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Parasha Bamidbar (In the Wilderness): Does God Ordain Suffering?

Parasha Bamidbar: (In the Wilderness)
Numbers 1:1–4:20; Hosea 2:1–22; Romans 9:22–33

Last week, in Parasha Behar-Bechukotai (On the Mount-By My Decrees), we read that the agricultural land in Israel was to have a rest every seven years.  We also read about the Jubilee Year, which followed seven cycles of seven years, when the Israelites were released of their debts and could return to their inherited lands.


Torah procession at the Western (Wailing) Wall:  To pay respect to the Word of God, it’s traditional to touch the Torah with a prayer book or a tallit (prayer shawl) during the Torah procession and then kiss the object the Torah was touched with.

This week’s Parasha studies the opening chapters of the Book of Numbers.  In Hebrew, the Book of Numbers is called Bamidbar, which means ‘in the wilderness or desert.’

The Hebrew name for the Book of Numbers comes from the fifth word of the opening line of Numbers:  “The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert [Bamidbar] of Sinai….”  (Numbers 1:1)

The Hebrew word midbar (desert) comes from the same root as m’daber, which means to speak.

God often speaks to our hearts in the wilderness times of our lives.

Judea-mountain-Dead Sea

Judean Mountain landscape near the Dead Sea: just over 15 percent of Israel is arable land.

El Shaddai: What’s in a Name?

“Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name.”  (Numbers 1:2)

In Numbers 1, Moshe (Moses) is commanded to take a census of all adult males.  They are numbered according to family, by their father’s houses, according to name.

In Hebrew, names carried significant meaning; for example, Elitzur (Numbers 1:5) means My God (Eli) is a rock (Tzur).

Of the twenty-four proper names here given, nine contain the Divine name, El (God), three the name Tzur (Rock), which is frequently used for God, as in Tzur Yisrael (Rock of Israel) or Rock of Ages.


Reading the Torah in the men’s section of Wilson’s Arch at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

The name Shaddai also appears three times in the names listed.

Shaddai is a very interesting word study.  The compound El Shaddai is usually translated ‘God Almighty’ in English Bibles, but this does not begin to do justice to the meaning of this name of God.

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.”  (Genesis 17:1)

Shaddai is derived from a Hebrew root shadad, which means to overpower.  Interestingly enough, this root also can mean a demonic power.  Therefore, El Shaddai also means that God overpowers or prevails against all demonic powers.

“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty [Shaddai].”  (Isaiah 13:6)


An open scroll of Torah

Shaddai is also derived from the Hebrew root shad, which means breast.  This reveals the maternal, merciful nature of God.

If we read the Word carefully, we will see this aspect of God’s nature as Shaddai – the woman’s breast – the source of all nourishment and comfort to her children.

“…because of the Almighty [Shaddai], who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast [shadim] and womb.”  (Genesis 49:25)

We know from the Book of Genesis, that we were created in God’s image as male and female.  As strange as it may seem to us then, God is not only a Father, He is also a mother.

In Exodus, when Moses asked God for His true name, He answered, “Ehye Asher Ehye,” which though commonly translated as ‘I am who I am’, is more accurately translated as “I will be what I will be(Exodus 3:14).

There are so many facets to the name, character, and nature of Elohim (God).  He capable of being to us whatever we need at any given moment:  Rock, Comforter, Provider, God who is there, ….

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”  (Proverbs 18:10)


Photo of the Milky Way:  Today’s Parasha and Haftarah share the themes of wilderness and numbering Israel.  In the Parasha, Moses takes a census, and in the Haftarah, God promises that “the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted” (Hosea 1:10, which is Hosea 2:1 in the Hebrew text).  In Genesis 15:5, God likens the numbers of Israel to the stars.

Haftarah (Prophetic Portion): Can Suffering Be Ordained by God?

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.  There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.  “In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband.’”  (Hosea 2: 14–16)

The Haftarah (prophetic portion) promises that God will allure Israel, bring her back to the Land, and that the relationship between God and Israel would be, once again, like a healthy marriage.

To understand the themes of marriage, betrayal and redemption in Hosea, we must understand Hosea’s situation.

God instructed him to take a harlot for a wife—a woman who was seemingly destined to be unfaithful to him.  The rabbis, in fact, believe that Hosea’s resulting domestic tragedy was actually ordained by God.

Through his personal ordeal and the agonizing pain of loving a woman who would turn to other men, Hosea came to understand, at a very deep level, through intense personal experience, how God feels about Israel, His unfaithful Bride.

“Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”  (Hosea 3:1)


A Jewish bride and groom walk along the beach together for the first time as a married couple.

God might take us through periods of suffering—even anguish of heart, soul, and body—not only to identify with God’s pain over sin, but also so that we may identify with the pain of others.

This is a hard concept to understand—that God may actually ordain personal suffering.

Still, how can we truly minister to a suffering, lost, broken, despairing, hopeless, confused, depressed, sick, poor, trapped, and hurting humanity unless we have also experienced these same painful states?

Sometimes we are burdened beyond measure, beyond our strength, to the point that we despise life itself.

But our God, who comforts us in all our tribulations, gives us His comfort so that we may be able to comfort those who are also in trouble with the same comfort that we have received from God.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  (2 Corinthians 1:4)


Young Jewish man praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall

Finding Strength in the Storm

“I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.  I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily.”  (Hosea 14: 4–5)

Are you burdened and grieved beyond your ability to bear it by some kind of domestic tragedy, like Hosea’s – an adulterous spouse?

Do you struggle with despair over a situation in your home or family that never seems to be resolved?

Sometimes we feel like we live in a never-ending storm, and we might even begin to doubt God’s love for us.

The Bible records that the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) were once in such a storm – a storm of hurricane proportions.  Their boat was filling with water, and they were sinking fast.  They thought they’d drown for sure!

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee-Pieter Brueghel

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, by Pieter Brueghel

And where was Yeshua (Jesus) during all of this?  Asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat!  In their distress, the disciples cried out, “Master, don’t You care that we are perishing?”  (Mark 4:37-38)

What was Yeshua’s answer?  Faith!  Believe and do not doubt (Mark 4: 39–40).

There are times when we feel like we’re drowning, and it seems like God is asleep.  We wonder if He even cares anymore.  Why does He allow our storms to go on and on?

We have prayed and fasted and prayed some more, but the wind and waves continue to beat against our tiny, sinking boat.  The storm rages on.

Through this message in the Book of Hosea, our storm-tossed soul may find rest.


“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet!  Be still!’  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”  (Psalm 89:9)

Hosea was deeply unhappy in his marriage.  He had seemingly ‘wasted’ his love on Gomer, a promiscuous, adulterous woman.  Nevertheless, this marriage symbolized God’s experience with the nation of Israel.

Like Hosea, God is a loving, faithful husband who was abandoned and betrayed by a wife.  God chose Israel and delivered her from Egypt to be His own special segulah (treasure).


A Jewish bride takes her turn to drink from the Kiddish (sanctification) Cup during the wedding ceremony.

The Jewish people suffered as slaves in Egypt, and He delivered them.  He showered them with blessings, lavished them with love, gave them their own home–a land flowing with milk and honey (the wedding gift), and made them into a mighty people.

And yet, in utter ingratitude, they adopted the customs and worship of the idolatrous Canaanites and forsook the one true God, Creator of heaven and earth.

The name Gomer comes from the Hebrew root gamar, which means to complete, to perfect and to finish.

After Gomer realized that the gifts of her suitors could not compare with being a wife and a mother, God sent Hosea to redeem her from a slave trader.

Just like Gomer, but for the grace of God, we would all be finished.  Because of His great mercy, He redeems us and gives us a hope and a future.  We can trust Him to perfect that which concerns us (Philippians 1:6).

“The Lord will fulfill [his purpose] for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands.”  (Psalm 138:8)

Jewish mother-child-Jerusalem

An Israeli mother carries her child on her hip at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Just like Hosea as a husband would not give up on Gomer, God will not give up on His People.

And just like a mother, El Shaddai loving draws His children to Him.

Look at the beautiful, gentle, merciful, long-suffering, ever faithful imagery reflective of motherhood in the following passages:

“It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.  I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.  To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”  (Hosea 11:3–4)

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, Israel? …  My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.”  (Hosea 11:8)

In fulfillment of Bible prophecy, God brought the Jewish People back to the wilderness that was the Land of Israel.  He has made that wilderness blossom, and He is still alluring and speaking to His people just like Hosea prophesied.

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