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Matot-Masei: Settlement, Exile, and Restoration for Israel

Matot-Masei (Tribes-Journeys)
Numbers 30:2–36:13; Jeremiah 2:4–28, 3:4, 4:1–2; Matthew 23:1–25:46

“Moses said to the heads of the tribes [matot] of Israel: ‘This is what the Lord commands: When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.'”  (Numbers 30:1–2)

Last week, in Parasha Pinchas, God rewarded Aaron’s grandson, Pinchas (Phinehas), a pact of peace and everlasting priesthood in response to his zeal for the Lord.

In this week’s double Torah portion (parasha) of Matot-Masei, the Israelites are coming to an end of their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Both Miriam and Aaron, the sister and brother of Moses, have died in the desert; and Moses, in preparing for the end of his life in the desert as well, has passed on the mantle of leadership to his successor — Yehoshua (Joshua).

This week’s reading begins with the laws regarding vows and oaths, emphasizing our responsibility to be a people who keep our word and do what we have promised.

The Lord goes on to command Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites in retaliation for their seducing the Israelites at Baal-peor.  Both Balak, the King of Moab, and Balaam, who had advised that Israel would be cursed if they were drawn into sin, are killed in this battle.

After the battle, a massive quantity of booty is distributed to the soldiers, and a share is designated for the sanctuary.

A 13-year-old Jewish boy carries the Torah scroll at the Western (Wailing) Wall. (Israel Ministry of Tourism photo by Jonathan Sindel)

A 13-year-old Jewish boy carries the Torah scroll at the Western (Wailing) Wall.  (Israel Ministry of Tourism photo by Jonathan Sindel)

Settlement on East Bank of the Jordan

As the tribes of Israel prepare to cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Manasseh approach Moses requesting permission to settle on the east side of the Jordan in the territories captured from Sichon and Og (Numbers 32:1–5).

Moses is at first disturbed by this request, accusing them of wanting to shirk their responsibility in following through on taking the Promised Land in obedience to the Lord’s command.

He asks these tribes, “Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here?”  (Numbers 32:6)

He compares them to the ten spies who came back with a bad report, bringing calamity on Israel.  His concern is that their actions will discourage the Israelites from taking the Land.

However, these tribes have no intention of avoiding battle; they just prefer the land on the east side of the Jordan since it is suitable for their large herds and flocks of livestock.

A Jordanian boy leads his flock. Although the Israelites first settled on the east side of the Jordan, in the 20th century, that land was allocated to the creation of an entirely new country called Transjordan (Jordan) by the League of Nations.

A Jordanian boy leads his flock.  Although the Israelites first settled on the east side of the Jordan, in the 20th century, that land was allocated to the creation of an entirely new country called Transjordan (Jordan) by the League of Nations.

They are not only willing to go into battle, they pledge to go out ahead of the Israelites as shock troops to take the Land.

“We will arm ourselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place …. We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance.”  (Numbers 32:17–18)

When Moses understands their motivation and the full plan, he agrees to their request, and the Lord awards them their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan.

We can understand from this that Israel’s inheritance extends beyond the Jordan River.

This event also reminds each of us to patiently listen to a person’s reasoning when their request seems to be in conflict with a perceived goal.  We should not prejudge motivation and outcomes.

Two Israelis in conversation. (Photo by Hendrik Wieduwilt)

Two Israelis in conversation.  (Photo by Hendrik Wieduwilt)

Administering the Inheritance of Israel

As if to affirm the coming victory in the Promised Land, the Lord assigns a leader for each of the nine and a half tribes who will be in charge of administering the inheritance of the land of Canaan (west of the Jordan River) among the people.

In addition to this, God also instructs the people to drive out all the inhabitants of the Land once they receive it.  He warns them:

“If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.”  (Numbers 33:55)

However, when the Israelites crossed the Jordan, many times they made treaties or allowed the Canaanites to dwell among them, where they continued practicing their pagan rituals.  In time, these groups either led the Israelites back into pagan practices or tried to attack them from within.

Today, some believe the Jewish People have no right to the land, but in this Parasha, we see the Creator of the Universe fulfill the promise He made to Jacob all those years earlier:

“The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”  (Genesis 35:12)

An 1889 map illustrating the division of the Land of Israel between the Twelve Tribes. (Palestine, by Conder)

An 1889 map illustrating the division of the Land of Israel between the Twelve Tribes.  (Palestine, by Conder)

The Boundaries of Israel

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land of Canaan, this is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance — the land of Canaan to its boundaries.”  (Numbers 34:1–2)

As the Creator of the Universe, God has the right to set the boundaries for the nations that He created.  In this week’s Parasha, God sets the borders of the territory of Israel, which are far larger than what Israel has settled today.

Fully inhabiting our inheritance of Judea and Samaria and even east Jerusalem may seem impossible with the creation of a Palestinian State, but when the Messiah returns, there will be a redistribution of land to the Twelve Tribes, and the world will plainly see the extent of Israel’s borders (Ezekiel 47:15–21).

At that time, says the Lord, “when I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations.”  (Ezekiel 39:27)

Unlike many of the foreigners who reside in the land today, after the war of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38–39) those who remain will have reverence for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and no other; therefore, as fellow Believers, the Lord makes them inheritors as well.

“You are to allot [the land] as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children.  You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.”  (Ezekiel 47:22)

A pedestrian street in Jerusalem. (Israeli Ministry of Tourism photo by Noam Chen)

A pedestrian street in Jerusalem.  (Israeli Ministry of Tourism photo by Noam Chen)

Jeremiah Warns Israel of the Coming Exile

The prophetic reading (Haftarah) for this week is the second of the three “Haftarot of Admonition,” which are read during the Three Weeks.

During this three-week period between the 17th of Tammuz and the 5th of Av on the Jewish calendar (June 30 and July 22 on this year’s civil calendar), we remember that the walls of Jerusalem were breached and the Temple was destroyed.

The Prophet Jeremiah had been warning about the impending destruction of the Holy Temple and of Jerusalem for at least a few decades leading up to the Babylonian invasion.

In this reading, he details the terrible sins of the kings and the people that led to that destruction.

“As the thief is ashamed when he is found out, So is the house of Israel ashamed; They and their kings and their princes, and their priests and their prophets, Saying to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ And to a stone, ‘You gave birth to me.’ For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face.

“But in the time of their trouble they will say, ‘Arise and save us.’  But where are your gods that you have made for yourselves?  Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble.”  (Jeremiah 2:26–28)

Reading from a Torah scroll encased in a protective Torah tik.

Reading from a Torah scroll encased in a protective Torah tik.

To understand the extent of their wickedness, we need only look at King Manasseh (c. 687–642) who “sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing His anger.”  (2 Kings 21:6)

The Book of the Law had been hidden away in the Temple so that even the kings had little to no knowledge of what was written in it.  Instead of worshiping the God of Israel as written in Scripture, images of Baal were erected in the Temple where God said His name would be placed forever.  (2 Chronicles 33:2–9)

The Lord warned Manasseh and the nation about their evil deeds, but they ignored Him.  So the Lord took action against them:

“He rose up the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.”  (2 Chronicles 33:10–11)

While in Babylon, Manasseh repented and with great humility called out to God, who restored him to his reign.  Manasseh and later his grandson King Josiah tried to return the nation to the worship of the God of Israel alone, but it seems their efforts came a little too late.  They were not able to provoke a national revival in the hearts of the people.

When these kings died, other kings took their place and continued to defile the Temple and disobey God’s law.

Today, our cities and nations are full of the same sins that brought about the destruction of Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) and of the world in the days of Noah — a time when men were given over to other men in marriage.

Yeshua (Jesus) told us that His coming would be in a time such as this:

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  They were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”  (Luke 17:26–27)

If the Torah scroll is not housed in a Torah tik (case), after the Torah reading, the Golel (roller) performs Gelila (rolling up). The Torah is then bound with a sash and covered with the Torah cover. The honor of being the Golel is sometimes given to a child under Bar Mitzvah age.

If the Torah scroll is not housed in a Torah tik (case), after the Torah reading, the Golel (roller) performs Gelila (rolling up).  The Torah is then bound with a sash and covered with the Torah cover.  The honor of being the Golel is sometimes given to a child under Bar Mitzvah age.

God Restores His People

Just as in the ancient days of Israel, God’s desire is to bring correction in order that people will repent and turn back to Him and live in righteousness; for it is not God’s will that even one person should perish.

We see this with Manasseh.  God allowed him to be taken captive, but even he received God’s mercy and restoration after sincerely repenting:

“In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.  And when he prayed to Him, the LORD was moved by His entreaty and listened to his plea.  So He brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom.  Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.”  (2 Chronicles 33:12–13)

Although a nation as a whole may still suffer the consequences of the collective sins of the people, God does show mercy and restores each individual person who sincerely humbles himself, calls on His name, and repents (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Therefore, let us make ourselves ready by genuinely turning from our sins and re-establishing His ways in our lives.

Further, God will grant everlasting life to those who believe that Yeshua cleansed them from their sins with His blood once and for all.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

Those who believe are now free to live not as slaves to the sins of the ruler of the world, but as citizens of His Kingdom.

So ready yourself and keep an upward gaze — looking for the soon coming of the Son of Man — Yeshua, our Messiah and Redeemer.

“Look, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”  (Revelation 22:12)

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