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Ruminations

Rumination #32: The focus of redemption is not individuals, but community.

Individuals are redeemed, but individual redemption should never been seen as the "good news." We were meant to be a part of a redeemed community.

The message of the "good news" is often presented to individuals outside the redeemed community. Because of this laudable endeavor, biblical faith is often viewed as "personal faith." While it is true that personal faith, exhibited in personal obedience, is a hallmark of the believer - it can lead some to think that redemption is all about the individual. The Torah is about community. Most of the commandments of the Torah are in the Hebrew plural, not the singular. We have not been called into an "individual relationship" with G-d; we have been personally and intimately called into a relationship that is best described as a family. And that family is called "Israel" in Scripture. At its most basic level, the Torah is about learning to live with others as evidence of our love for G-d.

Messianics who attempt to create new community without a connection to Israel will ultimately disappear, or simply be like the "church" - a mere replacement for the community of the Israel.

"Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
Deuteronomy 11:18-20

Each instance of "you" is plural. These are commandments given to a community. If you are not a part of one, begin building one and then learn to live within it - and always keep your little community connected to greater Israel.

Parashat Bamid'bar - 'In the wilderness' (Numbers 1:1-4:20)

This week we open the fourth book of the Torah, Sefer Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers. In Hebrew, the first parasha gives the book its name: Bamidbar [In the Wilderness]

Parashat Bamidbar, is named for a word in the first verse:

Vayedaber HaShem el-Moshe bamidbar Sinai b'ohel moed b'echad lachodesh hasheni bashana hashenit l'tsetam me'erets Mitzrayim lemor:

Now HaShem spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying...Numbers 1:1

Our English Bibles call this the book of "Numbers" because of the way it begins - with what appears to be a census. Many English introductions to the book of Numbers will carry some focus on the Tabernacle and the priestly function explained in detail in this book, as if these are negative elements of a bygone time. As if having the Presence of the Holy One at the center of the camp could ever be seen as bad! The titles, "Numbers" and "In the Wilderness" of course carry some very negative connotations in our modern sensibilities. "Numbers," in association with a nationwide census, gives us the picture of the cattle-call. Our very language has the idiomatic phrase, "I'm just a number to them," which is used to show callousness or a lack of intimacy. Likewise, "In the Wilderness" gives us the picture of wandering aimlessly in the desert, always wanting for food and water. Never comfortable. Never content.

Both of these pictures are incorrect. The "In the Wilderness" picture is not at all what is meant by the Hebrew title, "B'mid'bar." Here is the picture that the Hebrew title is supposed to present: HaShem, speaking in the Wilderness of Sinai. Where G-d speaks to man, there is no wasteland, no want, no lack of comfort, and no lack of contentment. On the contrary, "B'mid'bar" is the essence of contentment. Where He is, we find shalom. After all, it is here, in the wilderness of Sinai we all heard His Voice. It is the only time in history that an entire nation heard the Voice of the Mighty One.

The "Numbers" view is most egregious, because as we will see, the "census" being taken was not about "numbers" at all. Here is what the King of the Universe says to Moses,

Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above - all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies. And with you there shall be a man from every tribe, each one the head of his father's house.
Numbers 1:2-4

In some circles it seems to always be about numbers. Each congregation measures their "obedience" to the Master by counting their "members," counting their money, counting their buildings, and counting their programs. The so-called church growth movement is about measuring success by the measurement of growth. Of course, we all know that the kind of growth that really matters is not something a census can measure. This is why it is so important that as we begin this book called "Numbers" in our English Bibles, that we see the real issue behind this entire parasha is not about a census! It is not about measuring growth by numbers - it is about real growth: being what the King desires you to be.

Notice that verse two says, "according to the number of names..." Like Exodus (In Hebrew called "Sh'mot" or "Names"), this is about names, not numbers. Most telling, however, is how the account begins. G-d's command to Moses is translated into English as "Take a census." This is a very unfortunate translation. In Hebrew it says,

"S'u et-rosh kal-adat [Lift the head of each (of the) congregation]."

So, "take a census" really says, "lift the head." What is it to "lift the head"? First, there is at once a negative and positive connotation to this. Where we see the same Hebrew word used first is found where Joseph interprets the Pharaoh's cupbearer's dream,

Now within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your place, and you will put Pharaoh's cup in his hand according to the former manner, when you were his butler.
Genesis 40:13

And then we see the negative side to it where Joseph interprets Pharaoh's baker's dream,

So Joseph answered and said, "This is the interpretation of it: The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh from you."
Genesis 40:18-19

We learn by careful examination that lifting one's head can be good or bad –depending on who is doing the lifting, and who the person is that is having their head lifted. In the case of Numbers, the one doing the lifting is G-d Himself by decree through Moses. The ones having their heads lifted are the Redeemed Ones. So this is a good thing. Their names are no longer Egyptian. Their associations are no longer of the old life of slavery, where they are named for an occupation – where those who are bricklayers are named some variation of "Mason" and those who are metalworkers are named some variation of "Smith." No, the name that each was to give was their personal name - and what family they were from. They were not numbers.

The RaMBaN (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman c. 1194-1270) perhaps said it best,

HaShem told Moshe: 'Count each and every [member of Israel] with honor and dignity. Do not merely ask the head of each household how many children he has. Rather, everyone should pass before you with honor, and you should count them'.

The names uttered by command of the Redeemer of Israel were not slave names - they were the names of freedmen. And as such, they were not merely monikers - they were prophetic statements as to their real identity. Imagine each one, having his head lifted and his name being prophetically recorded. Our Redeemer knows each one of His own by name. He lifts the head of each one of His own - and speaks his or her name in prophetic enablement, as if to decree, "Be who you were created to be!"

So as we begin this book called "Numbers," don't be fooled: it is not about three million former slaves wandering in the desert. It is about names - even our names. The names of G-d's own, learning to walk with Him dwelling in their midst. It is about each one living faithfully to the Holy One, because, as we will learn next week, His Name is upon us.

One thing I have desired of HaShem, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of HaShem all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of HaShem, and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to HaShem.
Psalms 27:4-6

The purpose for this head lifting of all of Israel is made clear in this week's portion:

Take a census [s'u et-rosh: lift the head] of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their father's houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above - all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies.
Numbers 1:2-3

Beloved, this is the same generation that died in the Wilderness. For them, the Wilderness became the end of the line. The purpose for which their heads were lifted is clear - they were intended to be the generation that conquered the Land - they were to be warriors for HaShem. Instead, when they saw the giants in the Land they doubted the G-d Who had named them. In the end, they failed to live up to their destiny. They failed not because they doubted their destiny, but rather because they did not believe the One Who named them. Do not be like those who perished in the Wilderness. If His name is upon you, believe Him and obey.

B'mid'bar [Numbers], along with all of the failures of the people during those 38 years, still carries with it these thoughts (my paraphrase):

Come, have your head lifted - be named among the Redeemed Ones - and camp around the Dwelling Presence of the Almighty.

Bamidbar [in the Wilderness], camped around the Dwelling Presence of the Holy One of Israel is a good place to be, beloved.

Haftarat Bamidbar 'In the wilderness' (Hosea 2:1-22)

Our Torah portion opens with an accounting of the names of the men of Israel. Our haftarah is also mentions an accounting for Israel. To see that you must not use the English verse numbers. In an English Bible, the haftarah is found in Hosea 1:10-2:20. We will use the Hebrew verse numbers in our references here.

I love the way our haftarah begins in the Gutnick Chumash:

In the time of the redemption the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the seashore., which can neither be measured nor counted. Instead of being called, "You are not My people," they will be called "children of the living G-d." The children of Yehudah and the children of Yisra'el will be gathered together, and they will appoint for themselves Mashiach [Messiah] as their one head. They will go up from the land of their exile to their own Land, for great is the day when G-d's scattered people will be gathered.
Hosea 2:1-2 Gutnick Chumash

Beloved, G-d does not need to "number" His people, to take a census. He ordered Moses to account for each of the people, several times in the Torah. It is not about "numbers" - it is about each one having their "head" lifted. Each one is a part of the total. So too, this week's haftarah is about each individual being a part of an innumerable whole. It is also about quantifying HaShem's promises. Let there be no mistake: Israel lives because HaShem has so ordained it. It is always about our Messianic hope. The Gutnick Chumash gets it exactly right. It is sad to me that many of the supposed followers of Messiah over the past 1,900 years have not prayed for the ingathering of Israel. This is our prayer. It is a prayer for the hastening of the return of Messiah. It is a prayer for our brothers, the whole house of Israel.

Our haftarah ends with a beautiful poem. It is a prayer that is prayed each weekday by observant men as we wrap our tefillin around our "weak" arm and upon our head. Picturing the marriage ceremony, where the bride walks seven times around the groom, the arm band of tefillin is wrapped seven times around the lower arm. As the groom puts the ring on his finger so too the tefillin is wrapped around the ring finger while praying from the haftarah:

I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And You shall know HaShem.
Hosea 2:21-22

And the Spirit and the Bride say, "Come."
Come quickly L-rd Yeshua and gather Your people to Yourself.

Prayer Focus for Bamidbar -  'Prayer for the State of Israel'

The Prayer for the State of Israel is drawn from the Aleinu, the Amidah, and the Torah itself. It encapsulates the Messianic hope and the fact that the modern State of Israel is visible proof that G-d is still at work, bringing about His promises.

Our Father in Heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Shield her beneath the wings of Your kindness, and spread over her Your canopy of peace. Send Your light and truth to her leaders, officers and counselors, and direct them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them salvation; crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land and everlasting joy for its inhabitants.

Remember our brothers, the whole House of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily bring them to Zion, Your city, to Jerusalem, Your dwelling place, as it is written in the Torah of Moses, Your servant: Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there HaShem, your G-d will gather you, from there He will fetch you. And HaShem, your G-d will bring you to the land which your fathers occupied, and you shall occupy it; and He will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your fathers.

Unite our hearts to love and revere Your Name and to observe all the precepts of Your Torah. Speedily send us Your righteous Messiah of the House of David to redeem those who long for Your salvation.

Reflect Your glorious majesty upon all the inhabitants of the Earth and let everyone who breathes declare: HaShem, G-d of Israel, is King and His dominion rules over all. Amen. Selah.

-- ArtScroll translation

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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
Bereans Online
www.bereansonline.org

B"H