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

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

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

Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for Korach

Reflection for Korach

“Contend Earnestly for the Faith”

2 Timothy 2:8-21; Jude 1-25


by Mark Huey

By the time Torah readers reach Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) in their annual examinations, the murmuring and complaints of Ancient Israel come to a crescendo. The previous two portions of Beha’alot’kha (Numbers 8:1-12:16) and Shelakh-Lekha (Numbers 13:1-15:41) have described the ongoing complaints of the people as their wilderness march becomes arduous, there is no meat and the delicacies of Egypt are missed,[1] and even Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses’ positional leadership.[2] While each of these problems is appropriately dealt with—the scene caused by the unbelieving spies[3] culminates in the Lord declaring that none of the faithless “Exodus generation” except Caleb will enter into the Promised Land:

“So the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it” (Numbers 14:20-24).[4]

Given the fact that those who experienced God’s deliverance from Egypt will not be allowed to enter into Canaan, the rebellion witnessed this week in Korach is understandable to some degree. There is discussion among Jewish interpreters which tries to dissect Numbers 16 into a variety of sources, perhaps equating as many as four different rebellious incidents.[5] Yet, the fact remains that the forty-year prolonged death sentence, issued upon the faithless Israelites by the Lord, could naturally spawn malcontent in the hearts of those who would be prohibited from their inheritance. Note the following judgment declared by the compassionate Almighty—who earlier wanted to eradicate this generation—but instead relented after Moses’ impassioned plea for mercy.[6] Those without the faith will be able to live long enough to see their children grow up and mature, who will take their place in entering into the Land:

“The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the LORD, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die’” (Numbers 14:26-35).

After an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Amalekites without the blessing of the Lord,[7] our parashah turns to addressing how the people will offer sacrifices once they enter into the Promised Land.[8] The statutes regulating both cereal offerings and offerings for unintentional sin will be the same for native Israelites and sojourners alike.[9] Significant deviations from God’s Instruction could result in a steady rise of sinful behavior and disloyalty to Him, and so the incident of an individual caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath is recorded, along with him being stoned to death.[10] To remind the Israelites to obey His commandments, the Lord instructs the people to wear tassels or tzitzit on the corners of their garments.[11]

It takes three chapters in total (Numbers 16-18) to record the rebellion of Korah and his associates, the distinct punishments that are meted out to them, and the immediate aftermath in the camp of Israel. Without going into great detail on these events, it is obvious to me that the Jewish Sages saw distinct parallels between the humble, unassuming leadership styles of Moses and the Prophet Samuel, when selecting the complimentary Haftarah reading for Korach (1 Samuel 11:14-12:22). Even with Israel in the Promised Land, too many of the people were insecure and wanting, and so they prodded Samuel into anointing a human king other than the Holy One—so that Israel would be no different than its pagan neighbors (1 Samuel 8:5).

In our recommended readings from the Apostolic Scriptures this week, it is still obvious that even in the First Century C.E., that the mortal proclivity to follow after the inclinations of the flesh continues in every generation. In the time of Moses, only very few like Caleb and Joshua had a “different spirit” to faithfully follow the Lord (Numbers 14:24). During Samuel’s generation when he was called into service as a prophet, a great majority of Israel was more interested in following the ways of the world. One would think that following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the Believers at Shavuot/Pentecost and the years which followed—that the earliest Messiah followers would learn lessons from the past, and desire close conformity with the will of God. But both 2 Timothy 2:8-21 and Jude 1-25 sadly reveal that basic human nature had not changed that much. Paul admonished his ministry colleague Timothy to be mindful of those who would come into the assembly and create problems, and Jude issued a brutal indictment of people who were following after the ways of Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

For those of us living today—in yet just another wicked generation in a long, successive line of wicked and perverted generations since the beginning[12]—it is instructional to often be reminded of warnings to not let one’s spiritual guard down. There are people who will enter into the community of Believers and cause irreparable harm to the naive and innocent. In his final letter written, the Apostle Paul made the distinct point of naming the names of some false teachers who had severely disrupted the Ephesian assembly with serious errors:

“Remember Yeshua the Messiah, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Messiah Yeshua and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.’ Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:8-21).

When reflecting on this as a director of a Messianic educational ministry, it has honestly been difficult for us to not remain mute about various false teachings which have filtered into the ranks of the broad Messianic community over the years.[13] In our ministry experience, we have certainly encountered modern-day characters like Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have infected people with worldly and empty chatter. Because the Messianic movement is so small, and many ministry leaders and teachers have met one another in person at one point or another, we have strived to follow a basic policy of preferring to address teachings, and not teachers. This way we can at least try to be objective, and not get bogged down in various personality conflicts, as we focus our attention on addressing a particular topic or issue from the Scriptures.

While we do possess limited knowledge of the future—for what appears to be His Divine purposes—the Lord will and does test His people. He allows different aberrant and deviant teachings to be disseminated, to see how serious individuals are about pressing into Him and His will, or feeding their flesh with self-assumed knowledge that will not aid them in spiritual service. As Paul puts it above, “The Lord knows those who belong to him” (2 Timothy 2:19, Phillips New Testament). In His sovereign plan, it is entirely up to Him to work out the details of the testing He allows, and whether various people pass or fail such tests. He let the Ancient Israelites have a human king, after all—but they did have to experience various repercussions for not allowing Him alone to be leader.

When looking through Jude 1-25 (the entire Epistle of Jude actually) I am reminded of a time long ago when I was responsible for administrating a conference of some well known teachers in the independent Messianic movement. During the closing activities, I was compelled by the Holy Spirit to read the entire Epistle of Jude. As I think back on that past opportunity for the words of Jude to penetrate the hearts of the listeners, I believe these words should be reconsidered by us more frequently than not:

“Jude, a bond-servant of Yeshua the Messiah, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Yeshua the Messiah: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Yeshua the Messiah. Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’ These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1-25).

Obviously, Jude was not mincing words. He warned his generation about exactly what he was witnessing among many of the Believers. In a like manner, I tried to do so as well—but rather than use my words, I found Jude’s to be more than sufficient.

The tough part, about being placed into a position of full time ministry, is that you must truly understand the severity of what it means “to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 3, NLT). You have to be sure that it is the Spirit of God which is genuinely moving and motivating you. Jude points out that in the Last Days there will be those who follow after their own ungodly lusts, causing divisions because they are worldly minded and devoid of the Spirit (Jude 18-19). Yet those who have been called to simply serve are to focus their attention on “building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20), and being attentive to achieving the Lord’s objectives for the world. It is our responsibility to be about the job of saving others from eternal punishment, seeing them repent of sins and come to eternal life.

It is to this end that we must all continue to declare the good news of salvation to not only the lost—but to those already present within the assembly of saints—so that they grow in salvation and in their walk of faith. This begins by being able to attempt to comprehend the great love that God manifested toward us in His Son. In the words of the Apostle Paul,

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Messiah which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Brothers and sisters: Earnestly contend for the faith!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 11:1-9.

[2] Numbers 12:1-16.

[3] Numbers 13:25-14:10.

[4] Numbers 14:30, 38 later specifies how Joshua will also be allowed to enter into the Land.

[5] Cf. Milgrom, pp 414-415.

[6] Numbers 14:11-19.

[7] Numbers 14:39-45.

[8] Numbers 15:1-13.

[9] Numbers 15:14-31.

[10] Numbers 15:32-36.

[11] Numbers 15:37-41.

[12] For some further thoughts, consult the author’s article “Every Evil Generation Needs Light,” appearing in the June 2010 issue of Outreach Israel News.

[13] For a summary of some of these things, consult Confronting Critical Issues: An Analysis of Subjects that Affects the Growth and Stability of the Emerging Messianic Movement by J.K. McKee.


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

Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for Shelakh-Lekha

Reflection for Shelakh-Lekha

“No Rest for Hardened Hearts:
The Deceitfulness of Sin”

Hebrews 3:7-19


by Mark Huey

In this week’s Torah reading, Shelakh-Lekha (Numbers 13:1-15:41), we examine the infamous account of the twelve spies sent to survey the Promised Land, as the Israelites continue to complain about some of the challenges of life that require not only faithfulness on their part—but most especially perseverance.[1] It is easy to overlook how the idea to send spies into Canaan was a suggestion of the people themselves, and was not necessarily from the Lord. I would submit that looking back on this scene in Biblical history, it might have been possible for God not to have issued penalties upon Israel if they had not demanded that the Land be scouted out. Note how the request of the people to Moses found in the opening of Deuteronomy:

“‘See, the LORD your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ ‘Then all of you approached me and said, “Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land for us, and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up and the cities which we shall enter”’” (Deuteronomy 1:21-22).

What is most remembered about our Torah selection is the fact that because of a bad report and the fear which ensued after the forty-day excursion, the Ancient Israelites eventually spend the next forty years wandering in the desert, as those over twenty years of age die because of a lack of faith (Numbers 14:28-35). There will be no rest and refreshment found for the vast majority of those who left Egypt in the Exodus, because they had failed to believe in the promises of their Creator and Deliverer.

What we read about in Shelakh-Lekha this week is actually that the congregation of Israel was preparing to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb—the leaders of Israel, and the two spies who came back with a positive report. They are defended by the Holy One for their insistence that obeying Him is far more important than listening to bad reports and cowering away from the challenge to take the Promised Land. The declaration Moses makes about God’s mercy and compassion is similar to what happened after the golden calf incident (cf. Exodus 20:6; 34:6), because Moses is able to intercede and the Lord will not summarily wipe out all of His chosen people for being rebellious. Once again, to just eradicate Israel as a nation would demonstrate to the Egyptians and others that the God of Israel was no different than any other deity of the Ancient Near East (cf. Exodus 32:11-14):

“But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel. The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.’ But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.’ So the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it’” (Numbers 14:10-23).

Turning to the Apostolic Writings, the author of Hebrews makes light of the decree from the Lord that the Ancient Israelites would not enter into His rest awaiting them in the Promised Land (cf. Psalm 95:11). God’s judgment would come forth in the unfaithful people being prohibited from entering into their inheritance. The analogy is made to a First Century audience, perhaps teetering on denying the Messiah Yeshua, that if they give up on Him—a far worse fate than not being able to enter into the Promised Land awaits:

“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, “THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS”; AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST”’ [Psalm 95:7-11; Exodus 17:7; Numbers 20:2-5]. Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Messiah, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME’ [Psalm 95:7-8]. For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:7-19).

For those of us reflecting upon these passages of Scripture today, it is critical to note that the Holy One of Israel remains the same (Hebrews 13:5-8) and that He does not change (1 Samuel 15:29, Titus 1:2). It is incumbent upon Believers to take these words from Hebrews to serious heart, especially when we are told “Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13, NRSV). We are to learn from the examples of those Ancient Israelites who fell in the wilderness, so that none of us might repeat their past and most severe mistakes.

No different than the generation of those who came out of Egypt, it is possible for those who claim faith in Yeshua the Messiah to allow their hearts to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin—and for them to fall away in their trespasses. It is possible for some to apostatize from the faith and actually lose a position of salvation. God forbid that such a thing would ever happen to one who has experienced His goodness and grace, but an entire generation which was expecting to enter into the Land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instead was not allowed to do so. We do not know the eternal condition of such people, but the lesson is for us to simply learn.

The Prophet Jeremiah understood the potential to fall away because of the deceitfulness of the human heart. Jeremiah warned an ancient audience that without persevering in the things of the Lord, it is possible for one to be utterly deceived:

“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 hear 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).

The Lord is the only One who is really able to evaluate the condition of an individual’s heart, and thus determine whether one is truly “saved” or not and can enter into His Kingdom. If this frightens you at all, because you think that you might have unresolved sins or issues that you need to take care of before Him—then the Apostle Paul’s prescription is to test yourself. Make sure that you have Yeshua the Messiah resident inside of you!

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Yeshua the Messiah is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test. Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved. For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:5-8).

If you sense that your heart is hardening toward the things of the Messiah and what He has done for you—catch yourself, and confess and repent of the gradual slippage in your walk! Remember that the world, the flesh, and the Devil are worthy adversaries—not even to mention the subtle hardening of the heart which results from the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). With a resolve like Joshua and Caleb, make sure that you are on good standing with the King of Kings!

If you can do this, then the deceitfulness of sin will not catch you with your guard down. Gird up your loins and fight the good fight—keeping your eyes firmly fixed on Messiah Yeshua (Hebrews 12:2). Persevere until the end. Make every effort that you can to enter into the Lord’s eternal rest in His Kingdom to come!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 13:1-14:10.


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

Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for Beha’alot’kha

Reflection for Beha’alot’kha

“Jealous Judgment”

John 7:53-8:11
Acts 21:17-32


by Mark Huey

This week in our Torah studies we turn to B’ha’alotkha (Numbers 8:1-12:16), where the instruction delivered concerns the proper usage of the menorah,[1] followed by details on how the Levites are to be purified for service to the Lord, along with some specific age limits for priestly service.[2] Next, a delayed Passover commemoration is described, which allows those who might have been defiled or traveling on a lengthy journey to participate in a convocation a month after the regular Passover memorial on the 14th of Aviv/Nisan.[3] Remembering the Passover is something that both the native born and sojourner within Israel are to do—an emphasis on the level of equality which is to be present among the broad, mixed community of Israel:

“If an alien sojourns among you and observes the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its ordinance, so he shall do; you shall have one statute [chuqah echat], both for the alien and for the native of the land” (Numbers 9:14).[4]

It is foundational to the Holy Scriptures that all of God’s people be held to the same basic standard. The Passover, with all of its important themes of God’s deliverance and salvation—especially for those who acknowledge Messiah Yeshua as Passover Lamb—is something which Jewish and non-Jewish people should strive to diligently remember.

B’ha’alotkha continues, describing the cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night, which covered the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting, while also being the visible guide for Ancient Israel’s desert sojourn.[5] This is followed by a short description of two silver trumpets and their use for assembling the various contingents of Israel, for announcing the arrival of the appointed times, as well as for sounding alarms when engaging an enemy in warfare.[6] Then, with the movement of the tribes engulfing the Tabernacle in marshaled array, the orderly process is detailed, followed by an appeal to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite to accompany the Israelites as a scout because of his familiarity with the desert terrain.[7] Finally, before an avalanche of complaints arises,[8] an inspirational declaration is issued from Moses, as the Ark of the Covenant was taken up in leading the assembly of Israel:

“Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, ‘Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.’ When it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O LORD, to the myriad thousands of Israel’” (Numbers 10:35-36).[9]

The balance of our Torah portion this week summarizes the complaints of the Israelites about the forced marches,[10] the people desiring some meat rather than just manna,[11] and some direct attacks made against Moses by Aaron and Miriam whining to God about Moses’ position as the anointed leader of Israel.[12] It is with this complaint against Moses in mind, that we might wish to consider how the author of Hebrews compares and contrasts the service of Moses with the Messiah Yeshua. Moses is lauded and highly respected to be certain, but it is Yeshua’s House which Moses is designated as having served:

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Yeshua, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Messiah was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Hebrews 3:1-6).

Within this selection from Hebrews, we see a direct reference made to something we have read about in B’ha’alotkha this week. The faithfulness of Moses within the House of God is referenced, in the context of when the Lord defends Moses to his siblings Aaron and Miriam:

“Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?’ And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, ‘You three come out to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them came out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, He said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?’ So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed” (Numbers 12:1-9).

In this dramatic episode, Aaron and Miriam challenge the leadership of Moses with the pretense of complaining about Moses’ wife. The text refers to her not as Zipporah, but instead as ha’ishah ha’Kushit. They seem to be offended that Moses would not have married a native Israelite, but the real issue present here is how Aaron and Miriam are not being used more. They had already displayed some spiritual prowess with Aaron being designated and anointed as the High Priest (Leviticus 8:12), and Miriam acclaimed as a prophetess (Exodus 15:20). What we see is a classic case of sibling envy and jealousy, as a younger brother had more responsibility than they did in the community of Israel. Problematically, their complaints were spread among the people of Israel until the Lord heard them and responded accordingly.

In Numbers 12:3, the parenthetical statement is made that “the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” Conservative Bible scholars are widely agreed that given the content, this is a remark made by a post-Mosaic editor of the Pentateuch, and not by Moses himself—as the most humble man could never make such a claim.[13] For our reading of the Book of Numbers in its final form, the reality is that it was Moses’ innate humility which prepared him for the role and responsibility of leading the Ancient Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

When the challenge to Moses’ authority manifested, the Lord spoke to all three siblings and instructed them to come to the Tent of Meeting. The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and presented Himself in the doorway to the three siblings. Calling out Aaron and Miriam, the Almighty reminded them that while He might communicate with prophets through visions and dreams, with His servant Moses, He speaks mouth to mouth. God has chosen to speak directly to Moses so that His words are not subject to interpretation. The natural rhetorical question stated to Aaron and Miriam was simply, “How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!” (Numbers 12:8, NJPS). Clearly, God was angered. These transgressions result in a physical punishment and temporary banishment for Miriam, because she was apparently the person most responsible for challenging Moses (Numbers 12:5-10).

In Hebrews 3:1-6, the author of Hebrews incorporates in a comparative way, a distinction between Moses as one of the foundational building blocks of the House of God, with Yeshua. The Messiah is not simply a part of the House of God, but He is the Son of God, who happens to be the Master of the House. If Moses is to be given acclaim and respect throughout the ages, then how much more honor and praise is due to the Son of God who offered Himself up as a sacrifice for human sin? The kind of humility and service demonstrated by Moses is surely something that we should emulate—but we should even more consider the humility of the Messiah who gave up His exalted glory and honor to be slain for us (cf. Philippians 2:5-11; Isaiah 45:23)!

When one considers how the Almighty was willing to come to the defense of His servant Moses—just compare this to the exaltation of Yeshua at His Father’s right hand reigning over the Heavens!

As far as foundations go, is it not said of Yeshua that He is the chief cornerstone and ultimate foundation of the ekklēsia? The Apostle Paul wrote this to a mixed community of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in Asia Minor:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit…so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the [assembly] to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:10).

For Believers today, these words confirm in a round about way what Moses originally said about the native born and sojourner in Israel following the same instruction. Today in the post-resurrection era as salvation history has moved forward, these previous distinctions are to be considered past (cf. 1 Peter 1:1)—as what is most important is that all saints are “subject to one another in the fear of Messiah” (Ephesians 5:21). I consider it a great blessing to know that the Father has used great building blocks like Moses—but most importantly the Messiah Himself—as the very cornerstone of His House. Praise Him for His faithfulness and humility which have brought us salvation, and the many more things to come in eternity!

May each strive to emulate the great examples of humility and service we see in Moses and the Messiah Yeshua!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 8:1-4.

[2] Numbers 8:5-26.

[3] Numbers 9:1-14.

[4] Cf. Exodus 12:48-49; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:15.

[5] Numbers 9:15-23.

[6] Numbers 10:1-10.

[7] Numbers 10:11-36.

[8] Numbers 11:1-15.

[9] This verse, along with Micah 4:2/Isaiah 2:3, is recited in the traditional liturgy of the Jewish Synagogue, as the Torah scroll is pulled from the ark during the Shabbat service.

J.H. Hertz, ed., The Authorised Daily Prayer Book (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1960), pp 473-475; Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz, eds., Complete ArtScroll Siddur, Nusach Sefard (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1985), pp 471-473; Jules Harlow, ed., Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2007), 139.

[10] Numbers 11:16-30.

[11] Numbers 11:31-35.

[12] Numbers 12:1-16.

[13] Consult R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp 614-634; and the entry for the Book of Numbers in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.


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

Apostolic Scriptures Reflection for Naso

Reflection for Naso

“Jealous Judgment”

John 7:53-8:11
Acts 21:17-32


by Mark Huey

This week’s Torah portion, Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89), continues the census of the Ancient Israelites. More specific tasks are assigned to the three family lines of the Levites: the Kohathites, Gersonhites, and Merarites.[1] After their duties are delineated, the reading turns to some specific means for maintaining purity in the camp during Israel’s wilderness sojourn.[2] The extremely close quarters for their encampment precipitated some challenges, as illness and death would need to be properly handled, so defilement could be avoided and sanitation could be maintained. It is not difficult to see how the proximity of living circumstances could allow the human proclivity toward the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) to germinate and blossom. Certain instructions about how to deal with wrongful behavior toward another is outlined, as well as how to handle the problems of possibly sexually immoral actions and the jealousy it provokes.[3] After the details of the Nazirite vow are given,[4] as well as the specifics of the priestly blessing known as the Aaronic Benediction (Numbers 6:22-27), our parashah concludes with a section dedicated to recording the actions associated with the dedication and consecration of the Tabernacle and its accoutrements.[5]

It is quite logical to see that when selecting an appropriate Haftarah reading for Naso, the Jewish Sages chose to focus on the early life of Samson (Judges 13:2-25). Samson’s life as a Nazirite from the time of his birth represents and amplifies the blessings of one fully dedicated to serving the Lord, although one does have to consider some of the severe challenges which he encountered in later life. When we move ahead and look at the Apostolic Scriptures, we see that those within Second Temple Judaism continued to follow the prescriptions for taking a Nazirite vow. When he returns to Jerusalem with his offering collection from the nations (cf. Romans 15:25-27), the Apostle Paul is asked to quell a false rumor that he teaches against the Torah by helping to pay the expenses of four Jewish Believers who would be finishing up their Nazirite vows:

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

There would not be sufficient time for Paul himself to take a Nazirite vow here, but he could purify himself to be present for when the four who had taken a vow would complete it. Paul being present—and the fact that taking a Nazirite vow was not a standard, daily or weekly Torah practice—would indicate to those who had heard the rumor that Paul was not at all anti-Law. Yet, when he arrives at the Temple, the crowd is stirred up against him and he is arrested (Acts 21:26-32). Thankfully, though, Paul had been told by the Lord that these events would be used in order for him to be sent to Rome (Acts 19:21; 23:11).[6]

As important as Paul’s arrest is to much of the Book of Acts, rather than focus on the motives of the agitated crowd—the Numbers 5 law of jealousy has tended to stimulate a great deal of reflection and speculation on the part of Bible readers. The emotion of jealousy is something that can be either godly (Exodus 34:14; 2 Corinthians 11:2), or extremely carnal (Genesis 37:11), in humans. We can see Scriptural examples of how there is a godly trait of jealousy or zeal for righteousness, to be contrasted with a selfish or self-centered jealousy that erupts in emotions, which if kept unchecked, can lead to sinful behavior and immoral acts. In both the Book of Proverbs and the Song of Songs, we see descriptions of the potential for unbridled vengeance which can lead to serious harm and/or even death if not kept disciplined:

  • For jealousy enrages a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance” (Proverbs 6:34).
  • “Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4).
  • “Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD” (Song of Songs 8:6).

Within Numbers 5, the procedures given for handling improper sexual activity—whether actual or perceived—take place when the “spirit of jealousy” (ruach-qinah) overwhelms a man. These instructions are not necessarily given for when the same jealous emotion overcomes a woman:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself, the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity” (Numbers 5:11-15).

Perhaps because men are generally more physically powerful and sexually aggressive than women, the Lord instructed Moses to relay these somewhat laborious procedures in the event that sexual jealousy was erroneously aroused in a man. After all, if the rage was ignited, no matter whether the woman was had committed adultery or not, the enraged man who is offended might demonstrate some physical harm toward his wife—or even murder her, or the suspected or known fornicator—under the influence of the emotional passions of jealousy. By slowing the discovery process down to the measures required in this passage, the offended man would have some time to “cool down.” He would hopefully let any evidence of infidelity be revealed by the swelling of his wife’s abdomen and the wasting of her thigh, as it is detailed in the test for determining adultery:

“The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, ‘If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband,[7] be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you’ (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), ‘the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen. Amen.’ The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness. The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water. When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children. This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. Moreover, the man will be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt” (Numbers 5:19-31).

The judgment as to whether or not a man’s wife has committed sin comes down to the action of God. Despite the indictment and the embarrassment of going through the ordeal of having to drink bitter water, the woman is presumed innocent throughout the procedure. It is only when time is able to demonstrate whether or not she will swell and waste away, that she can then be considered an adulteress. Interestingly, the final statement of the law of jealousy (Numbers 5:31) asserts how the accusing husband will be free of guilt, even if he has erroneously accused an innocent wife by casting suspicion upon her. In later Rabbinical teaching, with support offered from Hosea 4:14,[8] it is concluded that the ordeal with bitter waters was only effective if the husband himself was innocent of sexual immorality (b.Sotah 47b).[9]

When one encounters the Numbers 5 law of jealousy from the vantage point of a modern person in the Twenty-First Century, we do rightly wonder why women were not given the same right within Ancient Israel—to challenge the suspected infidelity of their husbands. The question naturally arises about what recourse a woman would take, who suspected or knew that her husband was unfaithful. Should he not be put to some kind of a touchstone of testing, in the event that he violates his marriage obligations? Human nature certainly does not discriminate when it comes to the manifestation of jealousy in people. The often-quoted axiom, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” can certainly come to mind…

Our biggest disadvantage in understanding instructions, like that of Numbers 5, is that we often fail to place ourselves into the position of the Ancient Israelites who received this against a much larger Ancient Near Eastern setting. Law codes contemporary to the Torah of Moses had much more rigorous procedures in determining the potential adultery of a woman, like casting the accused into a rushing river[10]—and most frequently with the accused already assumed to be guilty. If the accused survived the ordeal, then obviously the woman was considered innocent. In the thought of J.A. Thompson, “Strange as the whole circumstance and ritual may seem to us, it compares so favourably with non-Israelite practice that it may be taken as evidence of that generally considerate attitude of the law of Moses towards women.”[11] The Israelite ordeal in Numbers 5 with an accused woman making an offering, taking a vow, and drinking some water laced with dust and some non-toxic script rubbed off an animal skin—was by far more humane than what an Assyrian or Babylonian woman accused of adultery would be made to do! Most important, though, the determination of judgment would be left to the Creator Himself, and not with any male accusers.[12]

Obviously, according to the Ten Commandments, adultery was to be considered a capital crime—resulting in the stoning of both parties liable to the transgression. God was certainly not mincing His words when He delivered the Seventh Commandment of the Decalogue:

“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18).

The punishment of death prescribed for mutual adultery was applicable to both the man and woman who were caught in the act:

“If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).

By the time the Numbers 5 law of jealousy was instituted for Ancient Israel, as their desert sojourn was progressing—the positive laws of holiness (Leviticus 19:1-37) and the instructions which handled pagan worship and sexual degeneracy (Leviticus 20:1-27)—were also a part of how the people were to be set-apart from their neighbors. When surveying all of this, we discover that according to God’s prescription, a number of violations can result in capital punishment by either fire or stoning, or for milder transgressions simply being cut off from the nation. It is most notable that within the midst of Leviticus chs. 19-20, one of the most important Biblical commandments appears. As the Israelites are instructed how to remove the presence of sin from the camp, they are admonished not to hate their fellow countrymen in their hearts, but how they can reprove or rebuke them without taking vengeance. They are required to actually love their neighbors:

“You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Anyone who has read the New Testament is aware of how Leviticus 19:18 is one of the most frequently quoted verses from the Old Testament (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). At the same time, the thrust of Leviticus 19:18 was most important to the ancient Pharisee Hillel the Elder, who taught immediately prior to the ministry of Yeshua in the First Century B.C.E., and whose grandson Gamaliel trained the Apostle Paul (Acts 5:34; 22:3). Hillel is noted for the famed statement, “What is hateful to you, to your fellow don’t do. That’s the entirety of the Torah; everything else is elaboration. So go, study” (b.Shabbat 31a).[13] In other words, Hillel said that people are to love their neighbors because they are just like you—and subject to the same temptations that you are!

Yeshua said Himself, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Judge others via the same scale as you expect to be judged. In His Sermon on the Mount, elaborating on how the Torah was to be “fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17ff) in His teachings, Yeshua delivered clarity and meaning to what the original intention of Moses’ Teaching actually was:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye’” (Matthew 7:1-5).

One Gospel passage which draws some parallels from the Numbers 5 instructions is John 7:53-8:11. In this scene, there appears to be elements of the law of jealousy, the requirement to love one’s neighbors, the admonition not to judge in order to avoid a similar measure of judgment—and the wide-reaching Biblical principle to extend grace, mercy, and fairness to those who are guilty in their trespasses and sins. A woman and a man appear to have been caught in the act of adultery. Yet, the attention of those who are deliberating over what to do is given only to the woman, as the man who was apparently involved is nowhere to be seen. The text indicates that the scribes and Pharisees present wanted to test Yeshua, in order to have further grounds to somehow accuse Him of being a false teacher:

“Everyone went to his home. But Yeshua went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Yeshua stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Yeshua said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Yeshua said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more’” (John 7:53-8:11).

There is no doubt that Messiah Yeshua not only knew the Seventh Commandment prohibiting adultery, but also the Leviticus 20:10 injunction to put adulterating offenders to death. He also knew the Numbers 5 law of jealousy, and the command to love one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). Most importantly, the Lord was quite aware of the sordid motives of the religious persons present, as they were searching for a reason by which they could accuse Him of violating the Torah of Moses and so discredit Him and His ministry.

In this scene—with a group of people on the Mount of Olives, and then onto the Temple with the Messiah delivering some teaching—He is rudely interrupted by some scribes and Pharisees, thrusting into the center of the Temple court a woman caught in the act of adultery. They fail to bring forward the man with whom she was fornicating, though. When Yeshua heard their venomous demand to respond to the claim, “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:5, NIV), Yeshua did not react hastily. Only one of the two apparent offenders involved in the adulterous act was even present—and the Torah instructed that both were to be put to death. Something was amiss with what was going on, especially how the accusations would easily gain the attention of many or most in the Temple complex. Yeshua was certainly quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (cf. James 1:19).

Instead of reacting to their prodding, Yeshua waited a moment, while probably surveying the scene as the accusers pointed to the woman and yelled out their demands. Rather than responding to their words immediately, Yeshua simply stooped down and began writing something on the dusty ground. While some might speculate that He was etching in the dust the curse prescribed by Numbers 5:23, it is impossible to categorically make such a claim. Nevertheless, there does appear to be some similarities as noted in the procedure of the law of jealousy, hence the association with what is witnessed here:

“Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the LORD, and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water….The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness” (Numbers 5:16-17; 23-24).

Rather than asking someone nearby to fetch a jar or vessel filled with holy water to complete this rite—Yeshua stood up, looked intently at His inquisitors, and directly and authoritatively makes this soul-piercing statement to all within hearing distance, gathered at this mock trial: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NIV). Can you imagine the deafening silence as those piercing words from the Messiah Yeshua sunk into the hearts of those hearing?

Yeshua simply stooped over again, and continued drawing on the dust on the ground. Next, the group of accusers begins to dissipate as the older and wiser of them, who knew the power of these words, recognized that they all were with sin (John 5:9a). They began to guiltily leave the scene. In a relatively short amount of time, Yeshua was left with the accused woman and whatever remaining onlookers were observing this extraordinary encounter.

Yeshua straightened up, and with unparalleled love in His eyes for this woman, He simply asked her who those who had condemned her were (John 8:10). Her response to His question was simply, “No one, Lord” (John 8:11), certainly recognizing Yeshua as a spiritual Authority. Yeshua then made it abundantly clear to her and to all who had sinned (or will ever sin), “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11). We cannot know whether or not she actually was guilty of committing adultery; all we know for certain is that the accusations were not proven. In His great mercy, Yeshua released her from any penalty that was due her—and that those present would have wanted to see enacted—yet He clearly admonishes her to never sin again.

Moving ahead in John’s account, we see Yeshua demonstrate His great grace toward us as He declared Himself to not only be the Light of the World—but how He was sent from the Father Himself. In contrast to some of the Pharisees present, Yeshua’s words were true as He came to Earth from Heaven—something that they do not know or can comprehend:

“Then Yeshua again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’ So the Pharisees said to Him, ‘You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.”  Yeshua answered and said to them, ‘Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me. Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.’ So they were saying to Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’ Yeshua answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.’ These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come” (John 8:12-20).

Within these statements, Yeshua invoked the Torah requirement for two or three witnesses to attest to the guilt of another. As people who had highly valued and treasured what He rhetorically called “your law,” they should have been aware of such an obvious principle:

“On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 17:6-7).

Without equivocation, Yeshua strongly asserted how His testimony about Himself and His Heavenly Father was enough to confirm His position as not only Lord—but the ultimate Judge who can release captives and extend mercy to those who have transgressed, like the woman accused of adultery. In the balance of the Apostolic Writings, we find multiple witnesses testifying that Yeshua is indeed the One appointed by the Father to judge the living and the dead.

Peter declared this in Caesarea, to those of the household of Cornelius:

You know of Yeshua of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:38-43).

The Apostle John recorded in his Gospel how Yeshua said,

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:21-23).

The Apostle Paul, in his final letter written, told his disciple Timothy,

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Messiah Yeshua, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

With great confidence and a jealousy that is tempered by God for His service, born again Believers can confidently declare that Yeshua is Lord and God without any reservation! With thankful hearts we can embrace the forgiveness that was secured by the shedding of His precious blood on Golgotha (Calvary).

Finally, it is imperative that Believers recognize how the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is a righteously jealous God. He tells us that one of His names is actually “Jealous,” because of His zeal for His people:

“[F]or you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).

With this in mind, I ask you to simply consider some words from James the Just, the half-brother of Yeshua—who witnessed not only the character of Yeshua up close and personal—but who himself is a great example for all Believers to emulate. James warns people not necessarily about the sexual adultery that we have been discussing, but rather committing adultery with the world and with pleasures that tempt the flesh to pursue friendship with fallen society. James appealed to how the Lord jealousy desires His Spirit to dwell in His people. He also warned individuals about the dangers of improperly judging others:

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE’ [Proverbs 3:34]. Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:1-17).

James’ words are most important for us to consider when it comes to the proper judgment of individuals or situations. After all, if we are truly jealous in a godly way to be all that we can be before the Almighty, should we not be judging ourselves—and especially the thoughts we have and actions we take? If we know that our thoughts or actions are not consistent with the Word of God, and we continue to act and think according to a worldly model—then it is absolutely clear that we are sinning before an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God. We are surely not fooling Him or hiding from Him, but rather are sinning before Him while knowing what the right thing to do actually is.

Without reservation and without hesitation, I urge you to confess and repent of any hidden sin. As Yeshua, the ultimate Judge told the accused woman: “Go and sin no more!”

NOTES

[1] Numbers 4:1-49.

[2] Numbers 5:1-10.

[3] Numbers 5:11-31.

[4] Numbers 6:1-21.

[5] Numbers 7:1-89.

[6] The ramifications of Acts 21:17-26 are examined in detail in the commentary Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[7] Heb. tachat isheikh; “under your husband” (LITV).

[8] “I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot or your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go apart with harlots and offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes; so the people without understanding are ruined” (Hosea 4:14).

[9] Cf. Jacob Milgrom, JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990), 43.

[10] Philip J. Budd, Word Biblical Commentary: Numbers (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), 63.

[11] J.A. Thompson, “Numbers,” in D. Guthrie and J.A. Motyer, eds., The New Bible Commentary Revised (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 176.

[12] For further consideration, consult the excursus “Adultery in the Bible and the Ancient Near East,” in Milgrom, pp 348-350.

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


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

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

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