Haftarah Mattot-Mas’ei

Haftarah Mattot-Mas’ei

“Consequences”

Jeremiah 1:1-2:3

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


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTES

[1] Eisenberg, 304.


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

Haftarah Pinchas

Haftarah Pinchas

“Zealous Succession”

1 Kings 18:46-19:21


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTES

[1] 1 Kings 17:10-16.


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

Haftarah Chukat-Balak

Haftarah Chukat-Balak

“What the Lord Requires”

Judges 11:1-33

Micah 5:6-6:8


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTES

[1] Numbers 19:1-22.

[2] Numbers 20:14-21.

[3] Numbers 20:24-29.

[4] Numbers 22:1-4.

[5] Numbers 22:5-21ff.

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

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


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

Haftarah Korach

Haftarah Korach

“Affirmed Man of God”

1 Samuel 11:14-12:22


by Mark Huey

With the wilderness journey of Israel prolonged by the lack of faith, instigated by the ten spies’ bad report, tensions began to mount in the camp. Even though the Levites had been given their respective responsibilities regarding the Tabernacle, there was some growing jealousy about the leadership of Moses. The rebellious nature of Korah, one of the Kohathites, and his co-conspirators Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben, voiced their complaints by challenging Moses before the congregation of Israel. We see this pattern, of various recalcitrant people speaking out or working against God’s anointed servants, repeated centuries later as recorded in our Haftarah selection from 1 Samuel. The connection between Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32), and things witnessed in Samuel’s life, direct our attention to what might be considered righteous indignation by both Moses and the Prophet Samuel.

In Korach, we see Moses defending his leadership. He stated that during his tenure as Israel’s leader, he never took a single donkey from the people he has served:

“Then Moses said to Korah, ‘Hear now, you sons of Levi, is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also? Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the LORD; but as for Aaron, who is he that you grumble against him?’ Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, ‘We will not come up. Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!’ Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, ‘Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them’” (Numbers 16:8-15).

Similar to this, when the aged Samuel defended his actions, he asserted that he had taken neither an ox nor a donkey, nor defrauded anyone during his time in leadership:

“Then Samuel said to all Israel, ‘Behold, I have listened to your voice in all that you said to me and I have appointed a king over you. Now, here is the king walking before you, but I am old and gray, and behold my sons are with you. And I have walked before you from my youth even to this day. Here I am; bear witness against me before the LORD and His anointed. Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? I will restore it to you.’ They said, ‘You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.’ He said to them, ‘The LORD is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day that you have found nothing in my hand.’ And they said, ‘He is witness’” (1 Samuel 12:1-5).

From what else we know about both Moses and Samuel, there is a distinct connection between their leadership roles, whether it was during Israel’s transition from slavery to freedom, or Israel’s later transition from the era of the judges/prophets to rule by kings. The Psalmist noted the correlation by expressing their qualities of justice, equity, and righteousness, imbued upon them by the Almighty:

“The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! The LORD is great in Zion, and He is exalted above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He. The strength of the King loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; Holy is He. Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel was among those who called on His name; they called upon the LORD and He answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept His testimonies and the statute that He gave them. O LORD our God, You answered them; You were a forgiving God to them, and yet an avenger of their evil deeds. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy hill, for holy is the LORD our God” (Psalm 99:1-9).

We also see Moses and Samuel lauded in the prophecies of Jeremiah. As he heard from the Lord about the fate of the Southern Kingdom, and specifically for the sin of the wicked King Manasseh, the Lord evoked the names of Moses and Samuel as potential righteous intercessors for Judah. Yet, the wickedness was so bad that even if Moses and Samuel were to intercede, God would not be able to heed their pleas and would still be required to bring down His justice upon the people:

“Have You completely rejected Judah? Or have You loathed Zion? Why have You stricken us so that we are beyond healing? We waited for peace, but nothing good came; And for a time of healing, but behold, terror! We know our wickedness, O LORD, the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against You. Do not despise us, for Your own name’s sake; do not disgrace the throne of Your glory; remember and do not annul Your covenant with us. Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain? Or can the heavens grant showers? Is it not You, O LORD our God? Therefore we hope in You, for You are the one who has done all these things. Then the LORD said to me, ‘Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go! And it shall be that when they say to you, “Where should we go?” then you are to tell them, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Those destined for death, to death; and those destined for the sword, to the sword; and those destined for famine, to famine; and those destined for captivity, to captivity.’” I will appoint over them four kinds of doom,’ declares the LORD: ‘the sword to slay, the dogs to drag off, and the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. I will make them an object of horror among all the kingdoms of the earth because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem’” (Jeremiah 14:19-15:4).

Finally, both Moses and Samuel were given the title “man of God” in the Scriptures, as an honorificate of their service.

Moses was given this title by the narrator of Deuteronomy, immediately before his death:

“Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God [ish ha’Elohim] blessed the sons of Israel before his death” (Deuteronomy 33:1).

Samuel was referred to as a “man of God” by Saul, prior to becoming the king of Israel:

“He said to him, ‘Behold now, there is a man of God [ish-Elohim] in this city, and the man is held in honor; all that he says surely comes true. Now let us go there, perhaps he can tell us about our journey on which we have set out.’ Then Saul said to his servant, ‘But behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is gone from our sack and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?’ The servant answered Saul again and said, ‘Behold, I have in my hand a fourth of a shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God [l’ish ha’Elohim] and he will tell us our way.’ (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, ‘Come, and let us go to the seer’; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.) Then Saul said to his servant, ‘Well said; come, let us go.’ So they went to the city where the man of God [ish ha’Elohim] was” (1 Samuel 9:6-10).

As you reflect upon the account of Korah and his rebellious comrades this week, and then consider how the Ancient Israelites disregarded the advice of Samuel, and turned themselves over to human kings like the other nations (1 Samuel 8:11-20)—do you identify with either the selfless sacrifice of Moses and Samuel, or rather the baseness of the Israelites? Have you ever been in a position of leadership where you knew your motives were pure, and yet you were questioned or rebuked by your subordinates? Or on the other hand, can you remember times when in your heart you were unable to follow the instructions of others, because you thought you might know better or have a better way of doing things?

Is it possible that like most, you can remember times on both sides of the equation? Perhaps these were times when you were misunderstood, or when you simply decided that you would not follow the lead of those in positional authority over you?

In the case of Moses, the dramatic way that the Lord showed his contemporaries that He was on Moses’ side, resulted in the death of his detractors.[1] In the case of Samuel, his vindication came when he prayed for rain during the wheat harvest, and rain suddenly appeared. A reiteration of the people’s choice of a human king, and the consequences resulted, notably preceded the sign of God’s approval of Samuel’s request for rain:

“When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the LORD your God was your king. Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the LORD has set a king over you. If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers. Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king.’ So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. Then all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.’ Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself” (1 Samuel 12:12-22).

Today, we are not necessarily witnessing the ground opening up and swallowing people, or less frequently rain immediately appearing when prayed for on the spot. But, we are certainly able to notice the fruit of someone’s labors in the field of serving God. Both Moses and Samuel exemplified integrity, justice, and His blessing. Although questioned by their peers and followers, their examples have stood up through the test of time as the Psalmist, Jeremiah, and many others rightly recognized them as “men of God.”

In time, no matter what side of the equation we fall upon, we should hope that our own service in God’s Kingdom be recognized as beneficial eternal fruit! Let us follow the examples of these great servants of God, who endured with integrity during their respective walks of faith!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 16:23-35.


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

Haftarah Shelakh-Lekha

Shelakh-Lekha

“A Harlot’s Faith”

Joshua 2:1-24


by Mark Huey

The thrust of this week’s Torah teaching, Shelach-Lekha (Numbers 13:1-15:41), deals primarily with the account of the twelve spies sent into the Promised Land to ascertain its fitness for occupation. When one reads the report of the Land flowing with milk and honey, and the abundance of huge grapes, pomegranates, and figs—not to mention the natural beauty ideal for grazing livestock and growing crops—it is difficult to believe that the majority report was so negative. Apparently, the presence of the different Canaanite city-states, with their natural size and fortifications, dissuaded the ten timid Israelite spites, as the thought of challenging these people was just too much to fathom. These ten spies did not have the faith to understand that the Lord of the Exodus was going to fight for them and with them, just as He had stated it to Moses:

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn Me, and how long will they have no faith in Me despite all the signs that I have performed in their midst’?” (Numbers 14:11, NJPS).

Despite witnessing the defeat and humiliation of the Egyptians, and the provisions already being made for the desert sojourn, only Joshua and Caleb had the faith to take the Promised Land. The Lord told Moses that Caleb, and then Joshua, had a different spirit (ruach acheret) that was going to allow them to eventually make it after their peers perished in the wilderness:

“‘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. Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys; turn tomorrow and set out to the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.’ 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”’” (Numbers 14:24-33).

So with the history of the spies’ rejection of the Promised Land, and following a nearly forty years of wondering, our Haftarah selection turns to the Book of Joshua where the details of the invasion of Canaan are recorded. We are introduced to the harlot Rahab, who just happens to have a similar spirit of faith regarding the Holy One of Israel. Understand that as a resident of Jericho, one of the main points of entry into Canaan from the east, she was very knowledgeable about the reputation of the Israelites, their miraculous deliverance from Egypt, and some of their exploits afflicting other nations during their sojourn. When the two spies were sent into Jericho to determine its strength, they encountered Rahab, who confessed her knowledge and fear of their God:

“Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. It was told the king of Jericho, saying, ‘Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.’ And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.’ But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.’ But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued them on the road to the Jordan to the fords; and as soon as those who were pursuing them had gone out, they shut the gate. Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, ‘I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death’” (Joshua 2:1-13).

After confessing that she was aware of the Lord’s power, Rahab then—“by faith”—extracted a promise out of the two spies in order to save her household and relatives. A deal was struck with the two spies who were allowed to escape harm, and eventually return to make their report to Joshua. But Rahab was required to follow the instructions of the spies:

“So the men said to her, ‘Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the LORD gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.’ Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall. She said to them, ‘Go to the hill country, so that the pursuers will not happen upon you, and hide yourselves there for three days until the pursuers return. Then afterward you may go on your way.’ The men said to her, ‘We shall be free from this oath to you which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father’s household. It shall come about that anyone who goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be free; but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be free from the oath which you have made us swear.’ She said, ‘According to your words, so be it.’ So she sent them away, and they departed; and she tied the scarlet cord in the window” (Joshua 2:14-21).

It is further recorded that upon the invasion of Jericho by the Israelites, that Rahab complied with the instructions to hang the red cord from her window and her relatives were spared death by the sword of the invading armies (Joshua 6:17, 22-25). What is intriguing is that Rahab is highly recognized for her faithful works. So much is this the case that two times in the Apostolic Writings, she is given a prominent mention for what her faith accomplished.

When James the Just explained how faith without works is dead, he referred to two notable people as his examples. First, he listed Abraham, considered to be the father of faith. But then, his second example was actually Rahab the harlot:

“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS’ [Genesis 15:6], and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-26).

Additionally, the author of Hebrews noted Rahab, the harlot, and her acts with the spies, as a commendable work of faith:

“By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace” (Hebrews 11:31).

If you think about these accounts from Numbers and Joshua, and compare the faith of Rahab with the lack of faith of the generation of Israelites who were frightfully intimidated from securing the Promised Land—the contrast is quite extraordinary! This should cause each of us today, no matter what our stature or position in life, to realize that God is most concerned about our faith. God cares about what we do with our belief in Him, and that we demonstrate that such faith is real—not just something hypothetical as a figment of our imagination. If a harlot’s faith is recognized and indeed memorialized in the ancient texts, we can be rest assured that the Almighty God is taking note. As the Apostle Paul wrote those in Corinth, please remember to test and examine yourself:

“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” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6).

There is no doubt that Rahab the harlot, by the tangible evidence of her works, was “in the faith.” Can you say the same about your walk? Whatever you do, I urge you to not fail the test!


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

Haftarah Beha’alot’kha

Beha’alot’kha

“Pure Light of the Branch”

Zechariah 2:14-4:7


by Mark Huey

This week’s Torah reading, B’ha’alotkha (Numbers 8:1-12:16), describes various events during the wilderness march of Ancient Israel. It begins with a brief overview of the seven branches of the menorah.[1] At the concluding verse of last week’s reading (Naso: Numbers 4:21-7:89), it is understood that this impressive candelabra was to be located in the Tent of Meeting where Moses communed with the Lord. Just imagine the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant being illuminated by light from this menorah:

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

In the lighted Tent of Meeting, from above the mercy seat, the Lord spoke with Moses giving him the two principal instructions that are connected to this week’s Haftarah selection from Zechariah. Read the instructions about the proper mounting of the lamp, and then the more explicit instructions about the ancient Levites who were to be purified for service unto Him. The Levites have been separated out to perform duties associated with the Tabernacle and Israel’s worship before God:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, the seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand.”’ Aaron therefore did so; he mounted its lamps at the front of the lampstand, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the LORD had showed Moses, so he made the lampstand. Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the Levites from among the sons of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing: sprinkle purifying water on them, and let them use a razor over their whole body and wash their clothes, and they will be clean.’ Then let them take a bull with its grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil; and a second bull you shall take for a sin offering. So you shall present the Levites before the tent of meeting. You shall also assemble the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, and present the Levites before the LORD; and the sons of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites. Aaron then shall present the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the sons of Israel, that they may qualify to perform the service of the LORD. Now the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls; then offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the LORD, to make atonement for the Levites. You shall have the Levites stand before Aaron and before his sons so as to present them as a wave offering to the LORD. Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. Then after that the Levites may go in to serve the tent of meeting. But you shall cleanse them and present them as a wave offering; for they are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel. I have taken them for Myself instead of every first issue of the womb, the firstborn of all the sons of Israel. For every firstborn among the sons of Israel is Mine, among the men and among the animals; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself. But I have taken the Levites instead of every firstborn among the sons of Israel. I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the sons of Israel, to perform the service of the sons of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement on behalf of the sons of Israel, so that there will be no plague among the sons of Israel by their coming near to the sanctuary.’ Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the sons of Israel to the Levites; according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so the sons of Israel did to them. The Levites, too, purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes; and Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the LORD. Aaron also made atonement for them to cleanse them. Then after that the Levites went in to perform their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and before his sons; just as the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them. Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting. But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more. They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting, to keep an obligation, but they themselves shall do no work. Thus you shall deal with the Levites concerning their obligations” (Numbers 8:1-26).

With these emphases on the menorah and the purifying of the Levites, the Jewish Sages turned to a prophetic word from Zechariah for the complimentary Haftarah selection. Zechariah, similar to Haggai, was a post-exilic prophet who spoke for the Lord as the scattered Jews were returning back to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem during the Persian era. The reconstruction of the city and the Temple had begun. But the former exiles needed admonitions—and sometimes even rebukes—from the Prophets who God raised up so that their necessary tasks would not be forgotten.

Zechariah received a series of visions which were used by the Lord to encourage the children of the Jewish exiles to persevere. After a declarative statement that many nations will join themselves to the Lord when He comes to dwell in their midst, a vision of a high priest, named Joshua, is detailed. This Joshua was being accused by Satan as he stood in his filthy garments. But, the Lord had his filthy garments removed, and he was cleansed, purified, and redressed for proper service unto Him. Note how after this cleansing and change of clothes, that there was still a requirement upon Joshua to walk in God’s ways, adequately performing His required service and administration:

“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ Again he said to him, ‘See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.’ Then I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by. And the angel of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here”’” (Zechariah 3:1-7).

The imagery of this vision may not be absolutely clear to you, but the need for cleanliness or purity among those who serve in God’s priesthood is easily seen. Joshua is a high priest, not that much different than Aaron, but he was not intended to represent the Messiah of Israel. Instead, the high priest Joshua was told that God is going to send avdi tzemach, “My servant the Branch.” This will be ultimately accompanied by the Land of Israel being removed of iniquity, and following will be peace and prosperity:

“‘Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. For behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave an inscription on it,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree’” (Zechariah 3:8-10).

Following this, Zechariah shared another vision—one which parallels the description of the menorah seen in our Torah reading for B’ha’alotkha. We see a reference to a seven-spouted candelabra, perhaps a connection to the seven eyes on the stone in the previous vision (Zechariah 3:9). It is evident from the various objects depicted, that God was trying to communicate some deep spiritual truths, and added to this are two olive trees that stand before the Temple. The reconstruction of the Temple is something that is very important, because as the Lord told Zechariah, it will only take place by His Spirit:

“Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. He said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.’ Then I said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, ‘What are these, my lord?’ So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ And I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’” (Zechariah 4:1-7).

In these different visions, we see Joshua the high priest, and now we see Zerubbabel. We see two chosen people: one to restore a purified Levitical priesthood, and another chosen to rebuild the Temple. Reading just a little further, we see what the two olive trees specifically represent:

“Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth.’ Then I said to him, ‘What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?’ And I answered the second time and said to him, ‘What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?’ So he answered me, saying, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ And I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth’” (Zechariah 4:8-14).

Zechariah was told by God, eilleh sh’nei b’nei-ha’yitzhar ha’omdim al-Adon kol-ha’eretz, or “These are the two sons of the oil, who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth” (YLT). These two anointed ones (Heb. sh’nei b’nei-ha’yitzhar) may represent how the religious priesthood and the secular authorities were used by God, following the Babylonian exile, to restore not only the rebuilt Temple, but its services and the people back to proper worship.

There appears to be an interesting connection between the seven bulbs of the menorah, and how the Prophet Isaiah referred to seven important aspects of the Messiah’s mission and ministry. In the opening verses of Isaiah 11, prophesied of the shoot (Heb. choter) springing forth from Jesse, we see a clear reference to a descendant of King David. This branch (Heb. netzerE) will bear much fruit because the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him:

“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:1-4).

As you read the balance of the description given of “the branch,” we see that He is One who will possess significant wisdom, power, and strength. He will have the ability to enact righteousness in the lives of the oppressed, and will judge the wicked. Both Isaiah and Zechariah were privileged to have visions of the work that the Messiah would be destined to perform. And, we should take comfort in knowing that even though He has yet to enact complete righteousness on Earth—He will surely return and one day it will be manifest!

Today, after more than 2,500 years of history having moved forward—and most especially after the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah—we as born again Believers should have a much fuller appreciation of the Prophet Zechariah’s ancient words. Both the high priest Joshua and builder Zerubbabel did help play a role in seeing the priesthood reestablished and the Temple rebuilt (cf. Haggai 1:1-2). Jewish exiles returned to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, and they reestablished their lives and religious worship.

How important is this? Before the time of Yeshua, Herod the Great enacted a significant refurbishing of the Second Temple, a place where our Messiah spent a great deal of His time teaching and meditating. He used the imagery of the Temple to speak about Himself and the work that the Father sent Him to do. At the appointed time, Yeshua was offered up for our sins—because He was the Branch upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rested. Today as we place our trust in Him, we can not only experience redemption from sins, but we also have the assurance that He will not judge us as wicked sinners!

Yeshua is the Light of the world (John 8:12), our pure Branch, endowed with all the attributes of His Father (cf. Colossians 1:15-16), who came to die for fallen humanity. This is a great blessing for us to contemplate, as we all need to persevere in the call upon our lives to serve the Lord like the high priest Joshua and builder Zerubbabel. Let us all maintain our purity before the Father, obeying Him via His Spirit, as we bask in the light of His Son.

NOTES

[1] Numbers 8:1-4; cf. Exodus 25:31-40.


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

Haftarah Naso

Naso

“Committed Vows”

Judges 13:2-25


by Mark Huey

Within Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) there are a number of topics described, which to many readers seem to be largely unrelated. First, a census of the three Levitical clans (Gersonites, Merarites, and Kohathites), which are responsible for assembling, dismantling, and transporting the Tabernacle, is conducted—and they are given their specific tasks and assignments.[1] Next, some specific laws for the priests to maintain purity in the camp of the Israelites are detailed.[2] This is followed by the law of jealousy, which is to deal with any adultery or suspected adultery among the people of Israel.[3] The instructions regarding what a Nazirite vow is to be, are explicitly delineated.[4] Within Naso is the spiritually and theologically important Aaronic Benediction,[5] and our parashah concludes with a description of the dedication of the Tabernacle and the offerings presented by each of the twelve tribes.[6]

With what appears to be a random selection of subjects, the Jewish Sages chose to focus upon the Nazirite vow by choosing a complimentary Haftarah passage from Judges 13. We encounter important aspects of the life of Samson, who could be the most well known Nazirite in the Bible. Do recall how one who makes a Nazirite vow will be separated out to the Almighty for a specific period of time:

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the LORD, he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin. All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long. All the days of his separation to the LORD he shall not go near to a dead person. He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD’” (Numbers 6:2-8).

In the case of Samson, he was actually chosen to be separated unto the Lord prior to his conception. Unlike the voluntary choosing by a man or woman to make a Nazirite vow, Samson was selected for a special work of deliverance. His barren mother was directed to actually avoid wine, any kind of alcohol, or the unclean before her pregnancy:

“Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13:3-5).

The contrast between the voluntary choice of an Israelite man or woman making a Nazirite vow to the Lord for a specified period of time—and the involuntary choice of another, in this case Samson’s parents—needs to be considered. From the time of conception, Samson effectively had a lifelong vow imposed upon him, which would later be manifested in the great abilities he would possess as a result of his separation.[7] Yet, even though Samson’s parents would have followed the instructions enabling him to be separated as a Nazirite, the account of Samson in Judges demonstrates that he very much retained his own free will, which allowed him to make decisions for himself. Sometimes based on the recorded testimony, the choices Samson made were detrimental.[8] However, despite poor choices that ultimately compromised his strength, he was still used by the Lord to ultimately deliver Israel from the Philistines.[9]

As you consider various aspects seen in Naso describing Ancient Israel’s service toward the Lord, purifying the camp (especially from the sin of adultery) and making vows or commitments to Him—reflecting on what transpired in the life of Samson becomes quite a contrast. Was he not plagued by dallying with women in adulterous situations (Judges 16:1-2)? Did he not succumb to the lure of sweet honey in the carcass of a lion, touching the dead and becoming ritually unclean (Judges 14:8-9)? Did not the lure of Delilah allow him to be compromised with his hair being shorn, reducing his strength (Judges 16:19)?

What was Samson’s problem? Was it the fact that his commitment to his parentally-imposed vows was not truly a willful choice that he made for himself? You have possibly known of individuals who have a testimony of being “dedicated” to the Lord by their parents, either prior to conception, during pregnancy, or perhaps during their early months of infancy. While the parents’ intentions for the person are honorable and perhaps even inspired by the Holy Spirit—this does not necessarily mean that the children who are affected by those commitments are going to absolutely and faithfully adhere to their parents’ desire for upstanding spirituality.

Instead, what is required is a wholehearted desire from the individual to take personal responsibility for his or her own life in being dedicated to the Lord. It does not matter if one takes a Nazirite-type vow for a season. What is most important is that a person is individually convicted of sin and comes to a free will choice in recognizing Yeshua the Messiah as Savior. Any parent or mentor can pronounce a word of blessing over a small child, but such a word can only be realized when a grown child has made his or her own life decisions to follow the Lord. The Scriptures are replete with examples of how serious it is for people who make vows, swear commitments, or take an oath:

  • “Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, ‘This is the word which the LORD has commanded. If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth’” (Numbers 30:1-2).
  • “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you. However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, what you have promised” (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).
  • “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7).
  • “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]. 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 [Isaiah 66:1]. 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).

In each of these references there is a notation about one’s vow or swearing coming forth from the mouth, lips, speech, or voice. We see that when someone makes a vow or swears in the name of the Lord, he or she voluntarily makes a statement which originates from the heart and enters into the world through spoken language. God is very concerned about this practice, and His warnings are to not make a vow unless you really are willing and able to perform it. Yeshua’s reference to Leviticus 19:12 in His Sermon on the Mount is most serious, as one who fails to complete a vow or commitment will actually have profaned the name of God:

“You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:12).

Yeshua’s admonition was that it would be better to not make a vow or swear, unless you are willing and able to fulfill it. Instead, the Messiah simply instructed to let one’s speech be known by “Yes” and “No.”

This reminds me of a few things which have occurred in my life as a Believer in Yeshua. I can specifically recall a psalm from King David which admonished a person to honor his word by swearing 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).

I believe that if you have made a commitment to someone by your words, you are obligated by the Scriptures to honor it, regardless of the consequences. Years ago when our family was guided to sell many of our assets and move as missionaries to Honduras, I told a number of people what our intentions were. Originally we were going to buy a large tract of land with the intention of subdividing it and selling off smaller tracts, and others made the decision to also move. When we realized that this venture was taking an unexpected twist and coming to an abbreviated termination, instead of changing my word, I fulfilled my obligation—despite the cost of the alteration of plans. For some reason or another, the concept of “swearing to your own hurt” resonated in my spirit. I fulfilled the obligations I made to the best of my ability and in my fear of the Lord.

Additionally, during our years of ministry, we have had a number of people who have told us that they wish to regularly support our efforts with their finances. Sometimes when this occurs we have seen just the opposite take place, as such individuals may only give our ministry a few offerings. Despite what at the time appears to be a sincere desire to support the Lord’s work, many have been unable to fulfill their commitments. On a few occasions I have had to call a number of people on the phone and verbally release them from their broken vows. In my heart, I do not want anyone to be penalized for failing to honor a commitment—so instead I simply forgive and release such people. We do, after all, serve a very merciful God.

Perhaps you can also think of times when you either received a vow or made a vow, which somehow had been altered or changed. Perhaps you might have even taken a Nazirite-type vow in order to separate yourself from the world so that you might perform some specific work for the Lord and press into Him. It is perfectly legitimate to make a commitment to be intensely separated unto Him for a set period of time. However, whether you make such a vow, or any decision you might make, do so with some serious thought and contemplation. So many of the vows or oaths we take are done rashly, without us carefully considering their long-term effects. I know that given some of the decisions that I have made in the past—that I am much more careful today with the kinds of commitments I make personally, and most especially on behalf of Outreach Israel. (I also have some trusted persons in Margaret and John, who serve alongside me in ministry, who are quite quick to issue a challenge if they think I have made a poor choice!)

Ultimately, the most important commitment any one of us has ever made is that sacred confession “Yeshua is Lord!” (Romans 10:9). At one point in your life, you must have bent your knee and confessed with your tongue that Yeshua is the Redeemer (cf. Philippians 2:10; Isaiah 45:23)! The commitment to be a follower of Messiah is not something your parents, siblings, spouse, or close friend or mentor can do for you. It is a personal vow that provides spiritual regeneration and eternal life. Cherish the moment you welcomed Yeshua into your heart forever!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 4:1-49.

[2] Numbers 5:1-10.

[3] Numbers 5:11-31.

[4] Numbers 6:1-21.

[5] Numbers 6:22-27.

[6] Numbers 7:1-89.

[7] Judges 14:1-15:20.

[8] Judges 16:1-27.

[9] Judges 16:28-31.


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

Haftarah Bamidbar

Bamidbar

“Wilderness People”

Hosea 2:1-22


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hafatarah B’har-B’chuqotai

B’har

Jeremiah 32:6-27

B’chuqotai

“Heart Check”

Jeremiah 16:19-17:24


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTES

[1] Leviticus 25:1-22.

[2] Leviticus 25:23-55.

[3] Leviticus 26:1-46.

[4] Leviticus 27:1-34.


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