Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for Mattot-Mas’ei

Reflection for Mattot-Mas’ei

“Vows: Swearing to Your Own Hurt”

Matthew 5:33-37
James 4:1-12


by Mark Huey

This week as we examine a dual Torah portion in Mattot (Numbers 30:2[1]-32:42) and Mas’ei (Numbers 33:1-36:13), the Book of Numbers comes to a close. It is here overlooking the plains of Moab that Moses delivers some final instructions to the Israelites, before they enter into the Promised Land. In Mattot we see regulations pertaining to vows,[1] an account of the war with Midian and how to redistribute the spoils,[2] and a dissertation on how the community was to handle the Reubenites and Gadites wanting to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan.[3] Mas’ei includes a reiteration of the wilderness journey of Ancient Israel,[4] instructions on how the land of Canaan was to be divided among the tribes,[5] details about the rights of the Levites and cities of refuge to be established,[6] and finally we see directions on how inheritance is to be passed on once Israel is planted with the Land.[7] With this wide array of seemingly unrelated topics, there are a number of issues which can be considered, discussed, and contemplated.

However, when looking at the Haftarah for not only this week, but the next three weeks, we see that the Sages who chose the various readings decided centuries ago that, rather than focus on a selection from the Prophets that was directly related to these passages—instead associated are three passages of admonition, preceding the fast of the Ninth of Av (Mattot: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3; Mas’ei: Jeremiah 2:4-28; Devarim: Isaiah 1:1-27). In the years that I have written my TorahScope commentaries, I have always recommended that preparing for the Ninth of Av by considering these different Haftarahs is an exercise that every Messianic Believer should do.

Obviously, the seriousness of what has transpired over the centuries during this time period leading up to the Ninth of Av is never to be forgotten. Followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who consistently study the Torah, should spend some time in deep reflection and thought. What have been some of the challenges faced throughout the centuries on the Ninth of Av? What meditations are in your heart, as we prepare to transition out of the Book of Numbers and into the Book of Deuteronomy? How might the changing narrative within the Torah cause you to look at some current events in the Land of Israel, the Western world, the world in general—or the wide Judeo-Christian religious community which is increasingly being challenged?

Of all the things that I could expound upon from our parashah this week, connecting it to an important theme in the Apostolic Scriptures, what really hits home for me is the Torah’s instruction about making vows. Within His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua the Messiah quotes directly from Numbers 30:2 and offers His followers an important explanation:

“If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2).

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD’ [Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:3; Deuteronomy 23:22]. But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING [Psalm 48:2]. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Matthew 5:33-37).

Yeshua obviously knew the Torah and its requirements for people to honor their vows, oaths, and various obligations, because this is a normal part of human interaction. Simply consider vows that are made during a wedding ceremony or contracts which are made for business transactions; it is understood that a person’s spoken or written word should be binding. Yet in His teaching, the Lord actually advises His hearers to “make no oath at all.” Is this a contradiction to what Moses originally delivered? One suggestion might be that for many of those He taught, making vows or trying to get out of commitments had become so flippant, that Yeshua had to issue a kind of halachic moratorium on making vows. The seriousness of appealing to one’s Creator as a commitment is being made, intensifies how words are not to just be spoken. For too many of us, we need to consciously weigh what we say before we make a vow or take an oath.

In this day and age, the world system is most dedicated to discrediting all vestiges of our Judeo-Christian heritage, and frequently finds support from religious people who live lives of hypocrisy. So, it is critical that we as Believers—not just to one another, but also to all we encounter—be truthful and honor our word. We have to learn to live forth Yeshua’s critical admonition, “Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37, CJB). If we fail to do this, will we be found to be perpetuating evil? How many people in the world have had stumbling blocks placed in front of them, because those who claim the God of Israel cannot speak and act honestly?

Every year when I see the Torah’s instruction about vows, I am reminded of a personal challenge that occurred in the late 1990s that changed the course of our lives—because of my stubbornness to adhere to the principle of honoring my spoken word. It was not necessarily this specific passage from Matthew 5 that was used, but rather a statement appearing in Psalm 15, which in essence solidified within me my need to keep my word. I have always taken most seriously the principle of “he swears to his own hurt”:

“A Psalm of David. O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; he swears to his own hurt and does not change; he does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken” (Psalm 15:1-5).

Back in the mid 1990s as the Lord was using a series of events to draw our family into the ministry, we were very concerned about the direction of the United States and issues in Israel, just like we are today (in 2010)—but we were not tempered with some wisdom and experience. Within much of the Christian and Messianic community, not only with Y2k on the horizon and some of the policies of the Clinton Administration—but also with the 1993 Middle East Peace Accord—it was thought that the end-times were soon to occur. In 1998 our family was presented with an opportunity to move to Honduras and begin proclaiming the gospel to the Western Hemisphere using shortwave transmissions. (This was before the proliferation of Internet usage that we see today.) As a part of this enterprise, I became involved in quasi-ownership of a large tract of land, and because I had previous experience in real estate, we had plans to resell smaller tracts in order to eliminate the mortgage. During the six months all of this was coming together, I mentioned to a number of potential land buyers that my family and I were moving, and that a “remnant community of end-time Believers” would be formed as families took up residence. I was binding myself verbally to follow through…

As the project proceeded and we sold our home and many assets before moving, it became apparent to me that things down in Central America were not going as expected. In fact, my “partner” with the shortwave experience had started to reveal some less-than-godly characteristics that were alerting me about the move. Yet, I was in a bind because I had told several individuals, who were reordering their lives, that I would be moving with my family. When I finally realized that things were not going to work out as originally planned, I was in the unenviable position of having the words from Psalm 15 pierce me to the heart. How was I going to pull the plug on the move and possibly not materially hurt others? Instead, I honored my word, swearing to my own hurt. We made the move, which was financially not a good thing to do at the time, but something I was convinced should have been done because I did give my word.

In our family’s case, it was this life altering move that led us into full time ministry (Romans 8:28), but it never would have happened if I had not been personally convicted to swear to my own hurt. It would have been much easier to have brought up a number of excuses as to why we were not going to move, but what would this have done? The blessing to a person who is consistent in dealing with others is, “He who does these things will never be shaken” (Psalm 15:5).

This was a great lesson to learn, and as a result of this experience I am very cautious about what I say and commit to in interactions with others. Perhaps you can also recall times when you honored your word, despite what it might have cost you either financially or relationally. At times, I do know that our ministerial endeavors have been the recipient of many positive commitments for support down through the years. Disappointingly, we have seen a number of people unwilling to honor their word, so I have made the point to volitionally release people from their obligations because I sincerely do not want them to suffer any consequences of broken promises. But I have often wondered: Why is it that these same verses from Moses, David, or Yeshua have not had a similar impact on others? Why in my experience do I frequently witness people trying to exit out of clear-cut commitments?

Remember Yeshua’s warning to “make no oath at all.” Before you give your assent to do something, make sure that you have investigated it thoroughly. Do nothing on a whim, and make sure you know how something has the capacity to possibly “hurt” you. Seek the Father’s face and ask Him for wisdom and discernment, so that He might lead you in His paths of righteousness.

NOTES

[1] Numbers 30:1-16.

[2] Numbers 31:1-54.

[3] Numbers 32:1-42.

[4] Numbers 33:1-49.

[5] Numbers 33:50-34:29.

[6] Numbers 35:1-34.

[7] Numbers 36:1-13.


This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey

Haftarah Mattot-Mas’ei

Haftarah Mattot-Mas’ei

“Consequences”

Jeremiah 1:1-2:3

Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4 (A);
2:4-28; 4:1-2 (S)


by Mark Huey

This week we come to the concluding double portion for the Book of Numbers, Mattot-Ma’sei (Numbers 30:2-32:42; 33:1-36:13). Our selection of the Haftarah reading (2009) is altered from a thematic choice to one dictated by the Hebrew calendar. During the Summer period between Shavuot and Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah—the months of Tammuz and Av—remembering various traumatic events that occurred in Jewish history takes precedence. So for the three weeks prior to the infamous Ninth of Av, the Sages decided to choose Haftarah readings which would remind the Jewish community about the consequences of sin—manifested by the destruction of the First and Second Temples on the Ninth of Av. These three Haftarah selections begin after the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple.

Rabbinic commentary often refers to the period between the 17th of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av as bein ha’mitzarim or “between the breaches.” This is derived from Lamentations 1:3, where we see, “Judah has gone into exile under affliction and under harsh servitude; she dwells among the nations, but she has found no rest; all her pursuers have overtaken her in the midst of distress” (Lamentations 1:3).

Additionally, between these two fasts, the time period is also liturgically referred to as the “Three Weeks of Admonition.” The theme of the three Haftarah readings turns to admonishing the Ancient Jews for falling into sin, resulting in the loss of the Temples.

With all of this in mind, some passages from Jeremiah (1:1-2:3; 2:4-3:4), who witnessed the fall of the First Temple, are traditionally read for the first two Sabbaths during this period. This is followed by Isaiah 1:1-27.[1] This year, with Mattot and Ma’sei being considered together, Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 is read. When Mattot and Ma’sei are read individually, then the Haftarah is Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4; or 4:1-2 (depending on the Ashkenazic or Sephardic preference).

This year the opening verses of Jeremiah will be considered. What does the opening chapter of the Book of Jeremiah communicate to us as Bible students? It encourages us to engage and reflect upon some of the historical tragedies that came upon God’s people. The first chapter of Jeremiah actually speaks about Jeremiah’s call into service as a prophet or mouthpiece for the Holy One of Israel. The Lord states through these oracles that He will anoint spokespersons who will declare His word as a means to not only admonish people, but warn them of impending judgment. Note in the opening verses not only Jeremiah’s humble response to his appointment, but the declarative statement that the Lord is watching over His word to perform it:

“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month. Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Alas, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the LORD. Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’ The word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ And I said, ‘I see a rod of an almond tree.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it’” (Jeremiah 1:1-12).

Now that we know Jeremiah had been called of the Lord for service, and that what he stated would be accomplished by the Lord, the word that judgment was coming from the north interrupts the narrative. Babylon was not mentioned by name, but rather a more general declaration regarding all the families of the “kingdoms of the north.” Since many nations of the Earth were at odds with Israel, God would personally pronounce His judgments on them for their idolatrous ways through the mouthpiece provided by Jeremiah:

“The word of the LORD came to me a second time saying, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘Out of the north the evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land. For, behold, I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north,’ declares the LORD; ‘and they will come and they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about and against all the cities of Judah. I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the LORD. Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the first of His harvest. All who ate of it became guilty; evil came upon them,’ declares the LORD”’” (Jeremiah 1:13-2:3).

The reminder that God will protect His people is comforting, as He recalled their devotion to Him during their youthful sojourns. In fact, the admonition is to return to such a level of devotion to the Holy One of Israel.

So what does this passage from Jeremiah help us imagine, as we read Mattot-Ma’sei in conjunction with the historical realities of judgment as will be seen by the Temple destructions on the Ninth of Av? What about the consequences for sin, which can be simply seen by the principle of reaping what one sows? This foundational principle of God’s created order applies not only to the physical realm, but also the spiritual realm. Just consider a few Proverbs that address this basic truth:

“The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward. He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death” (Proverbs 11:18-19).

“He who sows iniquity will reap vanity, and the rod of his fury will perish” (Proverbs 22:8).

“There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him. He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf. He who troubles his own house will inherit wind, and the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls. If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!” (Proverbs 11:24-31).

As you reflect on these wise sayings, consider the consequences that befell Ancient Israel as a direct result of its sin. As the people increasingly became idolaters and fell away from the ways of the Lord, judgment took place. Whether it was the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians, or the destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Romans, the consequences of moving away from the Lord are consistent. And even though there may no longer be a physical Temple to graphically destroy, God’s eternal principle of reaping what is sown still applies. So what kind of future judgment can be expected?

It is apparent from Proverbs that the judgment takes place in the very heart and soul of those who sow iniquity or unrighteousness. This is a serious consequence to consider, because the breadth of Scripture is replete with examples of what happens to those who disregard this reality! Jeremiah reminds us that there are consequences for our actions. May we all be mindful not only during this season of reflection between the 17th of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av, but every day of every year!

God is watching over His Word to perform it—and He will—in His time and with the consequences He desires to achieve.

NOTES

[1] Eisenberg, 304.


This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope Haftarah Exhortations by William Mark Huey.

TorahScope Mattot-Mas’ei

Mattot-Mas’ei

Tribes

Stages

“Double Portion: Final Instructions”

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

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


by Mark Huey

This week as the Book of Numbers comes to a close, its final two Torah readings give the generation of Joshua some final instructions before embarking on the invasion of Canaan. Recall that after the trauma associated with the sin of Baal-peor was tragically resolved, a census was conducted, to number the survivors of the plague, followed by the transfer of Moses’ authority to Joshua (Numbers 27:15-23). This was followed by a reiteration of various daily offerings and sacrifices (Numbers 28:1-29:40).

In our two Torah portions for this week, Moses was instructed to remind the Israelites about the seriousness of personal vows (Numbers 30:1-16), the proper military means to address the chronic threat from the Midianites (Numbers 31:1-24), and how to handle the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad to settle the land east of the Jordan River (Numbers 32:1-42). There is then a textual review of the forty-two different encampments during the nearly forty-year sojourn through the desert (Numbers 33:1-49). Next, the means to equitably distribute the territory to the twelve tribes of Israel, by lot, to settle forty-two cities with special attention to the Levitical priesthood, and the establishment of six additional cities of refuge to deal with unintentional deaths (Numbers 33:50-35:34)—adds considerably to maintaining an orderly transition from the plains of Moab, once the Promised Land is conquered. Finally, the Lord gave Moses some explicit instructions on how to handle the issue presented earlier by the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-13). Obviously, Moses knew that his days were numbered and that the Lord had already told him he was not going to be allowed to enter into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12-13), because of his presumptuous actions at the waters of Meribah. As the leader of Israel, Moses’ intention was to fulfill his mission to communicate the word of the Lord before expiring.

With so much to elucidate to those who survived the arduous journey, modern-day students of God’s Word may think that they have a “double portion” blessing, of reviewing these key instructions—so that they might learn from them and properly apply them in the modern era.

One aspect of our Torah selection concerns the issue of wives or daughters making vows, and the ability for the father to cancel these vows. It is not as easy for modern readers to understand the importance of this, because we live in a time when women have an unbelievable amount of rights, responsibilities, and opportunities that the ancients did not have. The very fact that women would largely even be able to make binding oaths on behalf of a family, must be recognized here. The instructions, regarding a husband or father being able to cancel the word of a wife or daughter, need to be understood first in the context of Ancient Israel in the Ancient Near East. Today, in a definitively egalitarian post-resurrection era (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 2:11), where husbands and wives are to serve one another as co-leaders of the home in mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), looking out for one another, these instructions should be more readily applied with that in mind:

“Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, ‘This is the word which the LORD has commanded. If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. Also if a woman makes a vow to the LORD, and binds herself by an obligation in her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears her vow and her obligation by which she has bound herself, and her father says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father should forbid her on the day he hears of it, none of her vows or her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the LORD will forgive her because her father had forbidden her. However, if she should marry while under her vows or the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day he hears it, then her vows shall stand and her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if on the day her husband hears of it, he forbids her, then he shall annul her vow which she is under and the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her. But the vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, everything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her. However, if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an obligation with an oath, and her husband heard it, but said nothing to her and did not forbid her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband indeed annuls them on the day he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning the obligation of herself shall not stand; her husband has annulled them, and the LORD will forgive her. Every vow and every binding oath to humble herself, her husband may confirm it or her husband may annul it. But if her husband indeed says nothing to her from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or all her obligations which are on her; he has confirmed them, because he said nothing to her on the day he heard them. But if he indeed annuls them after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.’ These are the statutes which the LORD commanded Moses, as between a man and his wife, and as between a father and his daughter, while she is in her youth in her father’s house” (Numbers 30:1-16).

It is certainly clear from Numbers ch. 30, that the issue of making vows is quite serious, and no one is to make any sort of rash commitment to God. Centuries later in His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua the Messiah issued the following instruction to those listening. He quantitatively advised against people making any vows, likely because of their human inability to fully keep them:

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD’ [Leviticus 19:2; Numbers 30:3; Deuteronomy 23:22]. But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING [Psalm 48:2]. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Matthew 5:33-37).

The need, to watch one’s lips or mouth, and the words, statements, commitments—and yes, even oaths and vows which are made—is absolutely imperative. Instructions such as the following, from the Book of Proverbs and James the Just, give us some key warnings of the potential pitfalls of the tongue:

“He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit. There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment” (Proverbs 12:17-19).

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

Following the issue of oath taking, our Torah reading turns to how the Ancient Israelites would affectively deal with the ongoing threat of the Midianites, who continued to want to impede their progress as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Here with the explicit instructions of the Lord, the proper way to go to war with His blessing is detailed:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered to your people.’ Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.’ So there were furnished from the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war with them, and the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. So they made war against Midian, just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian along with the rest of their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. The sons of Israel captured the women of Midian and their little ones; and all their cattle and all their flocks and all their goods they plundered. Then they burned all their cities where they lived and all their camps with fire. They took all the spoil and all the prey, both of man and of beast. They brought the captives and the prey and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest and to the congregation of the sons of Israel, to the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan opposite Jericho. Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the congregation went out to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. And Moses said to them, ‘Have you spared all the women? Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD’” (Numbers 31:1-16).

Not only did Israel choose warriors from each of the tribes, but they were instructed to have the blessings of Phinehas, the son of the high priest Eleazar, with the holy vessels and trumpets accompanying the assault upon Midian. As is later noted, the overwhelming victory by Israel decimating the Midianites was achieved without suffering any mortal casualties (Numbers 31:49), and they received a victor’s booty (Numbers 31:33-47) that was huge and equitably distributed to the valiant warriors (Numbers 31:27). Interestingly in an aside, it is noted that Balaam, the prophet for hire, apparently advised Balak to send the Moabite women into the Israelite camp in order for the people to curse themselves by their licentious and lascivious acts and worship of idols (Numbers 31:16). However, one discovers that Balaam, perhaps frustrated by his inability to curse Israel but rather bless them, was now found among the dead Midianites, having been thrust through by an Israelite sword (Numbers 31:8). The great lesson to learn is that the Holy One’s justice is absolute, and that those who oppose His will are going to eventually be justly judged for their indiscretions.

After the unconditional victory over the Midianites, there is a lengthy description of how Moses handled the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad to locate their herds of livestock on the east side of the Jordan, before the conquest of the Promised Land would be completed. The following depicts some recollections about their predecessors, and how the Lord was adamant that all twelve tribes collaborate to first secure the territory before the settlement is finalized:

“Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had an exceedingly large number of livestock. So when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that it was indeed a place suitable for livestock, the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben came and spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, ‘Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon, the land which the LORD conquered before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.’ They said, ‘If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not take us across the Jordan.’ But Moses said to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben, ‘Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here? Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the LORD has given them? This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the sons of Israel so that they did not go into the land which the LORD had given them. So the LORD’s anger burned in that day, and He swore, saying, “None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; for they did not follow Me fully, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed the LORD fully.” So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the LORD was destroyed. Now behold, you have risen up in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to add still more to the burning anger of the LORD against Israel. For if you turn away from following Him, He will once more abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all these people.’ Then they came near to him and said, ‘We will build here sheepfolds for our livestock and cities for our little ones; but we ourselves will be armed ready to go before the sons of Israel, until we have brought them to their place, while our little ones live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until every one of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance. For we will not have an inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this side of the Jordan toward the east.’ So Moses said to them, ‘If you will do this, if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for the war, and all of you armed men cross over the Jordan before the LORD until He has driven His enemies out from before Him, and the land is subdued before the LORD, then afterward you shall return and be free of obligation toward the LORD and toward Israel, and this land shall be yours for a possession before the LORD. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out. Build yourselves cities for your little ones, and sheepfolds for your sheep, and do what you have promised.’ The sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Your servants will do just as my lord commands. Our little ones, our wives, our livestock and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead; while your servants, everyone who is armed for war, will cross over in the presence of the LORD to battle, just as my lord says’” (Numbers 32:1-27).

One would think that after experiencing the total victory over the Midianites, the children of Israel would understand the blessings of unified actions. But after the dialogue between Moses and those of Reuben and Gad, the realization that conquering Canaan with a full compliment from every tribe was critical for accomplishing the goal. Hence, the negotiation was agreed upon, with the Reubenites and Gadites agreeing to fight for the Promised Land with their distant cousins, before their final resettlement on the east side of the Jordan River. The lesson to be learned, even today, is that God’s purposes for the Creation will be fulfilled when His people are unified with one mission to complete His work, through the guidance and direction of His Spirit:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Perhaps for historical and recorded verification purposes, Numbers ch. 33 essentially gives the details of the itinerary of Israel, with some nuances of what had taken place over the previous nearly forty year sojourn from Egypt to the plains of Moab overlooking the Jordan River. At this point, the command to utterly destroy the inhabitants of the Canaan and decimate their idols, in order to cleanse and possess the Promised Land is described, as well as the distribution of the territory by lot:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your families; to the larger you shall give more inheritance, and to the smaller you shall give less inheritance. Wherever the lot falls to anyone, that shall be his. You shall inherit according to the tribes of your fathers. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live. And as I plan to do to them, so I will do to you”’” (Numbers 33:50-56).

Of course the key, to a successful occupation of the Promised Land, was for Israel to adhere to the Lord’s commands. Yet as was the case since the taking of the Promised Land, the Lord’s people had not been totally faithful to follow His instructions. The consequences of the propensity to disobey is certainly epitomized by the universal principle that people will reap what they sow. Is there a lesson to be learned?

Our Torah reading includes some explicit instructions the Levites, who were not to receive an inheritance of land because of their responsibilities to exclusively serve the Almighty (Numbers 18:20-21), were to instead be taken care of. Here the six cities of refuge are described in detail:

“Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities. The cities shall be theirs to live in; and their pasture lands shall be for their cattle and for their herds and for all their beasts. The pasture lands of the cities which you shall give to the Levites shall extend from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits around. You shall also measure outside the city on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits, with the city in the center. This shall become theirs as pasture lands for the cities. The cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, which you shall give for the manslayer to flee to; and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities. All the cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be forty-eight cities, together with their pasture lands. As for the cities which you shall give from the possession of the sons of Israel, you shall take more from the larger and you shall take less from the smaller; each shall give some of his cities to the Levites in proportion to his possession which he inherits’” (Numbers 35:1-8).

Concurrent with this, instructions are given about the cities of refuge to handle the issues of unintentional or accidental deaths. Capital punishment is mentioned here, because the Lord was very concerned about the Promised Land not becoming polluted by the blood of innocent life. The Lord stated that He would be dwelling in the midst of Israel:

“The congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the blood avenger, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he fled; and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the manslayer at any time goes beyond the border of his city of refuge to which he may flee, and the blood avenger finds him outside the border of his city of refuge, and the blood avenger kills the manslayer, he will not be guilty of blood because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest the manslayer shall return to the land of his possession. These things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. You shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest. So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. ‘You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel” (Numbers 35:24-34).

When one contemplates these specific instructions, perhaps in light of the modern-day institution of abortion, there is a serious concern about all of the innocent life which is being casually murdered, without properly respecting and adhering to the thrust of these commands. Obviously, only the Lord knows what the ramifications are for a society, which can so blatantly disrespect life. Without equivocation, may God have mercy on those who promote abortion—and by His grace, let us hope that it stops before His judgment rectifies the flagrant sin, in order to more favorably dwell among His people!

In the last set of instructions seen in our Torah reading, Moses sought the Lord’s word on how to handle the request of the daughters of Zelophedad regarding their inheritance in the Promised Land:

“And the heads of the fathers’ households of the family of the sons of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the heads of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel, and they said, ‘The LORD commanded my lord to give the land by lot to the sons of Israel as an inheritance, and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. But if they marry one of the sons of the other tribes of the sons of Israel, their inheritance will be withdrawn from the inheritance of our fathers and will be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they belong; thus it will be withdrawn from our allotted inheritance. When the jubilee of the sons of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they belong; so their inheritance will be withdrawn from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.’ Then Moses commanded the sons of Israel according to the word of the LORD, saying, ‘The tribe of the sons of Joseph are right in their statements. This is what the LORD has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, “Let them marry whom they wish; only they must marry within the family of the tribe of their father.” Thus no inheritance of the sons of Israel shall be transferred from tribe to tribe, for the sons of Israel shall each hold to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. ‘Every daughter who comes into possession of an inheritance of any tribe of the sons of Israel shall be wife to one of the family of the tribe of her father, so that the sons of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers. Thus no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another tribe, for the tribes of the sons of Israel shall each hold to his own inheritance. Just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so the daughters of Zelophehad did’” (Numbers 36:1-10).

Apparently before the Book of Numbers comes to a close, the issue of how to deal with women’s rights, brought up earlier (Numbers 26:33), needed to be addressed with a direct word from the Lord. Perhaps by this reiteration of how to handle women equitably, the Lord began to return His people to equality among the genders that was lost in Eden (cf. Genesis 3:16). For certainly, as the Book of Numbers finally ends, there is the categorical declarative statement that:

“These are the commandments and the ordinances which the LORD commanded to the sons of Israel through Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho” (Numbers 36:13).

May each of us learn, and take to heart, the great lessons to be learned from what the Lord requires! He constantly wants His people to be unified in the common resolve to fulfill His Word, and complete His mission for the Creation. To this end may we each faithfully serve Him, by advancing His Kingdom today, until the Messianic restoration of all things culminates!


This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope, Volume III by William Mark Huey.

Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for Pinchas

Reflection for Pinchas

“The Pierced Shepherd”

Matthew 26:1-30; Mark 14:1-26;
Luke 22:1-20; John 2:13-22; 7:1-13, 37-39; 11:55-12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14;
Acts 2:1-21; 12:3-4; 20:5-6, 16; 27:9-11;
1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 16:8; Hebrews 11:28


by Mark Huey

Upon coming to the close of Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9) with the dramatic execution events at the sanctuary, one often wonders why the first nine verses of Numbers 25 are included—rather than seeing them begin Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1[29:40]), which we are examining this week. After all, the departure of Balak and Balaam to their respective domiciles seems like a natural break in the text (Numbers 24:25). Nevertheless, the ancient Rabbis and Sages concluded that remembering the horrific consequences of succumbing to the vile sexual sins of Baal-peor was probably something that needed to be considered for two weeks, rather than in just one week. So, this week the beginning of our Torah teaching not only causes us to reconsider the deadly impalement of a couple in the act of flagrant sin,[1] but also the notable bequeathing by God of a covenant of peace and perpetual priesthood to the zealous executioner Phinehas[2]—who stopped the plague upon Israel:

“When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. Those who died by the plague were 24,000. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, “Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel”’” (Numbers 25:7-13).

Contemplating this series of opening events makes the subsequent census of Israel,[3] coupled with various inheritance laws[4] and information about offerings, most especially those to be offered during the appointed times[5]—seem rather mild. The institution of “My covenant of peace” (b’riti shalom), with Phinehas and his descendants given a perpetual priesthood, is undeniably the main “event” of our parashah. Phinehas is rewarded by God for his jealous act, which ostensibly made a kind of “atonement” for the community of Israel, as it terminated the plague.

Is this a foreshadowing (albeit an obscure example) of how the force or phenomenon of death can help circumvent the judgment of God? While in the case of Phinehas, God’s judgment was only stopped when he stood up and took righteous action, killing promiscuous idolaters, consider the element of how people had to be impaled with a spear to halt Divine retribution. After Yeshua had died on the cross, we see that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34). Clearly, the events described in Pinchas and the death of our Lord on the tree are not identical—namely because Yeshua had willingly offered Himself (Hebrews 9:14), and the two sinners were killed quickly and swiftly—but it is interesting to see how those speared were carefully noticed by the Father. With Yeshua having died for us, we can now experience a complete restoration of communion with our Creator.

Yeshua the Messiah willingly offered Himself as the pierced sacrifice for the sins of fallen humanity, just as was prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 53:

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:5-12).

Many of the recommended readings from the Apostolic Scriptures provided by the Complete Jewish Bible,[6] focus around Numbers chs. 28-29 and concern the significance that the appointed times had for Yeshua, His Apostles, and the early Believers in their observances and teachings. However, I am more struck by the fact that just like the priest Phinehas—who stood up and intervened to stop a terrible circumstance from perpetuating—so our Messiah Yeshua has a priestly role that each born again Believer needs to be considering. As a vindication of His sacrifice for sinful humanity and His resurrection, Yeshua the Messiah now sits exalted at the right hand of the Father in Heaven (Hebrews 8:1-2). We now await His return as salvation history prepares to progress forward via His Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead:

“For Messiah did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Messiah also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Hebrews 9:24-28).

Although considering Yeshua and/or His Disciples with the appointed times is an important theme, before the various rituals and sacrifices about the moedim are discussed (Numbers chs. 28-29), Moses is told that he will die (Numbers 27:13). He will be allowed to climb up to a high vantage point in order to see Canaan (Numbers 27:12), but because he struck the rock at Meribah of Kadesh, God will not allow him to enter in (Numbers 27:14). As he notes this, Moses makes the request of the Lord that a new leader for Israel will need to be chosen, or else, “the congregation of the Lord will…be like sheep which have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17). Moses is most concerned about the welfare of the Israelites, who he knows need strong leadership. Because of this, the Lord instructs Moses to commission his close aid Joshua as his successor in front of the entire assembly of Israel (Numbers 27:18-20), who will also receive priestly support (Numbers 27:21). While Joshua became a significant leader and figure of inspiration for Ancient Israel, as noted in Hebrews 4:8[7] he did not lead the people into the ultimate destiny anticipated of God’s people. Only Yeshua the Messiah Himself, the Good Shepherd, can bring together the one flock and bring about the restoration of the Kingdom:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:11-18).

In reading through the actions of Phinehas this week—especially His zealous actions on behalf of the fledgling nation of Israel—I cannot help but be reminded of how Yeshua, in His actions of leadership, took matters into His own hands to stop unrighteousness. While present in Jerusalem to observe the Passover, Yeshua saw how the various moneychangers in the Temple complex abused their position and shortchanged many of the people who came to honor the Lord:

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Yeshua went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME’ [Psalm 69:9]” (John 2:13-17).

When we read this encounter, it often seems to us to be an “out of character” moment—for a “meek” Messiah to take off His proverbial “gloves,” and then zealously disrupt the exchange activities in the Temple grounds. Just as Phinehas had acted in righteous indignation in front of the Tent of Meeting, so had Yeshua taken the right action in making an example of those who had defamed the Holy Place.

As important as it is for us to consider connections between the righteous actions of Phinehas, and Yeshua in the Temple—our Haftarah selection this week (1 Kings 18:46-19:21) describes the battle between the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, with the true Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:19). In not wanting to forget this important scene in Ancient Israel’s history, the ministry of Yeshua not only was foreshadowed by the work of Phinehas, but also that of Elijah. People who either encountered Yeshua or had heard about Him, truly wondered who He might be:

“Now when Yeshua came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Yeshua said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:13-17).

By the time Yeshua is executed—and most importantly resurrected—it would have been obvious to the Disciples that their Lord had fulfilled/was fulfilling a whole host of prophecies, and that the various aspects of previous figures in Israel’s history were manifested in His saving events. Today, in retrospect of much of this—examining the tapestry of Scripture—we can see Yeshua as the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), our High Priest (Hebrews 7:26; 8:1), and our coming King. But unlike Phinehas who used a spear to execute justice, when He returns to the Earth the Messiah will instead have a sword coming forth from His mouth, ruling with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:15-21).

To this end, Messiah followers today can enthusiastically—although patiently—wait, as we anticipate the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom (Acts 1:6) and the establishment of true peace and justice in the world. To those who overcome until the end, the Apostle John has these great words of encouragement, as the pierced Shepherd Yeshua will return on the clouds to rule and reign:

“John to the seven assemblies that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Yeshua the Messiah, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS [Daniel 7:13], and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen” (Revelation 1:4-7; cf. Zechariah 12:10-14).

Looking to the future, let it be our fervent and steadfast prayer that as few people as possible will actually mourn when the Messiah returns. Let us as diligent Messiah followers demonstrate His blessings and goodness to all we encounter, so that when He does return, those who witness His arrival rejoice—rather than cry because they know they will be judged. No one has to wait to know that Yeshua was pierced for their transgressions at the Second Coming; now is the time for all to know that He was pierced for us!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 25:1-9.

[2] Numbers 25:10-13.

[3] Numbers 26:1-65.

[4] Numbers 27:1-14.

[5] Numbers 28:1-29:40.

[6] Matthew 26:1-30; Mark 14:1-26; Luke 22:1-20; John 2:13-22; 7:1-13, 37-39; 11:55-12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14; Acts 2:1-21; 12:3-4; 20:5-6, 16; 27:9-11; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 16:8; Hebrews 11:28.

[7] “For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that” (Hebrews 4:8).


This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey

Haftarah Pinchas

Haftarah Pinchas

“Zealous Succession”

1 Kings 18:46-19:21


by Mark Huey

While reviewing Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) and its attendant Haftarah reading, two aspects of God’s means for extending His rule among His people seem to surface. God is not only interested in those who exhibit a genuine zeal for His ways, but He is also concerned that like minded people—jealous for His ways—are authorized and anointed to succeed and lead in future generations. This was true in the days of Moses, Elijah, and the pattern continues on until today.

Pinchas commences by picking up the concluding remarks of Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9), which precedes it. If you will recall from last week, the prophet for hire, Balaam, was not able to verbally curse the Ancient Israelites. Yet Balaam was able to communicate a strategy to Balak, whereby the men of Israel would bring curses upon themselves by their own vile actions (Numbers 31:16). As Numbers 25 begins, the testimony of the despicable sexual practices associated with the worship of Baal of Peor is cited. It concludes with Phinehas’ zealous act of vengeance before the leaders of Israel, at the Tent of Meeting:

“While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.’ So Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.’ Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. Those who died by the plague were 24,000” (Numbers 25:1-9).

As Balak concludes, it is recorded that the consequences for this sin were very severe—as a significant number of people died from the resulting plague. It appears that the zealous act of Phinehas to execute the blatant fornicators, in the shadow of the Tent of Meeting, stopped the plague. Yet not only was the anger of God subsided, but Phinehas was promised great blessings for himself and his progeny:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, “Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel”’” (Numbers 25:10-13).

The primary link we see with the selected Haftarah reading deals with not only performing zealous acts for the Lord, but also the execution of those who oppose Him. Naturally, the image of the Prophet Elijah and his challenging encounters with the prophets of Baal, became the passage to consider. Elijah not only exhibited zeal very much like Phinehas, but he was also directly responsible for the slaying of hundreds of false prophets after the exhibition of God’s power on Mount Carmel:

“‘Now then send and gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’ So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel….When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.’ Then Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there” (1 Kings 18:19-20, 39-40).

Both Phinehas and Elijah exhibited a righteous zeal that is reminiscent of what David spoke about in Psalm 69. This is a psalm sometimes considered to speak of a “suffering Messiah,” indicative of the work of Israel’s Redeemer:

“Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; dishonor has covered my face. I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother’s sons. For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. When I wept in my soul with fasting, it became my reproach. When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them. Those who sit in the gate talk about me, and I am the song of the drunkards. But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD, at an acceptable time; O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness, answer me with Your saving truth” (Psalm 69:7-13).

We can certainly think of the ministry of Yeshua, and how many people reacted to Him and spoke about Him, in reading from the above psalm. The Messiah is said to have exhibited great zeal in overturning the moneychangers at the Temple. Also, He Himself exhorted the assembly at Laodicea to be zealous and repent:

“And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME’” (John 2:14-17).

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

The zeal that people must have for the Lord is pretty serious, because it focuses us when confronting sin and ungodliness. When confronting the prophets of Baal and fleeing from the evil Queen Jezebel, the Prophet Elijah had to be zealous for Him:

“Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away’” (1 Kings 19:9-10).

Elijah, in a largely despondent mood—even after receiving physical provisions from the Lord[1]—was distraught about the spiritual condition of Israel. Elijah mistakenly believed that he was the only one left on Earth with a zeal for the Lord. Thankfully, the Lord lovingly went to Elijah—not in the wind, or an earthquake, or fire—but in a still, quiet voice. The Lord told him that there were 7,000 others that have not bowed to Baal, or kissed any golden calves:

“So He said, ‘Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.’ And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’  Then he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, ‘Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.’ And he said to him, ‘Go back again, for what have I done to you?’ So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him” (1 Kings 19:11-21).

The Prophet Elijah was given some very specific instructions on how to pass on some of the leadership responsibilities to not only the kings Hazael and Jehu, but also in spiritually anointing Elisha.

In our Torah portion, it is recorded how significantly important it is to not only speak words of affirmation to anointed leaders, but also indicate a passing of responsibility by the laying on of hands. Moses appealed to the Lord for a leader to follow him, and the Lord gave him specific instructions about how to commission those who will lead the next generation:

“Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.’ So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight. You shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him. Moreover, he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation.’ Moses did just as the LORD commanded him; and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses” (Numbers 27:16-23).

Note that Joshua and Eleazar were both appointed for greater service. Joshua obviously had the Spirit of God working within him, and Eleazar had been given the gift of inquiring for him by the judgment of the Urim. The laying on of hands was used to commission Joshua for service, as some of Moses’ authority was passed on to him. There should be no doubt that Joshua and Eleazar both exhibited a zeal for the Lord, which was demonstrated by Phinehas, the son of Eleazar.

Down through the centuries, the Lord has passed on the anointing and the mantle of leadership from one generation to the next. He is able to find zealous men and women who follow after Him, and see that they are anointed for His service. The laying on of hands has been formalized in many regards, but as can be noted—it is an accessible ordinance of the Lord, when it comes to recognizing those who are truly zealous and gifted for His work.

I think we should meditate upon these examples, and give thanks that the Lord is continuing to perpetuate His leadership through various anointed vessels. Even more so, we should be thankful that the same Holy Spirit who worked through Moses’ successors—continues to work in the hearts of people today, and those who have been called into leadership. May He bless all of us who have benefited from the faithfulness of those who have led His flock down through the ages!

NOTES

[1] 1 Kings 17:10-16.


This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope Haftarah Exhortations by William Mark Huey.

TorahScope Pinchas

Pinchas

Phinehas

“A Covenant of Peace”

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


by Mark Huey

This week’s Torah parashah begins with a summary conclusion to Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9), describing the gruesome consequences of the sin of Baal Peor (Numbers 25:9-10). This is followed by describing the zeal of Phinehas who stopped the plague upon Israel (Numbers 25:10-18), a census of the Israelites is taken (Numbers 26:1-65), laws of inheritance including women’s rights to inheritance are stated (Numbers 27:1-14), there is a transfer of authority to Joshua (Numbers 27:15-23), and laws for different offerings, often associated with the appointed times, are specified (Numbers 28:1-29:40).

What gets the most attention for readers, to be sure, is how certainly after the tragic events of the lascivious and licentious actions with the women of Peor—resulting in the deaths of many thousands of Israelites—the Lord wanted to restore a sense of order back in the camp, before proceeding with the invasion of Canaan. In the introductory paragraph, the zealous and righteous stroke of Phinehas, to halt the flagrant act of Zimri and Cozbi, was rewarded with a perpetual covenant of peace to the Aaronic heirs, commencing with Phinehas. Such blessings were to follow in the line of succession of future high priests:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, “Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.”’ Now the name of the slain man of Israel who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s household among the Simeonites. The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s household in Midian. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor’” (Numbers 25:10-18).

Phinehas’ zealous piercing, of the quite shameless, copulating couple, is what halted the ensuing plague. This was reminiscent of Aaron’s use of the incense from the altar after Korah’s rebellion, that too saw many Israelites perish (Numbers 16:46:50). More importantly to be sure, the “covenant of peace” bestowed upon Phinehas for his zeal serves as a foreshadowing of what the Holy One will give to His people, in His instruction that Israel expand their outreach to the nations—despite a human proclivity to wander away from Him. The Prophet Isaiah declares,

“‘Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; Break forth into joyful shouting cry aloud, you who have not travailed; for the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman,’ says the LORD. ‘Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities. Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,’ says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. ‘In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the LORD your Redeemer. ‘For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says the LORD who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:1-10).

Despite the unfaithfulness of Israel to the Holy One, He has promised to maintain a covenant of peace with them, and He will surely remain true to His Word. However, as was true then and remains consistent today, if and when His people disobey, there are always consequences. The universal principle of reaping what is sown, embedded in the Creation, always applies.

With the offensive to cross the Jordan on Israel’s agenda, as burial parties were surely having to attend to the massive amount of casualties from the plague, the Lord through Moses established some guidelines for distribution of the Promised Land among the various tribes. A census was taken to determine the size of the tribes (Numbers 26:1-51), with fairness to be controlled by a casting of lots with attention paid to the remaining tribal numbers, in order to evenly allocate various parcels of land:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Among these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. To the larger group you shall increase their inheritance, and to the smaller group you shall diminish their inheritance; each shall be given their inheritance according to those who were numbered of them. But the land shall be divided by lot. They shall receive their inheritance according to the names of the tribes of their fathers. According to the selection by lot, their inheritance shall be divided between the larger and the smaller groups’” (Numbers 26:52-56).

With the methodology for land assignment described, Moses reminded the Israelites that the Levites, because of their unique status as priests with various responsibilities, were not to be counted among those receiving a physical land inheritance. In this description, some personal genealogical data is also included, with some specific reminders about the special position of the line of Aaron. Also seen is a reminder about the dreadful deaths of Nadab and Abihu, who perverted their duties (Leviticus 10:1-2):

“These are those who were numbered of the Levites according to their families: of Gershon, the family of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the family of the Kohathites; of Merari, the family of the Merarites. These are the families of Levi: the family of the Libnites, the family of the Hebronites, the family of the Mahlites, the family of the Mushites, the family of the Korahites. Kohath became the father of Amram. The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam. To Aaron were born Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. But Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange fire before the LORD. Those who were numbered of them were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward, for they were not numbered among the sons of Israel since no inheritance was given to them among the sons of Israel. These are those who were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, ‘They shall surely die in the wilderness.’ And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun” (Numbers 26:57-65).

After restating that the deaths of all the Israelites who believed the bad report, about originally entering the land many years earlier had died (Numbers 14:27-30), Moses now turned to establishing some key rights for the women who were likely widowed in the years prior to the anticipated invasion. Here in the Torah, the daughters of Zelophehad pled for equity when it came to land distribution, and the Lord granted their request with a statute prohibiting any potential discrimination based on gender:

“Then the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph, came near; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah and Hoglah and Milcah and Tirzah. They stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation, at the doorway of the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Our father died in the wilderness, yet he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ So Moses brought their case before the LORD. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them. Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. If his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his nearest relative in his own family, and he shall possess it; and it shall be a statutory ordinance to the sons of Israel, just as the LORD commanded Moses”’” (Numbers 27:1-11).

After the issue of equity for the daughters of Zelophehad is resolved, the immediacy of Moses’ impending death is addressed, with a significant display of how the Lord desired His authority to be relegated to future generations. With the pain of remembering the rebellion that compelled the Lord to not let Moses enter the Promised Land, Moses recognized that Joshua was his heir to guide the Israelites into Canaan. Moses stood before the recently anointed high priest Eleazar and the congregation, in order to commission Joshua in their sight:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up to this mountain of Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the sons of Israel. When you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was; for in the wilderness of Zin, during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to treat Me as holy before their eyes at the water.’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.’ So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight. You shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him. Moreover, he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation.’ Moses did just as the LORD commanded him; and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses” (Numbers 27:12-23).

This precedent, of properly recognizing the authority and bestowing it upon those who the Lord has called into His service—has been established by what has occurred through the transfer of authority from Aaron to Eleazar at Aaron’s death (Numbers 20:25-29), and reoccurs with the conveyance of Moses’ weight of responsibility by the laying on of hands. Centuries later, the Apostle Paul continued this precedence with the laying on of hands to his young disciple Timothy, who Paul recognized as one of his successors in continuing the work he had started:

“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:5-7).

“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” (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

Further clarification, on how the Scriptures describe this transfer of authority, can be gleaned from how Aaron and his sons were originally anointed for their priestly responsibilities. This was to involve an oil anointing of the right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe (Leviticus 8: 23-24; 14:14-18). The key to understand is that those who serve the Lord should, by and through their dedicated service, be best able to discern just who it is who is to continue their work, when their own term of dedicated service is largely over.

Our Torah portion includes a long reiteration of all of the offerings required for the daily morning and evening sacrifices, New Moon sacrifices, and the offerings for the appointed times of the Lord (Leviticus 23). These are restated to emphasize the importance of compliance, to this relatively young generation of Israelites poised to enter the Promised Land:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel and say to them, “You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time.” You shall say to them, “This is the offering by fire which you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs one year old without defect as a continual burnt offering every day. You shall offer the one lamb in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil. ‘It is a continual burnt offering which was ordained in Mount Sinai as a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. Then the drink offering with it shall be a fourth of a hin for each lamb, in the holy place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the LORD. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight; as the grain offering of the morning and as its drink offering, you shall offer it, an offering by fire, a soothing aroma to the LORD. Then on the sabbath day two male lambs one year old without defect, and two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and its drink offering: This is the burnt offering of every sabbath in addition to the continual burnt offering and its drink offering. Then at the beginning of each of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls and one ram, seven male lambs one year old without defect; and three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for each bull; and two-tenths of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for the one ram; and a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering for each lamb, for a burnt offering of a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull and a third of a hin for the ram and a fourth of a hin for a lamb; this is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. ‘And one male goat for a sin offering to the Lord; it shall be offered with its drink offering in addition to the continual burnt offering. Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’s Passover. On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast, unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. You shall present an offering by fire, a burnt offering to the Lord: two bulls and one ram and seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect. For their grain offering, you shall offer fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for a bull and two-tenths for the ram. A tenth of an ephah you shall offer for each of the seven lambs; and one male goat for a sin offering to make atonement for you. You shall present these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is for a continual burnt offering. After this manner you shall present daily, for seven days, the food of the offering by fire, of a soothing aroma to the LORD; it shall be presented with its drink offering in addition to the continual burnt offering. On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. Also on the day of the first fruits, when you present a new grain offering to the LORD in your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. You shall offer a burnt offering for a soothing aroma to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs one year old; and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for each bull, two-tenths for the one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs; also one male goat to make atonement for you. Besides the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, you shall present them with their drink offerings. They shall be without defect”’” (Numbers 28:1-31).

“Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets. You shall offer a burnt offering as a soothing aroma to the LORD: one bull, one ram, and seven male lambs one year old without defect; also their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the ram, and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs. Offer one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you, besides the burnt offering of the new moon and its grain offering, and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. Then on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall humble yourselves; you shall not do any work. You shall present a burnt offering to the LORD as a soothing aroma: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect; and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs; one male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonement and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings. Then on the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, and you shall observe a feast to the LORD for seven days” (Numbers 29:1-12).

“‘You shall present these to the LORD at your appointed times, besides your votive offerings and your freewill offerings, for your burnt offerings and for your grain offerings and for your drink offerings and for your peace offerings.’ Moses spoke to the sons of Israel in accordance with all that the LORD had commanded Moses” (Numbers 29:39-40).

In reading these instructions in light of Yeshua’s atoning work for sinners as our perfect sacrifice, it is easy to understand why the Apostle Paul would admonish Believers to demonstrate their faith as a living sacrifice:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:1-3).

While Paul did not necessarily know that the Temple in Jerusalem was going to be destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.—which to this day has prevented the ability of the Levites to perform the various sacrifices and offerings at the holy place—he knew that it was critical for followers of Yeshua the Messiah to offer up their lives to service for the Almighty. More difficult than individuals living as a sacrifice to be sure—is for all Believers to be functioning together as a living sacrifice, accomplishing the Lord’s purposes in the Earth. Paul expected the saints to be purified via a washing of the word (Ephesians 5:26), which can and should be done by all born again Believers through daily prayer, supplication, praise, worship, and constant communion with the Lord through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The most important “word” though that must be embraced is the good news or gospel of salvation, which definitively results in each of us receiving a redeemed heart of flesh that has God’s commandments supernaturally written upon it (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27).

If someone truly wants to serve the Holy One, then he or she will be wholeheartedly thankful for the forgiveness received. By the love one has for Yeshua the Messiah, Believers are to be compelled by the Holy Spirit to obey His commands. As the carnal nature decreases and conformity to the Messiah increases (Romans 8:29-30; John 3:30), then the sort of zeal exhibited by Phinehas should come without reservation, as the Spirit leads and one learns to walk in the ways of God (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25; Romans 8:14) to truly seek to please Him. This should all ultimately culminate, in a personal covenant of peace between oneself and the Creator, and in having the assurance that being counted among the redeemed is one’s final destiny.

May this be our individual and collective testimony, as God’s representatives to this wicked and perverse generation. The world around us needs not only our prayers, but our resolute actions to show them the way to salvation!


This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope, Volume III by William Mark Huey.

Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for Chukat

Reflection for Chukat

“Lifted Up to Save!”

John 3:9-21; 4:3-30; 12:27-50


by Mark Huey

Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) is noted for detailing the purification rites of the red heifer,[1] the death of Miriam,[2] Moses striking the rock twice over the water shortage,[3] the death of Aaron and the succession of the high priesthood to Eleazar,[4] and various encounters with the Edomites, Canaanites, and Amorites as Israel sojourned through the desert.[5] The one consistent theme seen in this week’s parashah seems to be best evidenced in the attitude of the “Exodus generation” of Israelites. They demonstrate a persistent problem of complaining about nearly every inconvenience that comes their way. We see in our reading how the lack of delectable food and a shortage of water, once again elicit grumblings against God and Moses. The Lord actually sends deadly snakes to judge the offenders—and once again the people plead with Moses to intercede before Him for deliverance:

“The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived” (Numbers 21:5-9).

The method for Israel’s salvation is not like when incense was dispersed throughout the camp (Numbers 16:42), but rather a seemingly strange manner with the fashioning of a bronze serpent. The Israelites who had been bitten by the poisonous snakes would have only needed to look at this object in order to be healed. In later Israelite history, this brazen serpent became somewhat of an idol, surviving until the time of King Hezekiah of the Southern Kingdom. It had to be destroyed as people were worshipping it, by burning incense to it in the courtyard of the Temple:

“Now it came about in the third year of Hoshea, the son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah became king. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:1-5).

The bronze serpent healing which took place in the Torah must have continued to have some kind of significance for later generations, as Yeshua the Messiah uses it to refer to His own work of salvation. In this familiar passage from John 3, Yeshua is confronted by the Pharisee Nicodemus in the dark of night, with some rather imploring questions:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Yeshua by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’ Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Yeshua answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God’” (John 3:1-21).

John 3:1-21 is one of the most well known salvation passages in the Apostolic Scriptures: a conversation and teaching encounter which takes places between Yeshua and Nicodemus. As the interaction transpires, it was clear that Nicodemus is definitely curious about this “teacher sent from God,” but seemed to be rather confounded about the concept He referred to of being “born again.” Despite years of studying and teaching and dialoguing and debating with others—Nicodemus could easily understand what Yeshua was speaking of in terms of being “born again.”

It has long been recognized in Biblical Studies that being “born again” or “born from above” was used in Second Temple Judaism to describe proselytes. The Talmud records, “R. Yosé says, ‘A proselyte at the moment of conversion is like a new-born baby’” (b.Yevamot 48b).[6] Yeshua the Messiah simply took the terminology “born again,” and rather than apply it to proselytes to Judaism—applied it to His followers. Unless all of His followers experienced a personal transformation—which was only available in Him as Son of God—they could not hope to enter into the Kingdom.

It would have been very necessary for the teacher Nicodemus to make an effort to understand the deep, spiritual dynamic of what Yeshua had labeled as being “born again.” The fact that Nicodemus had to visit Yeshua secretly in the dark of night alone demonstrates that he had various spiritual inabilities that needed to be overcome. Yeshua was there to truly help Nicodemus understand realities of the supernatural (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Isaiah 40:13).

Perhaps the most widely quoted Bible verse (other than Genesis 1:1) appears within the dialogue between Yeshua and Nicodemus. John 3:16 occurs immediately after John 3:14-15, where Yeshua asserts that by believing in Him lifted up like the bronze serpent—people can have eternal life:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16).

Only at a later date would Nicodemus, and anyone else who heard this teaching, be able to put all of the Messiah’s sayings together—realizing that He was lifted up before people to save them from their sins. Thankfully, it is indeed recorded that Nicodemus recognized Yeshua as Redeemer. Following His crucifixion he donated a costly mixture of myrrh and aloe in preparation for His burial:

“Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight” (John 19:39).

It took time for an inquisitive, and no doubt knowledgeable teacher like Nicodemus, to fully realize that Yeshua was the Messiah. For those studying and reviewing these Scriptures today, we should definitely be reminded of the significant importance of being born again. Being born again is something that comes only by being supernaturally regenerated by the power of God, and literally becoming a new man or woman in Him. It does not matter if you have the entire Bible memorized and can teach about it with eloquence and insight. The critical thing is that you have appropriated the finished work of Yeshua the Messiah in being lifted up from your sins!

When each of us receives a heart and mind which have been transformed, filled with the Spirit of God—we have a new, supernatural capacity to understand things which we may not have previously understood. If you had read the Bible before, the significance and meaning of various passages will often take on new dimensions for you. The theme of being “lifted up” like the bronze serpent was one which Yeshua used to speak to His Disciples and followers about His death.

In John 12 as His arrest and execution were imminent, we see Yeshua struggling through how He knows He will be tried and humiliated. As He is praying to His Father, a voice thunders from Heaven in assurance that what He will endure must occur. The purpose for Yeshua being lifted up—which should remind us of the bronze serpent—is so that all people can be drawn to Him. Sadly, we also read how various political and spiritual leaders acknowledged the Messiah, but refused to do so publicly:

“‘Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, ‘An angel has spoken to Him.’ Yeshua answered and said, ‘This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. The crowd then answered Him, ‘We have heard out of the Law that the Messiah is to remain forever; and how can You say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”? Who is this Son of Man?’ So Yeshua said to them, ‘For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.’ These things Yeshua spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: ‘LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED [Isaiah 53:1]?’ For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM [Isaiah 6:10].’ These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. And Yeshua cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me’” (John 12:27-50).

It is most sad, either in the First Century or today, when people are known to be Believers in Yeshua the Messiah and do not publicly confess it. While it is true that some people unwisely force their religious or spiritual views on others without discernment, it is also true in how the Lord is most clear to say: “whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:9). Were various First Century Jews finally forced out of secrecy to publicly confess Yeshua as Savior? Today in the Messianic movement, we often hear things about hundreds of Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Israel who have apparently come to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah. But we do not know who they are. Is the information really true (and not an urban legend), or do such individuals fear reprisals and what following the Messiah might cost them? Thankfully, only the Lord Himself gets to determine the final destiny of any person who claims to know Him.

I hope and pray that we are all reminded of how believing in Messiah Yeshua—and recognizing who He is to others—are both required for a person to be designated as “born again.” Of course, it is very true that if you do this that you will have to pay a price. Some of you will only be socially ridiculed for your faith. Others of you may have to endure various degrees of exclusion of ostracism. As the Apostle Peter details,

“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED [Isaiah 8:12-13], but sanctify Messiah as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Messiah will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Messiah also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:13-18).

A few Messiah followers may actually have to die for the faith. But if one has genuinely experienced the salvation of Yeshua—there can be no greater duty than being a martyr for Him (cf. Revelation 2:10; 6:9-10)!

In response to how He was lifted up to atone for our transgressions and sins—always lift up the Messiah Yeshua in your praises and adorations! Make sure to speak of and to demonstrate forth His goodness to others!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 19:1-22.

[2] Numbers 20:1-7.

[3] Numbers 20:8-13.

[4] Numbers 20:14-29.

[5] Numbers 20:18-23; 21:1-5.

[6] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary.


This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey

Haftarah Chukat-Balak

Haftarah Chukat-Balak

“What the Lord Requires”

Judges 11:1-33

Micah 5:6-6:8


by Mark Huey

This week, two smaller Torah portions of Chukat and Balak are being considered. When the double portion is read, Micah 5:6-6:8 is studied as the complimentary Haftarah. By reading Numbers 19:1-25:9, there is a sense that a number of years are passing during the Israelites’ wilderness journey. The early traumas caused by people like Korah and his cohorts, who challenged the leadership of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam—were seemingly in the distant past. Now, perplexing ordinances like the purification rites of the red heifer were being communicated.[1] Then, in what appears to be a return to Kadesh, after having been there years before when the twelve spies returned with their negative report (Numbers 13:26), the death of Miriam was announced. A lack of water once again incited complaints from the Israelites, no doubt weary from the lengthy sojourn:

“Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there. There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why then have you brought the LORD’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.’ Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them” (Numbers 20:1-6).

Once again, Moses and Aaron resorted to falling on their faces before the Lord, and appealed to Him for guidance on how to handle another insurrection. Specific instructions were given to Moses to “speak” to the rock so that it would release its water. Lamentably, whether it was his age or frustration with the people of Israel—in what appeared to be a fit of anger, Moses first rebuked the Israelite “rebels,” and then striked the rock twice. This was in violation of the Lord’s command:

“‘Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.’ So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, ‘Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them’” (Numbers 20:8-12).

Moses, one noted earlier to be the most humble man who had lived (Numbers 12:3), was told by the Holy One what his punishment will be. The one chosen to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, will not even be able to enter in himself.

From this point forward, the trials of the Israelites with the neighboring people groups began to exacerbate. Permission to travel through foreign territories was denied as skirmishes break out.[2] Eventually as the sojourn proceeds, even the beloved Aaron died, with the priestly garments being passed on to his eldest son.[3] Finally, the Israelites made it to the plains of Moab, overlooking the Promised Land, but were still surrounded by hostile peoples.[4] It is here that Balak, the king of Moab, solicited Balaam to proclaim curses upon this chosen people of the Almighty.[5]

The oracles of Balaam are interesting, and even wonderful to contemplate—as it became clear that those who God has blessed will not be cursed. Two poignant passages which describe this reality, state the truth as follows:

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; when He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it. He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; nor has He seen trouble in Israel; the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them” (Numbers 23:19-21).

“The oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, how fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside the river, like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from his buckets, and his seed will be by many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brings him out of Egypt, he is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, and will crush their bones in pieces, and shatter them with his arrows. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, and cursed is everyone who curses you” (Numbers 24:4-9).

Here in these two passages, the prophet for hire, Balaam, actually described some of the attributes of God which would be elaborated upon much later by the legitimate Prophet Micah. If His people’s tents truly were “fair,” then they will be men and women who demonstrate justice, lovingkindness, and they will walk humbly before Him. We have just had to read about how a lack of humility, on the part of Moses, resulted in a severe punishment. The verses which immediately precede the often quoted Micah 6:8 are important to review, because a recollection of what goes on between Balak and Balaam, and how God used Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to deliver the Exodus generation, is to be considered:

“Hear now what the LORD is saying, ‘Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Listen, you mountains, to the indictment of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth, because the LORD has a case against His people; even with Israel He will dispute. My people, what have I done to you, and how have I wearied you? Answer Me. Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt and ransomed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab counseled and what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and from Shittim to Gilgal, so that you might know the righteous acts of the LORD. With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:1-8).

The direct link in the passage above, from Micah to our Torah portion, is found in the statement, “My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted against you, and how Balaam son of Beor responded to him” (NJPS). As ironic as it may sound, Balak’s prophetic word “How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” (Numbers 24:5, NIV), is a part of the traditional liturgy in the Jewish Synagogue, which opens up the morning Shabbat service.[6] (Sadly, this liturgy is noticeably absent from many Messianic Shabbat services.) Originally commissioned to curse Israel, Balaam had no choice but to deliver a word of blessing! Balaam’s words opened up with mah-tovu, and were only intensified by Micah’s higgid lekha adam mah-tov. What does the Lord require of us?

The Lord is not impressed with the sacrificial offerings of calves or rams, or oil and grain offerings, and certainly not a sacrifice of children—an abominable practice of pagans. Instead, for the chosen nation of Israel, the requirement as a light to the other nations is to exhibit justice, lovingkindness, and to walk humbly before the Lord. Have you considered your personal attainment of these attributes? Do you seek justice, and as a corollary, honor your word? Are your ayes, aye, and your nays, nay? Do you honor your word like the great example of the Lord not being able to lie?[7]

How about your pursuit of lovingkindness? Are you compassionate and full of mercy? Do you readily extend grace and forgiveness when offended? Are you motivated by a love that is unconditional above all else?

How about your humility before God and people? Are you sincerely humble with others? Do you put others’ needs above your own? Are you able to receive constructive criticism without being offended? As Paul wrote his dear Philippian friends,

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Messiah, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4).

Part of a Believer’s spiritual responsibility is to be a witness of the Lord’s goodness to the world in which we live. To our immediate family and extended family, we are to walk in a manner that is worthy of the call that is upon our lives. To our friends and neighbors, we are to be exemplifying godly attributes which remind them that we are followers of Messiah Yeshua. To our co-workers and those we interact with in the marketplace, we are to again be an example of what it means to be a part of the family of God.

Remember this basic truth from the words of Balaam: those who the Lord has blessed cannot be cursed. Think about the blessings He has bestowed upon you. While you are at it—remind yourself to constantly seek justice, lovingkindness, and to always walk humbly. After all, this is what the Lord requires!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 19:1-22.

[2] Numbers 20:14-21.

[3] Numbers 20:24-29.

[4] Numbers 22:1-4.

[5] Numbers 22:5-21ff.

[6] J.H. Hertz, ed., The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, revised (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1960), pp 4-5; Jules Harlow, ed., Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2007), 61.

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


This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope Haftarah Exhortations by William Mark Huey.