Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah for Bamidbar

This week’s Torah portion is Bamidbar, Numbers 1.1 through 4.20[i]. The Haftarah reading is Hosea 2.1-22. On one hand, this week’s portion is a real page turner – there are a couple of censuses, which are always exciting, instructions for breaking down, packing up, and transporting the tabernacle, which Netflix could make into a mini-series and to cap off this section, the placement and moving instructions of the Twelve tribes, (extra points if one can list the Twelve tribes).

This summary is a bit humorous, partly because of the mundaneness of the described activities. However, on the other hand, it shows that the LORD is first and foremost a God of order and discipline. Along with this, it also shows that HE is concerned with the routineness of daily life. This point is very important because without the routine or mundane, the sacred or holy would not be unique. In Genesis 1.31 it is recorded,

So God saw everything that He made, and behold it was very good. So there was evening and there was morning—the sixth day.

The activity of the six days of creation, with all its diversity, was described by the LORD as “very good.” Next was the institution of the separate day, the Sabbath (Genesis 2.1-3) which the LORD called holy. The closing blessing of the Havdalah service that ends Shabbat is,

Blessed are you, LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe, who separates between sacred and secular, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor. Blessed are You, LORD, who separates between sacred and secular.

Separation and distinction between the “sacred and secular” or the “holy and the mundane” is important as without the one, the other is incomplete. Shabbat is important because it is set apart. But if there was nothing from which to be set apart, what would be the purpose? Just as the LORD was interested in the routineness of Israel’s daily activities, so He is concerned about the routineness of our daily activities. All is important to Him Who loves us and called us to be His own.

Moving to the Haftarah, we immediately see a contrast. In Numbers, Israel was to take a census of Bnei-Yisrael, whose number was able to be counted. However, Hosea 2 begins with the prophet proclaiming a coming time when “…the number of Bnei-Yisrael will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted.” The majority of the book of Hosea deals with the LORD’s judgment and discipline of the northern kingdom, Ephraim. However, at the very beginning ADONAI affirms that regardless of the discipline that Israel will have to endure, she will not not be forgotten nor forsaken. In fact, one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture is penned by Hosea. Speaking to Israel, the LORD says,

Then I will betroth you to Me forever—yes, I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, covenant loyalty and compassion. I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness, and you will know Adonai. – Hosea 2.21-22

There will come a time, when the discipline and judgment will be past then full and complete restoration of Bnei-Yisrael will be realized. Concerning these verses, Michael Fishbane notes,

God promises an everlasting espousal, an unalterable commitment. His act includes the gifts of “righteousness and justice,” “goodness and mercy” [ or “loving-kindness” and “compassion”], and “faithfulness” as the bride-price. These are the central biblical terms for covenantal fidelity and social ethics. The divine formula of espousal is recited by many Jews daily, upon binding the strap of the arm phylactery around the fingers of their hand. It now constitutes an ever-renewed commitment of the worshiper to be bound to God through justice and loving-kindness.[ii]

This love relationship is affirmed numerous times in the Song of Songs with proclamations like, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (6.3a). Regardless of the transgressions and resulting discipline, Israel remains the beloved of the LORD. New Covenant believers have the same assurance as recorded in the Letter to the Hebrews,

For God Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” so that with confidence we say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What will man do to me?” (13.5b-6)

This echoes the promise in Deuteronomy 31.6 that Moshe proclaimed before Bnei-Yisrael before they entered the land of promise,

Chazak (Be strong)! Be courageous! Do not be afraid or tremble before them. For Adonai your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.”

We can be sure of the LORD’s love for us, regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves. If we slip and fall into transgression, He is with us, even if we have to walk through the consequences of our actions. When the enemy attacks, He is strong and reminds us to stand strong, not in our own strength but in His. The Psalmist reminds us of this truth when he states,

For Adonai will not forsake His people. He will never abandon His inheritance (94.14).

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Fishbane, Michael. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (English and Hebrew Edition). The Jewish Publication Society, 2002. p158

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.