable, but a few come to my mind:

  • What am I focusing on throughout the day when I allow my mind to wander?
  • Who am I worshipping?
  • Who am I praising?
  • What does my heart and will want to do with my time?
  • How am I exercising justice?
  • Am I loving in all situations?
  • Do I extend mercy at all times, or just in the case of someone I know?
  • Am I worrying about the minute details of the Torah, or am I focusing on the weightier matters of morality and justice?
  • What could I possibly be doing to bring curses upon myself, and/or damage my relationship with God?

As you can see, the list can go on and on, and will likely be specific for each person who is truly trying to work through the challenges of his or her relationship with the Lord.

Our Heavenly Father wants a relationship with us, and He wants the best for us! He does not want us to be cursed, but instead wants us to be blessed. When we obey Him, it pleases Him—and He has no choice but to shower us with His blessings! But these blessings will be things that can testify of His goodness—they will not be the wanton desires of our fallen flesh. I believe that when we study the Torah we can learn how to serve and obey the Lord more effectively. When we can do this, we can truly fulfill the calling that Israel was intended to have as being a light to the world. People can come to us and see Yeshua the Messiah living through us, and desire to have what we have. Just like Balaam had no choice but to bless Israel, so should any servants of darkness we encounter only be able to speak positive things about us.


NOTES

[1] Editor’s note: The phrase sefer milchamot ADONAI, “the Book of the Wars of HASHEM” (ATS), may be a textual redaction following the principal compilation of the Torah by Moses. If indeed added later, either during the period of United Monarchy, Divided Monarchy, or even the post-exilic period, it refers to a text or series of records that is no longer extant. It is possible that many traditions of this text survive in veiled references through the remainder of the Tanakh (Old Testament), as well as some of the histories as recorded by Philo, Josephus, or other ancient Jewish (and possibly also Christian) commentators.

[2] Cf. Hertz, Authorised Daily Prayer Book, pp 4-5; Harlow, Siddur Sim Shalom, 61.

[3] For some further thoughts, consult the author’s article “God’s ‘Mah Tovu’ Requirements,” appearing in the July 2009 issue of Outreach Israel News.

[4] Editor’s note: Please keep in mind that if Moses were indeed the most humble human being who ever lived on Earth, that he would have never written this about himself. Most conservative commentators are agreed that the statement in Numbers 12:3 was added to the Torah by Joshua, or other scribes, after Moses’ death.

[5] While sometimes rendered as “grasped” (2:6, NASU/NIV), the noun harpagmos best means “someth. to which one can claim or assert title by gripping or grasping, someth. claimed” (BDAG, 133).