Signs, Wonders and Messy Details

The Book of Numbers, סֵפֶר בְּמִדְבַּר/Sefer Bemidbar, is noticeably different from the other books of the Torah, as it focuses on life in the wilderness camp. Opening with chapters of accounting, positioning, and assignments, it seems a bit dry. The English title of the book, “Numbers,” perhaps influences this perspective; but once the book begins to unfold, we discover something different.

In the thirty-six chapters of this book, we see signs, wonders, and the miraculous provision of the covenant Lord. Yet, we also find chapter after chapter of the good, the bad, and the ugly reality of human life. These are the messy details that we assume would not happen in covenant community, but alas, they do.

The wilderness experience is part of the life of faith. The narrow way that we follow in Messiah is often set in the wilderness – the wild places in creation (Matt. 7:13-14). As many of you know, I spend a lot of time in the wild places, those wilderness places where so many people fear the wild things walking just out of sight, mixed with a fear of being lost. Still, biblically, the wilderness is for something else entirely. Numbers shows us how the Lord uses the messy details of the wilderness to set us along the narrow way.

The census opening the Book of Numbers, סֵפֶר בְּמִדְבַּר/Sefer Bemidbar, teaches us a simple, yet profound lesson: we all count. No matter how rich or poor, all of us are special to Him, we are all unique. In our uniqueness to Him, He knows how to do His work of renewal in us as He conforms us to Yeshua/Jesus (Ro. 8:28-29). That pressure of formation, the application of the Potter’s hands upon the clay in the turning of the Potter’s wheel is often set in the wilderness places of life.

How we fear those wilderness places. Those scary places of uncertainty and danger. Those wild places where animals or bandits can get you. Despite our trepidation, the Lord is still working in those narrow, pressing wild places; and Numbers tells us how.

As Numbers opens we find the Lord numbering His people, establishing order of the camp, assigning the Levites their duties, the priests are anointed, along with the redemption of the firstborn of man and beast. Rather quickly the wilderness becomes a place of order; and in fact, this is the Hebraic understanding of “wilderness” or מִדְבַּר.

בְּמִדְבַּר comes from the root דָבָר, frequently translated as “speak,” or to “order” or “arrange. Speech is an order to words expressing intelligible ideas. מִדְבַּר then, according to Hebraic understanding, is a place existing in its order (Gen. 1).

As we make our way in life, through the narrowing wilderness seemingly overrun by uncertainty, wickedness, vanity, and extreme harsh realities, we must remember that faith in the covenant Lord accounts for the harsh reality of obeying His call. In those harsh realities we find the pressure necessary to force out those fears of the wild things, and press in an enduring faith in the Author and Finisher of faith itself: Yeshua (Heb. 12:2).

The wilderness is where He manifests His assuring presence, as the covenant community walks in the grace of His calling, even in the midst of terrible circumstances. He will work all that has, will, and is going wrong together for your good, because you were called in Yeshua/Jesus; and you are presently being conformed to His image. Does it hurt? YES! Does it wear us out? YES! Is it emotionally exhausting? YES! A million times a million times: YES! But what a treasure He is working in you: Jesus.

How does Paul encourage us? “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Ro. 8:18).

The wilderness can be dirty, wet, muddy, dangerous, buggy, confusing, and exhausting, but we never compare the destination to the difficulty of the trail leading us there. Hold on … but God.

As you read and study Numbers, it will reveal His glory in the midst of our mess, and how He makes the mess into His message, as we love each other, even as He has loved us.

Be well. Shalom.

My Sons, and My Daughters

It was with deep and profound joy that my wife and I witnessed the graduation of our sons with graduate degrees in their respective disciplines, in the same month. While my wife and I have certainly contributed to their success, many others have entered their lives to help mold them into the men they have become; and to those influential teachers I say, as a dad, thank you.

וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת אַהֲרֹן, וּמֹשֶׁה: בְּיוֹם, דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אֶת-מֹשֶׁה–בְּהַר סִינָי

“And these are the generations of Aaron and Moses, in the day the Lord spoke with Moses on Mt. Sinai” (Num. 3:1).

In the verse from Numbers above, the Torah says “these are the generations of Aaron and Moses …” yet, in Numbers 3:2, only Aaron’s sons are mentioned. The children of Moses are not mentioned. Why?

Moses was an uncle to Aaron’s sons; but the Torah also acknowledges Moses as a father to them. Moses, as the leader of Israel, and the recipient of the Word, taught the sons of Aaron, and therefore, the Talmud says in Sanhedrin 99b: “Reish Lakish said: ‘Anyone who teaches someone else’s child Torah is regarded by the Torah as though he made him.”

Moses was part of their growth, development, and ultimately, their maturity. The Lord then blesses Moses by linking him forever, in a place of prominence, to the lives of the sons of his brother.

As we all know, people’s lives do not always unfold or end as we would have hoped or prayed. For two of Aaron’s sons who learned from Moses, their lives ended suddenly and tragically; and generations later the priesthood would become corrupt. So there is an additional lesson here.

We must be mindful of what we are sowing into people, either intentionally or unintentionally. Our children often imitate us, and that, hopefully our positive attributes; but have you ever noticed that they have a way of imitating, flawlessly, the less desirable habits and attitudes of our personality? Those components of who we are that we really would like to see disappear.

As a minister I try to be mindful, especially on social media, of how my words or actions impact or influence the lives of others negatively. As amazing as it is to be included in someone’s success, it is a fearful thing to find that you may have actually influenced them negatively. Obviously, this is not a legacy we would desire to be part of.

A single post, like this one, will be read by thousands of people. If it was filled with negativity, how would that influence them today or tomorrow? And how would that negative impact affect other lives around them?

The Torah speaks of the heavy burden of relationship, especially as parents and teachers. He has given us the responsibility to form the life entrusted to us. How then should we proceed? Trust the Lord, walk in grace, and correct – in ourselves and others – that which is inconsistent with godly life.

We find beautiful examples of this in the epistles of John. John refers to his disciples as “my children.” As we read, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I Jn. 2:1).

In my own sons lives, and my sons and daughters in faith, I pray I can help them avoid the worst that life can tempt one with, while pointing the way to reconciliation when they go astray. And I pray that they can see the best in me, Him, even when the worst of me stands prominent. Mistakes, too many to count; but I pray His grace works it all together for our good (Ro. 8:28-29).

The good and the bad, this is the lesson we find in Numbers 3:1-2. This is why the Torah links Moses with Aaron and his sons. We can learn so much from a single verse that says so little. Now, let us live what we have learned; and be the godly influence He has made us to be.

Be well. Shalom.

Walk in Hope

“If you walk in My statutes, keep My commandments and carry them out … I will walk among you and will be your God, and you will be My people.” (Lev. 26:3, 12). (From: Behar/Bechukotai, Lev. 25:1 – 27:34.)

As this portion of Scripture opens, the Lord gives a series of conditional blessings, “If you walk…then I will…” (Lev. 26:3-13); further, he reveals the antithesis of the blessing, “If you do not listen…then I will do…” (Lev. 26:14-39). It is not the Lord’s desire to rebuke His people, but rather to bring them back in step on His way (Heb. 12:6). In the Torah, the Lord uses the word “walk” (תלכו in Lev. 26) as a metaphor for forward movement, and internal meditation, in life according to His Word.

Walking with the Living God is movement, its change, its new situations, its a renewal of soul and spirit. At times it’s trials in life. Yet, above all its personal. Walking with the Lord, according to His Word, provides the ethical norms for every situation in life: the way of escape or right action.

The use of “walk” itself is telling. He is revealing that what we are about to do is risky, and requires patience, faith and practice. It has been said that walking is controlled falling down. At times we must focus more carefully on our steps as we traverse difficult or unfamiliar terrain. To walk with the Lord is to trust that He has prepared the way before us (Ps. 37:23); and that His statutes, instructions and laws will illuminate the way (Ps. 119:105).

In the fullness of time, the Lord sent his Word to become flesh in the person of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. Yeshua said, “Come follow me…” Follow, like walk, is a call to closeness in life. In this case, drawing close to Yeshua. This drawing close is “learning from Him” (Matt. 11:29) as a disciple following his teacher.

Yet, there is a sharp distinction between what we read in Leviticus and what we learn from Messiah Yeshua. The revelation of Leviticus exposes the weakness of the human heart – its sin condition – and our inability to be made righteous by our own effort. The Torah is a document of discipleship, not salvation; and through it, the Lord reveals our utter dependence on His sovereign grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. The coming of Messiah, as the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14) was an action founded in the grace of God and the love for His people (Jn. 3:16). Messiah came in order to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

The heart of man is so weakened by sin, and depraved, that he is unable to continue in faithfulness, thus he is in need of a savior. This Savior would receive “the chastisement for our peace” so that by “His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5); and as the apostle Peter writes, looking at the past action of Yeshua, “By His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24). Therefore, the curse of disobedience no longer falls upon those who are in Messiah (Ro. 8:1), as Yeshua has delivered those trusting on him – healing the spiritual wound of sin that influences the walk of man.

Still, even with our closeness to Him, we must “hear Him” (Matt. 17:5; cf. Deut. 18:15), and in hearing Him we must walk and follow obediently, as Messiah said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15); which we keep now, not out of a motivation to be accepted, but because we have been accepted (Eph. 2:8-10). Messiah not only changes the condition of our heart, by the salvation of our soul, He changes the motivation of our heart to indulge in actions that are self-indulgence to actions of self-sacrifice (Jn. 15:13). This we learn from walking in the uncharted territory that is life with the confidence that He is walking with us because He is our Emmanuel (Matt. 1:23) Who sent the Holy Spirit to us in order that we are not left as orphans (Jn. 14:15-18).

“The Bible reveals the Father’s overall plan for the world and provides general guidelines for life. But how can we know His specific plans for us? Listening to God is essential to walking with God.” Dr. Charles Stanley

Listening to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as we walk, causes us to lift up our eyes, look attentively at Him, and walk in the sureness that He is ever with us.

Be well. Shalom.