This week we begin a new book with the portion Bemidbar or “In the wilderness.”
- Numbers 1:1-4:20
- Hosea 2:1-22
- Romans 9:22-33
The book of Numbers, as we know it in English, covers just under 39 years of the journey through the desert to the Promised Land. The commentary by Keil and Delitzsch summarizes the book well.
As soon as their mode of life in a spiritual point of view had been fully regulated by the laws of Leviticus, the Israelites were to enter upon their journey to Canaan, and take possession of the inheritance promised to their fathers. But just as the way from Goshen to Sinai was a preparation of the chosen people for their reception into the covenant with God, so the way from Sinai to Canaan was also a preparation for the possession of the promised land. On their journey through the wilderness the Israelites were to experience on the one hand the faithful watchfulness and gracious deliverance of their God in every season of distress and danger, as well as the stern severity of the divine judgments upon the despisers of their God, that they might learn thereby to trust entirely in the Lord, and strive after His kingdom alone; and on the other hand they were to receive during their journey the laws and ordinances relating to their civil and political constitution, and thereby to be placed in a condition to form and maintain themselves as a consolidated nation by the side of and in opposition to the earthly kingdoms formed by the nations of the world, and to fulfil the task assigned them by God in the midst of the nations of the earth.C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. 10 vols.; (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), paragraph 1903.
The years spent in the Wilderness were difficult for the Israelites. While they saw the protection and provision of Elohim on a daily basis, they refused to turn their hearts fully toward Him. It was a time of learning for them.
One of my favorite Michael Card songs is, “In the Wilderness“. In it he describes the difficulties of the wilderness we each walk through in life, but also the great rewards for those who submit to the will of Elohim. The truth is that in the wilderness we learn how to walk out our faith. It is a place where we cannot survive on our own, and are forced to trust in Elohim. It is a place where we must remember the opening words of the portion.
Then Adonai spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting…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.Numbers 1:1-2 NASB
We do not walk through the wilderness alone. As difficult as it is, that is the great comforting truth. Adonai came out of Egypt with us, made His dwelling among us, and guides us (however long it takes) to His promises. But we also make this journey with the family He is building. Even when it seems that no one understands, that no one is walking with us except Adonai, we are wrong. All of Israel, all believers in the Messiah, are walking together.
I think that this is part of the reminder in Numbers 3.
Then Adonai spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. “Numbers 3:5-6 NASB
At our darkest moments, when we forget that we aren’t alone, the answer we often overlook for our rescue is service. The Hebrew word for serve here is שָׁרַת (Sharat). It refers to a high and trusted servant, and is first used of Joseph.
So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant, and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.Genesis 39:4 NASB
The captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them; and they were in confinement for some time.Genesis 40:4 NASB
These were dark days for Joseph. His brothers had sold him to slavery, he probably didn’t see how or even if Elohim would use him. Yet, when put into bondage, his response was to serve. Not to fight, or resist, but to work with his whole heart for the family, and then the prisoners he was around.
This word in the Septuagint is translated as λειτουργέω (leitourgeo). It is used 3 times in the Brit Chadasha, the second time is in the book of Romans.
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the holy ones in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.Romans 15:26-27 NASB
Is not the same true for us? Are we not indebted to minister to those physically who share in our spiritual inheritance? Consider that Joseph is a picture of Messiah, the suffering servant. It is this same attitude of service that He had while on this earth. We must, therefore, even in our hardest times, serve. For in doing so, we not only serve each other, but Father in Heaven.
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you should also do I as I did to you.”John 13:13-15 NASB