Welcome to this weeks Torah / Bible study. “Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you set up (behaalotecha בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ) the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the Menorah.”
“When you set up / ascend the lamps" (Numbers 8:2), a reference to the fact that the priest had to step up to clean and light the lamps of the menorah. This portion is jam-packed, telling the story of the consecration of the Levites, the first Passover in the wilderness, the silver trumpets, the cloud of glory, the departure from Sinai, the grumbling in the wilderness, the first Sanhedrin and the punishment of Miriam.
Outline: Numbers 8:1 The Seven Lamps; Numbers 8:5 Consecration and Service of the Levites; Numbers 9:1 The Passover at Sinai; Numbers 9:15 The Cloud and the Fire; Numbers 10:1 The Silver Trumpets; Numbers 10:11 Departure from Sinai; Numbers 11:1 Complaining in the Desert; Numbers 11:16 The Seventy Elders; Numbers 11:31 The Quails; Numbers 12:1 Aaron and Miriam Jealous of Moses; Zec 2:6 Interlude: An Appeal to the Exiles; Zec 3:1 Fourth Vision: Joshua and Satan; Zec 4:1 Fifth Vision: The Lampstand and Olive Trees.
The Menorah: “Now this workmanship of the Menorah was hammered gold; from its shaft to its flowers it was hammered work. According to the pattern which the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.” (Numbers 8:4).
Section “Behaalotecha” opens with the kindling of the Menorah, the lampstand that is a symbol of the light of revelation and truth. God commanded Moses to make it out of gold according to the pattern shown him on Mount Sinai. Why gold and not bronze or silver? Gold symbolizes something precious, of great value, and it is a metaphor for purity in the Bible. The fire in the Menorah represents the fire of the Divine Light spreading throughout the entire world, beginning with Israel. We can understand it also as Godliness; therefore, the fire can be seen as symbolic of God refining His people so that they may be as fine gold!
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness” (Malachi 3:3).
Seven lamps were lit on the Menorah. Why are there seven golden lampstands and not five or nine or any other number? According to ancient Jewish thought, seven stands for perfection or completion. The Book of Revelation also speaks of seven golden lampstands in a vision God gave to John: “And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands” (Revelation 1:12).
Here, these seven golden lampstands represent the seven congregations in Asia Minor (Revelation 1:10–11, 20).
God warned that He might remove the lampstand of a congregation if they continue in sin and refuse to repent. As Yahshua (called Jesus by many) told the church at Ephesus: “I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5). Those who are His followers continually grow in obedience, love, joy, and peace, becoming more and more like Yahshua. That love, joy, and peace shines forth through a dark and dreary world like a beacon of hope. It makes others desire the Source of that goodness.
Cleansing of God’s Servants:
“Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
As we pursue Yahweh, we also pursue purity in our attitudes, our speech, and our ministry. And so we read in this section that the Levites who served God in the Temple had to be cleansed and purified before beginning their ministry.
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them ceremonially. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purification on them, and let them shave all their body, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean’” (Numbers 8:5–7).
God took the Levites as His own in place of the firstborn who were spared during the Ten Plagues in Egypt. Most of those sons defiled their hearts and spirits when they worshiped the Golden Calf. The Levites didn’t worship the calf. They stayed faithful and true to the God of Israel; therefore, they were given the work of service in the Tabernacle, instead of Israel’s firstborn sons. Only those Levites between the ages of 25–50 could qualify to serve in the Tabernacle. After the age of 50, the Levites were required to retire from active duty. They could stand guard (and according to the Jewish commentator Rashi, sing, lock the gates, and load the wagons), but could not serve in the Tabernacle.
COMPLAINING: To take the step of faith to and rely of God is an act of spiritual elevation. “The manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil” (Numbers 11:7–8).
The Israelites resumed their trek to the Promised Land. The Divine fire-cloud accompanies them as a supernatural manifestation of God’s Presence. It has been a year since He delivered His Chosen People from bondage in Egypt. They saw the River Nile turn to blood and their firstborn saved by blood. They even walked through a parted sea into safety; but experiencing God’s supernatural Presence and His provision of manna did not stop them from murmuring in the wilderness.
Oh how they complained! Even to the point of rejecting God and desiring to go back to bondage where they could have the fish “that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Numbers 11:5).
Despite the manna, they were consumed with a craving for meat. The Bible does not explain why they did not eat meat from their herds of sheep. Moses finds the people’s complaining so hard to bear that he is ready to die if no solution is found, and his honesty with God brings about a Divine solution. God tells him to gather 70 experienced elders to the Tent of Meeting. They are to share the burden of leadership and God endows them with Moses’ spirit (Numbers 11:17). God also promises Moses that He will give the people so much meat that they will be sick of it, which Moses finds difficult to believe. To satisfy the cravings of these ungrateful Israelites, God sends tons of quail. Many gorge themselves and die as God’s anger is unleashed due to their rejection of Him. They are buried at the place they named Kibroth-hattaavah (graves of craving). (Numbers 11:31–35).
The generation in the wilderness were not worse complainers than any other collection of human beings. Every association of human beings seems to be vexed by the ceaseless grumbling of the members. The Torah says, "Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of Yahweh." (Numbers 11:1) God is slow to anger. Complaining can incite His swift wrath. The book of Numbers contains several stories of Israel's discontent in the wilderness. In each story, the Israelites complain about something and God punishes them for complaining. Human beings are prone to complain. It often seems that people are not happy unless they find something to be unhappy about. Nothing seems to please us more than complaining about what we don't like and what things do not meet our approval. We are malcontents.
A person of faith is duty bound to rise above the natural human instinct to complain and criticize.
Every day of our lives is full of both good things and bad things. Every human being has positive characteristics and negative characteristics. If we concentrate on the bad things that each day contains and the negative characteristics that each person possesses, we will spend our entire lives in an ugly world where everything goes wrong all the time and everyone we know is grossly deficient. With our critical spirits and tongues we can actually ruin our own lives. Paul encourages us to "do all things without grumbling or disputing" (Philippians 2:14). Complaining is a form of evil speech (lashon hara). It has evil results in our lives and in the lives of others. Nobody wants to be around a chronic complainer. A critical person complains against God. The Didache warns that grumbling and complaining is a symptom of a haughty spirit and that it can lead to blasphemy:
My child, do not be a murmurer, because it leads to blasphemy; neither be self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered; but be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be long-suffering and merciful and genuine and gentle and good and always trembling at the words which you have heard. (Didache 3:6-8). Grumbling about things is a telltale sign of weak faith. A person of strong faith has confidence that God is in charge and is working all things out for the good. He is not given to complaining because he believes that everything is ultimately in God's hands, as with Job.
The antidote for a poisoned, malcontented spirit is gratitude. When we force ourselves to focus on the good and the positive, and to thank God for all the blessings He daily bestows, the way we experience life is transformed. We should not thank God only for the good things; but for everything as Paul says, "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in the Messiah Yahshua" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul also urges us to not to "grumble, as some of them did [in the wilderness], and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction" (1 Corinthians 10:10-11).
BE CAREFUL FOR WHAT YOU WISH: YHWH told Moses that He would provide Israel with a month's supply of meat. Moses it would be impossible to provide sufficient meat to feed 600,000 men for a month. Moses rhetorically asked, "Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, [would it be] sufficient for them? Or should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, [would it be] sufficient for them?" (Numbers 11:22).
Had Moses forgotten that God was already miraculously feeding the people on a daily basis? If God chose to feed them meat instead of manna every morning, what difference did that make? Moses' despondency had blinded him to God's power. His depression had flattened his faith. God responded with a rhetorical question of His own asking Moses, "Is the LORD'S power limited?" (Numbers 11:23). A literal translation of the Hebrew is more poetic. He asked Moses, "Has the hand of the LORD become shorter?" In other words, "Are you suggesting that the God who wrought the ten plagues, split the sea, fed you with manna and brought water from the rock has lost His power?" The next time you find yourself doubting God, ask yourself, "Has the hand of the LORD become shorter?" The next time you find yourself despondent and depressed, remind yourself of the great things God has done in the past. Then I said, "It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed." I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds (Psalm 77:10-12).
The people of Israel were tired of manna; they cried out for meat. YHWH punished their malcontent nature by answering their prayer and sending an abundance of meat. He withheld the manna and gave the people a month's supply of quail. "You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected YAHWEH" (Numbers 11:19-20).
Without any preservatives or refrigeration, a month's supply of quail turned rancid quickly. Sickness and plague followed. After a few days of quail, the Israelites were longing for the manna they had rejected. In our lives we often experience the same dynamic. We find ourselves punished with abundance. Abundance is not always a blessing. Avarice and greed are quick to follow. A culture with too much food eats too much and becomes overweight and insensitive. A family with too much income begins to spend foolishly and finds it increasingly difficult to give the same proportion to the work of the Kingdom. It is far easier to labour for the kingdom when things are lean. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).
The daily provision of the manna reminds us to be dependent upon God day by day. If a man could store up manna, hoarding it like money, he could be confident of his sustenance for many days to come; but the manna could not be hoarded. It required a daily dependence upon God. Abundance is not always a blessing. The Master tells us that instead of seeking to store up treasure on earth (which inevitably steals our hearts away from God), we are to merely ask for our daily bread. That is to say, we should be asking that Yahweh will provide for us according to His measure and good purpose, even as He provided daily bread for Israel while they travelled in the wilderness. Pro 30:8 Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Miriam not Aaron punished: So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again (Numbers 12:15).
Even Aaron and Miriam were not above the sin of grumbling. Numbers 12:1-2 relates a few details about their complaint against Moses. Apparently they had something against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married. The complaint against Moses had to do with his role as leader over the assembly. Both Miriam and Aaron had personally received prophecies from God. They began to resent Moses' sole leadership over the assembly. "Has YHWH indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?" (Numbers 12:2), they asked. Miriam and Aaron assumed that no one could hear their private conversation. It was their own private gripe against their brother. They forgot that God could hear. The Torah says, "And the LORD heard it" (Numbers 12:2). How many times do we indulge in similar "private" conversations, forgetting that God is listening? A person should always remember that his words are heard and recorded in heaven: "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgement. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37). YHWH struck Miriam with leprosy as a punishment for speaking evil speech against her brother, whom God chose to lead. Moses immediately interceded on her behalf with a short, urgent prayer. YHWH relented and removed the leprosy, but Miriam still had to be put outside of the camp for seven days until she was ritually fit again. The most puzzling thing about the story is why Miriam was smitten with leprosy while Aaron was not. Is that fair? Perhaps Aaron was spared because of his responsibility in the priesthood or perhaps it was that Miriam was punished more harshly because she was the instigator of the gossip. Although repentance helps restore our relationship with God, a lesson still has to be learned by Miriam, Aaron, and the entire community. They cannot move ahead until Miriam spends seven days outside the camp.
Prophetic Section (Haftarah Portion): Purity and the Menorah:
Zechariah 2:14–4:7 begins with an invitation to shout for joy because God will dwell in the midst of Zion and once again choose Jerusalem. In that day many nations will join themselves to the Lord. Zechariah’s vision confirms how deeply YHWH God cares about the cleansing of His people. The Prophet Zechariah sees the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, standing before the angel of the Lord in the Heavenly Court. Satan is also there accusing Joshua, who is clothed in filthy rags, a metaphor for sin. According to Jewish commentator Rashi, Joshua is guilty of allowing his sons to marry foreign women, which is not allowed for Levites (see Ezra 10:18).
The Angel of Yahweh identifies Joshua as a brand plucked from the fire. Indeed, Joshua has returned from the Babylonian exile along with Zerubbabel and the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem where they will rebuild the city and the Jewish Temple. Yahweh rebukes Satan and says to Joshua, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and you shall be clothed in [priestly] robes.” (Zechariah 3:4). Zechariah then describes his vision of a seven-branched Menorah, which is kindled for the first time in this week’s Torah reading.
Rebuilding Jerusalem and the Second Temple is a huge task. And through the Prophet Zechariah, God reassures both Joshua and Zerubbabel that He is behind the initiative. Immediately after Zechariah sees the Menorah, the symbol of purity and the light of truth reaching the nations, the Lord gives a word to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, saying,
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit said the Lord of Hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Of course, pursuing spiritual goals is too difficult if we are left to our own devices. Both the law and prophet readings reveal that we have supernatural help. We see that even Moses had his limits as a mere man. No one, not even Moses himself, could do the work of Moses without being anointed with the Spirit of God. To ease Moses’ burden, God spread some of Moses’ anointing to 70 respected elders who would share in the task of leadership. The Scriptures say that these elders immediately prophesied.
Through Yahshua, our garments of iniquity have been removed and we, like Joshua, are clothed in vestments of purity and righteousness. This is a fulfillment of one of Zechariah’s prophecies, which foretells of a time when the Messiah will remove all iniquity in a single day.
“I am going to bring My servant the Branch [a future king from the line of David] … and I will remove that country’s guilt in a single day. In that day — declares the LORD of Hosts — you will be inviting each other to the shade of vines and fig trees.” (Zechariah 3:8–10; Jeremiah 33:15)
This righteous Branch from the line of David has appeared, and in one day, He paid the penalty for our sin and clothed us with His righteousness. Each of us need God’s Ruach in our lives empowering us to obey His word, manifest His love, joy, and peace, and exercise spiritual gifts He has bestowed. Filled with that Spirit, each of us are beacons of light that show the way to a lost and dying world. One practical way we can shine as lights in the midst of the darkness is by refusing to complain and, instead, express gratitude in all things, rejoicing in the Lord always.
Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14–15).
Verses and Points to Note From This Week’s Readings.
Num 8:5 -1 7 How were priests cleansed and why. Num 9:14 gentiles and the Passover. 10:10 What happened at The beginning of God’s months (new moons). Num 11:4 the composition of the congregation. 11:25 what happened when spirit of God came on them.
Zec 2:8 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.
Zec 2:11 And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.
Zec 3:8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH. Zec 3:9 For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.