Torah Portion for week 35: Numbers 4:21 – 7:89
This week we are looking at the Torah portion from Numbers 4 – 7 called “Lift Up,” (in Hebrew, Naso). At the heart of this portion are a few verses calling the Israelites to put out of the camp anyone who is unclean:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” And the people of Israel did so, and put them outside the camp; as the Lord said to Moses, so the people of Israel did. (Num. 5:1-4)
God is full of love, mercy, and grace, and desires ALL to come to Him; yet he is holy, that is to say, he is separated from all evil and sin. In the words of the prophet Habakkuk: God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (1:13). The principle is simple – no one who is unclean can come near to God. In ancient Israel under the Mosaic covenant, all the unclean were put outside the camp so as not to defile it. How could they be cleansed and approach the holy God?
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets performed many miracles through God’s power to encourage his people. But there is a special category of miracles that were never performed, the so-called “Messianic Miracles.” Only the Messiah, when he came, would and could perform these miracles, and would thus signify to us that he indeed is the Messiah. These Messianic miracles focus on cleansing the “un-cleansable.” In the Babylonian Talmud, in the tractate called Nedarim (Vows), it states that the Messiah would heal a blind man from birth, cure the lepers, cast out a demon causing dumbness (שד אילם), and raise a man who was dead at least four days. In the gospel of Luke, we see Yeshua performing some of these Messianic miracles, including the healing of lepers.
For time’s sake, we will focus on the miracle of cleansing lepers because leprosy is mentioned in this week’s Torah portion. Ever since the Mosaic Law was given and completed, no Jewish leper had been healed (Moses’ sister Miriam was healed before the Law was completed, and Naaman was a Gentile). Luke 5:12-15 reads,
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.
Leprosy is a progressively degenerating disease, and this man was full of leprosy – all over his body. Imagine the scene: As this unclean man approaches Jesus, the disciples along with everyone else in the crowd pull back as quickly as possible to stay as far away from this unclean man as possible. Perhaps they even threatened to hurt him, as was the custom of the day, if he came any closer. This leper made a bold move – he risked his life by approaching Jesus – and made a strange request, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” He had no doubts about Jesus’ power, but he questioned Jesus’ love, compassion, and grace. We also do that many times when we doubt God’s love and compassion for us as we approach God.
Jesus replies that he wants to heal him, but then he does a most peculiar thing. To the leper’s great surprise (and no doubt the absolute horror of the crowd), Jesus reaches out and touches him! This is, most likely, the first loving touch the leper has felt in years. The man was instantly healed, and Jesus sent him to the temple in order to be declared officially clean by the priests.
Normally, when unclean people touched clean people, the clean people became unclean. Here however, we see that Jesus, the perfectly clean one makes the unclean clean by his touch of love. And he still invites us today to come to him, with all our uncleanness, to take a risk like the leper, and to reach out to him. And he is willing and able to cleanse us from all uncleanness in order to bring us from outside the camp, into his eternal presence.