TorahScope: B’ha’alotkha

B’ha’alotkha

When you set up

Numbers 8:1-12:16
Zechariah 2:14-4:7

“Divine Guidance”


by Mark Huey

Once the dedication of the Tabernacle was completed by the twelve tribal offering sacrifices, as described in Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) last week, the continuing narrative found in B’ha’alotkha now turns to a series of specific instructions, as the Israelite entourage was properly prepared for its desert sojourn. But before detailing a variety of specific commands, which each intensify how Ancient Israel was to function as an orderly and dignified society, the opening verses remind the reader of the seven-branched menorah or lampstand, and its function representing illumination from the Almighty:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, the seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand.”’ Aaron therefore did so; he mounted its lamps at the front of the lampstand, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the LORD had showed Moses, so he made the lampstand” (Numbers 8:1-4).

Here, before the Israelites embark on their trek, readers might take the light emanating from the menorah to be a reminder that it was ultimately the presence of the Lord, first described in Exodus 25:32-40, that would illumine and guide their path. In various ways, the seven-branched menorah can be pictured as a guiding light, which is more fully described by the Prophet Isaiah, who spoke about the coming Messiah, who would have all of the gifting required to justly guide and make rulings for people:

“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist” (Isaiah 11:1-5).

Just as the menorah has seven branches, so too in Isaiah 11:1-5 do we see the Spirit of the Lord providing seven important characteristics: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear. While these attributes are surely present in the ministry examples of Yeshua in the Gospels, they have surely also been required for God’s people in their service to Him since Ancient Israel’s journey in the wilderness. God’s instructions, given to Israel in the Torah, are to be a lamp to the feet and a light to the path (Psalms 119:105). Yet as we read the Torah and Tanakh, there is a definite challenge for Israel to function as a light to the nations at large (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), helping to reveal God’s goodness and grace to others. The mission of the Messiah Yeshua was specific, in that He came to not only restore the tribes of Jacob, but also see His salvation spread to the entire world:

“He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

In order for God’s people to live forth this same calling—of helping to see Israel restored and salvation spread to the entire world—there are multiple challenges that must be overcome, both individually and corporately.

With some of this in mind, as we turn back to our Torah portion, let us consider how the Lord gave specific instructions to separate out the Levites, as a unique ministering segment of the population to handle the duties associated with the Tabernacle and its transport. Here, one finds an explanation for the Lord applying the principle of the firstborn being dedicated to Him, by employing all of the Levites in His service:

“Aaron then shall present the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the sons of Israel, that they may qualify to perform the service of the LORD. Now the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls; then offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the LORD, to make atonement for the Levites. You shall have the Levites stand before Aaron and before his sons so as to present them as a wave offering to the LORD. Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. Then after that the Levites may go in to serve the tent of meeting. But you shall cleanse them and present them as a wave offering; for they are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel. I have taken them for Myself instead of every first issue of the womb, the firstborn of all the sons of Israel. For every firstborn among the sons of Israel is Mine, among the men and among the animals; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself. But I have taken the Levites instead of every firstborn among the sons of Israel. I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the sons of Israel, to perform the service of the sons of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement on behalf of the sons of Israel, so that there will be no plague among the sons of Israel by their coming near to the sanctuary.’ Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the sons of Israel to the Levites; according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so the sons of Israel did to them. The Levites, too, purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes; and Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the LORD. Aaron also made atonement for them to cleanse them. Then after that the Levites went in to perform their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and before his sons; just as the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them” (Numbers 8:11-22).

In many regards, the separation of the Levites in the Torah, for Ancient Israel—may be regarded as a foreshadowing of a similar distinction expected of all men and women who are called into the marvelous light of salvation in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). While born again Believers are not at all to be regarded as being Levitical priests, they nevertheless are to all function in the same sort of priestly service that the Ancient Israelites had, declaring God’s goodness and demonstrating His grace and mercy—obviously manifested in the atoning work of Yeshua—to the sinful world:

“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Messiah. For this is contained in Scripture: ‘BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED’ [Isaiah 28:16]. This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone’ [Psalm 118:22], and, ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’ [Isaiah 8:14]; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are A CHOSEN RACE [Isaiah 43:20, LXX], A royal PRIESTHOOD [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], A HOLY NATION [Exodus 19:6], A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION [Isaiah 43:21, LXX; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY [Hosea 2:23]. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2:1-16).

As living stones which compose a spiritual house for the Most High, born again Believers are to be committed servants of God—in a similar manner to how the Levites were originally separated out to serve Him. (Obviously, we have to remember how the Levitical priesthood was established to be a very specific institution, and the Levites specific priestly calling is a bit different than the general priestly calling upon God’s people.) Perhaps each of us can take some direction from the author of Hebrews, who comments on how the people of God are to look beyond this temporal world, to the restored Kingdom of God and Heavenly realm:

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Returning to our Torah portion, it is asserted that the primary years, of physical service for the Levites, should be between the ages of twenty-five and fifty—although the senior years of wisdom from the older Levites can be offered in an assistant capacity:

“Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting. But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more. They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting, to keep an obligation, but they themselves shall do no work. Thus you shall deal with the Levites concerning their obligations” (Numbers 8:23-26).

Later in the Apostolic Scriptures, Paul would inform both Timothy and Titus something similar, as they were to respect the input and influence of the older men and women in the assembly (1 Timothy 5:1-2; Titus 2:2-8).

One of the most important principles seen in B’ha’alotkha is seen in the emphasis on how the Ancient Israelites were to follow the cloud that hovered over the Tabernacle. There was a definite need for dependence on the Divine guidance of the Holy One, and many people today surely take instruction from looking at how the people of Israel moved when the Lord directed them, and consequently how any of us should be discerning to know His will for our lives:

“Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning. So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp. At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped. Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the LORD’s charge and not set out. If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the LORD they remained camped. Then according to the command of the LORD they set out. If sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, when the cloud was lifted in the morning, they would move out; or if it remained in the daytime and at night, whenever the cloud was lifted, they would set out. Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out. At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’s charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses” (Numbers 9:15-23).

In ancient times, the ability to communicate was not assisted by all of the technological devices now available to humanity, so the Lord established the use of the blowing of trumpets, to be employed in a variety of ways, to communicate to the population of Israel. (Do note that there is debate among Jewish examiners per the actual usage of silver trumpets, versus the shofar or ram’s horn, which will not be explored here.)[1] The blowing of trumpets was to be employed for gatherings or movement, as well as warning signals and tools for advancements or retreats, when encountering enemies in battle:

“The LORD spoke further to Moses, saying, ‘Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. When both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Yet if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you. But when you blow an alarm, the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out. When you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out. When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm. The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations. When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the LORD your God’” (Numbers 10:1-10).

The blowing of trumpets was to be used for a variety of important occasions, including during the appointed feasts and at the first of the month. In various ways, blowing trumpets was to function as a means to establish order within the community, as they could only be blown by designated leaders. The key for us reading today is to understand how the Lord has in the past, and will in the future, use the sound of the trumpet to warn His people on a variety of levels. Knowing this means of communication, especially in light of what is going to eventually come, is critical for us to acknowledge in view of the Second Coming (i.e., 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). A major Tanakh prophecy that details the future Day of the Lord is Joel 2:1-2:

“Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; surely it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people; there has never been anything like it, nor will there be again after it to the years of many generations” (Joel 2:1-2).

Our Torah reading references a need for some local scouting knowledge, provided by the relatives of Moses’ father-in-law, so that the community of Israel could understand how they were to adequately transverse the territories they would encounter in their journey. It is here, that upon taking up the Ark of the Covenant to lead the procession, that a wonderful proclamation is made—one which is traditionally declared in the Shabbat service of the Jewish Synagogue, when the Torah scroll is brought forth to be canted to the congregation:

“This was the order of march of the sons of Israel by their armies as they set out. Then Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, ‘We are setting out to the place of which the LORD said, “I will give it to you”; come with us and we will do you good, for the LORD has promised good concerning Israel.’ But he said to him, ‘I will not come, but rather will go to my own land and relatives.’ Then he said, ‘Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will be as eyes for us. So it will be, if you go with us, that whatever good the LORD does for us, we will do for you. Thus they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey, with the ark of the covenant of the LORD journeying in front of them for the three days, to seek out a resting place for them. The cloud of the LORD was over them by day when they set out from the camp. Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, ‘Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.’ When it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O LORD, to the myriad thousands of Israel’” (Numbers 10:28-36).[2]

Moses confidently requests the Lord to scatter the enemies of Israel, forcing them to flee simply by putting a primary emphasis on leading the march with the Word of God. Clearly, Moses’ priorities were in the right place.

But despite having the Levites doing their work properly, with adequate communication signals, with some scouts familiar with the territory and the Ark at the vanguard of the movement of the population—there was still a propensity for a number of grumblers to complain about their new circumstances. Upon hearing the complaints, the Lord was angered to the point of sending some consuming fires to the outskirts of the camp:

“Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD and the fire died out. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them. The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.’ Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it. Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the LORD, ‘Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers”? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:1-15).

Moses was so upset with the recalcitrant, complaining Israelites, that he pleaded with the Lord by rhetorically posing a series of questions about his relationship to them, and specifically how he was going to handle the burden of leadership. In a retort reminiscent of the advice given to Moses earlier from his father-in-law (Exodus 18:13-27), the Lord commanded Moses to gather seventy elders of Israel, in order to endow them with the same Spirit that was guiding Moses, in order to share the burden of leadership:

“The LORD therefore said to Moses, ‘Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone. Say to the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, ‘Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”’ But Moses said, ‘The people, among whom I am, are 600,000 on foot; yet You have said, “I will give them meat, so that they may eat for a whole month.” Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Or should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient for them?’ The LORD said to Moses, ‘Is the LORD’s power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not’” (Numbers 11:16-23).

With hundreds of thousands of Israelites, the need to spread the responsibilities of leadership was critical, but the gift of meat to eat to the complainants, became a subtle form of punishment when their over consumption resulted in the meat literally spewing forth from their nostrils. Nevertheless, the Lord placed His Spirit upon the seventy elders who began to prophesy and carry some of the workload:

“So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again. But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. So a young man ran and told Moses and said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘Moses, my lord, restrain them.’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!’” (Numbers 11:24-29).

Interestingly, the narrative, in an aside, records that Moses’ faithful servant Joshua was concerned that two of the elders were not present at the moment the Spirit was placed upon the seventy elders. In a fit of loyalty to Moses, Joshua ran to him with the news of Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp, without what he may have perceived as legitimacy derived from being in the presence of Moses when the Spirit was conveyed to the other elders. Moses actually responded with a strong indication that he desired that all of the Lord’s people would be prophets, guided by His Spirit, thus connoting that God can endow His Spirit upon whomever He desires.

Our parashah concludes with a thorough description of the incident when Miriam and Aaron challenged the leadership of Moses. From this passage and others, the Jewish Sages connected many of the issues of leprosy and the problem of the evil tongue. There was to be a commensurate punishment for this, similar to the seven-day banishment of Miriam from the encampment of Israel:

“Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?’ And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, ‘You three come out to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, he said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?’ So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed. But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!’ Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘O God, heal her, I pray!’ But the LORD said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.’ So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again. Afterward, however, the people moved out from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran” (Numbers 12:1-16).

Thankfully, Moses had a sincere love for his sister Miriam, and he interceded for her with the Lord in order to restore her to the camp after the affliction of leprosy abated, which He did. This is a tremendous example for how, despite the lamentable presence of many problems in assemblies of God’s people—it is critical that prayerful intercession for those in sin, can still be restored through God’s grace and mercy. Without going into all of the consequences of a sin like speaking ill of someone, suffice it to say, the wise admonition derived from these episodes can be summed up in the ancient adage, “If you do not have something good to say about someone else, do not say anything at all!” This can also include the use of sarcasm, when trying to more subtly put someone down, by expressing what is in the heart by trying to make it seem humorous. Sarcasm is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit!

This lengthy parashah of B’ha’alotkha contains considerable wisdom that each of us should take to heart, as we reflect upon the desert sojourn of the Ancient Israelites, and seek to be instructed by the Lord. Ultimately, we should each understand how Moses was depending on the Almighty for His Divine guidance, throughout each of the circumstances described. He modeled a sincere faith in the Lord, and turned to Him consistently for how to handle the difficulties of his leadership role. He had difficult tasks to face, and a service to perform that few in the history of God’s people since have had to accomplish. And so, in whatever capacity we serve the Lord and His Kingdom—let us appeal to Him and let Him direct us, so that we can bring honor and glory to Him and His purposes.


NOTES

[1] Consult the relevant sections of the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[2] For some adjacent thoughts, consult the author’s article “God’s ‘Mah Tovu’ Requirements,” appearing in the July 2009 issue of Outreach Israel News, as well as the exegesis paper, “The Torah Will Go Forth From Zion” on Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4, by J.K. McKee.

TorahScope: Naso

Naso

Take

Numbers 4:21-7:89
Judges 13:2-25

“Jealous Dedication”


by Mark Huey

The Book of Bamidbar has been traditionally named Numbers, because of all the numbering and census taking which begins the fourth book of the Torah. This week in our parashah, Naso, we read about the delineation of certain families with more specificity, along with some additional rites. The Lord spoke to Moses and indicated that the Gershonites, Merarites, and Kohathites, from the ages of thirty to fifty, were to perform certain duties in and around the Tabernacle:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ households, by their families; from thirty years and upward to fifty years old, you shall number them; all who enter to perform the service to do the work in the tent of meeting’” (Numbers 4:21-23).

“As for the sons of Merari, you shall number them by their families, by their fathers’ households; from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, you shall number them, everyone who enters the service to do the work of the tent of meeting” (Numbers 4:29-30).

“So Moses and Aaron and the leaders of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites by their families and by their fathers’ households, from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tent of meeting” (Numbers 4:34-35).

In Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), the Gershonites, Merarites, and Kohathites had been designated the tasks associated with the Tabernacle structure and its accoutrements, including but not limited to its construction, disassembling, and portage. Earlier, the numbering of these Levites included all males from one month of age and older, but now those with strength—and presumably more wisdom—between the ages of thirty to fifty, to physically handle the labor, are assigned specific duties. Apparently, the Lord knew that with some life experience, those given specific duties would be more inclined to take their responsibilities seriously, and perhaps not incur the swift judgment that befell immature Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), two of Aaron’s young sons.

During the Apostolic Era, the Apostle Paul drew on some of his personal wisdom, as he imparted directions to the much younger Timothy, on how he was to organize various leaders within the Ephesian congregation. First, despite Timothy’s relative youth, he was clearly chosen to handle his calling, with some well defined parameters shared to him by Paul:

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 4:12-5:1).

Youth was a reality for Timothy, but he was not to neglect the unique spiritual gifting that was prophesied over him, with a confirmation from the laying on of hands by an assembly of elders. Nevertheless, Paul warned him to react humbly regarding interactions with any older congregants in the assembly where he served. On the other hand, when it came to recognizing the different overseers within the Ephesian assembly, some wise advice listed some of the godly attributes crucial to being selected as one of their elders. But note, just because someone has a chronological advantage in terms of age, it does not necessarily mean that one should become an elder, especially if one is a relatively new Believer:

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the [assembly] of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the [assembly], so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-7).

Turning back to Naso, as the Lord further detailed some of the roles for the Ancient Israelites during their desert sojourn, He was concerned about the possibility of the camp being defiled by the evidence of leprosy. There was some specific admonition given, regarding how they were to properly deal with those who contracted leprosy:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person. You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.’ The sons of Israel did so and sent them outside the camp; just as the LORD had spoken to Moses, thus the sons of Israel did” (Numbers 5:1-4).

Next, there is a brief description about how restitution was to be made for sinning or acting unfaithfully to the Lord. Note the principle that both men and women were equally accountable for their sin, as both were required to confess and atone for their guilt:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, “When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the Lord, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess his sins which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it one-fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged. But if the man has no relative to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution which is made for the wrong must go to the LORD for the priest, besides the ram of atonement, by which atonement is made for him. Also every contribution pertaining to all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel, which they offer to the priest, shall be his. So every man’s holy gifts shall be his; whatever any man gives to the priest, it becomes his.”’”

Law of Jealousy

One of the most intriguing instructions within Naso, that the Lord gave to Moses, is what is often termed the “law of jealousy” and how to handle human emotions, whether justified or not, when it came to marital relationships. A jealous husband, who was unsure of his wife’s fidelity to him, could have her go through this ritual by which her innocence could be determined:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself, the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity. Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the LORD, and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. The priest shall then have the woman stand before the LORD and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose, and place the grain offering of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse. The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, ‘If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband [tachat isheik; under thy husband, YLT], be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband [tachat isheik], and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you’ (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), ‘the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen. Amen.’ The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness. The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water. When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children. This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband [tachat isheik], goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. Moreover, the man will be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt”’” (Numbers 5:11-31).

In some regards, the concept of a jealous husband requiring his wife to partake in this sort of ordeal, somewhat mirrors the Lord’s jealous regard for His people. The Torah has already indicated that the Holy One of Israel is a jealous God who desires His people to remain absolutely faithful to Him, and to avoid any association with any alluring false gods they would encounter when in the Promised Land:

“Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods” (Exodus 34:12-16).

The Prophet Isaiah made an analogy of a marriage between the people of Israel and Jerusalem. What might this mean in evaluating how the Holy One is jealous for His people, that they be in allegiance to Him? The union of God’s people to Himself, involves a description of Jerusalem being considered His “bride”:

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will designate. You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. It will no longer be said to you, ‘Forsaken,’ nor to your land will it any longer be said, ‘Desolate’; but you will be called, ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘Married’; for the LORD delights in you, and to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, your God will rejoice over you. On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:1-7).

In the Apostolic Scriptures, the Apostle Paul also invoked an analogy of Yeshua the Messiah serving the assembly, as a loyal husband should serve his wife. This would have been most especially important for many of the early Greek and Roman Believers to hear, who came from cultural backgrounds where the husband was often an autocrat who could do whatever he wanted:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved the [assembly] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the assembly in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Messiah also does the assembly, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH [Genesis 2:24]. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Messiah and the [assembly]. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Considering the tenor of these different passages in Exodus, Isaiah, and Ephesians—every follower of the Holy One needs to avoid ever provoking Him to a point where His righteous jealousy, just might instigate some form of trial that is consistent with the ancient procedure we encounter in Naso. While it might not be consuming some dust to determine whether one has strayed, the Lord in His infinite wisdom and knowledge of all things, stirring in the hearts of human beings, just might concoct a unique test that will accomplish the same goal that the law of jealousy originally achieved. Believers beware! The jealous God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7), and in His inimitable way, He can initiate circumstances that will result in either strict penalties or restitution.

Law of Separation

Numbers ch. 6 largely includes a description of the Nazirite vows. The Nazirite vow was a commitment for a person to separate himself or herself from partaking of the fruit of the vine, remaining unshaven with hair uncut and from the defilement of touching corpses, so that the Nazirite might be totally dedicated to the Lord for a period of time. Apparently, this rite continued into the First Century C.E. When Paul returned to Jerusalem in Acts 21, he was told by James that it had been falsely reported by some Jewish Believers that he was teaching the Jews he encountered in the Mediterranean to abandon the Torah and Jewish customs. In order to prove this claim false, Paul agreed to pay for the expenses of some completing their Nazirite vow. Taking a Nazirite vow was not a normal part of Torah obedience for the community, but was a highly specialized rite. Paul’s presence in the Temple complex was useful for him to prove his fidelity to not only the Torah, but also to the Jewish community:

“After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law’” (Acts 21:17-24).

While Paul was present at the closing ceremonies of those who took the Nazirite vow, a major incident erupted because of some who came in and shouted out the false claim that Paul was disloyal to the Torah (Acts 21:27-28). The rest of the Book of Acts records how this was used for Paul to be arrested, appeal to Caesar, and then be transported to Rome.

What does a Nazirite vow mean for Messiah followers today? It obviously cannot be observed without a Tabernacle or Temple present. But, the principle, of being separated from certain worldly distractions, is an important one. It is difficult to believe that the Lord God of Creation would be displeased with anyone who had a heartfelt desire to separate himself from certain things, in order to dedicate a time period in his life exclusively to Him. Some of you may actually decide to keep a form of a Nazirite vow, mainly by abstaining from wine or alcohol for a season, or actually letting your hair grow and not cutting it. Whatever you do, let us each remember the admirable exhortation given by Joshua, as the Israelites entered into the Promised Land:

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

As the details about the Nazirite vow come to a close, the Lord gave Moses perhaps one of the most revered blessings to be administered by his brother Aaron, the high priest of Israel. In a very direct way contextually, the Almighty was certainly emphasizing that the kind of dedication found in taking a Nazirite vow was something which would receive some profound blessings upon the adherents, to such a commitment to the Lord:

“This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to the LORD according to his separation, in addition to what else he can afford; according to his vow which he takes, so he shall do according to the law of his separation. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’ So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them” (Numbers 6:21-27).

What is known as the Aaronic Benediction, is traditionally recited at the close of Shabbat services in the Jewish Synagogue, and is also present in Messianic Shabbat services. (Even some Christian traditions speak the Aaronic Benediction.) It is beyond a doubt, that these are some of the most cherished words that followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yearn to hear. The Aaronic Benediction would have undeniably had special significance for those who were preparing to begin or end a Nazirite vow (cf. Numbers 6:2).

Finally, the last chapter of Naso describes the completion of the Tabernacle construction, and the consecration of the furnishings, altar, and various utensils. This is followed by offerings made by the leaders of each tribe, as their contributions to the ceremony:

“Now on the day that Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle, he anointed it and consecrated it with all its furnishings and the altar and all its utensils; he anointed them and consecrated them also. Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ households, made an offering (they were the leaders of the tribes; they were the ones who were over the numbered men). When they brought their offering before the LORD, six covered carts and twelve oxen, a cart for every two of the leaders and an ox for each one, then they presented them before the tabernacle. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Accept these things from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and you shall give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.’ So Moses took the carts and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two carts and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service, and four carts and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But he did not give any to the sons of Kohath because theirs was the service of the holy objects, which they carried on the shoulder. The leaders offered the dedication offering for the altar when it was anointed, so the leaders offered their offering before the altar. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Let them present their offering, one leader each day, for the dedication of the altar’” (Numbers 7:1-11).

Each of the twelve tribes made identical contributions of offerings for the sacrifices, and after twelve days, this consecration of the Tabernacle was completed. In conclusion, Moses confirmed his intimacy with the Lord, describing the voice of the Lord coming from above the mercy seat, which was placed on the Ark of the Covenant:

“Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him” (Numbers 7:89).

With great confidence, followers of the Holy One today can be assured that what they are studying in the Torah is coming from the heart of God, spoken by His mouth via His servant Moses. With this in mind, should not all that Moses declared be relevant instruction to every person who seeks the Holy One? Would the Almighty Creator want anything less?

May He, by His grace and mercy, give us all the heart and wisdom to hear and obey His blessed word! In so doing, may all who are seeking to know the Lord with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strength—be encouraged to “jealously” dedicate themselves and their families—to serve the Lord!

TorahScope: Bamidbar

Bamidbar

In the wilderness

Numbers 1:1-4:20
Hosea 2:1-22

“The Lord’s Sovereign Order”


by Mark Huey

Now that the Book of Leviticus has concluded, with its admonition for Israel to be holy as its God is holy, we turn in the Torah to the Book of Numbers. Its Hebrew title is Bamidbar, meaning either “in the wilderness” or “in the desert” (Numbers 1:1). It is appropriately named, because it chronicles many of the experiences of the Ancient Israelites sojourn from Mount Sinai, through the desert, to the border of the Promised Land. From the opening verses, one can conclude that by requiring a census of the congregation, the Holy One definitely desired some orderliness as the march commenced:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head  from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies’” (Numbers 1:1-30).

After all, migrating thousands of people from Egypt to Canaan required some coordination and cooperation to avoid chaos. Earlier in the Torah it is recorded that the Ancient Israelites entered into the wilderness with the military precision of a marching army, so that the Exodus would be successfully completed:

“Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 13:18).

So, after a year of receiving the revelation from the Lord at Mount Sinai, and suffering the punishment attributed to the golden calf rebellion, the word of the Lord now instructed Moses to bring even additional order into the camp. It is certainly true that the Lord has foreordained certain functions within the assembly, for specific individuals to accomplish. As noted many centuries later by the Apostle Paul, “for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the [assemblies] of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Perhaps in the contemporary world, Believers in the Messiah can take some good lessons from these ancient texts, in understanding that disorderliness and confusion are not from the Holy One—but instead are attempts by the enemy to distract and cause division, being harmful to God’s plans for His people. The Lord does have order for His people, designated by His sovereign will.

Interestingly, when the census of the men twenty years and older is taken, the recorded names of the two leaders of each tribe indicates that the Exodus generation was dominated by people given edifying names, that reference either directly or indirectly the Holy One of Israel (Numbers 2). These include names incorporating the title El or “God,” the word tzur or “rock,” or even shaddai or “almighty.” Most assuredly, this generation was foreordained to be reminded, by at least their names every time they were uttered, of their unique connection to the Creator God. This was not by chance, but rather by God providentially preparing the final generation in Egypt to focus their attention on His glory and His attributes.

However, beyond just recognizing the leaders of the various tribes and designating where they were to be positioned during marches or encampments, our Torah portion also elaborates on the role of the Levites and their respective duties in and around the Tabernacle:

“The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their fathers’ tribe. For the LORD had spoken to Moses, saying, ‘Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel. But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death. The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.’ Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all which the LORD had commanded Moses, so they did” (Numbers 1:47-54).

The Lord assigned the tribe of Levi for particular responsibilities after the golden calf incident, when the Levites stood with Moses and executed God’s judgment on the rebels in the camp (Exodus 32:25-35). Additionally, we see that the Lord explained that part of His reassignment of the Levites was also to draw some attention to the judgment of the firstborn that was executed on the Egyptians at the onset of the Exodus:

“Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every firstborn, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be Mine. For all the firstborn are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the LORD.’ Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, ‘Number the sons of Levi by their fathers’ households, by their families; every male from a month old and upward you shall number.’ So Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD, just as he had been commanded” (Numbers 3:11-16).

Note that the Levites were to be numbered from a month old, rather than the numbering of the rest of the tribes which were counted from the age of twenty and above (Numbers 1:3). This was in accordance with the reestablishment of the redemption of the firstborn, as will be described later (Numbers 18:16). So without a doubt, the Lord had a very unique place for the Levites within the community of Israel. Numbers chs. 3-4 go into great detail about the specific instructions for the various descendants of Aaron, and other leading families among the Levites:

“Now these are the records of the generations of Aaron and Moses at the time when the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. These then are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests. But Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD when they offered strange fire before the LORD in the wilderness of Sinai; and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of their father Aaron. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Bring the tribe of Levi near and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. They shall perform the duties for him and for the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, to do the service of the tabernacle. They shall also keep all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, along with the duties of the sons of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle. You shall thus give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the sons of Israel. So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons that they may keep their priesthood, but the layman who comes near shall be put to death” (Numbers 3:1-10).

In the Lord’s desire to maintain order in the camp, after designating where the various tribes would encamp around the Tabernacle with their standards (Numbers chs. 2), He assigned specific duties to three different clans chosen from the Levites:

“So Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD, just as he had been commanded. These then are the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon and Kohath and Merari” (Numbers 3:16-17).

Once again in the Lord’s sovereignty, He chose the Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites to perform precise tasks regarding the Tabernacle and sacrificial system. He even assigned the Levites the job of forming a protective cordon around the Tabernacle, rather than positioning them at a further distance like the balance of the tribes:

“Then the tent of meeting shall set out with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; just as they camp, so they shall set out, every man in his place by their standards” (Numbers 2:17).

Once the encampment locations were assigned, the Lord then specified the respective duties of the chosen Levite clans. The responsibility to handle the Tabernacle and its accoutrements, placed these Levites in close proximity to the holiness of the Lord—with incumbent warnings. First, the Gershonites were to deal with the tent coverings and screens for the Tabernacle:

“Now the duties of the sons of Gershon in the tent of meeting involved the tabernacle and the tent, its covering, and the screen for the doorway of the tent of meeting, and the hangings of the court, and the screen for the doorway of the court which is around the tabernacle and the altar, and its cords, according to all the service concerning them” (Numbers 3:25-26).

Next, the Kohathites were to be responsible for the most holy aspects of the Tabernacle that were located in the inner sanctuary (Numbers 4:4). Notice that Aaron’s living heir Eleazar, next in line for the position of high priest (Numbers 4:16), was given oversight over these items:

“The families of the sons of Kohath were to camp on the southward side of the tabernacle, and the leader of the fathers’ households of the Kohathite families was Elizaphan the son of Uzziel. Now their duties involved the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the utensils of the sanctuary with which they minister, and the screen, and all the service concerning them; and Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest was the chief of the leaders of Levi, and had the oversight of those who perform the duties of the sanctuary” (Numbers 3:29-32).

Finally, the Merarites were given the tasks of handling the parts of the Tabernacle, and ultimately their portage through the desert sojourn, with the attendant caveat that death comes to the normal person who might want to participate in these duties:

“Now the appointed duties of the sons of Merari involved the frames of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, all its equipment, and the service concerning them, and the pillars around the court with their sockets and their pegs and their cords. Now those who were to camp before the tabernacle eastward, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, are Moses and Aaron and his sons, performing the duties of the sanctuary for the obligation of the sons of Israel; but the layman [stranger, American Standard Version] coming near was to be put to death” (Numbers 3:36-38).

After these duties were assigned to the Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites, the Lord restated that Aaron and his sons were to personally handle the holy objects, and that it was the Kohathites’ job to simply carry them:

“When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy objects and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is to set out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them, so that they will not touch the holy objects and die. These are the things in the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry. The responsibility of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest is the oil for the light and the fragrant incense and the continual grain offering and the anointing oil—the responsibility of all the tabernacle and of all that is in it, with the sanctuary and its furnishings” (Numbers 4:15-16).

Lamentably, this “transportation only” role, would ultimately result in some jealousy, as described in great detail during Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16). A foreshadowing of this problem is included in the final comments of our Torah reading, as the Lord specifically warned the Kohathites about the consequences of mishandling the holy objects:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘Do not let the tribe of the families of the Kohathites be cut off from among the Levites. But do this to them that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy objects: Aaron and his sons shall go in and assign each of them to his work and to his load; but they shall not go in to see the holy objects even for a moment, or they will die’” (Numbers 4:17-20).

As we can read from this week’s parashah, the Holy One of Israel was very concerned about the various roles that were to be specifically administered by those within the Levitical priesthood. The Levitical priesthood had a very distinct service within the community. The Levites were to serve as distinct intermediaries between God and the rest of the people, which means they had to all be specially consecrated.

Eventually, we may consider how the default mode for Israel, upon entering the Promised Land—despite the assigning of lands by tribal designations and maintaining the Levitical priesthood—was to tend toward a degree of selfish ambition (cf. James 3:14-16). Lamentably, as later depicted by Korah’s ilk, conditions common to humanity, such as pride, jealousy, and envy have insidious ways to challenge God’s desired order and camaraderie for His people. Over the millennia, this inherent problem has perhaps manifested itself in the proliferation of various sects within Judaism, and the plethora of denominations within Christianity—each of which often considers itself to have a “corner” on the market of truth.

While the distinctions between the tribes and even the individual families were readily known in Ancient Israel, over the course of time, with not only the intermingling of the tribes, but the absorption of the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) and a large number of sojourners—not to mention post-Second Temple history—the specific duties of the priesthood has largely shifted in Judaism and Christianity to rabbis and ministers. Today, we certainly do encounter various people in positions of authority, claiming some sort of “priesthood” status. Some of them handle the Word of God appropriately, and others do not. While they are not Levitical priests, they do function in a priestly sort of capacity. If the consequences of their ministry are creating confusion and division, one might consider whether they are in alignment with God’s intentions, or concocting issues to achieve their own personal agendas. Biblically speaking, the children of God are to be “fruit inspectors” to determine whether the purported “priests” are truly representing the Word of the Lord accurately:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

This weekend, and perhaps coincidentally, the commemoration of the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot, the Day of Pentecost, is going to be remembered on the same day this year (27 May, 2012) by the great majority of followers of the Holy One in both Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps this year, this unusual occurrence connoting the order of God, would be characterized by a unity that pleases Him, when His people can come together around His Word and dwell together with a unified common purpose to glorify Him. For assuredly, as the Psalmist reminds all,

“A Song of Ascents, of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever” (Psalm 133:1-3).

May the Lord once again pour out His Spirit and bless each of us, as “fruit inspectors,” so that we might have the wisdom and insight to know the difference between God’s ways and the ways of the world. May we stand firm, in alignment with His Word and will—and stand against any unnecessary confusion and division, which are attempting to thwart the ultimate unified desire of the Most High!