TorahScope: Shelakh-Lekha

Shelakh-Lekha

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Numbers 13:1-15:41
Joshua 2:1-24

“Faithful Few”


by Mark Huey

After our previous Torah portion, B’ha’alotkha (Numbers 8:1-12:16), where the Lord instructed Moses how to deal with some recalcitrant Israelites and even a challenge by his siblings Miriam and Aaron, the people were positioned to move forward into the Promised Land. However, as readers will see this week in Shelakh-Lekha, trust in the Lord’s promises was limited to only Joshua and Caleb—despite the requirement that all have faith in Him. By choosing one leader from each of the twelve tribes to spy out Canaan, the Lord communicated that for future generations, regardless of family heritage, it would be incumbent on everyone to trust in Him and His word:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses saying, ‘Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them’” (Numbers 13:1-2).

The memorable selection of the twelve spies by Moses is highlighted by Moses uniquely calling out Joshua as the preeminent leader among the group. Joshua had been faithfully serving Moses as a military leader (Exodus 17:9-16) and general aide throughout the early stages of the sojourn (Exodus 24:13; 32:17; 33:11; Numbers 11:28). So it was appropriate for Moses to call or proclaim Joshua’s unique status among his peers. Certainly this exemplified the principle that God-ordained leaders, such as Moses, should be able to discern who was truly serving Him, and verbally express such recognition to others in order to establish and solidify future succession in leadership:

“These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua. When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, ‘Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.’ Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes. So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, at Lebo-hamath. When they had gone up into the Negev, they came to Hebron where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs. That place was called the valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the sons of Israel cut down from there. When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land” (Numbers 13:16-26).

After receiving a series of instructions on what to observe in Canaan, the Lord allowed the spies to spend forty days scouting out the territory. Readers might wish to note potential connections between this forty-day mission, and the forty-day flooding rain (Genesis 7:4), the forty days Moses twice spent on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28), and even the forty-day fast Yeshua had in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2-11). It is not difficult to deduce how such forty-day experiences connote an important time of action or transition in the plan of God. Paradoxically, as is later described, the punishment for lacking the faith to enter the Promised Land, regardless of the obstacles, turned the forty days into forty years of wandering! And yet, despite the bad report of the ten spies, another faithful one emerged, as Caleb boldly expressed his trust in the Lord to enter and secure the Land of Promise:

“Thus they told him, and said, ‘We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.’ Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.’ But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.’ So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight’” (Numbers 13:27-33).

Lamentably, because the majority report likened the Israelites to a weak horde of grasshoppers, their influence on the entire congregation was weeping for their perceived predicament and grumbling against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. What is instructive to note is just how Moses and Aaron handled the disappointment of the faithless Israelites:

“Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.’ Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, ‘The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.’ But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel. The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.’ But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.’ So the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it’” (Numbers 14:1-24).

It is highly important to recognize that upon hearing the complaints of the congregation, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord to intercede for the people, and to appeal to Him for mercy and guidance on how to proceed. While Joshua and Caleb tore their garments in support of Moses and Aaron’s visible appeal to the Lord, Moses began to argue a case pleading with the Lord for mercy. It was in the Lord’s response to Moses that a description of a most merciful Creator God completely dispels any modern-day notion that the so-called “Old Testament God” is an angry, vindictive, and punishing tyrant. The fact, that the Almighty defined Himself as “slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” and “forgiving iniquity and transgression,” is simply an affirmation that the Holy One is loving and just. However, as was known then by the sacrificial system established—and even more so now that the ultimate sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah has taken place—God has provided means to avoid the consequences of sin. Even in our Torah portion, one finds the great example of the contrast between those who chose to follow the will of God like Caleb, versus his faithless contemporaries.

In spite of Moses and Aaron’s intercession, the Lord meted out His immediate punishment for the ten faithless spies who died in a plague, and then the lengthy forty-year demise of those twenty years and older who believed their bad report and grumbled to the Lord. However, trusting Caleb and Joshua were rewarded for their insistence that the Lord’s word to Israel was sufficient to overcome the challenges of entering the hostile territory. But note that after the word of the Lord came forth proclaiming His edict, and after the plague took the lives of the ten spies with a bad report, there was a change of heart attempting to get back in line with what the Lord had declared:

“The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the LORD, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.’” As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the LORD. But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land. When Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly. In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, ‘Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.’ But Moses said, ‘Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the LORD, when it will not succeed? Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the LORD is not among you. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you, and you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned back from following the LORD. And the LORD will not be with you.’ But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah” (Numbers 14:26-45).

Despite confessing to the Lord that they had sinned against His promises, the Ancient Israelites attempted to regain His favor by trying to enter the Promised Land without His protection. Moses warned them that because of what had just transpired, it was not time to march into the Canaan, and consequently, those who attempted to enter the hill country did not have the Ark of the Covenant and were roundly defeated. The great lesson to take from this is that after one has clearly sinned and come against the will of the Maker, it is much more prudent to wait upon Him for further guidance rather than strike out in the flesh to try and make restitution. Clearly, the Lord wanted His people to be dependent upon Him, and if they moved forward in their own strength apart from His blessing of the Lord—the consequences can be extremely painful.

After the rout of Israel by the Amalekites and Canaanites, the Lord reminded the Ancient Israelites of the need to make sacrificial offerings to Him upon entering the Promised Land. This is one of the several places within the Torah, where the same instructions were to be followed by both the native of Israel and the sojourner who entered in. This would have been especially important to emphasize, given the possibility of a non-native sojourner being treated a bit differently than a native Israelite:

“All who are native shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD. If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do. As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD. There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you” (Numbers 15:13-16).

This instruction continues, as the first of one’s dough was to be offered before the Lord. Provisions are seen for unintentionally omitting this practice by congregational sacrifices—and the principle extends out to all unintentional offenses against Moses’ Teaching. Such sacrifices were to be applicable to both the native Israelites and sojourners, and with them receiving forgiveness via the same animal sacrifice, there is definitely the impetus that all within the community of Israel were to learn from and follow the Torah:

“From the first of your dough you shall give to the LORD an offering throughout your generations. But when you unwittingly fail and do not observe all these commandments, which the LORD has spoken to Moses, even all that the LORD has commanded you through Moses, from the day when the LORD gave commandment and onward throughout your generations, then it shall be, if it is done unintentionally, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one bull for a burnt offering, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering. Then the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and they will be forgiven; for it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their error. So all the congregation of the sons of Israel will be forgiven, with the alien who sojourns among them, for it happened to all the people through error. Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him” (Numbers 15:21-31).

The challenge, in this part of the Torah, is not in encountering how there was a sacrifice for unintentional sin available for the native and sojourner; the challenge is how there was no sacrifice for intentional sin. An example that immediately follows is when someone was caught gathering wood on Shabbat, and was stoned to death. Following this is an injunction that the people were to wear tassels or tzitzit (singular), so that they might not forget the need to observe God’s commandments:

“Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the LORD your God’” (Numbers 15:32-41).

Serious defiance demands serious consequences. In this case, the entire congregation participated in the capital punishment of the transgressor. One can certainly understand the need for those of the community of Israel to have a physical reminder on their clothing to direct their attention to keep commandments.

In the post-resurrection era, each Believer of the Messiah Yeshua should be immensely thankful that the Torah’s capital penalties were absorbed onto Himself at Golgotha (Colossians 2:14). As those who have been decisively born from above, the indwelling Spirit of God is to supernaturally transcribe His commandments onto our hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17). While the discipline of wearing tassels on one’s garments is something that can be greatly beneficial for Messiah’s followers, at best it is a human reminder of the need to obey God—but it cannot at all replace the supernatural compulsion of the Spirit to obey—and especially the circumcision of a new heart of flesh required for eternal redemption.

With examples like Joshua and Caleb, who we are considering this week—not to mention all of the other faithful saints who have preceded us down through the centuries—modern-day followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have much to not only live for, but to live up to. May we be among those who possess the strongest trust in Him!

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.

Salvation on the Line, Volume II: The Nature of Yeshua and His Divinity–General Epistles, Pauline Epistles, and Later New Testament

In the past, the big issue which has faced the Messianic movement has understandably been the Messiahship of Yeshua of Nazareth, widely connected to the purposes of Jewish evangelism. For the present, the big issue which is staring right at the broad Messianic movement—to which no congregation, fellowship, family, or individual is entirely immune—is how to approach the nature of Yeshua (Jesus). Is Yeshua the Messiah God, or is He a created being? While many affirm Yeshua of Nazareth to be the eternal, uncreated Son of God who is indeed God—there are many others who express various levels of doubt about this, and then others who think that Yeshua is a created being and not God. There are those who will affirm that Yeshua is a supernatural being to be sure—perhaps even the first created being in the cosmic order, pre-existent of our known universe—but nevertheless created and not God.

This publication, Salvation on the Line: The Nature of Yeshua and His Divinity, affirms a high Christology. Not only does it affirm a high Christology of Yeshua being God, it very much defends the view that while understanding all of the intricacies of Yeshua being God is not required for salvation, recognizing Yeshua as the Lord (YHWH/YHVH) of the Tanach Scriptures (Old Testament) most certainly is required for salvation (Romans 10:9, 13; cf. Joel 2:32).

This resource has consulted and engaged with a wide array of resources and perspectives across the Messianic movement, into the more independent sectors of the Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement, the views expressed by various Christians labeling themselves “Biblical Unitarians,” and even those few theologians of note who hold to a low Christology. This involves an array of articles, books, commentaries, and even a few Bible versions. Most important, would be some of the excellent, thorough, and readable resources defending a high Christology, seen within the realm of broadly evangelical Christian theology.

The considerable bulk of Salvation on the Line, while defending a high Christology, is necessarily spent going to the text of the Holy Scriptures (Genesis-Revelation). This is not only because the Holy Scriptures are to be decisively regarded by God’s people to be the Word of Life, but also because this is the venue where the rise and fall of theological concepts are to be found. None of us wants to be found holding to a view of Yeshua being God simply because of some kind of fundamentalist dogma—where if we hold to a different view our name will somehow end up on a list or in a white paper as being stigmatized as some kind of “cultists.” We want to be found holding to a view of Yeshua being God, precisely because that is where the witness of Scripture directs us, it is the genuine testimony of the Messiah and His early followers, and because it is required for our redemption from sins as fallen human beings. The author firmly believes that such a principled case can be made in going to the text of Scripture, and that those who hold to a low Christology are decisively lacking in many areas.

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