Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for Bamidbar

Reflection for Bamidbar

“Among the Counted”

Luke 2:1-7
1 Corinthians 12:12-31


by Mark Huey

As we turn to the fourth book of the Torah this week, we will soon be remembering the Spring festival of Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. Although the designation of this book as “Numbers”[1] refers to the command for Ancient Israel to take a census in preparation for entry into the Promised Land,[2] the Hebrew designation b’midbar actually means “in the wilderness.” Within Numbers or Bamidbar, the Israelites receive some significant instruction as they are readied for their inheritance. Upon reading this initial parashah, one is undoubtedly struck by the sense of how the God of Israel is intimately concerned about proper order within the camp so as to avoid confusion. Many centuries later, when having to address civility and orderliness in the ekklēsia, the Apostle Paul would observe,

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the [assemblies] of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

While still in the desert, the Lord directs Moses to count the Israelite men from twenty years and older,[3] and then even gives them instructions on how they are to array themselves around the Tabernacle as they set out in their travels.[4] Specific details are given to the Levites who have been chosen to handle various duties associated with the Tabernacle and its accoutrements.[5] We see how some specific tribes, clans, and even families are delineated for specific tasks. At least as far as this Torah portion goes, there does not seem to be any voiced opposition to God’s choices for the different people. Apparently, the authority given to Moses was respected by the Israelites, as these guidelines were being relayed to them from the Lord.

It will not be until some time later that we see how some of the Israelites—particularly Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:1ff)—take issue with Moses. Here in Bamidbar, the principle that the Holy One desires order for His chosen people is clearly evidenced. The Apostolic Scriptures or New Testament also has much to discuss with how there was to be orderliness and organization within the First Century communities of Messiah followers. Paul, for one, has asserted that God is a God of order—not of confusion. Within the sphere of the Corinthian assembly, he uses the metaphor of a body to describe how each person has an important role to play, which then affects the whole. The diversity of different people and their spiritual gifts is to aid the mission and effectiveness of the Believers:

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Messiah. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Messiah’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the assembly, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).

In this clarifying and encouraging admonishment, Paul emphasizes how the Lord is concerned about the internal makeup of the ekklēsia. God has distributed important gifts to people, in order for all to be ministered to and served. The challenge is not the availability of the gifts, but how confusion can often arise—confusion that generally comes from individuals vying for positional recognition. When people make ministering to the assembly a matter of status or prestige, rather than one of sincere service, then the Body of Messiah as a whole can be hampered. If individuals cannot learn to work together as a collective whole, then the faith community can lose its effectiveness in accomplishing the will of the Almighty.

In contrast to the Ancient Israelites in the wilderness, there was a much broader array of spiritual gifts and opportunities for service available for the First Century Believers. The accessibility to minister in some way was spread quite widely across people who were Jews, Greeks, Romans, as well as free or slave. God does not discriminate when it comes to how brothers and sisters can contribute to the assembly. In the Apostle Paul’s own case, he was not at all reserved about asserting how in the Messiah Yeshua, all are equal—regardless of ethnicity, social status, or even gender:

“For all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua” (Galatians 3:27-28).[6]

The Messiah event certainly did inaugurate some significant changes in how all human beings are clearly equal before their Creator. Yeshua’s work restored an equality that had been lost at the Fall (Genesis 3:16), and the Pauline letters all indicate that the able Apostle did his best to see it integrated into the different assemblies he taught and mentored. Perhaps if the First Century Messianic community had conducted its own census similar to Ancient Israel, we would be most surprised to see the diversity of the people who were embracing faith in the Messiah. What would probably surprise us the most is the large numbers of people from the lower classes and slave class—a significant indicator as to the type of ethical and moral problems we see addressed in the Apostolic epistles.

Given the emphasis on census taking in Bamidbar, we know that Joseph and Mary followed the Roman edict to register in Bethlehem, when Caesar was taking a census of his empire. The circumstances were used to see the Messiah born in the city of David:

“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1-7).

By Joseph and Mary following the edict to be counted, Yeshua the Messiah was born in the very humble surroundings of Bethlehem. Returning to the ancestral home, an ancient prophecy delivered by Micah was fulfilled:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel” (Micah 5:2-3).

Messianic Believers who study the Torah every week, desirous of obeying our Creator, sometimes need to understand that we do not need to be afraid of obeying secular government. Caesar’s census was used to ensure that Joseph and Mary would be at the right place for Yeshua’s birth. Paul placed an emphasis on obeying the governing authorities, as they provide for the civil well being:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same” (Romans 13:1-3).[7]

The bigger question for us to consider when contemplating the numbering of the Ancient Israelites, or Caesar’s counting of the First Century population of his empire—is whether we will be counted among the spiritually regenerated followers of the Messiah Yeshua. This is a counting that is available to men and women from all backgrounds and all walks of life. Have you confessed your sin, repented of it, and been given a heart of flesh with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Can you testify of your salvation and that you are born from above?

While knowing about the proper arrangement of tribes of Israel around the ancient Tabernacle, or remembering a little about the Roman census in Judea—the most important thing is to know the Messiah Yeshua and experience His saving grace! Additionally, it is also critical to remember that once you are counted among the assembly of the faithful, you should also recognize that you have been granted important spiritual gifts which are to be properly employed for the benefit of your fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. You are to be actively glorifying the Holy One of Israel via acts of kindness and goodness toward others!

Do not forget the admonition by Paul to earnestly desire the greater gifts! Seek the Lord so you can be a more useful vessel and a blessing to others!

NOTES

[1] The Greek Septuagint employed Arithmoi for the fourth book of the Torah, which is carried over to today’s English Bibles.

[2] Numbers 1:1-3.

[3] Numbers 1:1-56.

[4] Numbers 2:1-34.

[5] Numbers 2:47-54; 3:1-39.

[6] Paul’s statements here directly subvert an ancient Jewish prayer, in which Jewish males would thank God for not making them a pagan, a slave, or a female (t.Berachot 6:18).

For a further discussion, consult the exegesis paper on Galatians 3:28, “Biblical Equality and Today’s Messianic Movement” by J.K. McKee.

[7] Editor’s note: Romans 13:6-7 indicates how the specific issue probably facing the Roman Believers was the paying of taxes. Apparently within the Jewish community of Rome, there was some significant conflict over the paying of civil taxes, even in spite of some tax reform legislated.

Cf. James D.G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 9-16, Vol 38b (Dallas: Word Books, 1988), pp 766-767.


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

Haftarah Bamidbar

Bamidbar

“Wilderness People”

Hosea 2:1-22


by Mark Huey

The opening reading of the fourth book of the Torah, Numbers, details the Israelites’ wilderness journey from Mount Sinai, to the plains of Moab prior to their entry into the Promised Land. It is appropriately entitled, Bamidbar or “in the wilderness,” but has become known to us in English as Numbers via the Septuagint designation of Arithmoi, because it begins by numbering the tribes of Israel. Within Numbers, the trials and tribulations of Israel—for nearly forty years at multiple encampments—are recorded.

If there is one consistent theme down through the centuries of Israel’s history, it is the fact that the people were not always faithful to the Almighty. Their faithfulness seems to always be ebbing and flowing, as they move from times of intimacy, to times of seeming abandonment. Perhaps for these, and other reasons, the Sages concluded that Hosea 2 should be considered during the same week when the Torah portions begin to examine Numbers.

Hosea was a prophet raised up by God to speak specifically to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, after Israel and Judah had already been split into two separate states. As one reads through the Book of Hosea, you find that his life, marriage, and offspring were in many respects, analogous to the sordid history of Israel itself. Hosea married a woman who had become a prostitute (Hosea 1:2), who bore him children of prostitution (Hosea 1:3-6). These children were named Jezreel (God sows), Lo-ruhamah (no compassion), and Lo-ammi (not My people). The Prophet Hosea, in his personal life, very much lived out the kind of relationship that God had to the Northern Kingdom (cf. Hosea 1:6b-7), as they forsook Him, committing harlotry and idolatry, worshipping and loving gods other than He.

Hosea 2 is our Haftarah reading for this week, and we find the Lord telling Hosea to speak to his fellow Northern Kingdom Israelites that they will be Ammi, “My people,” and Ruchamah, “compassion.” In spite of their rebellion and disobedience to Him, the Holy One in His mercy indicates a great love and compassion for them. Yet, a rebuke of them for going after false gods is still required. A lengthy soliloquy describes the House of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, contrasted with God’s faithfulness to the wayward people. In the opening verses of our selected reading, notice the statement that God will actually make Israel “like a wilderness” or “desert” (NIV), k’midbar, connecting us to the opening portion in Numbers:

“Say to your brothers, ‘Ammi,’ and to your sisters, ‘Ruhamah.’ Contend with your mother, contend, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband; and let her put away her harlotry from her face and her adultery from between her breasts, or I will strip her naked and expose her as on the day when she was born. I will also make her like a wilderness, make her like desert land and slay her with thirst” (Hosea 2:1-3).

However, despite the wilderness path that the House of Israel chooses to take, the Lord will provide for her like a faithful husband:

“Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths. She will pursue her lovers, but she will not overtake them; and she will seek them, but will not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now!’ For she does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine and the oil, and lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (Hosea 2:6-8).

There will be a number of methods that the Lord will use to bring back His beloved House of Israel, depicted as being brought into the wilderness where He might speak to her:

“‘I will punish her for the days of the Baals when she used to offer sacrifices to them and adorn herself with her earrings and jewelry, and follow her lovers, so that she forgot Me,’ declares the LORD. ‘Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness [ha’midbar;] and speak kindly to her’” (Hosea 2:13-14).

This wooing of God eventually results in the House of Israel returning to her first love of the Lord. The intimacy will transcend from just being a Master, to them having a relationship like a loving husband and wife:

“‘And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. It will come about in that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali. For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, so that they will be mentioned by their names no more’” (Hosea 2:16-17).

The challenge in seeing this occur is that it will take place b’yom-ha’hu, or “in that day.” This would be a particular time reference to the End of the Age, at the inauguration of the Messianic era. Notice the changes that are to come about when “that day” finally arrives:

“‘In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety. I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. then you will know the LORD. It will come about in that day that I will respond,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth, and the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hosea 2:18-23).

In this prophecy, we see that there is an absence of war in the Earth, as well as compliance by the animal kingdom. The House of Israel will be restored to a full relationship with its King, and will exist in a permanent kind of betrothal. There will be eternal righteousness and justice prevailing. All of the Created order, including grains, wine, and oil producing plants, will be in compliance with the will of God. Most significant, though, is that the House of Israel will acknowledge the Lord as its God, and they will once again be recognized as His people—fully loyal and fully obedient to Him.

The overall story we have witnessed down through Biblical history is that God’s people tend to wander from one wilderness experience to the next. At times along the journey—due to circumstances which require a response, resulting in some return to intimacy—they come back to their God. Yet, the pattern seems to repeat itself from almost generation to generation. We see it with the House of Israel in the Prophet Hosea’s era, and we have certainly seen it in Biblical accounts since.

How important is the prophecy that we are reviewing this week? In describing God’s saving activities in his day, the Apostle Paul quoted from the Prophet Hosea—actually applying God’s promise of restoring the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the salvation of the nations. He did this in an effort to explain to his fellow Jewish Believers what was happening in his day, and why many of their own Jewish brethren had rejected Yeshua—and even more so why many others of the nations accepted Him:

“So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, ‘I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, “MY PEOPLE,” AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’” AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, “YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,” THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD’” (Romans 9:18-26; cf. Hosea 1:10).

As you read and contemplate the Torah and Haftarah readings from this week, and how God will extend mercy upon His chosen vessels—you should rejoice and give thanks to Him for your personal deliverance from the wilderness of unbelief. Can you remember when you did not believe in Yeshua? Or can you remember seasons when you took your salvation for granted? Have you ever noticed a tendency in your own personal walk with the Lord to wax and wane in your zeal and enthusiasm for Him?

We know that ultimately, the Lord is going to dwell with all of us “in that day.” But what are you doing today that would have you call Him your “husband,” and loyal provider? Are you seeking Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength all of the time? Or are you more attracted to some of the idols and distractions of this world which compete for your time and allegiance?

We are each going to be held accountable for what we do with our time, talents, and resources. Clearly, where our heart’s focus is, is the place where we will invest our energies and treasure. The wilderness Israelites of Moses’ era, the Northern Kingdom Israelites of Hosea’s day, and the saints of Paul’s time—each had the same questions that Believers today must ask. Is He my God? Am I one of His people?

Maybe we should occasionally turn the tables and quit telling people “I am one of His.” Instead, we should ask ourselves, “Am I one of His?” If this is indeed true, what are we doing to demonstrate that we have been delivered from the wilderness? Perhaps these occasional queries will help us from getting lost between the cracks of worldly distractions?


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

TorahScope Bamidbar

Bamidbar

In the wilderness

“The Lord’s Sovereign Order”

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


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for B’har-B’chuqotai

Reflection for B’har-B’chuqotai

“Obedience and Love for One Another”

Luke 4:16-21
1 Corinthians 7:21-24
Galatians 6:7-10

John 14:15-21; 15:10-12
1 John


by Mark Huey

This week with our Torah reading (Leviticus 25:1-26:2; 26:3-27:34), we complete the Book of Leviticus. For most of this text, Moses has been instructing the Israelites in various regulations, commands, statutes, and laws for them to be holy and live reverently before God. Without any significant fanfare, the foundational concept communicated to Israel is simply: If they obey the Lord, then He will bless them. Here is just a small summary of the blessings He promises:

“If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land. I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land” (Leviticus 26:3-6).

In the time of the Prophet Jeremiah, when the Southern Kingdom was about to be chastised for its disobedience, the contrast is made between trusting or obeying mortals, versus trusting and obeying the Lord. Jeremiah directly communicates how evil and deceitful the human heart can be:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:5-10).

At the end of Jeremiah 17, we see how there is an emphasis placed on proper remembrance of the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is honored and kept, then God’s blessings will manifest themselves—but severe penalties and consequences will manifest themselves if the Sabbath is improperly observed and or just flat disregarded:

“Thus the LORD said to me, ‘Go and stand in the public gate, through which the kings of Judah come in and go out, as well as in all the gates of Jerusalem; and say to them, “Listen to the word of the LORD, kings of Judah, and all Judah and all inhabitants of Jerusalem who come in through these gates: Thus says the LORD, ‘Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem. You shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction. But it will come about, if you listen attentively to Me,” declares the LORD, “to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it, then there will come in through the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever. They will come in from the cities of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowland, from the hill country and from the Negev, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing sacrifices of thanksgiving to the house of the LORD. But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched”’” (Jeremiah 17:19-27).

It was probably passages just like this one which led to the Jewish Sages concluding that final redemption would come to Israel if it could keep two consecutives Sabbaths properly: “Said R. Yohanan in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai, “If the Israelites keep two successive Sabbaths in a proper manner, they will be saved immediately” (b.Shabbat 118b).[1] How much is involved in understanding the significance of Shabbat—its message of rest from labors, communion with the Holy One, and a sanctified time—that is still yet to be understood by His people? How long could it be for Israel to keep two Sabbaths in a row properly?

Yeshua the Messiah taught how love for Him would manifest itself by proper obedience to the commandments. Such obedience would not only naturally result in blessings, but also in His followers truly experiencing spiritual intimacy with the Father:

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 14:15-21; 15:10-12).

If love for God manifests itself in obedience—and Messiah followers get to experience a great communion with Him as a result—what would disobedience bring? We are not talking about human ignorance of various commandments, but a strong willed desire to not obey at all or have any instructions regulate our behavior. Would this not merit some kind of (severe) penalty from the Creator?

There is a direct link between loving the Lord and following His commandments. This does not only evidence itself in a reverent fear for Him, but also in a recognizable love for our fellow Believers. As the Messiah puts it, how we demonstrate love for one another will be natural evidence that we are truly His:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Remembering Shabbat as a holy time every week is very important, and there is probably much about the Sabbath that Believers today do not yet understand. Unfortunately, many of today’s Messianics have a tendency to become overly-worried about the regulations of the Sabbath—becoming embroiled in nitpicking and arguments about why others are not as good as they are in keeping it—and very little energy is actually expelled on loving and treating others with kindness and respect. Is not Shabbat to be a time where we focus on the Lord, and from our relationship with Him we do what is right?[2]

If Believers can exemplify the tangible ability to love one another, then perhaps the lost world observing such love just might be attracted to the message of the gospel. We can then welcome them into our Sabbath fellowships, and all enter into His presence together! Let us make this happen this week!

NOTES

[1] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. MS Windows XP. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005. CD-ROM.

[2] For some useful reflection and commentary, consult the Messianic Sabbath Helper by Messianic Apologetics.


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

Hafatarah B’har-B’chuqotai

B’har

Jeremiah 32:6-27

B’chuqotai

“Heart Check”

Jeremiah 16:19-17:24


by Mark Huey

The concluding two portions of the Book of Leviticus (25:1-26:2; 26:3-27:34) are studied together on leap years, bringing the Holiness Code of Leviticus to a close. Again, we find a direct correlation between obedience and blessings being reiterated, with some specific commandments about the Sabbatical and Jubilee years to be remembered in the Land of Israel.[1] Additionally, the indenture laws are explained so that when obeyed, the tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer does not persist beyond fifty-year cycles.[2] Finally, after describing various punishments for disobedience, which would cause Israel to be scattered among the nations, some specific instructions about returning to the Promised Land with confession and repentance are detailed.[3] In conclusion, the instructions for funding the sanctuary are listed, and they bring Leviticus to completion.[4]

The Rabbis seemingly chose our Haftarah passage from Jeremiah, because a relationship between obedience and blessing—versus disobedience and cursing—was reiterated by Jeremiah. First in Leviticus 26:3, 14-15 the following “if/then” propositions are stated. The corresponding blessings or curses will follow based on the choices that Israel makes:

“If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out…But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant” (Leviticus 26:3, 14-15).

Jeremiah made a similar connection between obedience and blessing, versus disobedience and cursing, but instead described it in terms of not trusting—versus trusting in the Lord:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

We see some echoes of Jeremiah’s words in Psalm 1, as the Psalmist described the differences between one who delights in God’s Torah, and the wicked who will be punished:

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:1-6).

Recalling this Psalm, which many have committed to memory, is an awesome reminder of the two divergent paths people can take during their lives. A person can obey and trust in God, or a person can chose the strength of his flesh, disobey God, and suffer the attendant consequences. This is a constant theme seen throughout the Holy Scriptures.

This comparative analysis brings us to what is considered the crux of what we encounter in our Haftarah reading from Jeremiah—and in particular, what it says about the heart of sinful humanity. Much soul searching down through the centuries has contemplated the harsh reality of dealing with the deceitfulness of the heart. In the quiet moments of reflection and meditation, when you might be personally examining your own heart—attempting to discern the motivation for actions you are taking, and being completely honest with yourself—the thought of self-deception must be considered. The Prophet Jeremiah cried out that even he might be healed and saved, lest he had a heart which was not totally and absolutely turned toward God in everything:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds. As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, so is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; in the midst of his days it will forsake him, and in the end he will be a fool. A glorious throne on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD. Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are my praise” (Jeremiah 17:9-14).

Only our omniscient Creator can categorically search and know an individual heart’s intention, to render appropriate judgment to each person. Perhaps during your sanctification process over the years, you have noticed how the motivations of your heart have changed. As you have matured in faith, you have allowed the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you more consistently. You have prayed for yourself to decrease, that the Lord resident in your heart might increase. You have learned to submit your will to the will of the One who is working through you, to accomplish His goals for the Kingdom with your life. You have known that when you have sought out for God’s help, that He has been faithful to you and has made it available!

Being totally honest with yourself is always something that is good. Prayerfully considering your actions, asking the Holy Spirit to confirm decisions and choices before you commit, is an excellent way to conduct your life. Reminding yourself that you are trying to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, is something that can indeed keep you on the straight and narrow path—growing in holiness and steadfastness—as you become more like Messiah Yeshua. As Paul wrote the Philippians,

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:12-15).

Did you notice that Paul reminded Believers that God “is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (NRSV)? Believers become children of the Most High with transformed hearts of flesh which are empowered by His Holy Spirit. As the Prophet Ezekiel foretold,

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Our heart searching should be something that is quite intimate, as we appeal to the Lord to operate in and through us. As we learn to submit to His promptings, obedience to His ways will come naturally—as the Holy Spirit cannot lead us in a direction that is disobedient or rebellious. The key is for us to constantly be checking and humbling our hearts. When thoughts invade from the world, the flesh, or the Devil—which might take us down inappropriate paths—we must be quick to recognize the deviation and cry out to God for His help!

There is probably no more tragic punishment for the Believer than to be separated from the intimacy of the fellowship one can have with the Lord. If God promised a corporate scattering to Ancient Israel because of their disobedience, He is also prone to turn His face from an individual who follows after the fleshly dictates of a hardening heart.

Brothers and sisters, learn to search your heart often! If you sense a distance between you and the intimacy you should be experiencing with the Holy One—then take Jeremiah’s advice, and plead, beg, implore, beseech, or cry out for healing! Remember He is not only the Healer, but He seeks to heal, especially those who fervently ask for His healing. Ask and you shall receive.

NOTES

[1] Leviticus 25:1-22.

[2] Leviticus 25:23-55.

[3] Leviticus 26:1-46.

[4] Leviticus 27:1-34.


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

TorahScope B’har-B’chuqotai

B’har

On the mount

Leviticus 25:1-26:2
Jeremiah 32:6-27

B’chuqotai

By My Regulations

“A Faithful Jubilee Reminder”

Leviticus 26:3-27:34
Jeremiah 16:19-17:24


by Mark Huey

The Book of Leviticus, thematically devoted to admonishing the Israelites to be holy, comes to a close this week with a double Torah portion which not only specifies some additional instructions, but also reiterates some of the consequences of disobedience. From the opening verse of B’har to the closing verse of B’chuqotai, one finds how Moses admonished his ancient audience that he had received all of these instructions from the Lord on Mount Sinai:

“The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD”’” (Leviticus 25:1-2).

“These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34).

Nevertheless, despite the lofty environs where these words were initially received by Moses from the Eternal One, the community of Israel not only historically—but throughout the ages—may be witnessed to have continuously struggled to comply with God’s commandments, even though there are multiple assurances that the Creator will bless those who adhere to His words throughout the Holy Scriptures. One way to surely minimize disobedience to His commandments is how the Lord included some interrelated physical activities, to remind His people about the blessings associated with obedience. We can, for example, consider the instructions regarding the sabbatical rest for the Promised Land and the year of jubilee, found in B’har-B’chuqotai. Even with these instructions not generally being followed because of modern circumstances, readers of the Torah still need to be reminded of their significance, as they not only teach us about our Heavenly Father’s character, but also about His purposes in the Earth.

With this in mind—especially during the current season of Counting the Omer as Shavuot approaches—it is difficult to overlook parallels of the weekly and yearly patterns, because of their similarity. Some profound spiritual enrichment can be derived during the annual reminder to Count the Omer for fifty days, and remember the benefits and blessings of the jubilee we are reading about this week. After all, for those who have faith in the atoning work of Yeshua the Messiah, one’s personal day of freedom from the ravages of sin, can and should be celebrated without reservation!

The Sabbath

The Divine institution of the Sabbath rest is first modeled in the account of the Creation, when the Lord rested after the six stages of His work:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:1-3).

In this ancient pronouncement, one finds that the Creator not only rested on the seventh day, but that He sanctified it or set it apart from all of the other days. Obviously, there was something very special about the seventh day of the week from the beginning of human history. Providentially down through the ages, the seven-day cycle for life’s many patterns, witnessed and detectable throughout the Holy Scriptures, has widely prevailed (despite various attempts to alter it by different civilizations). The inclusion of the command to remember the Sabbath rest is included in the Decalogue, intensifying its importance for followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).

As we examined last week in Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23), the significance of the Sabbath rest was reaffirmed when the Lord gave Moses the appointed times, with the Sabbath notably listed first:

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these: “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings. These are the appointed times of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them”’” (Leviticus 23:2-4).

Sabbath for the Land

The Lord considered the seventh day of the week, as a sanctified and weekly set time for a holy convocation with Him. As our Torah reading commences, we are introduced to some ancient socio-economic policies, which build upon the one-day-in-seven pattern. While it might be said that Shabbat is to be a time of rest for the human being and communion with the Creator, a mandated seventh year Sabbath rest for the Promised Land in which the Israelites will settle, is detailed:

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest’s aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year. All of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you. Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat” (Leviticus 25:2-7).

While resting on the weekly Sabbath may have been a test of faith for many people, and it was something ostensibly adhered to during Ancient Israel’s desert sojourn with the provision of manna (Exodus 16) and a definite prohibition of work (Exodus 31:14-15)—what Moses introduced here went a bit beyond a once a week Sabbath rest for people. The Israelites were instructed to let the arable land they would possess, itself, have a “Sabbath rest,” making it lay fallow on every seventh year. No doubt, this direction was going to require a considerable amount of faith by the Israelites to rely upon the Lord to provide physical sustenance, with a year taken off from agricultural activity.

The Year of Jubilee

Moses further stated that after seven weeks of years, forty-nine years, when the fiftieth year arrived, there was to be a jubilee (Heb. yovel) or release and return of land to the original owners, as well as a release of indentured servants from their contractual commitments. Not only was the economy restored, but the land was to remain fallow an additional year, resulting in two consecutive years without any agricultural work. Hence for the year of jubilee, after receiving the Lord’s blessing to provide for them during the previous six years of normal agricultural activity, the Israelites had to expand their faith to believe that the Lord would provide for two uninterrupted years without any normal agricultural activity:

“You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. ‘You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field. On this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his own property’…If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale” (Leviticus 25:2-13, 39-42).

The Lord chose to have the year of jubilee, which occurred just once every fifty years, to be commemorated on the tenth day of the seventh month—on what was already designated as the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur:

“On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:27-28).

The contrast between the day the year of jubilee is announced—on what is supposed to be the most solemn convocation of the year—is something to contemplate. The year of jubilee is to be announced by the blowing of the shofar, which is also commanded to be blown annually on the Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:24). For forty-nine consecutive years the Israelites would, seemingly, humbly commemorate the Day of Atonement, with the high priest presenting the various offerings to atone for the sins of the people. But then on every fiftieth year, the blowing of the shofar announcing the year of jubilee, would likely have set in motion an entirely different set of emotions, as ancestral lands were returned to the original owners, indentured servants were released, and the socio-economic order was restored. Yet, nowhere does the Torah state that the perpetual observance of Yom Kippur was terminated—not even on the year of jubilee.

A Future Jubilee

Over the centuries, one can see how followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob associated the year of jubilee with the coming reign of the Messiah of Israel. This connection is perhaps best illustrated by the Prophet Isaiah, who spoke of the Servant of the Lord coming to bring release to the captives, freedom to prisoners, and the inauguration of a new age of justice and favor for the righteous:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.  Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks, and foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers. But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs” (Isaiah 61:1-7).

For centuries following the prophecies declared by Isaiah, different Jewish traditions emerged, incorporating the blowing of the shofar into the Yom Kippur convocation, perhaps as a reminder of the dual purpose of the shofar blowing during the year of jubilee. After all, the joy associated with hearing the shofar blast on the day of jubilee with the arrival of the anticipated Messiah, contrasted with the solemnity of the shofar sounds on the Feast of Trumpets announcing the coming of the Day of Atonement, had to be disconcerting.

In a similar vein, perhaps this contrast explains some of the mixed emotions found in Nazareth, when Yeshua the Messiah read from the Isaiah prophecy on a Sabbath, and alluded to Himself being the fulfillment of the prophecy:

“And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD’ [Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6]. And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ And He said to them, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”’ And He said, ‘Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’ And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way” (Luke 4:16-30).

Shofars Blowing

Needless to say, the highly anticipated coming of the Messiah of Israel evokes a tremendous amount of emotion, whether it is linked to the themes of the year of jubilee and its shofar blast, and the shofar blast announcing His arrival, or simply His First Coming in the First Century and its attendant miracles. It can be generally recognized from both the Prophets and the Apostolic Scriptures, that there is definitely a trumpet to be sounded when the Messiah returns:

“It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13).

“Then the LORD will appear over them, and His arrow will go forth like lightning; And the Lord GOD will blow the trumpet, and will march in the storm winds of the south” (Zechariah 9:14).

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31; cf. Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15).

“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).

Suffice it to say, since following the jubilee instructions largely ended centuries ago, primarily due to Ancient Israel’s disregard for even following the seven-year Sabbath rest for the land (Jeremiah 9:9-16; 25:4-18), there is a lack of consensus on when and how the jubilee should or should not be recognized not only in Judaism, but in Christianity.

However, for those observing the annual feasts of the Lord, there is a distinct parallel between what should have been done over every fifty-year period, and what is done on an annual basis during the Counting of the Omer for the seven weeks between Passover and the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. The similarities are difficult to ignore, because the “fifty day” pattern is so similar to the “fifty year” pattern. Perhaps the Lord wants people to make the connection each and every year. Faithful followers of the Holy One can be reminded of the benefits of the jubilee, whether it is a restoration of the economic order, or the setting free of the captives to sin, or the coming reign of the Messiah, when they come together to remember the Feast of Weeks on the fiftieth day of the Omer Count. While this day is recognized as a time of multiple offerings and proclamations, note some of the parallels in these verses from Leviticus 23. Not only is there a similar count, emphasizing fifty, but there is also a focus on taking care of the needy and the sojourner when restoration is made:

“You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD. Along with the bread you shall present seven one year old male lambs without defect, and a bull of the herd and two rams; they are to be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering and two male lambs one year old for a sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall then wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering with two lambs before the LORD; they are to be holy to the LORD for the priest. On this same day you shall make a proclamation as well; you are to have a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work. It is to be a perpetual statute in all your dwelling places throughout your generations. When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:16-22).

This week, may we reflect on the blessings of the jubilee year in our own personal lives—as there was a decisive moment in the past when through faith in Yeshua the Messiah, we were each set free from the bondage of sin (Romans 7). Whether one rehearses it on Shavuot, or every morning in prayer, or when reading a Psalm, we are reminded that the Earth and each individual soul is the Lord’s creation:

“A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).

Perhaps in this season with Shavuot rapidly approaching, our appreciation for the reminder will be heightened. I hope that we will each remember all that He has done for us, and proclaim our thanks for His salvation!


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