We are now beginning the 40th year of the Israelites journey through the desert.
God gives Moses the regulations regarding the cleansing of people who touch a carcass or in other way becomes unclean, and that is by a special water made from the ashes of a red heifer.
It is a remarkable thing, in that everyone associated with creating the Water of Purification becomes unclean by doing so, yet that water is what cleanses you.
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As they enter the wilderness of Zin, Miriam dies and the people immediately complain that they have no water, accusing Moses and Aaron, again, that Moses brought them into the desert to die.
God tells Moses to take Aaron’s rod and strike a rock to bring forth water, which he does, but he does so in such anger that it doesn’t bring any credit to God, and for that one mistake, God tells Moses that he will not enter the land.
They travel to the land of Edom, but are refused passage, and end up at Mount Hor, where Aaron dies. With the death of Aaron, Eleazar is appointed the new Cohen HaGadol. Aaron is mourned by the people for 30 days.
The king of Arad attacks the people and takes prisoners, so the people tell God that if he gives them victory, they will utterly destroy Arad, which he does, and which they do. They rename the place Hormah, which means utter defeat- the same Hormah that they were pushed back to when they were utterly defeated the first time they tried to enter Canaan, some 38 years earlier (Numbers 14:39-45).
The people again start to complain, and God sends poisonous snakes to attack and kill the people. They repent and ask Moses for help. God tells Moses to erect a snake, which Moses makes from brass, so when someone is bitten, if they simply look at the brass snake on the pole, they will not die.
This parashah ends with the battles against the two kings of Moab, Og and Sichon, ending with their utter destruction and the Israelites living in their land.
Oy! There is just SO much in this parashah, I could talk about it over half a dozen sermons. But don’t worry- I am going to hit on a couple of things that I feel are important, but not in great detail.
One quickie: you may be thinking that Mitzvot is the Hebrew word for “laws”, and you would be right. Chukat are those types of laws which we cannot understand why God gave them that way.
Maybe you will take the time to mull these things over in your mind later?
Let’s start with the red heifer- everything that is done to create the Water of Purification from the ashes of the heifer makes everyone involved unclean, yet the water they make is what cleanses you! What’s with that, right?
It’s like making mud pies, which make you filthy, then using those same mud pies to clean yourself up. It’s meshuggah!!
The lesson here is simple: we can’t understand why God does what he does, but as a holy people, who worship and follow a holy God, it is not our place to understand: it is our place to obey. Period.
To paraphrase an old saying:
Ours is not to reason why, our is but to do and live.
OK, next on my list is Miriam’s death and the need for water. In Jewish tradition, Miriam is called the “Well”, and as long as she was alive, there was water for the people. That’s why we read about the people having no water after her death, which brings me to the next thing I want to talk about…
How unfair is it that Moses did everything he was told to do, with humility, honor, and grace, obeying God to the letter, but here he makes one mistake, loses his temper, and for that the past 40 years of total obedience is out the window!
For 40 years he dealt with this group of kvetching, annoying, childish, and stiff-necked people, and never messed up. In fact, any number of times he risked his life to keep them alive, begging God to kill him if God was going to destroy the people, saving millions of lives.
But here, he makes one mistake. After 40 years of handling these annoying people, he loses it once and his most heartfelt desire, to enter the Promised Land, is taken away.
Why would God, who had constantly shown his compassionate understanding and forgiveness, punish his most trusted servant, a man who God spoke to as a friend (Exodus 33:11), so harshly?
I don’t know. Maybe it was because God really wanted Joshua to take over in the Land? Maybe it was because God was having a bad day? Who knows?
This brings us back to the previous lesson: we haven’t ever, can’t now, and never will understand why God does what he does.
Finally, a quick lesson on the snake.
In John 3:14, Yeshua says he will be lifted up, like the snake in the desert, and this is taken to be a prophetic statement to indicate the type of death he will have.
I have no problem with that, but I believe this is a dual prophecy, with an immediate future meaning and another meaning which won’t be realized until the distant future.
At that time, yes- Yeshua was to be crucified, lifted up where all could see him. And like the people who were bitten by snakes but when they looked to the brass snake, they lived, likewise, by looking to Yeshua (i.e., believing in him), spiritually speaking, we will not die from the second death.
Additionally, I see a future meaning of this reference to the snake, which we read about much later in 2 Kings 18:4.
You see, the snake was never destroyed but many years later, under King Hezekiah, the people called the snake Nehushtan (in Hebrew, the word “Nachash” (נחש) means “snake”) and worshipped it as a god.
In modern Christianity, many people believe Yeshua is God and pray to him, directly. This is, to me, exactly what happened with the snake: what was created to be a symbol of the salvation God provides, became an idol of worship and replaced God.
Well, these are the messages I see for us in today’s parashah reading. I pray that they make some sense to you, and if not, that you will look them up in the Bible, and ask God to give you understanding.
Don’t ever just take my word, or anyone else’s word, at face value.
If you don’t seek the truth for yourself from the Word of God, asking God for guidance, then whatever you do or don’t do, come Judgement Day your decisions will be totally, and solely, on you.
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!