40 Years in the Desert
The Parashah for this week June 17-23, 2018 is called Chukat—“Ordinance of”—i.e. the “Red Heifer”.
Because of the dead who would be constantly in Israel’s midst as an entire generation passed away, Chapter 19 deals with a special ‘decontamination’ procedure with which to cleanse away the defilement released into the camp by death. Then 38 years pass silently by—there is very little that the Holy Spirit chose to pass on to us regarding that rebellious generation “with whom He was angry for 40 years, whose corpses fell in the desert” (Hebrews 3:17). With the death of Miriam at the beginning of Chapter 20, those years are already drawing near to their close. In this week’s reading Moses and Aaron themselves enter into a rebellion which will bar them from entering the Land, and, after the passing of his mantle to his son Eleazar, Aaron dies on Mount Hor. Shortly thereafter a further remnant from the “complaining generation” are slain by serpents—but the younger, second generation begins to move into warfare and to prevail against those giants still barring the pathway towards their inheritance.
*Numbers 19. Ordinance of the “Red Heifer”—A decontamination from Death.
Much has been made in some circles of both Orthodox Judaism and Christianity in recent years regarding some future discovery of a “red heifer” and what such a discovery might signify. Every so often, an article appears in Israeli papers of some such animal being born—only to be followed later by the news that a defect, such as a small patch of white, was found in it. We will not attempt to deal here with the validity or error of such a quest—except to point out that there is nothing in the Hebrew text, other than that it had never been yoked, to denote it had to be a “heifer” (a young female); the Hebrew simply says “red cow.” Nor is it recorded that it must be some mystical rarely-appearing form of cow, solid red from horn to hoof. Like other sacrifices, it had to be “without blemish or defect”—but far from being a rarity, a red breed of cattle would seem to have had to be fairly common in order to be available for fulfilling the original ordinance. Rather, we will focus here upon its important relevant to God’s people in the wilderness as described in this chapter.
With the death of those offering incense in Korah’s rebellion, the 14,700 who died by plague in the uprising shortly thereafter, and the prospect of hundreds of thousands more passing away in the desert wanderings still to come, a stigma and defilement of death hung continually over the camp. The God of Life was in the midst of it; and His people were to be clean and set apart to Him! Therefore, there was need for an especial cleansing or purification for those who had become contaminated by coming into contact with one who had died.
Death comes as the “wages of sin.” In Hebrew the very word for “purification” or “decontamination” (vs. 12) bears within itself the word for sin chet. A red cow, perfect and never yoked, was burned in totality outside the camp, with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet fed into the burning. Then the ashes were stored, also outside the camp. When needed, these were to be mixed with “living water” (vs17, Hebrew: mayim haim) and used as a decontaminant (literally, “water kept apart to expel, serving as a sin offering”, vs 9b) for those who had come into contact with death.
PLEASE PRAY: from Hebrews 9:13-14, a letter in the New Covenant written specifically to Messianic Jews of the First century: “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the Living God?”.
*Numbers 20:10, 24.
MOSES: “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”
YHVH: “…because you both (i.e. Moses and Aaron) rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah.”
A great leader of courage, compassion and humility, Moses nevertheless appears to have had a ‘blind spot’ regarding anger. In the Torah, one sees it quietly mentioned or alluded to throughout his life (Exodus 2:12, 11:8, 32:19, Lev 10:16, Numbers 11:10, 16:15). Titus 1:7 speaks of the necessity that God’s stewards be “not quick-tempered”. Although there is a place for anger, if it is released “in the flesh” or outside of God’s timing, it will “not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19). In the end, it betrayed Moses into the very rebellion against God’s command which he accused the people of when he shouted at them (20:10) rather than speaking to the Rock.
PLEASE PRAY: For leaders in the Body of Messiah in Israel to be trained by the Holy Spirit in self-control. Pray that we will deal with personal issues which the Holy Spirit discloses, which might otherwise cause us, in critical moments of decision under pressure, to operate out of our emotions or woundings rather than in the integrity of the Spirit.
*Numbers 21:9 (Alter). “And Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it on a standard, and so then, if the serpent bit a man, he looked on the serpent of bronze and lived.”
The word ness here translated “standard” or “flag pole” happens also to have evolved into the modern Hebrew word for “miracle”.
John 3:14-15. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
II Corinthians 5:21. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
*Numbers 21:34-35. “Do not fear him (i.e. Og, King of Bashan), for I have delivered him into your hand, with all his people and his land. So they defeated him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left him; and they took possession of his land.”
Deuteronomy 3:11. “For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the giants.”
As Israel arrives 38 years later at the border of Canaan, only one of the fabled “giants” which had terrified their fathers remains. God gives them exactly the same directive he’d given their fathers; this time they take Him at His word and destroy the giant. The significance of defeating this “Og” was huge—he will be mentioned many times in Deuteronomy, Joshua, I Kings, Nehemiah and the Psalms.
The territory which this text says God Himself “delivered into Israel’s hand” would eventually became part of the territory allotted to the tribe of Manasseh. It is this same area, today known as the “Golan Heights”, which modern Israel took from Syria in the 1967 War. The territory southward to the Arnon River was taken from King Sihon of the Amorites and eventually became territory of the tribes Reuben and Gad. This area is presently occupied by the north-western part of the Kingdom of Jordan.
PLEASE PRAY: That the “different spirit” of Caleb and Joshua which motivated this younger generation of Israelites would awaken again in Israel—that we would come to trust God for defeat of the many giants which have arisen again in the land to which we have returned.
*Judges 11:23-24. JEPHTHAH: “And now the YHVH, the GOD of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the YHVH our God takes possession of before us, we will possess!”
Jephthah (Hebrew pronunciation: Yiphtakh) has come today often to be dismissed due to of an unfortunate vow he made regarding his daughter. This is regrettable, and has not always been the case. The Bible remembers Jephthah as a heroic warrior (gibor-hayil) who, although born of a harlot, despised and dispossessed by the rest of his family, rose nevertheless to command the respect of both friends and enemies. He was
* A leader who trusted in the LORD for victory (vs 9)
* A wise judge who made his agreements and pacts in the Presence of the LORD (vs 12)
* As with any skilled military strategist, he was intimately acquainted with the history of his land (vss. 14-29), acknowledging the LORD’s hand in that history, and bringing it to bear in reasoning with his enemies so as to avoid, if possible, conflict.
* For Jephthah, judgment rested with the LORD.
So highly respected was this man before both God and man, that he is included in the chapter of Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11.
PLEASE PRAY: For warriors like Jephthah to be raised up in Israel in the Last Days. Pray for God’s oversight of those from broken families (there are so many), or no families at all—that seeds of grace and faith will be sown which will catch and germinate in fertile soil!
PRAY FOR GOD’S KINGDOM TO COME IN GILEAD, that section of land in which the action of this chapter took place and which today is a part of the western territory of the Kingdom of Jordan.
* It was from this land that the Prophet Elijah first came forth—and to which he returned before being taken up into Heaven. (Malachi 4:5 and Matthew 17:11 seem to indicate that he is again “coming and will restore all things.”)
* Under the power of the Spirit of God, the prophet Zechariah foretold a day in which Gilead would be among the areas to which Jews from the houses of Judah and Joseph would eventually be returned. This has yet to be fulfilled.
Martin & Norma Sarvis
[The Parasha for next week 24-30 June 2018 is called Balak. TORAH: Numbers 22:2—25:9; HAFTARAH: Micah 5:7—6:8]