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These parashot (the Hebrew plural for parashah) cover a number of different issues. We start with the making of vows by women, and how those vows are either allowed to stand or are nullified by the dominant male in the family, be that the father of a single woman or girl living under his roof or a husband.
Moshe is commanded to have Israel attack Midian before he dies, and 12,000 Israelites attack and kill thousands upon thousands of Midianite men, the 5 kings, and Balaam. Afterward, it is found that not one Israelite died in the battle from which hundreds of thousands of animals and people were captured. The booty was then shared among all the people, with a tithing made to the Levites and to God.
The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh ask Moses if they can remain on the east side of the Jordan River because the land is perfect for cattle, and they are cattlemen. Moses is at first upset that they refuse to enter the land, but after they agree to help the other tribes settle the land before they settle down on the east side, Moses acquiesces and allows them to stay in that land.
The second parashah contains God’s commands for the distribution of the land among the 12 tribes. The leaders of each tribe, the boundaries for each tribe, the commandment to give land to the Levites and the rules regarding the Cities of Refuge are specified here.
Finally, the daughters of Zelophehad are brought before Moses with the concern that if they marry outside their tribe the tribal property they inherit will be forfeited. It is commanded that they marry inside their tribe and that no tribe should marry outside so that the lands inherited by a tribe remain always with that tribe.
As I was reading through these Torah portions one word kept coming to mind: accountability.
The father and the husband are responsible to either let the woman’s vow stand or be nullified. Their responsibility is not without accountability: if they do not nullify the vow the moment they hear it, but decide later to nullify it, then the sin of breaking a vow is on their head, not the one who made it. They are responsible to allow or deny the vow, and with that responsibility comes accountability for failing to act correctly.
When the Israelites returned from the war against Midian, they had captured women that were not virgins. Moses was very upset that these women who led the people into sin at Pe’or were not killed. But he was upset with the leaders, the captains of hundreds and thousands, and not with the soldiers. It was the leadership which was held accountable for the actions of those whom they were responsible for.
When Gad, Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh asked to stay on the east side of the Jordan River, Moses held them accountable to ensure that the other tribes received their inheritance first.
Finally, when the land was divided among the 12 Tribes, each tribe was accountable to provide a portion of their land to the Levites, some of which would be assigned as a City of Refuge.
We are given many wonderful things by God: physically, financially and (most important) spiritually. And for all that we receive, we are also held accountable to use it properly and in accordance with God’s commandments. Too many churches have preached a “Once Saved, Always Saved” program of salvation, which creates a lack of accountability. If I can ask forgiveness one time, then never have to ask forgiveness again because once I am saved I will automatically be saved, then how can I feel accountable for the sins I commit later? And if I don’t have accountability, then how can I feel repentance? What I am saying is this: if I am automatically forgiven for any sin I commit for the rest of my life, then I stop asking for forgiveness. That leads to my not feeling concerned or upset when I sin, and that has to prevent me from feeling repentance in my heart. Does anyone who is reading this really believe that an unrepentant sinner will be allowed into God’s presence?
Of course not! We are saved when we ask for forgiveness in Yeshua’s name, but we are not automatically forgiven every sin we commit from that point on. When we are forgiven our sins (which are the ones we have collected to that point), they are what is “nailed to the Cross” that Shaul refers to in Colossians 2:13-14:
When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Messiah. He forgave us all our trespasses, having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the execution stake!
This passage is very often misunderstood to mean that the requirement to obey Torah was done away with when Yeshua was crucified. That is a lie from the very pit of Sheol. God wants us to act in a godly way- how many times throughout the Tanakh does God tell us that we should “Be thou holy as I am holy?” If we do not act in a holy way, how can we be holy? And if we do not have rules, ordinances, and mitzvot (laws) to follow, then how can we know what is holy and what is not? That is why Shaul tells us (in Romans, Chapter 7) that the Torah created sin: the Torah tells us what is right and what is wrong.
Salvation is the gift of God which we can now only receive through the sacrificial death of Yeshua the Messiah. When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, because the Torah commanded the sin sacrifice must be done at that temple, we had no path to salvation. Yeshua replaced the step in the sacrificial system that required bringing a sacrifice to the Temple, and that is why through him we can receive forgiveness.
BUT– that doesn’t mean we aren’t still held accountable for what we say and do every day for the rest of our life. We must still be holy as God is holy, and the only way to do that is to obey the Torah. God gave the Torah to the Jews to bring to the world because it is the ultimate User Manual for attaining holiness.
As you life your life, remember that we are always held accountable: our bosses hold us accountable to produce our work as they want it to be done; our spouses hold us accountable to our vows to love, cherish, honor and remain loyal to each other; and God holds us accountable to obey his commandments and repent of our sins every single time we sin. Salvation saves us from the eternal consequences of our sins, but it doesn’t relieve us of accountability for what we do and say.
With these last two parashot we come to the end of the Book of Numbers, and at the end of each book of the Torah tradition says we repeat the following:
Hazak! Hazak! v’nit’chazek!
(Be strong! Be strong! And let us be strengthened!)