Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah#42: Mattot (Tribes) B’Midbar (Numbers) 30:2-32-42
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 1:1-2:3
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:33-37
Parashah #43 Masa’ei (Stages) B’midbar 33:1-36:13 read together in regular years.
Three themes dominate our first parashah. The first is the narrative on the laws pertaining to vows. The second addresses the battle against Midian which was a very unique battle. The third is the unexpected request of the tribes of Gad and R’euven to remain just outside the Land in order to settle the recently conquered territory of the Amorite kings. Let’s first explain the difference between a vow and an oath for this is a frequent question.
Vows and oaths are serious business in G-d’s economy. While G-d laid down the regulations for making vows, Yahshua took it even further by encouraging us to avoid making vows in the first place (Ecc. 5:4-5). There are four paragraphs dedicated to this issue that covers vows and oaths between a man and G-d, a man and his wife, between father and daughter if the daughter is living as a minor in her father’s house (Num. 30:17).
Again, what is the difference between an oath and a vow? According to the Rabbis, the vow refers to the object, the oath to the person. For instance, a person may place a self- ban on drinking for a given period. This ban on the act, drinking, is said to constitute a vow. If, on the other hand, the person swears that he/she will not ever drink again, this constitutes an oath. In both instances for the person to break his/her word is a religious rather than an ethical offense. The idea behind it all is that the person has given to G-d his/her word, which must not be broken. It is only a verbal declaration that constitutes a vow. A vow “taken in the heart,” as the Rabbis call it, a mental resolve, has no binding force.
In Moshe’s final days, he is commanded to attack the Midianites. This war was the results of the women’s enticement of the Jewish men into the sin of idolatry consistent with Ba’al worship along with the gross immorality in the rituals. Who were the Midianites? They were descendants of Abraham through Keturah (Gen. 25:1). They were a nomadic tribe and often raided and harassed the tribes of Israel. They made their raids on camels, quickly raiding then escaping. They were the people that sold Joseph to Potipher (Gen 37:28, 36). The Midianites were associated with the Amalekites and the Moabites. They were allied with Moab, under the control of Sihon who had already been defeated by Israel.
Moshe commands the people to prepare “anashim” (men) interpreted by Rashi as “righteous people.” This war is the vengeance of HaShem through the Children of Israel. Clearly Midian is to be punished for leading Israel to sin against HaShem, and for arousing His anger against His Chosen Nation. Exacting war against the very people who enticed Israel also forces Israel to confront their own sin. They must kill those with whom they morally collaborated with in Ba’al worship. To prevent any selective amnesia on the part of the Israelites, G-d’s directive to attack Midian is transmitted promptly after the Pinchas episode (Num. 25:16-18). However, the narrative account of this war appears a number of verses later in Num.31, after the census, G-d informing Moshe of his imminent death, and the legislation concerning sacrifices and vows.
Assuming the deferment reflects the execution of the war and not just the narrative is explained by some commentators as being necessary in order to take the census, which is always a good idea when preparing to go to war. Note that we do not do this or follow any of the other tenets of war in our country when preparing for battle! However, since the tribes were ordered to send only 1,000 from each, the census was not necessary for this campaign. Furthermore, the wars against Sihon and Og had recently been waged (Num. 21:21-35) without need of a census, and those kings were the mightiest in the region.
Other commentators speculate the Midian war narrative was placed just prior to the petition of Gad and R’euven for the Trans- Jordanian territory (Num. 32) so as to highlight this request. It was Midian’s defeat and the grand amount of booty that vastly increased Israel’s livestock and secured their safety from the remaining regional forces that gave these tribes the idea for this selfish request.
What once sidetracked Lot from choosing the Land now sidetracks R’euven and Gad (Gen. 13:5-13). As firstborns, Gad and R’euven owned great herds, and the desire to graze livestock sidetracked them. These tribes settled for less than the perfect will of G-d, much as we often do. Although G-d in his unmerited kindness (chesed) often allows us desires that are not in synch with His will, He often allows us to achieve or obtain them, generally resulting in our subsequent resentence and return to the King’s Highway. This may be compared to allowing a child to have a stick horse when our intent was for them to have a real pony! It is a lesson the child does not easily forget. Sometimes the child will learn to wait for the parent’s will to be executed and will not “pre-empt” the parent’s original plan. Children should be able to trust that parents have their ultimate welfare at heart.
Getting back to the space between the command to go to war and the narrative may lie in a different approach than either of the two common lines of thinking. The chapter 25 statement expresses the command with the reason, but does not indicate that it must be imminent. It should be done at the proper time. After all, timing is everything! In the Chapter 31 narrative, G-d essentially says “do it now” and conclude your life’s work. The postponement may have been connected to HaShem’s telling Moshe he was to be gathered to his people after the war (Num. 31:1). This seems to have served as Moshe’s final marching orders, so to speak. After Midian’s deceptive and seductive ploys against Israel, Moshe’s life would not be complete without the follow-up and execution of G-d’s vengeance on this idolatrous nation; much as the execution of G-d’s vengeance described in Revelation. This war, similar to the war against hasatan (satan), would signify the critical importance attached to actively fighting evil and helping to establish the national disposition to perpetually deal with evil in any form; the final battle to be held at Har Meggido (Armageddon). The several issues that followed the war are related to entering the Promised Land. They also serve as sort of a summary as the Book of Numbers nears a close with the last parashah addressing the stages in the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. Similarly, Revelation closes with the establishment of true peace, the new heaven and earth, and the wedding of Israel (all true believers) to Yahshua. Both accounts clearly describe progressive salvation; not an instantaneous, automatic event.
This may also elude to an interesting relationship between Numbers and Deuteronomy. In the latter, Moshe set the command to blot out the remembrance of Amelek at the end of a long narrative addressing the legal code (Deut. 25:17-19), followed by several laws depicting the nation after being established in the Promised Land. These are clearly issues that conclude the book. In the Torah, Amelek and Midian represent two types of evil that must be continually confronted if we are to call ourselves lovers and followers of G-d. Amalek attacked the weak and defenseless (stragglers) of a nation passing by with no provocation. Midian used sexual enticement to seduce a nation that was passing through its region to serve its idolatry. These acts perfectly illustrate cultures that lacked even a minimum standard of conduct, human decency, morality, or sanctity; a total disregard for G-d’s Torah. We must confront such evil with a consistent lifestyle reflecting G-d’s Torah wherever we find ourselves.
The word used to describe the action called for against Midian is niqmat, widely translated as “vengeance.” The Biblical meaning of the root word especially when applied to G-d, is invariably related to “judgment” and “exacting retribution,” usually linked to vindication, restoring a lost honor to the victim, or to affording protection to the innocent. Regarding Babylon: “for this is niqmat HaShem, hinaquemu ba, as she has done, do to her” (Jer. 50:15b). Regarding the Philistines: “I will wreak upon them great Niqamot… and they shall know that I am HaShem when I place m niqmat upon them (Ezek. 25:17). “G-d of Niqamot, appear; rise, Judge of the earth, render retribution to the arrogant… how long shall the wicked exult?” (Ps. 94:1-3).
Moshe became very angry when the troops returned with women captives. After all, it was the women who were used by the Midianites to seduce Israel (Num. 31:15). However, the commanders must have been somewhat confused because Moshe had not explicitly instructed them to kill everyone. Perhaps Moshe thought it common sense for the commanders to kill everyone as they had with Og (Num. 21:33). The commanders should have deduced that since the women were the perpetrators of such widespread seduction of Israel and that the men could be so easily seduced (see Num. 15:37 and the explanation of wearing tzitziot), the women should have been killed also. Subsequently, Moshe instructed them to kill all the male children and the women who had been with a man. The booty was permitted but with strict purification instructions we see only one other place in the Torah. El’azar the cohen tells them “Zot hukat haTorah…” “This is the decree of the Torah” as to how the booty was to be purified. This phrase is only found in the account of the Para Aduma (the red heifer). Fire described in the process represents testing in the above context, and the water represents the Ruach (Holy Spirit). (A detailed explanation of the Para Aduma was provided including this fact in Friday’s teaching, sent to everyone on the mailing list).
Several particulars about the war with Midian make it quite unique:
1. The Covenant element was highlighted by the differing, but mutually coordinated, designations. HaShem termed it “niqmat b’nai Ysra’el.” Israel’s neqamu (Num. 31:2) while Moshe referred to it as “niqama heh” HaShem’s nequama (Num. 31:3), each party focused on and concerned for the status of the other.
2. Y’hoshua, who shortly before had been designated to be the successor to Moshe (Num. 27:22-23), is not mentioned in any capacity in conjunction with this campaign. This, despite the fact that he was a willing military leader who led the battle against Amalek (Ex. 17:13) and who would lead Israel in future battles. Another unusual feature of this war is that there was no specifically appointed military commander as Moshe addresses the heads of units (Num. 31:14). Indeed, HaShem was the Commander in Chief.
3. Pinchas was sent by Moshe to accompany the army, not as a commander, but “with sacred vessels and the trumpets for sounding the blasts in his hands.” (Num. 31:6). It is thought that “Sacred vessels” refers to the Holy Ark with the tablets inside, which would directly invoke the Covenant. Others consider them to be the Urim V’Tumim, the vehicle through which Divine guidance was provided as questions were asked of G-d. Perhaps it was all of these. This was a battle in which the sanctuary and its spiritual armaments was quite prominent.
4. There was not one casualty mentioned from among the Israelites.
5. The booty was of staggering proportions.
6. None of these features were mentioned in conjunction with the wars at Shihon and Og, which occurred in the 40th year, not long before this battle.
7. There is no mention of the war with Midian in Deuteronomy as there is of the wars with Sihon and Og (Deut. 1:4; 2:31), despite the miraculous features described. Also interesting is that after Moshe’s death, Rahab who lived in Jericho, a city in the Jordan valley close to the plains where Israel was then encamped, mentioned the battles against Sihon and Og, but not the battle against Midian (Josh. 2:10).
8. The booty was divided equally between soldiers and people. The soldiers contributed from their share terumah to the High Priest in the ratio of 1:500 while the people contributed to the Levites, guardians of the sanctuary, in the ratio of 1:50. Terumah is a heave offering which is a type of Korban (Biblical sacrifice), which specifically means a tithe. The term heave offering refers to the fact that such offerings were heaved or lifted above the altar, as opposed to being waved around it. Interestingly, the total contributions of the tree animal species described equal 8888. This indicates that in accordance with the symbolism of the number eight, this battle and victory possess a Covenantal connection:
Booty 50% 1:500 1:50
Sheep 675,000 337500 675 6750
Cattle 72,000 36,000 72 720
Donkeys 61,000 30,500 61 610
808,000 404,000 808 8080 = 8888
Eight= Sh’moneh from the root Shin Mem Nun (Shah’meyn) “to make fat,”
“cover with fat,” “to super abound.” As the number “7” represents
perfection, completion, and rest, “8” represents over and above this
Haftarah: Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 1:1-2:3
Within these verses we are assured as was Jeremiah that our G-d is with us and will rescue us IF we are but obedient with heartfelt intent to G-d’s Torah (1:6-8). We are reminded that “Israel is set aside for Adonai, the first fruits of His harvest; all that devour him will incur guilt; evil will befall them.” (2:3). However, we are also reminded of how far Israel had fallen away from G-d and that He pronounce His judgments against Israelites and anyone else who abandons Him and chooses his own way.
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:33-37
This section reiterates the importance of vows, a subject addressed at the beginning of our parashah. We must follow through with our choice to either do something we promise to do or not do that which we vowed not to do. For the believer, we know that all of our vows are made before G-d as we are His representatives on this earth. Yahshua takes the issue of vows and teaches us that it is better not to make a vow at all, rather than making a vow that we may not keep (Ecc. 5:1-6). After all, only G-d knows what will happen to us from one second to the next. It is actually arrogant for us to make any vow. It is in our best interest to pray, study, integrate and live G-d’s Torah from day to day, making it our second nature and increasing our ability through G-d’s strength and power to live what we say we believe.
Parashah# 43Masa’ei (Stages): B’midbar (Numbers 33:1-36:13)
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 2:4-28; 4:1-2
B’rit Chadashah: Ya’akov (James) 4:1-12
In this parashah, we continue with a description of the stages of the journey from Egypt to the edge of the Land; a “recap” if you will, lest the people forget their sins, and the kindnesses of the L-rd including the miracles of which we are told. G-d orders Moshe to recount the stages knowing how quickly humans tend to forget the “good” experiences and recall the “bad”. This is interesting because the “bad” experiences were brought on by their disobedience to G-d! Let us take a closer look at how Adonai ordered Moshe to orchestrate the taking of the land that has yet to be fully occupied by the Israelites. Keep in mind that the context of “Israel” in this narrative refers to biological Jews. Yet, it is completely applicable to those who consider themselves true believers. Why? Because the Jews and we are supposed to set the example for right living and worshipping the One true G-d; the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The final habitation of Israel (the Land) will include all true believers (completed Israelites). There is much confusion and misunderstanding about who Israelites are as the same term is used for biological Jews and those who become partakers of the covenants of Israel. This misunderstanding and mistranslation presents a major stumbling block for those seeking the truth of G-d’s Torah. We must read and seek understanding of the whole of G-d’s Torah that makes clear which “group” of Israelites to which the Bible is referring depending on the context of the passage.
Each place recorded has a unique significance to the spiritual growth of the Israelites. For example, Num. 33:3 describes how proud the Israelites were when they left Egypt in view of all the Egyptians burying every firstborn. This description of pride is somewhat bothersome. There is no mention that the Israelites felt any compassion for those Egyptians who may have been innocent bystanders caught in the “cross-fire” between G-d and Pharaoh. Was there no sense of sadness among the Israelites as G-d lead them out of Egypt?
The first stop was Sukkot (booth). This represents G-d’s provision and is an annually mandated holy convocation (Lev. 23:33). This time of year represents G-d’s provision for the people as they wandered through the desert. It also represents G-d’s provision of the Messiah Yahshua who was born during this time of year (Sep-Oct), NOT Christmas! The next stop is Etam which translates as “their bird, or their covering.” These few illustrations help us to understand the importance of recalling all the places to the people during the wandering years. The narrative reminds them of their sinful behaviors at each place in direct contradiction to the names of the places indicating G-d’s presence and provision throughout the journey. This is a lesson for us that in the midst of our “storms” G-d is with us (Emanuel). It is we who must adjust our behaviors and attitudes and draw close to Him so He will draw close to us. James 4:8-10 reads “Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. 9 Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” It would be most beneficial to our study of G-d’s Torah to look up each name of the places at which the Israelites camped and what occurred at each place to understand the significance of the narrative. If there are no research books in your home much of this information can be found at Wikipedia or by simply Google search. For example, if you type in the search bar “meaning of “Etam” in Hebrew” you will find several references with the answer. Similarly, if you truly and humbly examine the trials in your life, you will most likely be able to identify perhaps a character flaw that could only be corrected by going through that particular trial. Of course, we are not always given that insight by HaShem, but sometimes we are and would do well to store it in our mental hard drive for future reference!
The last stop before entering the land is in the plains of Mo’av by the garden, across from Jericho. This should not be surprising. Mo’av translates as “seed of the father.” Recall that the Moabites were the descendants of Lot by one of his daughters. More importantly Ruth who was the great-grandmother of Yahshua was a Moabite princess who converted to the faith of the Israelites. The Israelites are truly the seed of their Father as G-d’s people. We would miss this important point if we did not research the Hebrew meaning of Mo’av. The Hebrew provides such a treasury of information for our spiritual growth if we will only search it out through prayerful, humble study.
Adonai then speaks to Moshe and commands him to tell the people that before they can occupy the land, they must expel all the people living there, their stone figures, metal statues, and all the high places. This command illustrates the fact that salvation is not free. There is always a price. In the case of our salvation, Yahshua paves the way with His sacrifice, but it is our responsibility to toe-the-line once we’ve crossed the sea into a new chapter. The people could not “think” the inhabitants away. They had to ACT and physically move the inhabitants out with everything associated with their pagan ways. G-d warns them and us that is we don’t drive the inhabitants out (sinful ways) those we allow to remain will be “like thorns in your eyes and stings in your sides- they will harass you in the land where you are living. And in this event, I will do to you what I intended to do to them” (Num. 33:55-56). We must leave our “idols” of every type and context behind once we repent and choose to serve G-d. Why was it necessary to drive the Canaanites out of the land? They were cut off to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from being corrupted (Deut. 20:16-18). When a people starts to burn their children in honour of their gods (Lev. 18:21), practice sodomy, bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vice (Lev. 18:23, 24, 20:3), the land itself begins to “vomit” them out as the body heaves under the load of internal poisons (Lev. 18:25, 27-30). Thus, “objection to the fate of these nations … is really an objection to the highest manifestation of the grace of God. This command to cut off the Canaanites symbolizes the manner in which we must repent and teshuva (turn from our old ways) and not cling to behaviours not consistent with Torah. We cannot walk the fence between the old life and a Torah observant one for a lukewarm life makes G-d “sick.” Revelation 3:15-16 reads: 15”I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
The land is to be divided by lots. Anyone who says it is not Biblical to participate in raffles, play Dreidel, or play the lottery need take note that drawing for land by lots was a command of G-d to Moshe. More land was given to the larger families and less to the smaller ones. There was no arguing over “equitable distribution” as we see today. The borders of the land are obviously larger than the current state of Israel. Gambling or drawing by lots must be considered in the context in which it is being done. Careful not to judge!
The nation of Israel will not occupy the entire land of the inheritance described in this parashah until G-d’s plan comes to fruition. To maintain order, G-d designates leaders of each tribe to take possession of the land and divide the inheritance according to His instructions.
Although the Levites were not a tribe, G-d provided for them by ordering the people of Israel to give the Levites cities from each of their inherited land to live in and some of the open land surrounding the cities. These cities serve as places of refuge to which a person who kills someone by mistake can flee. Why is this necessary? The answer is because innocent blood was shed and atonement cannot be made until the cohen hagadol who was anointed with the oily oil dies. At that point, the one who accidentally killed someone is atoned for and may return to the land he owns. The land on which the person was killed will no longer be considered unclean and defiled (Num. 35:33-34).
Finally, G-d makes provision for the daughters of Tz’lof’chad to maintain their inheritance by commanding that they marry within their tribe. W covered this last Friday night but I want to provide the translation of the daughter’s names for your continued learning. Tz’lof’chad the son of Hefer had no sons but daughters; the names of the daughters of Tz’lof’chad were Machlah [infirmity], No’ah [movement], Hoglah [dancing], Milkah [queen] and Tirtzah [pleasing]. Otherwise, their inheritance would become part of the tribe into which they married.
Haftarah: Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 2:4-28; 4:1-2
This haftorah is the second of a series of three “haftarot of affliction.” These three haftarot are read during the Three Weeks of mourning for Jerusalem, between the fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av. If you chose to participate in this fast, it is from sunset on the 8th of Av (August 8, 2014) to sunset on August 9, 2014. It is beneficial to your learning to research this fast day and understand its relevance to the time period. See if you can separate facts from tradition.
The prophet Jeremiah transmits G‑d’s message to the Jewish people, in strong tones chastising all the sectors of the people, including the leadership, for their abandonment of G-d. “What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me, and they went after futility and themselves became futile?” He reminds them of the kindness G-d did for them, taking them out of Egypt and leading them through the desert and settling them in the Promised Land, yet they repaid kindness with disloyalty. “For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, [and furthermore, this was in order] to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.”
G‑d asks them to view the actions of their neighboring nations, the Kittites and Kedarites, “and see whether there was any such thing, whether a nation exchanged a god, although they are not gods. Yet My nation exchanged their glory for what does not avail.”
Jeremiah then goes on to foretell the suffering the Jewish people will suffer at the hands of their enemies, and also their erstwhile allies: “Your evil will chastise you, and you will be rebuked for your backslidings; and you shall know and see that your forsaking the L‑rd your G‑d is evil and bitter.”
The haftorah ends on an encouraging note, assuring the people that if they return to G‑d with sincerity, they will be restored to their full glory.
B’rit Chadashah: Ya’akov (James) 4:1-12
We come full circle to the admonishment by James similar to that Moshe gave the people we mentioned at the beginning of this lesson. Again, it is important to research the names of the places the people of Israel stopped on their journey to the land because it is applicable to our walk with G-d. We must never forget from whence we came and must never forget our Source of help. This was the rationale for G-d commanding Moshe to recall the places and sins of the people at each place they camped. Self- examination of done honestly is a humbling but beneficial experience. The names of the camps remind the people that G-d was with them every step of the way. It was they who wandered away from G-d, not the reverse. Similarly, James brings to the people’s attention the source of their quarrelling and fights are selfish motives not of G-d. James reminds us that we cannot walk the fence with the lusts of the world and pagan religion on one side and G-d’s Torah and a Torah-observant life on the other. We are to submit to G-d and no other. We must choose to stand for G-d and His Torah and the Adversary will flee. Repeating James 4:8extending to verse 10 reads: “Come close to G-d and He will come close to you. Clean your hands, sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded people! Wail, mourn, sob! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom! Humble yourselves before the L-rd, and He will lift you up.”
We are not to judge one another for that is likened to judging Torah and speaking contrary to its teachings. If we judge, we are not Torah observant; rather we are acting as a judge. There is only one Giver of the Torah, and only one Judge with the power to deliver or destroy our souls. It is arrogant for us to believe we can judge other human beings and we must train ourselves to overcome our human nature and instinct to judge others. Consider this; when we judge others are we not seeing a reflection of our own shortcomings?
R. Tamah Davis