Bamidbar (In the Wilderness)
Numbers 1:1–4:20; Hosea 2:1–22 (1:10–2:20); Luke 16:1–17:10
“Adonai spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert [Bamidbar].” (Numbers 1:1)
Last week’s Parasha, Bechukotai (By My Decrees), was the final reading in the Book of Leviticus. This last portion of Leviticus reminded us that God’s blessings follow those who are obedient to His Word; conversely, curses follow rebellion.
This week’s Torah portion, Parasha Bamidbar, begins the fourth book of the Torah, which is also called Bamidbar. In English, this book is called “Numbers” because God tells Moses to take a census and number the Israelites old enough to bear arms.
“Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one.” (Numbers 1:2)
The number of those 20-years-old and over, who were able to serve in the military, totals 603,550. This number excludes the Levites, who are tasked with carrying, assembling, and guarding the Tabernacle and its furnishings.
God instructed Moses to appoint the Levites to serve in the Sanctuary in the place of Israel’s firstborn, who were disqualified for worshiping the Golden Calf.
When Moses came down the mountain from speaking with God, the Levites rallied around him when he called, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” (Exodus 32:25–29)
For that reason God set them apart for service as assistants to the kohanim (priests), who are the descendants of Aaron, who also was a Levite.
In this Parasha, God gives the various assignments to the Levite clans concerning their service in the Tabernacle, beginning with the instruction that all males one- month-old and up be numbered and separated by clan.
The Levites numbered 22,300. This number fell 273 short of the number of firstborn male Israelites a month old and up.
To redeem the Israelites who lacked a Levite to replace them, a ransom of five shekels a head was paid to the priests (sons of Aaron) for the shortfall in service. (Numbers 3:46–48)
This ransom is one of many in the Torah (instruction, teaching) that point to Yeshua (Jesus), who became the final ransom for sin for those who accept it by faith.
“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
Our Desert Experiences: Seasons of Transformation
“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)
The opening words of this Parasha emphasize that God spoke to Moses in Bamidbar Sinai, or the wilderness / desert of Sinai.
Bamidbar offers a geographic chronology of the travels of the Israelites through this wilderness.
It is a land of stinging scorpions and spiders, a dry and thirsty land where water is scarce and the scorching sun beats down mercilessly upon the endless sand.
Although the desert can be a place that is hostile to life, this Parasha underlines that God spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert.
We can understand from this, then, that a spiritual wilderness experience can be the time when God speaks to us and is, therefore, a valuable time of growth in our relationship with the Lord, who is the true source of nourishment and Living Water.
We see this connection in the Hebrew words for desert (midbar מדבר) and speak (m’daber מדבר), which have the exact same letters.
Sometimes in the wilderness season of our lives, we hear God speaking to our hearts, just as several Bible characters did.
For instance, God led Gomer, the adulterous wife of Hosea, into the wilderness to speak tenderly to her.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” (Hosea 2:14–15)
It was in the wilderness that an angel found Hagar and gave her a word from the Lord:
“The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.… The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress and submit to her.’” (Genesis 16:7–9)
The angel of the Lord also told Hagar that she would have a son called Ishmael (God hears) because God had heard her affliction.
The word of the Lord also came to Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) in the silence of the wilderness. (Luke 3:2)
Even Moses spent many years in the wilderness being prepared for the moment when God spoke to him from out of a burning bush, sending Moses on a mission to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt.
The wilderness is a place of being broken, humbled, and tested by God to see what is in our hearts.
“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)
Our seasons of wilderness wandering, far from being simply “wasted time” can become times of great transformation, where we are being shaped to fulfill our destiny.
It is here, in the midbar, that we learn to depend upon God for His faithful guidance and supernatural provision. We are refined of selfish ambition, pride, and the illusion of self-sufficiency.
“And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
To the Promised Land
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, … a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing.” (Deuteronomy 8:7–9)
The wilderness is very important, if not an essential time in our lives.
It is also filled with danger and trials that test our faith; and yet God never leaves us there. He always points us to a better land to which He is taking us—a land of beauty and abundance.
The only way to the Promised Land, however, is through the wilderness. The prophet Isaiah poetically called the way through the desert the “Highway of Holiness” and promised that the sun-scorched land would become a pool of refreshment.
“The scorched land will become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water…. A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way.” (Isaiah 35:7–8)
Israel has done an amazing job of transforming her deserts into beautiful, blooming, flowering places that resemble the Garden of Eden, just as the ancient Hebrew prophets promised would one day happen. And this has taken place in our very generation!
“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” (Isaiah 51:3)
“The Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted.” (Hosea 2:1 [1:10])
The Torah portion and the prophetic portion of Bamidbar share the theme of numbering.
God promises through Hosea that the numbers of Israelites will be like sand on the seashore.
Hosea, who foresees the coming Messianic Era, also prophesies that the houses of Judah and Israel will be unified and come under a single leader.
Hosea was the prophet during the decline and fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (722 BC), about 200 years after the death of King Solomon.
Due to the mismanagement of Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam, the 10 northern tribes rebelled, and Israel was divided into the Northern Kingdom (ten tribes), and the Southern Kingdom of Yehudah (Judah) and Benjamin (931 BC).
God exiled the 19 northern tribes because they forsook God and turned to the gods of the pagan nations around them. In the book of Hosea, God likens them to a wife who plays the harlot and turns to other men.
“A spirit of harlotry led them astray.” (Hosea 4:12)
Hosea’s wife, Gomer, who is a prophetic picture of Israel, bore two children who were called Lo Ruhamah and Lo Ami, meaning no mercy and not My people.
What terrible names to have to bear! It was as if God totally disowned His people—vowing that He would not have mercy on them or even consider them His covenant people anymore.
But God, in His mercy, promises that He would not hold His anger against them forever.
“In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people [lo ami],’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together.” (Hosea 2:1–2 [1:10–11])
Even though some of exiled Israel returned to the Holy Land eventually, becoming absorbed into the tribes of Yehudah and Benjamin, many remained in the nations, and became “lost.”
God promised that in the latter days, they would no longer rebel against the rule of David’s heir, and they would return and serve the Lord. This is such a wonderful promise!
“Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to His blessings in the last days.” (Hosea 3:5)
Followers of the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua—whether Jew or Gentile, man or woman—can personally take hold of the promises God made through Hosea.
Both Paul and Peter confirm Hosea’s prophecy as having partial fulfillment already in Yeshua:
“I will call them Ami [My People], who were not My people, and her Ruhamah [mercy] who were loh-ruhamah [no mercy]. There they shall be called sons [and daughters] of the living God.” (Romans 9:25–26)
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. His own special people; that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, who once were not a people [loh ami] but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy [loh ruhamah] but now have obtained mercy [ruhamah]. (1 Peter 2:9–10)
And although Israel may be rather small in numbers today, God has promised that they will be as countless as the sand on the seashore. With them, He has “counted” all Believers in Yeshua as His very own precious children.
Even as we walk through fiery trials in the wilderness, we can trust in His faithful love and care.
May we look forward to the good land to which He is leading and guiding us, and the complete fulfillment of each and every one of His promises for the restoration of Israel.
No eye has seen the amazing things He has prepared for those who love Him.