A Honeymoon in the Wilderness

We are starting this Shabbat three new things:

  1. The reading of this Shabbat starts with with the first Torah portion of the book of Numbers.
  2. It is the 50th day of the counting of the Omer, the sheaves.
  3. Saturday evening starts the feast of Pentecost.

We in Jerusalem, in the Shepherd of Israel (Netivyah) synagogue, will be reading this Shabbat June 4, 2022 (Hebrew date is Sivan 5, 5782), feast of Pentecost (Shavuot), the Torah portion of Bamidbar — Numbers 1:1-4:20.

From the prophets we will read Hosea 2:1-23. From the New Testament the reading is from Romans 9:22-33; Luke 24:50,51; Acts 1:9-11.

First, I want again to explain why the names of the Bible books are different in Hebrew from all the other languages. The reason is simple.

In the Hebrew Torah books don’t have names. The first significant word in the division to books was the name that it was called.

The only one book of the Torah that matches the name in Hebrew with the other languages is Genesis. The name of the book of Genesis has the same meaning in English and Greek and all the languages as the Hebrew — “Bereshit” (“in the beginning”).

The book of Numbers is named with this name because the first four chapters actually deal with the results of the census that was commanded in the book of Exodus. Yes, the first four chapters actually give us the numbers of members of each tribe, and also later the number of men between the ages of 20 to 50.

There are some interesting numerical discrepancies in the numbers that can be easily justified, but I am so happy that there are such discrepancies in the Torah. And I am so glad that even in the Ten Commandments there are differences between the version from Exodus 20 and that of Deuteronomy chapter 5.

The reason that I am happy about these problems in the Holy Scriptures that are inspired by the Holy Spirit is that God has made it challenging. And He has forced us to think and to reason out these seemingly “serious problems.”

When the Orthodox Jews who are fighting and persecuting the Jewish disciples of Yeshua in Israel bring up the discrepancies in numbers between the Torah and the New Testament, like Gary Cooper in High Noon, I draw my gun and shoot them down. Because the problem in the Torah and also between 1 Samuel and 2 Chronicles are much more serious.

I believe that the Holy Spirit of God gave us the Bible inspired and true, but a part of the truth is the exposition of the sins of our forefathers — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David and on and on and on to the apostles in the New Testament. As humans we are prone to create idols of anything and of all our heroes.

We have this already in the New Testament itself:

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” — 1 Corinthians 3:1-4

Having the same problems in the Old Testament as in the New Testament actually is the work of the Holy Spirit to force us to think to calculate to reason out and rightly divide the Word of God.

I realize that this position is not orthodox among religious people to have critical thinking, but when I see the Biblical texts and some of the complications and different versions of the same stories I get filled with excitement that opens new doors to understand God and how He works to challenge us and reveal Himself to us. He challenges us to understand the divine truth that can really and truly set us free from the shackles of religiosity and into the freedom of the Holy Spirit.

Why was this numbering of all the children of Israel so necessary before they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land of Canaan as an everlasting possession for the children of Israel? The census had three purposes in the Torah:

  1. The building of the Holy armies of the Lord of those men between the ages of 20 to 50.
  2. The redemption of the firstborn of Israel by the numbers of the Levites. This number was to redeem the firstborn men of Israel with the number of the men of the tribe of Levi.
  3. To divide the land of Canaan by the lots as it is said: by the mount of God. The size of the tribe demanded for equity sake the size of the territory that they would receive in the Promised Land of Canaan.

One of the more interesting phenomena in this portion of the Torah from Numbers 1:1-4:20 is the names of the leaders of the tribes as they are called “presidents”. In the wilderness the names of the leaders of Israel have two major predicates: the divine names and the shepherding names of their professions.

Here are some examples:

“These are the names of the men who shall stand with you…” — Numbers 1:5

The Biblical text of the tribe and the nameThe meaning of the name
Reuben, Elizur the son of ShedeurGod is my rock, the Almighty my light
Simeon, Shelumiel the son of ZurishaddaiMy peace is God, my rock is the Almighty One
Judah, Nahshon the son of AmminadabPersistent, my people are gifted
Issachar, Nethanel the son of ZuarGift of God, minority (small)
Zebulun, Eliab the son of HelonMy God is a father, the son of strength, military
Ephraim, Elishama the son of AmmihudMy God hears me, my nation is united
Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of PedahzurGod is gracious to me, redeemed by the Rock
from Benjamin, Abidan the son of GideoniMy father is the judge, the executioner
Dan, Ahiezer the son of AmmishaddaiMy brother is my help, my nation is mighty
Asher, Pagiel the son of OcranMy entreaty of God, defeater, subduer
Gad, Eliasaph the son of DeuelGod has added to me, the Lord knows
Naphtali, Ahira the son of EinanMy brother is a friend, one who sees

What this list of the leaders of the tribes reveals to us is first of all that God played a very significant part in the consciences of the generation that is entering the land of Canaan. After 40 years of wandering in the Sinai Desert the Lord is playing a major part in the culture of the children of Israel. This is why the people give names to their children with the theophoric names of God.

The second thing that we see is the importance of the family, the father, the brother, the nation. Normally when Christians think of the generation of the wilderness they have a negative attitude toward that generation. However, from the names of the leaders of the tribes we get a little different picture.

We find an interesting text in Jeremiah chapter 2 that reveals a different relationship between God and Israel during those 40 years long period in the Sinai Desert:

“Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord, The firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend. Disaster will come upon them,” says the Lord.’” — Jeremiah 2:2,3

These words of Jeremiah are a surprise to most Christian theologians who have a very negative attitude toward the complaining Israelites in the Wilderness of Sinai. Here the Holy Spirit of God, from the mouth of Jeremiah the prophet, says that the period of these 40 years in the wilderness was the honeymoon between Israel and God.

It was a pleasant relationship. God remembered the kindness of Israel’s youth as a nation. Israel is the firstfruits of God’s increase. Anyone that would devour Israel or offend God’s nation will be met with disaster.

When I look at the history of Israel, and all those great empires and nations that defeated Israel, who sent God’s people to exile to Babylon, I see that actually they no longer exist as nations, only as archaeological sites. And even those have been destroyed during the last war against Isis in Syria and Iraq.

The real picture of these 40 years of wandering in the Sinai Desert was actually a school, or maybe more like a boot camp, for the children of the slaves that left Egypt. The generation that was born in the Wilderness of Sinai was a generation that never knew the harsh treatment of enslavement and suffering in Egypt.

God had to have a new generation that was born in freedom and never knew the whip or the wooden stick on their back, but ate every day fresh Manna and drank water from the Rock that followed them in the wilderness. This was the nation that was ready to enter the Promised Land of Canaan and conquer and take this land as an everlasting possession promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Israel’s home!

I see a parallel between the generation of Israelites that left Egypt as slaves and their children that entered the Land of Canaan — Israel as free men ready to take what was given to them by God Himself.

Now, in the land of Israel the majority of the Israelites are born outside of Israel in the diaspora, but the next generation that was born or raised here in this land and served in the IDF with pride and privilege is going to take the helm and lead and guide this nation in the land of Israel in a totally different way.

The relationship with God will be clear and fresh. It will not be imported from the ghettos of Europe and the cities of Morocco and the narrow poor streets of Sanaa in Yemen. The majority of the politicians in this country today are still immigrants or children of immigrants from North Africa or Poland, France or England, Brazil or Argentina.

As disciples of Yeshua we also need to learn from that generation that wandered 40 years in the Sinai Desert, and first learn to be kind to each other understanding that we, the Jewish people, including the so-called “Messianic Jews”, are a work in progress. We have not graduated yet from the diaspora school of hard knocks.

The majority of the leaders of the Messianic congregations in Israel are still in some limbo of the diaspora, and the so-called “Messianic faith” is a canned version imported from the dungeons of the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and the tower of London and the death camps of Nazi Germany.

It is our responsibility to leave the faith borrowed from the Christian denominations and sects, and work on restoration of our faith and lifestyle from God’s Word first of all and from the local spiritual culture of Israel and the Torah, the prophets, and the writings of the apostles in what we call the New Testament.

It is a very big challenge that we face as disciples of Yeshua in this land that is being restored from wilderness to a garden of agriculture and hi-tech industry. The land of Israel is waiting for the restoration of pure and holy faith, with faithfulness to Yeshua and the apostles, and not to some antisemitic fathers of the fake churches of Europe.

There is no room in the spiritual restoration of Israel for Martin Luther, or John Calvin, Wesley, Meno, Campbell, or other well-meaning Christians that know not Moses or the living Yeshua seated at the right hand of the Almighty One of Israel.

“For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’” — Isaiah 30:15

The continued verse is negative, but it is up to our generation to accept God’s invitation and turn it to positive!

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.