A teaching on Parashat Chukat

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The Parsha this week is Chukkat  (Numbers 19: 2 to 22:1) . A red heifer -that is to say – a virgin cow that had never been yoked – was to be offered to provide the water of purification after contact with a dead body. Some of its blood was to be sprinkled over the altar and the heifer was to be burned and with cedar wood, scarlet wool and hyssop and the resulting ashes dissolved in water.

Anyone who touched a body was to be unclean for seven days and had to be purified by this water on the third and seventh day. However, the person who prepared the water and the person who touched the ashes was to wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.

If someone dies in a tent, then everyone who had been in the tent, and everything touched by the corpse was to be sprinkled with the waters of purification.

The person who administered the water of purification was also to wash their clothes and becomes unclean until evening.

Moses strikes the Rock

Back in Parshat  B’shalach ( בְּשַׁלַּח ) we studied how Moses struck the rock at the waters of Massah and Meribah. The big difference is that here Moses is clearly instructed to speak to the rock. His anger at the constant whinging of our ancestors caused him to just lose his temper and he struck the rock rather than speaking to it.

The incident took place just after the death of Miriam, the older sister of Moses. We would imagine that she would have been a young teenager when the baby Moses was floated down the Nile in the basket of bulrushes. It was Miriam who had the initiative to engage their own mother to nurse the infant and get paid to do so by Pharoah’s daughter. The only way she is viewed negatively is her criticism of Moses’ marriage to a black woman, although some of our sages say that Miriam’s concern was not that the woman was black but the marriage to the Cushite would cause Moses to neglect his first wife Zipporah. God’s judgement was more that it was not Miriam’s right to challenge the Lord’s anointed, just as David had refrained from killing Saul even though Saul was in the wrong. If Moses had erred, it was not Miriam’s place to say it. Nevertheless, as older sister she was credited with saving Moses’ life when he was a baby, and she was like a mother to him. He was consumed with grief by her death. It was not the right time for our ancestors to start complaining they were thirsty.

In his grief mixed with anger he struck the rock and the water gushed out and the Israelites drank and were satisfied.

In battle a soldier does not have time to mourn his fallen friends. He has to obey his orders and press on to the objective. In a similar way God did not excuse Moses’s disobedience and his circumstances did not mitigate that in the eyes of God. His punishment was that he would not enter the land of promise although he would view it from a distance.

Passage through Edom

The Israelites needed to pass through Edom but the Edomites would not let them pass. Even though they promised to stick to the main road and pay for any water that they used the Edomites came with a large army and stopped them, so they went another way.

The death of Aaron

On the borders of Edom God told Moses and Aaron that it was time for Aaron to die. Aaron went up mount Hor on the borders of Edom with Eleazar his son. He took off his priestly garments and gave them to Eleazar. He had joined with Moses in the incident of striking the rock and was likewise not permitted to enter the land.

Defeat of the Canaanites

The Israelites were not yet a coordinated fighting force. They had quietly backed off from confrontation with the Edomites but here the Canaanites of Arad start a fight by capturing some of the men of Israel. They had to respond. There was no option. They vowed to the LORD that if he gave them the victory, they would completely destroy the Canaanites of Arad – which they did.

The Bronze Snake

Because Israel did not face Edom in battle a tiresome journey to circumvent this territory was made and the tedious and seemingly endless journey provoked, guess what? Another moan. God was angry and sent a plague of venomous snakes.

That caused them to think complaining wasn’t such a good idea after all. Moses then made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole and held it up so everyone who looked at the snake was healed.

Sihon and Og

Two more kings come against Israel namely Sihon king of the Amorites and Og King of Bashan. In the same way that happened in Edom, Israel requested safe passage across their land but in the same way they refused and brought out their army to confront Israel. This time however there was a battle. After thirty-nine years of wandering our ancestors are reaping their first victories, first the Canaanites of Arad and now these Kings occupying former Moabite territories get defeated. Israel is starting to take shape.

 Haftarat Chukkat                                               הפטרת חקת

The Haftarah portion associated with the Parsha is the beginning of the story of Jephthah the son of Gilead in Judges 11:1 to 11:33 .

Jephthah was the son of a prostitute and so his father’s other brothers drove him out. He gathered a group of malcontents and became their leader.

When the Gileadites got into trouble because they were being threatened by the Ammonites, they sent for Jephthah to lead them.

The Ammonites told Jephthah they wanted their land back that Israel stole. Fast forward about 250 years from the account of the defeat of Sihon and Og. Jephthah explains they never stole the land but only took it because their ancestor Sihon refused to grant passage and attacked them (does that story sound familiar?). The current King of Amon was not interested in the answer.

Jephthah then mobilized his men and attacked the Ammonites. He made a foolish vow that the first thing that crossed his threshold when he returned from victory would be offered as a sacrifice and the enemy was subdued.

Messianic Message

The red heifer ritual is a picture of the purification attained for us by Yeshua. The burnt offering is mixed with cedarwood representing the gibbet that He died on, with scarlet wool representing his shed blood. The hyssop is a plant that flourishes in dry places; Yeshua  grew like a root in dry ground (Isaiah 53:2).

The people who prepared the ashes and administered the water themselves became unclean. This is a picture of those who conspired against Yeshua (Acts 4:27) The paradox is that evil men rose up against Him to put Him do death but in so doing fulfilled God’s purpose of providing us with a route to forgiveness. God knew everything ahead of time and all that happened previously was looking forward to His coming (1 Peter 1:20) .

The prohibition of Moses entering the land appears a harsh consequence. It shows us three things.

Firstly, the Torah which Moses represents can never get us into God’s kingdom. because no human will be justified[b] by deeds based on Torah (Galatians 2:16).

Secondly Moses should not have struck the tock a second time after the first incident at Rephidim read in B’shalach  בְּשַׁלַּח ). Striking the rock is a picture of Yeshua’s death. Yeshua’s death is a one off. We ought not go back once we have experienced His goodness.

it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep executing the Son of God on the stake all over again and keep holding him up to public contempt. (Hebrew 6:4) CJB

Thirdly we learn how not to deal with our problems. Moses confronted his opponents and disobeyed God. He tried to solve the problems himself rather than place it all in God’s hands. What he ought to have done is to remain silent towards his opponents and spoken to the rock.

That is God’s way. Attacking only the problems in our lives won’t necessarily make them go away. How often do we fruitlessly go down that path?

Turning to God will either solve the problem or give is grace to endure or see it in perspective.

The Gileadites arrogantly rejected Jephthah but then humbled themselves to call on him in a time of trouble.

Never be too proud to call on Him. Look to Him and be saved, just like our ancestors who looked at snake on the pole and were healed

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,] that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him]

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal lifeJohn 3:14-16 NIVUK –

This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.