Parashat Bamidbar (In the Desert/Wilderness)
Bamidbar (Numbers) 1:1–4:20
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22 (1:10-2:20 in the English Bible)
I am always amazed by the new insights the LORD gives when we read the Scriptures repeatedly. This happened to me this week when I was preparing to write this commentary on our Parashah. I previously wrote on this Parashah, but now that I read it considering the Haftarah, I am astounded not only by the continuity of the Scriptures, but also by God’s faithfulness to keep His promises.
Let’s start with the first few verses in the Parashah:
Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent 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, “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall count them by their armies.”
God’s instruction to Israel was to count every male from the age of 20 and above. This is important because these men were the ones who would lead Israel into the Promised Land as an army. We understand from this that Israel’s entrance to the Land would most likely require military action.
Further in Chapter 1:44–46, we read of the total number of these men:
These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron counted, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war in Israel,all the numbered men were 603,550.
As I read this account, I got to thinking about how many people — men, women, & children — were in the camp. The Scriptures tell us that there were 603,550 men over the age of 20, and most commentaries I readestimate that there were probably 2,000,000 people in all!
While we can count or estimate the number of people in the Parashah, in our Haftarah reading from Hosea 1:10 (English Bible), we find a repeat of the great promise that was originally given to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 and to Jacob in Genesis 32:13:
Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted.
When one considers the turbulent history of the Jewish people since time immemorial, one might wonder about this promise. How many millions of Jewish people have been killed over the millennia? How many dictators and empires have sought to wipe out the Jews and erase our history in the land of Israel? When one looks at Israel today, the mere fact that we are surrounded by enemies – even some who live within Israel- who vow to destroy us and throw us into the sea; the nations that gather against us and blame Israel for everything that happens in the world; and even the division that we suffer from within, from the different ethnic groups and political parties, one may wonder has God forgotten His promises?
When one looks at history from a human perspective, one can get very frustrated and even angry. In fact, just on the day I sat to write this commentary, my staff shared some of their frustrations and concerns about this very thing before our staff prayer time. I encouraged them that, while it is natural to feel this way, we cannot forget the importance of keeping our eyes on God and on His promises. I find a great amount of hope as I look at God’s promises from Hosea 1:10, beyond just the numbers of the children of Israel:
Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted; and in the place where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” It will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.” And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint for themselves one leader, and they will go up from the land, for the day of Jezreel will be great.”
Hosea 1:10–11 (2:1–2 in the Hebrew Bible)
Dear reader, God is not slow in keeping His promises. He will fulfill His word in His time. A great day is coming when the number of God’s children will be immeasurable, where from His people, we will acknowledge that we are sons of the living God and will be united around the same leader. This leader, I believe, is Yeshua our promised Messiah. Is it possible that this will be the time that Rav Shaul (Apostle Paul) wrote about when all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25–26)?
My hope is in a day when God will bring the last two verses from our Haftarah into a reality:
I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In favor and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.
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