Torah Portion for week 34: Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
Bamidbar (In the wilderness)
Is life’s destination more important than the journey of life? This week’s Torah portion begins, “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. . . .” According to this verse, the Israelites have been at Mount Sinai for one year. The time has finally arrived to break camp and go to the “promised land.” This Torah portion from the first four chapters of Numbers deals with matters that are crucial for Israel’s journey: Who will fight in Israel’s army? Who will take down the tabernacle and set it up again? Where will the tribes station themselves around the tabernacle?
These chapters teach us an important spiritual lesson: Life with God isn’t just about the final destination. It is also about the journey, and the manner in which we make it to the final destination.
Sadly enough, the first leg of Israel’s journey through the wilderness desert to Mount Sinai didn’t go so well. “I’m thirsty! I’m hungry! I miss Egypt!” We will see in the coming weeks that the second leg of Israel’s journey through the desert will be even worse. The desert-places in our lives seem to bring out the very worst in all of us. A pastor friend once told me that he only preaches toothpaste theology. Whenever you squeeze the tube, what’s on the inside comes out! The bad news is that what comes out of us in life’s deserts is what really is inside us. Israel’s journey through the desert is a spiritual mirror for all of us.
If Israel’s journey through the desert to the “promised land” was marked by constant failure, what hope is there for you and me? It would be nice to find someone who would make the desert journey on our behalf! This week’s Torah portion does, in fact, turn our attention (even if ever so subtly) to God’s ultimate solution for desert survival. Did you notice that the tribe of Judah keeps popping up in quite prominent and unexpected places throughout the Torah’s story? For instance, the penultimate chapter of Genesis speaks of a future King from the tribe of Judah who will bring blessings to Israel and the nations. The tribe of Judah also springs up from the pages of Exodus, where Bezalel from the tribe of Judah is chosen by God to build the most important tent in history.
And now, the book of Numbers also puts the tribe of Judah in the spotlight – God places the tribe of Judah right in front of the entrance to the tabernacle! We read, “Those to camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah by their companies, the chief of the people of Judah being Nahshon the son of Amminadab” (Num 2:3). And which tribe will be chosen to lead the march to the “promised land”? Turn to Numbers chapter 10 to see if your guess is right.
Why does God keep pushing the tribe of Judah into the spotlight? It is because of Judah’s special role in God’s redemptive story. Judah’s place of prominence in the Torah points to God’s way of providing the ultimate victory in the desert. Although Israel failed to trust God in the desert, God eventually raised up another Israelite from the tribe of Judah who, like Israel, was brought out of Egypt (Matthew 2); who, like Israel, passed through the waters (Matthew 3); and who, unlike Israel, completely trusted God and defeated the devil in the desert (Matthew 4). When we place the tribe of Judah in the most honored place in the camp of our lives by accepting its most honored member, Yeshua’s victory over the devil in the desert and his victory over death itself becomes our victory!