Where do I even start? The Red Heifer rules? The death of Miriam? The death of Aaron? The defeat of Sihon and Og? What about the incident at Meribah, which made God so angry with Moses and Aaron that He refused to let them enter the Land? And the snakes, which caused Moses to make the brass snake that we hear about later in 2 King, 18:4 (I speak of that in my book.)
The Chumash speaks of the Red Heifer regulations as the most mysterious in the Torah; in all scripture, for that matter. That which defiles everyone involved in the making of it also purifies all those who partake of it. The lesson the Rabbis give us is simply that there are many things that we can not understand, and it is not our understanding that is required by God, but our faithful obedience.
This can also be seen in the sin of Moses at the rock at Meribah. There are a few different commentaries, but (essentially) the way Moses acted showed faithlessness in front of the people, and for that God was not given all the honor He expected Moses to give Him. In Judaism it is believed that the greater the man, the stricter the standards by which he is judged. This is repeated, in a way, in James 3:1-2 where it says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The total and complete obedience of Gods commands are what God expects and demands from us. Moses did not just speak to the rock to show God’s miraculous intervention, he struck it (twice!) with the staff that God told him to take with him. That staff represented the miracle that God caused (Parashah Korach) and I believe that God wanted Moses to take it, not to strike the rock, but to have it there to remind the people of God’s choice of Moses and Aaron as His representatives and their leaders. Moses used the staff in a totally wrong way, which brought no honor to God at all.
In Chapter 21, verses 4 – 9 (inclusive) we are told of another time the people grumble against Moses. This is at the end of their journey- Miriam and Aaron have died- yet after all these years of God’s miraculous intervention and provision, they still kvetch about everything! Oy! No wonder God was so angry that he sent snakes to kill the people. Yet, when they repented, He told Moses to make a brass serpent and place it high on a pole, high enough that all the people, no matter where they were in the camp, could see it. And when they were bitten, they only need look to the snake and they would not die.
Yeshua said, in John 3:14, that He would be lifted up like the snake in the desert. I see a double-prophecy in this statement, one prophecy to be fulfilled currently and the other aspect to be a far-future event. The current meaning was that Yeshua was going to be placed up on a pole, i.e., He was to be crucified. The future meaning of this prophecy would be that Yeshua (Jesus) would be worshipped instead of God, as the snake (called Nehushtan) was in 2 Kings during the time of King Hezekiah. When Moses placed the snake on the pole, it was to represent the salvation of God- the people still suffered for their sin (they were still being bitten by snakes, and that doesn’t feel very good) but instead of dying they could look to the representation of God’s salvation, the brass snake, and the consequence of their sin (death) was avoided. Today, and for many years, the image of Yeshua, a graven image on a pole (cross) that is displayed in some churches, is worshipped in lieu of God. Just as the representation of Gods salvation was turned into an idol during the time of Hezekiah, today the “church” has turned Yeshua into an idol- an image and a person to be prayed to directly for salvation and to answer prayers. Yeshua told us to pray in His name; He was telling us to pray to God and to invoke His name. It’s somewhat like when someone wanted to enter a Speakeasy during Prohibition days, when they were stopped at the door they would say, “Joe sent me”, or some other code, that gave them recognition and entry. When we pray to God, praying in the name of Yeshua is a means to gain entry, to have our prayers recognized and seen as righteous: not because of who we are, but by the righteousness of Him who we are referring to when we come before the Lord. The snake stopped being a representation of God’s salvation and replaced God as an idol, in and of itself. An idol is anything that we worship instead of God. So, too, today the image and the very personage of Yeshua has become an idol, something that is prayed to instead of God. Just as He said He would be.
God, and God alone, is who we worship, who we pray to, and who we obey. God, and no other. Yeshua is our Messiah and, as such, he sits at the right hand of God. At the right hand of God, NOT on the throne of God! So we should pray to God, and ask what we ask in the name of Yeshua; as intercessor to God, not as His replacement.
From all there is in this parashah, let’s remember this: God is the only God, God is supreme, and whatever God tells us to do, whether we understand why or not, we should do. That means E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G God tells us to do, as much as it is possible for us to obey.
And if you want to know everything that God tells YOU to do, read the Torah. Read the Mitzvot (commandments), read the Chukkot (regulations/statutes) and read the Mishpatim (rules). All of the laws, rules, statutes, commandments, and regulations in there are expected to be obeyed by anyone and everyone who worships El Elyon, Adonai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the father of Jesus.
There is just so much in this parashah, but if I were to put it in a nutshell, so to speak, I would say that the lesson here for us is to recognize that God isn’t concerned with how well we understand His laws and regulations, just that we show Him our love and worship through obedience.
Yeshua said that if we love Him we will obey Him: like Father, like Son.