BeMidbar – בְּמִדְבַּר
Parasha: Numbers 1.1—4.20; Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22
Numbers 3: This chapter deals with priests and Levites. We see in a number of places that the Messiah is a priest, even God’s great High Priest. Zechariah 6.12-13: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall grow up in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord, and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule upon his throne. And there shall be a priest by his throne, and peaceful understanding shall be between them both.’” And we remember the messianic Psalm 110.4: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’” Seven times in Numbers 4 it is stated that priests will begin to minister from age thirty. This is the only office that carries such an age limitation. When the Messiah came and began his ministry, he was thirty years old (Luke 3.23). [BSI/rp]
Numbers 3.44-51: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the Levites instead of all the first-born among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. And for the redemption of the two hundred and seventy-three of the first-born of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekels apiece; reckoning by the shekel of the sanctuary, the shekel of twenty gerahs, you shall take them, and give the money [silver] by which the excess number of them is redeemed to Aaron and his sons.’ So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites; from the first-born of the people of Israel he took the money, one thousand three hundred and sixty-five shekels, reckoned by the shekel of the sanctuary; and Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
The Levites were redeemed, exchanged for the first born, and the extra paid for with silver. The New Testament declares that all who have believed in the Messiah are priests unto the Lord (1 Peter 2.5, 9; Revelation 1.5-6). In addition to that, we were all “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6.20), perhaps another hint at our being a kingdom of priests. [BSI/rp]
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22
Between Egypt and the land of Canaan there is a long, long stretch of desert, and the people of Israel had to pass through this wilderness in order to reach the land of promise. This desert was the chosen people’s training school.
A beautiful picture meets our eyes in the first couple of chapters of Numbers: exemplary organization and order in the camp of Israel. In the center of the camp stood the Tabernacle. In the inner circle—around the Tabernacle of the Congregation—were stationed: Moses, Aaron and the priests on the east side; the sons of Merari, 3200 in number, on the north side; the sons of Gershon, 2630 in number, on the west side; the sons of Kohath, 2750 in number, on the south side. On the outer circle: the banner of the tribe of Judah on the east side; the banner of the tribe of Daniel on the north; the banner of the tribe of Ephraim on the west, and the banner of Reuben on the south side. To the three sons of Levi, mentioned above and their families was committed the service of the Tabernacle, and to each of the divisions of the Levites were given clear instructions with regard to their work in transporting the Tabernacle from place to place. All those which were numbered of the camps throughout their hosts were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.
God dwelt in the midst of his people, communed with them and guided them. His presence, his word, his commandments were most real. God, as it were, set apart his people to himself, separated them from all others in order to train and sanctify them. You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Here God revealed his holiness and his love to his people; there was revealed, on the other hand, the utter weakness of man. A history was written here, which in the course of time became the most famous and best-known history in the world, in the light of which many generations of the nations of the world were being trained and received their direction in life.
After God had given to Israel his Law, after he had given them an inheritance and bestowed on them blessings in abundance, it was reasonable to expect that all will go well and that this ideal situation of a people living in the shadow of the Almighty—a people fulfilling the commandments of God in their daily life—that this condition of things would continue, that Israel would be an example to the nations of the world. But this, alas, was not so. In the passage of the Prophetic Scriptures for this week, Hosea 2, the nation of Israel is likened to a wife who is unfaithful to her husband. God vividly illustrates his word to Israel through the life of the prophet himself. Hosea’s wife acts treacherously towards him and goes after many lovers. The prophet still loves her and makes strenuous efforts to bring her back to himself and to a decent life. Thus God also. His love to Israel is true and strong, as seen in the words of the prophet to the people of Israel: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.” (Hosea 2).
When did God do this? When did God bring Israel to the wilderness a second time? Obviously, it is not a physical or geographical wilderness that is meant here. The language here is figurative, and it is in this sense that the word “wilderness” is used here.
If we take the Assyrian or the Babylonian captivity, as if the reference is to any of these, it is clear that to Babylon the people of Judah were exiled as a punishment for idolatry, which had struck deep root in the worship of the nation. However, it is a known fact that after the Babylonian captivity, idolatry in its stark heathenish forms had completely ceased in the nation, and yet the nation never again had full political independence, and never again obtained the blessings God had promised them. Persians, Greeks, Syrians, Romans ruled over them, and finally “the wilderness,” the Diaspora of nearly 2000 years.
At the same time, if we treat seriously the words of the prophet (as we should treat biblical prophecy) then we come to at least three conclusions:
(a) That God is the principal factor in the history of the people of Israel: “Behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness.”
(b) That there is a purpose and a goal to this act of God: “and speak comfortably unto her.”
(c) That in the course of time God will also bring her out of this wilderness: “there I will give her vineyards.”
Thus we see that there is meaning and purpose in the history of Israel that it is not the outcome of blind chance or bitter mysterious fate.
This prophecy relates to our time. Our era is the focus of many biblical prophecies. If we ask when, where, and how this long and distressing chapter in our history will be terminated, we must first ask ourselves, what and in what manner have we been unfaithful to our God and have severed our contact with him?
Here, as in many other cases, the New Testament scriptures give us help, and I must say here that without the New Testament, we cannot rightly understand the Old Testament. If we have an honest desire to know, we will seriously consider these words: “When he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19.41-44).
God visited his people in the person of Messiah Jesus, his last messenger, but Israel did not understand this, and went out to the bitter Diaspora, now two thousand years long. In Jesus we parted with God as a nation; in Jesus we shall meet and be reconciled to God again. This is confirmed also by the prophet Hosea: “Afterward (at the end of the Diaspora) the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. David their king—this is the Messiah. In God and in his Messiah shall Israel be saved. [SO]