The plague was just stopped by the zealousness of Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, when he killed a prince of Israel who was with a Midianite woman (also of high birth) and blatantly showing disdain and rebellion against Moses’s command to not have any relations (especially physical ones) with the Midianites. God makes a covenant with Pinchas that throughout his generations his seed will serve in the Priesthood.
The Israelites are at the end of their wandering, and God has already demonstrated His support as they have defeated two kings and taken their lands. Now He has them take another census, and after 40 years of living in a desert, the difference in the size from when they came out of Egypt and now is less than 3/10 of 1%. Essentially, there are as many now before entering the Land as there were when they left Egypt. Some of the tribes are less but the nation, as a whole, is the same size.
The rules for inheritance are stipulated and God reminds the people about the regulations for sacrifices, Joshua is appointed as Moses’s replacement and Moses is allowed to view the land, although he is still not to cross over and enter it.
Isn’t it amazing that when the Jews were in Egypt as slaves, with plenty of food, water and shelter they were able, despite their slavery, to grow into a great nation, and then after 40 years in a desert, devoid of food, water and shelter, they were still able to maintain their great size? Well, maybe it is amazing to someone who is secular minded, but to me it is just what I would expect from God. He said that the generation which had rebelled would die in the desert, and they did, but still we read in this parashah that not only did God maintain the size of His people, but even the descendants of Korach have survived (26:11) to enter the land.
Now, as God prepares the people for what is to come, He reviews the laws for the daily sacrifice and the holy convocations, since these were first given to the prior generation (Leviticus) before they were to enter the land. They didn’t get in, though, and it has been 40 years, so God is reminding them what to do when they enter.
The lesson I see here is simple: God’s plans, whatever they are, will be accomplished. He is flexible enough to make it seem to us, with our limited ability to understand, that He changes His mind or doesn’t accomplish what He said, but what is really happening is that the ship is moving. We may have to take a round-a-bout way to avoid some reefs and rough waters that weren’t on the chart, but it is always going to the place it is sailing to.
God’s plan of salvation has been working itself out since before Adam was created. The Israelites in the desert got to see miracles daily, and these have been recorded for us because we are too “sophisticated” and too “scientifically wise” to see the miracles that are still happening today, every day. We think that just because we can explain how an event occurs that knowing how it happens makes it less of a miracle. I can describe how the digestive system works, but does that make it less of a miracle? Could anyone of us design that system? Could any one of us make a stomach? Can we create a physical being that can spontaneously create hydrochloric acid inside itself and not burn itself to death from the inside out?
God needed a nation to enter the land that was big enough and strong enough (and faithful enough) to be His weapon of judgement against the nations that had been defiling His land for centuries. The first group didn’t meet that criteria, so God got rid of them and had the second group, just as large but more faithful, do the job. When all was said and done, what God wanted was accomplished. Oh, yes, not all of the baddies were destroyed and, yes, the people screwed up royally and ended up being thrown out of the land, also. But has that stopped God’s plan? No, of course not: God is this very day actually completing His plan. We see the regathering of the people back to the land and the land becoming a fruitful garden, again. And we see the world starting to suffer the judgement that God promised would happen through the words of the Prophets and in Revelations.
This parashah shows us that whatever God plans to do gets done. Maybe not when it was first started, maybe not with the people that it was first intended to use, but it will be done, one way or another. That is something that the enemies of God should find totally frightening, and the children of God should find totally encouraging.
The generations we are reading about in today’s parashah got to see God up close; they saw Him on the mountain when they were children, they have been miraculously fed and watered by him in a desert for forty years, and now they see Him supporting them in their battles, allowing them to defeat bigger and stronger nations, easily. They saw His plan to free them from slavery and lead them into the land evolve and succeed. We, today, are also seeing His plan evolve and succeed. We have seen the Messiah overcome sin, we have seen the gathering of the people back to the land happening for the past 60 years, and we are seeing the earth being judged and in turmoil, weather-wise, politically and spiritually. The enemy is on the move, this is his time and we are seeing it happen. We need to steel ourselves against what is to come because it will come! Don’t listen to the prophets that advised Ahab, or the ones that told Zedekiah everything is fine. We are coming into the End Days, and it won’t be pretty.
Take hope, no matter how bad it gets, in the knowledge and the proven, historical evidence that God’s plan WILL be done, and the promises He made and the ones He will make are all absolutely trustworthy.
And also remember that you are responsible to do your part- God will keep His word to you, but you need to hold up your end of the bargain.