TorahScope Mattot-Mas’ei

Mattot-Mas’ei

Tribes

Stages

“Double Portion: Final Instructions”

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

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


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TorahScope Pinchas

Pinchas

Phinehas

“A Covenant of Peace”

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


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TorahScope Chukat

Chukat

Regulation

“Heifer and Serpent Faith”

Numbers 19:1-22:1
Judges 11:1-33


by Mark Huey

Now that the rules and guidelines for the Levitical priesthood have been widely delineated in the previous Torah readings, along with the disappointment of the spying expedition completed and the challenges to leadership by Korah and his cohorts dealt with severely—our Torah portion for this week, Chukat, commences with the inexplicable, mysterious procedure for purifying the unclean with the ashes of a red heifer (Numbers 19:1-22). For millennia, Jewish Sages and Bible scholars alike have been unable to fully comprehend just why the Lord would institute this practice—which purifies the unclean while rendering the clean unclean in the process—but nevertheless, because the instruction came from Him, we should recognize that it is something that would be done if either the Tabernacle or Temple were operational.

In some regards, this confounding ritual at least partially foreshadows a future mindboggling event when the unblemished Messiah would be crucified for the sin of fallen humanity, providing permanent atonement. Our Torah reading is notably specific, reminding the reader that being cleansed by the ashes of the heifer the statute was applicable to all people within the broad community of Israel. What this should communicate to each of us is how the work of being cleansed is undeniably something that God wants to provide for all people—be it a ritual cleansing or most importantly a spiritual cleansing:

“Now a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin. The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and it shall be a perpetual statute to the sons of Israel and to the alien who sojourns among them. The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days…Then the clean person shall sprinkle on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify him from uncleanness, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and shall be clean by evening. But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean. So it shall be a perpetual statute for them. And he who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and he who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. Furthermore, anything that the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening” (Numbers 19:9-11, 19-22).

After the ritual with the red heifer is explained, our reading actually fasts forward some thirty-eight years, to when the whole congregation is bivouacked in the wilderness of Zin. This is where a number of generational transitions take place, as Moses was preparing the survivors of the sojourn to enter into the Promised Land. At this point in the journey, though, Miriam died. The rock that followed the Israelites, sustaining the people and their herds with water, which had followed them since Horeb (Exodus 17:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4, was no longer spewing forth water. This dilemma naturally evoked a response from the younger generation, which was not too dissimilar from how their parents and grandparents reacted when initially departing from Egypt (Exodus 17). However, in this case, one finds that the aged Moses did not adhere to the explicit instructions of the Lord in terms of the people receiving water:

“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; and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘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.’ Those were the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and He proved Himself holy among them” (Numbers 20:1-13).

While Moses and Aaron once again fell on their faces, imploring the Lord for guidance on how to handle not only the complaints of the grumblers—but most critically the need for water—Moses’ frustration with the circumstances generated a reaction that did not conform with the Almighty’s command to simply take the rod of authority from the Tabernacle, and speak to the rock to bring forth water. Instead, Moses struck the rock twice with the rod, and in doing so, disobeyed the Lord and sealed both his and his brother’s fate, from leading the assembly into the Promised Land. This lack of obedience to the instruction of the Lord has in time since been a most severe warning to all of those called to be in leadership of God’s people. One would think that after nearly forty years of serving the Lord and following His instructions, someone of Moses’ stature who was given such great responsibility, would not succumb to the impetuous actions of the flesh. However, Moses struck the rock twice, and the consequence of his actions resulted in being denied the blessing of entering into the Promised Land—despite some future pleadings seeking the Lord to reverse His decision (Deuteronomy 3:23-27).

At the waters began to flow again, the attempt to make the final push toward Canaan encountered a number of impediments, because of the presence of other people groups residing in the territory along the designated route to the Promised Land. After all, transporting hundreds of thousands of people and their livestock through the area was naturally going to require a significant amount of provision. Immediately, the fledgling nation of Israel was about to receive a foretaste of the fact that their neighbors were not about to just welcome them with open arms. First, their kindred among the descendants of Esau rejected Moses’ request for passage through their territory, despite the assurance that Israel would not even drink any of their scarce water resources:

“From Kadesh Moses then sent messengers to the king of Edom: ‘Thus your brother Israel has said, “You know all the hardship that has befallen us; that our fathers went down to Egypt, and we stayed in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians treated us and our fathers badly. But when we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out from Egypt; now behold, we are at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or through vineyard; we will not even drink water from a well. We will go along the king’s highway, not turning to the right or left, until we pass through your territory.”’ Edom, however, said to him, ‘You shall not pass through us, or I will come out with the sword against you.’ Again, the sons of Israel said to him, ‘We will go up by the highway, and if I and my livestock do drink any of your water, then I will pay its price. Let me only pass through on my feet, nothing else.’ But he said, ‘You shall not pass through.’ And Edom came out against him with a heavy force and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through his territory; so Israel turned away from him” (Numbers 20:14-21).

Moses and Aaron certainly contemplated the rejection of their request to the Edomites, and our Torah reading gives us some transitional information communicated while the people assembled near Mount Hor. Aaron would die, and his priestly responsibilities would be transferred to his son Eleazar—literally as the garments of the high priest were taken off of Aaron and placed onto Eleazar. In a seemingly seamless procedure, Eleazar, who was raised serving and following his father Aaron’s lead, was given the representative clothing of the high priest, so that the congregation would know that the transfer of authority had been completed to the next generation. In a fitting tribute to the loss of a useful servant of the Most High, the congregation mourned the loss of Aaron for thirty days, establishing a meaningful precedence for future generations to consider when those who have served them ably pass away:

“Now when they set out from Kadesh, the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying, ‘Aaron will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah. Take Aaron and his son Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor; and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be gathered to his people, and will die there.’ So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days” (Numbers 20:22-29).

With the disappointment of not being able to travel through Edom realized, Moses decided that another route through the Negev was the way to proceed. As noted earlier, though, these other neighbors were not necessarily welcoming the Israelites, but instead were going out to battle with them. However, this time the Lord heard the pleas of His people, and with His blessing, the Israelites overcame the Canaanites who impeded their progress:

“When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, then he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. So Israel made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.’ The LORD heard the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. Thus the name of the place was called Hormah” (Numbers 21:1-3).

When the journey recommenced around Edom, there was a chronic return to complaining about a lack of food and water, which prompted the Lord to send serpents into the camp to severely chastise the recalcitrant Israelites. Once again in his intermediary capacity, Moses interceded for the people. The Lord directed him to fashion a bronze serpent, which was to be lifted up and made visible by all in the camp. All the people had to do was to gaze upon this bronze serpent standard, with the belief that it would heal them from the sting of the serpents:

“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived” (Numbers 21:4-9).

Centuries later, in His encounter with Nicodemus, Yeshua the Messiah Himself would describe how this act of Moses, in the Ancient Israelites’ desert sojourn, was a significant foreshadowing of the need for all people to look to Him. Yeshua would be lifted up as a sacrifice for human sin, which all being saved would need to recognize in order to be born from above:

“Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Yeshua answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:3-16).

Despite the Lord’s issues with the complaining Israelites, He still loved them and was committed to fulfilling His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their sojourn continued, with yet some more neighbors to contend with in order to enter into the Promised Land. The Amorites were given the same assurances as the Edomites regarding foraging from fields and vineyards and consuming water from their wells, but without any logical alternatives, Moses decided to route the Israelite entourage through the Amorite territory. In this case, the favor of the Lord was with Israel, and when the battles concluded, Israel had taken possession of land from the Arnon to the Jabbok Rivers, as well as their cities and villages:

“Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying, ‘Let me pass through your land. We will not turn off into field or vineyard; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the king’s highway until we have passed through your border.’ But Sihon would not permit Israel to pass through his border. So Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. Then Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the sons of Ammon; for the border of the sons of Ammon was Jazer. Israel took all these cities and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all her villages. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon. Therefore those who use proverbs say, ‘Come to Heshbon! Let it be built! So let the city of Sihon be established. For a fire went forth from Heshbon, a flame from the town of Sihon; it devoured Ar of Moab, the dominant heights of the Arnon. Woe to you, O Moab! You are ruined, O people of Chemosh! He has given his sons as fugitives, And his daughters into captivity, to an Amorite king, Sihon. But we have cast them down, Heshbon is ruined as far as Dibon, then we have laid waste even to Nophah, which reaches to Medeba.’ Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up by the way of Bashan, and Og the king of Bashan went out with all his people, for battle at Edrei. But the LORD said to Moses, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’ So they killed him and his sons and all his people, until there was no remnant left him; and they possessed his land” (Numbers 21:21-35).

After the victories were secured as Chukat comes to a close, the Israelites were encamped on the plains of Moab poised by the Jordan River, overlooking Jericho and prepared for entry into Canaan:

“Then the sons of Israel journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan opposite Jericho” (Numbers 22:1).

Now it would just be a matter of preparing the Israelites for a final push into Canaan, with some substantial obstacles like the fortified city of Jericho impeding their progress. There were still some challenges to come from the Moabites, which will be addressed in further reading, but the next generation of people (often called the “Joshua generation”) which was on the precipice of occupying the Promised Land, was being primed for the coming invasion. Naturally, they had the common needs such as access to water and food to sustain them continually, which became a concern—but they had just witnessed and participated in the final thrust defeating the Amorites, and were enjoying the spoils of their triumph. They had a new high priest, without the presence of previously recognized leaders like Miriam and Aaron around—but the emergence of Joshua and Caleb as elder leaders and fearless warriors, perhaps gave the Israelites some confidence, as the Jordan River was all that separated them from their destiny.

All who survived the attack of the serpents had to have realized that God’s means of deliverance was punctuated by faith in what Moses had instructed them to do. The Tabernacle was in full operation, and the ashes of the red heifer were still performing the cleansing of the people (perhaps as the final corpses of the generation not permitted to enter into Canaan were being buried). After nearly forty years, Moses, despite his indiscretion in striking the rock, was still among them. The anticipation of finally settling in the Promised Land, no doubt, offered thoughts of completion, as the community of Israel could finally settle down.

Thinking about what Chukat might communicate to modern-day Believers in the Messiah of Israel, the concept of living by faith and in what the Lord has instructed His people to do, does not come naturally. In many ways, for those living today—even with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit—there can still be a tendency to follow after ways of the flesh. Not following the dictates of one’s fallen humanity will be a battle that becomes even more apparent as we continue our reading of the Torah.


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

TorahScope Korach

Korach

Korah

“Inevitable Challenges”

Numbers 16:1-18:32
1 Samuel 11:14-12:22


by Mark Huey

Every year as one studies the testimonies of the Torah, there is an annual reminder that the challenges of ministerial leadership always persist—and such a reminder gives added meaning to the words written by the Apostle Paul regarding the benefits of reviewing these ancient writings (1 Corinthians 10:11). Last week’s Torah reading Shelakh-Lekha (Numbers 13:1-15:41) dealt with the bad report and missteps of the ten spies, and the subsequent poor choices of a faithless horde of Israelites which attempted to enter the Promised Land without the blessing of the Lord. Now, the record turns to the infamous report about one significant affront to Moses and Aaron’s leadership role by Korah. Here, for two chapters in the Book of Numbers, the specific details of the rebellious confrontation and ensuing punishment are recorded for all to consider, with an additional chapter devoted to emphasizing the solemn responsibilities placed upon those called into the priesthood. Needless to say, everyone who reads and studies this parashah should seriously consider his or her own respective roles and callings in the contemporary Body of the Messiah, and be mindful that the Holy One has expectations of each of us with our gifts, talents, and skills.

Human jealousy and envy are emotional traits of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) which are generated when people believe they are something they are not. In the case of Korah and his family (Kohathites), who were given the exalted responsibilities to handle the most holy sacred objects (Numbers 3:29-31; 10:21), the temptation to challenge the leadership of Moses and Aaron overcame them. Apparently, the charismatic Korah, a son of Levi, was so persuasive in his argument with other Israelites, that by the time he chose to confront Moses, he was able to gather a number of cohorts, namely: Dathan, Abiram, and On (Deuteronomy 11:6). Being descendants of Reuben, they might have thought that being of the line of the firstborn son of Jacob, naturally gave them some leadership privileges. However, we see that their concerted effort to elevate themselves was soundly and tragically rebuked by the Lord. When reading this passage, note how Moses’ initial reaction to Korah’s insubordination was to fall on his face appealing to the Lord—which is an identical response to what he and Aaron did earlier when the Israelites, riled up by the bad report of the ten spies, demanded new leadership (Numbers 14:4-5). From such two incidents depicting the eventual grumbling of complainants from the assembly or envious self-serving individuals, modern-day servants of God have been given a tremendous example of how to properly seek Him for His response, to the inevitable challenges to either their leadership roles or whatever challenges may be presented to the faith community:

“Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action, and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ When Moses heard this, he fell on his face; and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, ‘Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself. Do this: take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company, and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the LORD tomorrow; and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the one who is holy. You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi!’ 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?’ (Numbers 16:1-11).

In Moses’ initial response to Korah, he reminded him that as descendants of Levi, the Kohathites had already been separated from the congregation of Israel and given unique roles regarding the transport of the holy objects. But apparently, those responsibilities were not sufficient for Korah, and he was jealous of Aaron’s priestly position to the point of instigating all of the grumbling. Then to justify their complicity with Korah, his willing allies Dathan and Abiram fell back on the earlier congregational complaint that Moses had not yet led Israel into the Promised Land. The implication was that Moses had failed in his leadership role, and that he was simply taking advantage of his position to benefit him and his family. This accusation was rebuked by a stern reminder that Moses had never taken as much as a donkey and certainly done no harm to anyone. At this point, Moses turned back to Korah with how the Lord was going to personally resolve this dispute, by showing just who had His favor. Of course, when the glory of the Lord finally appeared to verify the actions taken, Moses and Aaron once again prostrated themselves on their faces in order to plead with Him for mercy on the balance of the congregation:

“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.’ Moses said to Korah, ‘You and all your company be present before the LORD tomorrow, both you and they along with Aaron. Each of you take his firepan and put incense on it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty firepans; also you and Aaron shall each bring his firepan.’ So they each took his own censer and put fire on it, and laid incense on it; and they stood at the doorway of the tent of meeting, with Moses and Aaron. Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation. Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.’ But they fell on their faces and said, ‘O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?’” (Numbers 16:12-22).

In His mercy, the Lord instructed Moses to tell the rest of the people of Israel to separate themselves from the rebels and their dwellings, in order to avoid the judgment that was imminent. In a remarkable revelation from the Lord, Moses warned the population that a miraculous opening of the ground would literally swallow up his challengers, and prove once and for all, not only one way that the Lord dealt with malcontents, but that He was absolutely with him and his brother Aaron:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the congregation, saying, “Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.”’ Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him, and he spoke to the congregation, saying, ‘Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.’ So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones. Moses said, ‘By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.’ As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Numbers 16:23-33).

In perhaps one of the most dramatic scenes since the parting of the Red Sea, the ground opened up and consumed Korah, his misguided associates, their households, and all of their possessions. But the Holy One was not finished with His judgment on those who were cleverly persuaded by Korah and his ilk. As the Israelites were witnessing and fearing that they might also be swallowed up, a devastating fire was released to consume the two hundred and fifty who had taken up the challenge to Aaron’s offering, by offering incense on improperly made bronze censors. The Lord instructed Moses to tell Aaron to have his son Eleazar take the bronze censors, and hammer them into a plating for the altar, as a reminder that no one, who was not a descendant of Aaron, should inappropriately offer incense or suffer some of the same consequences as Korah and his company:

“All Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, ‘The earth may swallow us up!’ Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Say to Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, that he shall take up the censers out of the midst of the blaze, for they are holy; and you scatter the burning coals abroad. As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered sheets for a plating of the altar, since they did present them before the LORD and they are holy; and they shall be for a sign to the sons of Israel.’ So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers which the men who were burned had offered, and they hammered them out as a plating for the altar, as a reminder to the sons of Israel that no layman who is not of the descendants of Aaron should come near to burn incense before the LORD; so that he will not become like Korah and his company—just as the LORD had spoken to him through Moses” (Numbers 16:34-40).

Even after this horrific set of events, within a day, the Israelites were widely right back to complaining about Moses and Aaron, and blaming them for the death of the Lord’s people despite the presence of His glory hovering over the Tent of Meeting. The Holy One was still angry with the impertinence of people, and He threatened to instantly consume them—but, in what had to become a familiar protraction, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces, and pleaded with the Lord for His mercy, and certainly His guidance:

“But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD’s people.’ It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.’ Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun!’ Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked” (Numbers 16:41-50).

The Lord’s merciful response to Moses and Aaron’s humbling pleas resulted in proper use of the approved censor, fired from the altar and filled with incense. This was to be taken throughout the encampment, in order to mitigate and eventually abort the plague that would kill a wide number of Israelites on account of Korah. In no uncertain terms, Moses and Aaron had displayed extraordinary heroic leadership, appealing to the Holy One in what is described as literally standing between the dead and living, without any apparent concern for their own lives and the possibility that the plague would affect them as well.

Then, in order to once again show a tangible sign that Aaron and his progeny were indeed called and selected by the Lord to handle their priestly functions, representatives from each of the twelve tribes were to bring a rod from their father’s households to the Tent of Meeting. The Lord would then allow one of the rods to sprout with buds and blossoms bearing ripe almonds, to absolutely indicate just which family line had His utmost blessing. Clearly, the Holy One remained angry with grumblers and complainers. In this miraculous sign, not only did Aaron’s rod bud, but it was also set in the Holy Place before the Ark of the Covenant, as a perpetual sign against the rebels and as a warning that those who grumble will be judged:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and get from them a rod for each father’s household: twelve rods, from all their leaders according to their fathers’ households. You shall write each name on his rod, and write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi; for there is one rod for the head of each of their fathers’ households. You shall then deposit them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony, where I meet with you. It will come about that the rod of the man whom I choose will sprout. Thus I will lessen from upon Myself the grumblings of the sons of Israel, who are grumbling against you.’ Moses therefore spoke to the sons of Israel, and all their leaders gave him a rod apiece, for each leader according to their fathers’ households, twelve rods, with the rod of Aaron among their rods. So Moses deposited the rods before the LORD in the tent of the testimony. Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Moses then brought out all the rods from the presence of the LORD to all the sons of Israel; and they looked, and each man took his rod. But the LORD said to Moses, ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.’ Thus Moses did; just as the LORD had commanded him, so he did. Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying! Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, must die. Are we to perish completely?’” (Numbers 17:1-13).

Obviously, the righteously jealous Holy One was very concerned about just who specifically represented Him to the community of Ancient Israel. None of us as Torah readers can deny the unique and honored role of the Levitical priesthood. The final chapter of Korach is necessarily dedicated to further elaborating the relationship between God’s choice of Aaron and his family for the priesthood, and some of their specific duties and responsibilities. In order to fully appreciate the role of the separated and dedicated Levitical priesthood, I have gone ahead and reproduced all of Numbers ch. 18, so that everyone can appreciate the gravity of being called into the Lord’s fulltime service:

“So the LORD said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons and your father’s household with you shall bear the guilt in connection with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the guilt in connection with your priesthood. But bring with you also your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may be joined with you and serve you, while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. And they shall thus attend to your obligation and the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die. They shall be joined with you and attend to the obligations of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; but an outsider may not come near you. So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel. Behold, I Myself have taken your fellow Levites from among the sons of Israel; they are a gift to you, dedicated to the LORD, to perform the service for the tent of meeting. But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform service. I am giving you the priesthood as a bestowed service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.’ Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, ‘Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment. This shall be yours from the most holy gifts reserved from the fire; every offering of theirs, even every grain offering and every sin offering and every guilt offering, which they shall render to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons. As the most holy gifts you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours; everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. But the firstborn of an ox or the firstborn of a sheep or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall offer up their fat in smoke as an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the LORD. Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh. All the offerings of the holy gifts, which the sons of Israel offer to the LORD, I have given to you and your sons and your daughters with you, as a perpetual allotment. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord to you and your descendants with you.’ Then the LORD said to Aaron, ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. The sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die. Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.’” Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, “When you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. So you shall also present an offering to the Lord from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the LORD’s offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.” You shall say to them, “When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat. You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, or you will die”’” (Numbers 18:1-32).

As one can read in this lengthy chapter, being called into the Levitical priesthood—or for that same matter being born into the tribe of Levi—was not without a considerable amount of care and concern to do things according to His Holy Word. Since the Levites and their descendants were called into a very unique and valued role in the community of Ancient Israel, they were denied any inheritance in the Promised Land and were to be totally dedicated to the Lord’s work, looking to Him for sustenance and provision. Through the very offerings of the balance of the rest of the population of Israel, their needs were to be met as they performed their ministerial duties. Among many duties they would perform, they were to model the responsibility of tithing by tithing a tenth of whatever they received unto the Lord.

So what can be taken away from this annual trek through the tragic episodes of leadership challenges, and how God wanted those in responsible positions within the assembly to react to those inevitable confrontations? We need to first recognize that whether it is from the disappointed and impatient assembly at large; or misguided, envious, and charismatic individuals; or small cadres dissatisfied with a leadership style or approach—that today eventually everyone in ministry leadership is going to be subject to challenges. When the confrontations come—and they will—it is critical to follow the example of Moses and Aaron, and humbly fall on your face in prayer and supplication for guidance, accompanied with intercession for those who come in opposition to the decisions that are being made. Since the accountability of leadership is so critical for the well being of the congregation, if you are in a position of leadership, then the principles expounded upon in Numbers ch. 18 as originally given to the Levites, might be useful to consider. Remember that Moses and Aaron were honored and protected when challenged, but only because they were obviously fulfilling their respective calls appropriately—depending on the Lord for His guidance on how to handle complaining miscreants. As will later be discovered, when a leader deviates from the Word, there are serious consequences, such as when Moses struck the rock twice rather than simply speaking to it as the Lord commanded (Numbers 20:6-12).

May the Lord give each of us the heart and willingness to fall on our faces for guidance from Him, no matter if our leadership roles range from family to congregation, or if we are simply trying to best manage our own individual lives. After all, the challenges are inevitable. How we handle them should be from the Lord!


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

TorahScope Shelakh-Lekha

Shelakh-Lekha

Send on your behalf

“Faithful Few”

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


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TorahScope Beha’alot’kha

Beha’alot’kha

When you set up

“Divine Guidance”

Numbers 8:1-12:16
Zechariah 2:14-4:7


by Mark Huey

Once the dedication of the Tabernacle was completed by the twelve tribal offering sacrifices, as described in Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) last week, the continuing narrative found in B’ha’alotkha now turns to a series of specific instructions, as the Israelite entourage was properly prepared for its desert sojourn. But before detailing a variety of specific commands, which each intensify how Ancient Israel was to function as an orderly and dignified society, the opening verses remind the reader of the seven-branched menorah or lampstand, and its function representing illumination from the Almighty:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, the seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand.”’ Aaron therefore did so; he mounted its lamps at the front of the lampstand, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the LORD had showed Moses, so he made the lampstand” (Numbers 8:1-4).

Here, before the Israelites embark on their trek, readers might take the light emanating from the menorah to be a reminder that it was ultimately the presence of the Lord, first described in Exodus 25:32-40, that would illumine and guide their path. In various ways, the seven-branched menorah can be pictured as a guiding light, which is more fully described by the Prophet Isaiah, who spoke about the coming Messiah, who would have all of the gifting required to justly guide and make rulings for people:

“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist” (Isaiah 11:1-5).

Just as the menorah has seven branches, so too in Isaiah 11:1-5 do we see the Spirit of the Lord providing seven important characteristics: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear. While these attributes are surely present in the ministry examples of Yeshua in the Gospels, they have surely also been required for God’s people in their service to Him since Ancient Israel’s journey in the wilderness. God’s instructions, given to Israel in the Torah, are to be a lamp to the feet and a light to the path (Psalms 119:105). Yet as we read the Torah and Tanakh, there is a definite challenge for Israel to function as a light to the nations at large (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), helping to reveal God’s goodness and grace to others. The mission of the Messiah Yeshua was specific, in that He came to not only restore the tribes of Jacob, but also see His salvation spread to the entire world:

“He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

In order for God’s people to live forth this same calling—of helping to see Israel restored and salvation spread to the entire world—there are multiple challenges that must be overcome, both individually and corporately.

With some of this in mind, as we turn back to our Torah portion, let us consider how the Lord gave specific instructions to separate out the Levites, as a unique ministering segment of the population to handle the duties associated with the Tabernacle and its transport. Here, one finds an explanation for the Lord applying the principle of the firstborn being dedicated to Him, by employing all of the Levites in His service:

“Aaron then shall present the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the sons of Israel, that they may qualify to perform the service of the LORD. Now the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls; then offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the LORD, to make atonement for the Levites. You shall have the Levites stand before Aaron and before his sons so as to present them as a wave offering to the LORD. Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. Then after that the Levites may go in to serve the tent of meeting. But you shall cleanse them and present them as a wave offering; for they are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel. I have taken them for Myself instead of every first issue of the womb, the firstborn of all the sons of Israel. For every firstborn among the sons of Israel is Mine, among the men and among the animals; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself. But I have taken the Levites instead of every firstborn among the sons of Israel. I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the sons of Israel, to perform the service of the sons of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement on behalf of the sons of Israel, so that there will be no plague among the sons of Israel by their coming near to the sanctuary.’ Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the sons of Israel to the Levites; according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so the sons of Israel did to them. The Levites, too, purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes; and Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the LORD. Aaron also made atonement for them to cleanse them. Then after that the Levites went in to perform their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and before his sons; just as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them” (Numbers 8:11-22).

In many regards, the separation of the Levites in the Torah, for Ancient Israel—may be regarded as a foreshadowing of a similar distinction expected of all men and women who are called into the marvelous light of salvation in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). While born again Believers are not at all to be regarded as being Levitical priests, they nevertheless are to all function in the same sort of priestly service that the Ancient Israelites had, declaring God’s goodness and demonstrating His grace and mercy—obviously manifested in the atoning work of Yeshua—to the sinful world:

“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Messiah. For this is contained in Scripture: ‘BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED’ [Isaiah 28:16]. This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone’ [Psalm 118:22], and, ‘A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE’ [Isaiah 8:14]; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are A CHOSEN RACE [Isaiah 43:20, LXX], A royal PRIESTHOOD [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], A HOLY NATION [Exodus 19:6], A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION [Isaiah 43:21, LXX; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY [Hosea 2:23]. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2:1-16).

As living stones which compose a spiritual house for the Most High, born again Believers are to be committed servants of God—in a similar manner to how the Levites were originally separated out to serve Him. (Obviously, we have to remember how the Levitical priesthood was established to be a very specific institution, and the Levites specific priestly calling is a bit different than the general priestly calling upon God’s people.) Perhaps each of us can take some direction from the author of Hebrews, who comments on how the people of God are to look beyond this temporal world, to the restored Kingdom of God and Heavenly realm:

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Returning to our Torah portion, it is asserted that the primary years, of physical service for the Levites, should be between the ages of twenty-five and fifty—although the senior years of wisdom from the older Levites can be offered in an assistant capacity:

“Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting. But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more. They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting, to keep an obligation, but they themselves shall do no work. Thus you shall deal with the Levites concerning their obligations” (Numbers 8:23-26).

Later in the Apostolic Scriptures, Paul would inform both Timothy and Titus something similar, as they were to respect the input and influence of the older men and women in the assembly (1 Timothy 5:1-2; Titus 2:2-8).

One of the most important principles seen in B’ha’alotkha is seen in the emphasis on how the Ancient Israelites were to follow the cloud that hovered over the Tabernacle. There was a definite need for dependence on the Divine guidance of the Holy One, and many people today surely take instruction from looking at how the people of Israel moved when the Lord directed them, and consequently how any of us should be discerning to know His will for our lives:

“Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning. So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp. At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped. Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the LORD’s charge and not set out. If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the Lord they remained camped. Then according to the command of the LORD they set out. If sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, when the cloud was lifted in the morning, they would move out; or if it remained in the daytime and at night, whenever the cloud was lifted, they would set out. Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out. At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’s charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses” (Numbers 9:15-23).

In ancient times, the ability to communicate was not assisted by all of the technological devices now available to humanity, so the Lord established the use of the blowing of trumpets, to be employed in a variety of ways, to communicate to the population of Israel. (Do note that there is debate among Jewish examiners per the actual usage of silver trumpets, versus the shofar or ram’s horn, which will not be explored here.)[1] The blowing of trumpets was to be employed for gatherings or movement, as well as warning signals and tools for advancements or retreats, when encountering enemies in battle:

“The LORD spoke further to Moses, saying, ‘Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. When both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Yet if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you. But when you blow an alarm, the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out. When you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out. When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm. The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations. When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the LORD your God’” (Numbers 10:1-10).

The blowing of trumpets was to be used for a variety of important occasions, including during the appointed feasts and at the first of the month. In various ways, blowing trumpets was to function as a means to establish order within the community, as they could only be blown by designated leaders. The key for us reading today is to understand how the Lord has in the past, and will in the future, use the sound of the trumpet to warn His people on a variety of levels. Knowing this means of communication, especially in light of what is going to eventually come, is critical for us to acknowledge in view of the Second Coming (i.e., 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). A major Tanakh prophecy that details the future Day of the Lord is Joel 2:1-2:

“Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people; there has never been anything like it, nor will there be again after it to the years of many generations” (Joel 2:1-2).

Our Torah reading references a need for some local scouting knowledge, provided by the relatives of Moses’ father-in-law, so that the community of Israel could understand how they were to adequately transverse the territories they would encounter in their journey. It is here, that upon taking up the Ark of the Covenant to lead the procession, that a wonderful proclamation is made—one which is traditionally declared in the Shabbat service of the Jewish Synagogue, when the Torah scroll is brought forth to be canted to the congregation:

“This was the order of march of the sons of Israel by their armies as they set out. Then Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, ‘We are setting out to the place of which the LORD said, “I will give it to you”; come with us and we will do you good, for the LORD has promised good concerning Israel.’ But he said to him, ‘I will not come, but rather will go to my own land and relatives.’ Then he said, ‘Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will be as eyes for us. So it will be, if you go with us, that whatever good the LORD does for us, we will do for you. Thus they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey, with the ark of the covenant of the LORD journeying in front of them for the three days, to seek out a resting place for them. The cloud of the LORD was over them by day when they set out from the camp. Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, ‘Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.’ When it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O LORD, to the myriad thousands of Israel’” (Numbers 10:28-36).[2]

Moses confidently requests the Lord to scatter the enemies of Israel, forcing them to flee simply by putting a primary emphasis on leading the march with the Word of God. Clearly, Moses’ priorities were in the right place.

But despite having the Levites doing their work properly, with adequate communication signals, with some scouts familiar with the territory and the Ark at the vanguard of the movement of the population—there was still a propensity for a number of grumblers to complain about their new circumstances. Upon hearing the complaints, the Lord was angered to the point of sending some consuming fires to the outskirts of the camp:

“Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD and the fire died out. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them. The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.’ Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it. Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the LORD, ‘Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers”? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:1-15).

Moses was so upset with the recalcitrant, complaining Israelites, that he pleaded with the Lord by rhetorically posing a series of questions about his relationship to them, and specifically how he was going to handle the burden of leadership. In a retort reminiscent of the advice given to Moses earlier from his father-in-law (Exodus 18:13-27), the Lord commanded Moses to gather seventy elders of Israel, in order to endow them with the same Spirit that was guiding Moses, in order to share the burden of leadership:

“The LORD therefore said to Moses, ‘Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone. Say to the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, ‘Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”’ But Moses said, ‘The people, among whom I am, are 600,000 on foot; yet You have said, “I will give them meat, so that they may eat for a whole month.” Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Or should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient for them?’ The LORD said to Moses, ‘Is the LORD’s power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not’” (Numbers 11:16-23).

With hundreds of thousands of Israelites, the need to spread the responsibilities of leadership was critical, but the gift of meat to eat to the complainants, became a subtle form of punishment when their over consumption resulted in the meat literally spewing forth from their nostrils. Nevertheless, the Lord placed His Spirit upon the seventy elders who began to prophesy and carry some of the workload:

“So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again. But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. So a young man ran and told Moses and said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘Moses, my lord, restrain them.’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!’” (Numbers 11:24-29).

Interestingly, the narrative, in an aside, records that Moses’ faithful servant Joshua was concerned that two of the elders were not present at the moment the Spirit was placed upon the seventy elders. In a fit of loyalty to Moses, Joshua ran to him with the news of Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp, without what he may have perceived as legitimacy derived from being in the presence of Moses when the Spirit was conveyed to the other elders. Moses actually responded with a strong indication that he desired that all of the Lord’s people would be prophets, guided by His Spirit, thus connoting that God can endow His Spirit upon whomever He desires.

Our parashah concludes with a thorough description of the incident when Miriam and Aaron challenged the leadership of Moses. From this passage and others, the Jewish Sages connected many of the issues of leprosy and the problem of the evil tongue. There was to be a commensurate punishment for this, similar to the seven-day banishment of Miriam from the encampment of Israel:

“Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?’ And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, ‘You three come out to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, he said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?’ So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed. But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!’ Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘O God, heal her, I pray!’ But the LORD said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.’ So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again. Afterward, however, the people moved out from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran” (Numbers 12:1-16).

Thankfully, Moses had a sincere love for his sister Miriam, and he interceded for her with the Lord in order to restore her to the camp after the affliction of leprosy abated, which He did. This is a tremendous example for how, despite the lamentable presence of many problems in assemblies of God’s people—it is critical that prayerful intercession for those in sin, can still be restored through God’s grace and mercy. Without going into all of the consequences of a sin like speaking ill of someone, suffice it to say, the wise admonition derived from these episodes can be summed up in the ancient adage, “If you do not have something good to say about someone else, do not say anything at all!” This can also include the use of sarcasm, when trying to more subtly put someone down, by expressing what is in the heart by trying to make it seem humorous. Sarcasm is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit!

This lengthy parashah of B’ha’alotkha contains considerable wisdom that each of us should take to heart, as we reflect upon the desert sojourn of the Ancient Israelites, and seek to be instructed by the Lord. Ultimately, we should each understand how Moses was depending on the Almighty for His Divine guidance, throughout each of the circumstances described. He modeled a sincere faith in the Lord, and turned to Him consistently for how to handle the difficulties of his leadership role. He had difficult tasks to face, and a service to perform that few in the history of God’s people since have had to accomplish. And so, in whatever capacity we serve the Lord and His Kingdom—let us appeal to Him and let Him direct us, so that we can bring honor and glory to Him and His purposes.

NOTES

[1] Consult the relevant sections of the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[2] For some adjacent thoughts, consult the author’s article “God’s ‘Mah Tovu’ Requirements,” appearing in the July 2009 issue of Outreach Israel News, as well as the exegesis paper, “The Torah Will Go Forth From Zion” on Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4, by J.K. McKee.


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

TorahScope Naso

Naso

Take

“Jealous Dedication”

Numbers 4:21-7:89
Judges 13:2-25


by Mark Huey

The Book of Bamidbar has been traditionally named Numbers, because of all the numbering and census taking which begins the fourth book of the Torah. This week in our parashah, Naso, we read about the delineation of certain families with more specificity, along with some additional rites. The Lord spoke to Moses and indicated that the Gershonites, Merarites, and Kohathites, from the ages of thirty to fifty, were to perform certain duties in and around the Tabernacle:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ households, by their families; from thirty years and upward to fifty years old, you shall number them; all who enter to perform the service to do the work in the tent of meeting’” (Numbers 4:21-23).

“As for the sons of Merari, you shall number them by their families, by their fathers’ households; from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, you shall number them, everyone who enters the service to do the work of the tent of meeting” (Numbers 4:29-30).

“So Moses and Aaron and the leaders of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites by their families and by their fathers’ households, from thirty years and upward even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tent of meeting” (Numbers 4:34-35).

In Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), the Gershonites, Merarites, and Kohathites had been designated the tasks associated with the Tabernacle structure and its accoutrements, including but not limited to its construction, disassembling, and portage. Earlier, the numbering of these Levites included all males from one month of age and older, but now those with strength—and presumably more wisdom—between the ages of thirty to fifty, to physically handle the labor, are assigned specific duties. Apparently, the Lord knew that with some life experience, those given specific duties would be more inclined to take their responsibilities seriously, and perhaps not incur the swift judgment that befell immature Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), two of Aaron’s young sons.

During the Apostolic Era, the Apostle Paul drew on some of his personal wisdom, as he imparted directions to the much younger Timothy, on how he was to organize various leaders within the Ephesian congregation. First, despite Timothy’s relative youth, he was clearly chosen to handle his calling, with some well defined parameters shared to him by Paul:

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 4:12-5:1).

Youth was a reality for Timothy, but he was not to neglect the unique spiritual gifting that was prophesied over him, with a confirmation from the laying on of hands by an assembly of elders. Nevertheless, Paul warned him to react humbly regarding interactions with any older congregants in the assembly where he served. On the other hand, when it came to recognizing the different overseers within the Ephesian assembly, some wise advice listed some of the godly attributes crucial to being selected as one of their elders. But note, just because someone has a chronological advantage in terms of age, it does not necessarily mean that one should become an elder, especially if one is a relatively new Believer:

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the [assembly] of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the [assembly], so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-7).

Turning back to Naso, as the Lord further detailed some of the roles for the Ancient Israelites during their desert sojourn, He was concerned about the possibility of the camp being defiled by the evidence of leprosy. There was some specific admonition given, regarding how they were to properly deal with those who contracted leprosy:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person. You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.’ The sons of Israel did so and sent them outside the camp; just as the LORD had spoken to Moses, thus the sons of Israel did” (Numbers 5:1-4).

Next, there is a brief description about how restitution was to be made for sinning or acting unfaithfully to the Lord. Note the principle that both men and women were equally accountable for their sin, as both were required to confess and atone for their guilt:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, “When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the LORD, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess his sins which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it one-fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged. But if the man has no relative to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution which is made for the wrong must go to the LORD for the priest, besides the ram of atonement, by which atonement is made for him. Also every contribution pertaining to all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel, which they offer to the priest, shall be his. So every man’s holy gifts shall be his; whatever any man gives to the priest, it becomes his.”’”

Law of Jealousy

One of the most intriguing instructions within Naso, that the Lord gave to Moses, is what is often termed the “law of jealousy” and how to handle human emotions, whether justified or not, when it came to marital relationships. A jealous husband, who was unsure of his wife’s fidelity to him, could have her go through this ritual by which her innocence could be determined:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself, the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity. Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the LORD, and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. The priest shall then have the woman stand before the LORD and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose, and place the grain offering of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse. The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, ‘If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband [tachat isheik; under thy husband, YLT], be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband [tachat isheik], and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you’ (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), ‘the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen. Amen.’ The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness. The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water. When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children. This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband [tachat isheik], goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. Moreover, the man will be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt”’” (Numbers 5:11-31).

In some regards, the concept of a jealous husband requiring his wife to partake in this sort of ordeal, somewhat mirrors the Lord’s jealous regard for His people. The Torah has already indicated that the Holy One of Israel is a jealous God who desires His people to remain absolutely faithful to Him, and to avoid any association with any alluring false gods they would encounter when in the Promised Land:

“Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods” (Exodus 34:12-16).

The Prophet Isaiah made an analogy of a marriage between the people of Israel and Jerusalem. What might this mean in evaluating how the Holy One is jealous for His people, that they be in allegiance to Him? The union of God’s people to Himself, involves a description of Jerusalem being considered His “bride”:

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will designate. You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. It will no longer be said to you, ‘Forsaken,’ nor to your land will it any longer be said, ‘Desolate’; but you will be called, ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘Married’; for the LORD delights in you, and to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, your God will rejoice over you. On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:1-7).

In the Apostolic Scriptures, the Apostle Paul also invoked an analogy of Yeshua the Messiah serving the assembly, as a loyal husband should serve his wife. This would have been most especially important for many of the early Greek and Roman Believers to hear, who came from cultural backgrounds where the husband was often an autocrat who could do whatever he wanted:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved the [assembly] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the assembly in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Messiah also does the assembly, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH [Genesis 2:24]. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Messiah and the [assembly]. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Considering the tenor of these different passages in Exodus, Isaiah, and Ephesians—every follower of the Holy One needs to avoid ever provoking Him to a point where His righteous jealousy, just might instigate some form of trial that is consistent with the ancient procedure we encounter in Naso. While it might not be consuming some dust to determine whether one has strayed, the Lord in His infinite wisdom and knowledge of all things, stirring in the hearts of human beings, just might concoct a unique test that will accomplish the same goal that the law of jealousy originally achieved. Believers beware! The jealous God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7), and in His inimitable way, He can initiate circumstances that will result in either strict penalties or restitution.

Law of Separation

Numbers ch. 6 largely includes a description of the Nazirite vows. The Nazirite vow was a commitment for a person to separate himself or herself from partaking of the fruit of the vine, remaining unshaven with hair uncut and from the defilement of touching corpses, so that the Nazirite might be totally dedicated to the Lord for a period of time. Apparently, this rite continued into the First Century C.E. When Paul returned to Jerusalem in Acts 21, he was told by James that it had been falsely reported by some Jewish Believers that he was teaching the Jews he encountered in the Mediterranean to abandon the Torah and Jewish customs. In order to prove this claim false, Paul agreed to pay for the expenses of some completing their Nazirite vow. Taking a Nazirite vow was not a normal part of Torah obedience for the community, but was a highly specialized rite. Paul’s presence in the Temple complex was useful for him to prove his fidelity to not only the Torah, but also to the Jewish community:

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

While Paul was present at the closing ceremonies of those who took the Nazirite vow, a major incident erupted because of some who came in and shouted out the false claim that Paul was disloyal to the Torah (Acts 21:27-28). The rest of the Book of Acts records how this was used for Paul to be arrested, appeal to Caesar, and then be transported to Rome.

What does a Nazirite vow mean for Messiah followers today? It obviously cannot be observed without a Tabernacle or Temple present. But, the principle, of being separated from certain worldly distractions, is an important one. It is difficult to believe that the Lord God of Creation would be displeased with anyone who had a heartfelt desire to separate himself from certain things, in order to dedicate a time period in his life exclusively to Him. Some of you may actually decide to keep a form of a Nazirite vow, mainly by abstaining from wine or alcohol for a season, or actually letting your hair grow and not cutting it. Whatever you do, let us each remember the admirable exhortation given by Joshua, as the Israelites entered into the Promised Land:

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

As the details about the Nazirite vow come to a close, the Lord gave Moses perhaps one of the most revered blessings to be administered by his brother Aaron, the high priest of Israel. In a very direct way contextually, the Almighty was certainly emphasizing that the kind of dedication found in taking a Nazirite vow was something which would receive some profound blessings upon the adherents, to such a commitment to the Lord:

“This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to the LORD according to his separation, in addition to what else he can afford; according to his vow which he takes, so he shall do according to the law of his separation. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’ So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them” (Numbers 6:21-27).

What is known as the Aaronic Benediction, is traditionally recited at the close of Shabbat services in the Jewish Synagogue, and is also present in Messianic Shabbat services. (Even some Christian traditions speak the Aaronic Benediction.) It is beyond a doubt, that these are some of the most cherished words that followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yearn to hear. The Aaronic Benediction would have undeniably had special significance for those who were preparing to begin or end a Nazirite vow (cf. Numbers 6:2).

Finally, the last chapter of Naso describes the completion of the Tabernacle construction, and the consecration of the furnishings, altar, and various utensils. This is followed by offerings made by the leaders of each tribe, as their contributions to the ceremony:

“Now on the day that Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle, he anointed it and consecrated it with all its furnishings and the altar and all its utensils; he anointed them and consecrated them also. Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ households, made an offering (they were the leaders of the tribes; they were the ones who were over the numbered men). When they brought their offering before the LORD, six covered carts and twelve oxen, a cart for every two of the leaders and an ox for each one, then they presented them before the tabernacle. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Accept these things from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and you shall give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.’ So Moses took the carts and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two carts and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service, and four carts and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But he did not give any to the sons of Kohath because theirs was the service of the holy objects, which they carried on the shoulder. The leaders offered the dedication offering for the altar when it was anointed, so the leaders offered their offering before the altar. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Let them present their offering, one leader each day, for the dedication of the altar’” (Numbers 7:1-11).

Each of the twelve tribes made identical contributions of offerings for the sacrifices, and after twelve days, this consecration of the Tabernacle was completed. In conclusion, Moses confirmed his intimacy with the Lord, describing the voice of the Lord coming from above the mercy seat, which was placed on the Ark of the Covenant:

“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).

With great confidence, followers of the Holy One today can be assured that what they are studying in the Torah is coming from the heart of God, spoken by His mouth via His servant Moses. With this in mind, should not all that Moses declared be relevant instruction to every person who seeks the Holy One? Would the Almighty Creator want anything less?

May He, by His grace and mercy, give us all the heart and wisdom to hear and obey His blessed word! In so doing, may all who are seeking to know the Lord with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strength—be encouraged to “jealously” dedicate themselves and their families—to serve the Lord!


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

TorahScope Bamidbar

Bamidbar

In the wilderness

“The Lord’s Sovereign Order”

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


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TorahScope B’har-B’chuqotai

B’har

On the mount

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

B’chuqotai

By My Regulations

“A Faithful Jubilee Reminder”

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


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

The Sabbath

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabbath for the Land

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

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

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

The Year of Jubilee

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

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

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

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

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

A Future Jubilee

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

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

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

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

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

Shofars Blowing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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