This week our parasha is Behaalotechah, which translates to “In your setting up” and covers Numbers 8:1-12:16. I would like to focus on Numbers 11 and 12 which recounts three separate rebellions against the Lord. These rebellions teach us the serious consequences of turning against our Creator, and show that our nature has not changed since these events took place.
In the beginning of chapter 11 we have the first murmuring of our people which serves as a pattern for the ensuing rebellions that were to take place. Our people complained about all their misfortunes in the wilderness, and due to their short-sighted and selfish attitude, the Lord’s fire destroyed many of them in the place they were camped. Our people asked Moses to intercede on our behalf before God, and when Moses prayed the Lord relented.
Immediately following this disastrous event, the Torah records another rebellion among the people. Israel longed for something to eat other than the miraculous Manna the Lord provided from Heaven. They yearned for meat, vegetables, and fruit – all the delicious foods they had in Egypt. They conveniently ignored the slavery of Egypt and the saving hand of Adonai, instead indulging an ungrateful and incorrect perspective about their lives and about God. They were rebelling against Adonai and His Law.
This rebellious attitude was severe and widespread enough that it caused Moses to despair and adopt a slightly rebellious attitude of his own. He distanced himself from his people, laying the blame for this insurrection on the Lord. He also lamented about his burden of leading the Jewish People. His distress was so great that he asked the Lord to end his life if this situation did not resolve.
In the midst of these circumstances Moses had lost his way. He had become so consumed with the situation in the present that he lost perspective on what the Lord had accomplished and was still to accomplish through him and the Jewish People. In this moment He had forgotten how Adonai had rescued us from bondage in Egypt, provided for us, taught us His ways, and established a covenant with us, a promise to be our God and for us to be His people.
The Lord responded to the people’s rebellion and the lament of Moses. He told Moses to gather 70 elders, who would help him to administer the people and would share with Moses in the blessing of the Holy Spirit. This group of 70 elders plus Moses is the basis for the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court we see later in Scripture.
The Lord also told our people to prepare themselves for quail meat. They would have enough for a whole month until they were disgusted by the meat. What they so desperately desired at first would be used as a lesson for them. Moses did not believe that God could provide so much meat at one time for our people, who numbered over 600,000. Moses was still looking at the situation from a human perspective, having forgotten that Adonai is able to provide abundantly for all our needs. The Lord responded to Moses’ lack of faith and told him to see if His Word did not come to pass.
The 70 elders are then given the Holy Spirit and begin to speak prophetically as a confirmation that they had been set apart by the Lord. It is reported to Moses that two elders are prophesying in the camp and Joshua becomes jealous for Moses’s sake, demanding that they be stopped at once. This gift of prophecy showed that the elders had been elevated in their status, closer to Moses. Joshua was jealous that the Lord was working in their lives and felt Moses’s stature was diminished by comparison. The way Joshua looked at the situation was not from a godly perspective. Moses confirms this when he rebukes Joshua and states his desire for all God’s people to have the Holy Spirit. We too at times can become jealous at how God is blessing certain people and ministries. But rather than become jealous and selfish because the Lord is working through others, we should rejoice like Moses.
After this episode, the Lord made good on His promise to Moses and an awe-inspiring amount of Quails were given to be eaten. But the Torah records that the people who demanded meat were judged for their rebellion. With the first bite still in their mouths the Lord struck them dead with plague, passing judgment on their ingratitude. Those who chose to rebel against God for meat received the results of their choice. These rebels chose meat over God’s will and died in their sin. This serious passage reminds us that the wages of sin is truly death.
Moving to chapter 12, the parasha concludes with a third rebellion, this time by Miriam and Aaron. They spoke against Moses and felt they had equal authority before The Lord. While both Aaron and Miriam did have great standing, they were not the appointed leaders of our people. Moses occupied the position given him, not by merit, but by the choice of God. To question the authority of Moses and presume that they were of equal standing was really to rebel against Adonai who appointed him. The severity of their action is made clear when the Lord calls all three to the tent of meeting. The Lord affirms the faithfulness of Moses and even states that He talks to Moses directly, unlike other prophets of the Lord. Because of this, the Lord tells Miriam and Aaron they should never have spoken as they did. The Lord punishes Miriam with leprosy for a week, forcing her outside the camp as a punishment for her sin. With this rebellion we end the parasha until next week when we will see this generation turn its back on the Promised Land and be condemned to die in the wilderness.
It can be deceptively easy to pass judgment on those we read about in this week’s parasha, that while having so much from God they still desired more. But, if we are being honest with ourselves, we are no better, and fall short in exactly the same ways. The unifying theme across these rebellions is refusing to follow the way of the Lord. Adonai called that generation to follow His ways and it is the same call He has given us as well. Our people allowed themselves to get bogged down in their immediate circumstances, and to focus on everything negative. They indulged a root of bitterness, allowing these temporary problems to affect their view of God, and rebelled against Him, suffering disastrous results.
Our society also rebels against the Lord with an incorrect perspective. Our culture treats the idea of trusting in the Lord as absurd. Instead of looking to God, society tells us to focus entirely on ourselves. This message is bombarding people of all ages in a variety of ways, and on a daily basis. But while we will shake our fists with frustration at secular culture, Messiah’s Community is just as guilty as the rest.
We grumble over our circumstances just like those in the wilderness. We complain about not having enough, lusting and coveting more – just like those who demanded meat. We also can be envious of how the Lord is using others, like Joshua was of the elders. In God’s house we can easily become focused on our problems, and too many congregations have no problem showing the door to a pastor or rabbi who preaches the truth and won’t tickle their ears.
This raises an important question: How do we avoid Israel’s mistakes? I believe the answer can be found in Proverbs 9:10: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. The fear of the Lord is truly understanding who God is through His Word and that should cause us to be in awe of His glorious majesty. To base our lives on anything else is to drift down the same path as those who rebelled against Adonai, to become lost and despairing until we die.
In conclusion, instead of a rebellious heart we who are joined to Messiah Yeshua should be full of hope and joy. Let us pray to the Lord to guide us in His ways and to lead us in His truth. Let us sing in our hearts the same prayer of David we find in Psalm 86:11: Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name!