Massei Journeyings Numbers 33:1-36
The Review of the Journeyings This Parshas is called “Masei” which means “journeys.” This is of course associated with the segments of their journey out of Egypt to the Land of Israel and is a review of the stops they made along the way. During the forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, the itinerary of the people from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael consisted of forty-two encampments. While most of them were on the journey forward, strangely enough, some were in the opposite direction, back to Egypt. When the Jewish people submitted to Yahweh’s will, they moved forward, coming closer to their destination. At times, however, they rebelled and wanted to return to Egypt and they went backward in their journey
The Wilderness Experience Although Yahweh took them on a long journey and there were many stopping places, there were still periods of rest and blessing in spite of their rebellion and through it all He extended His mercy to them. The first fourteen of their encampments were before spying out the land at Rithmah as it is called here (verse 18) and the last eight encampments were in the last year after Aaron’s death. (vs. 41-49). Thus during the intervening thirty eight years there were only twenty encampments.
They were in Kadesh for 19 years. The rest of the time, the 19 years, they camped in 19 places, which average at one journey per year. Each of these encampments has a Hebrew name associated with it. It is worthwhile to study the meanings of these names to gain insights as to the trials and obstacles Israel faced on her way to the Promised Land, how she faced those trials, whether she trusted in Yahweh or complained, and whether she trusted in Yahweh’s provision or in her own.
Trials and testings are in store for those who follow the cloud of Yahweh. There will be no physical rest and security, no comfort zones in the mundane, but only in Yahweh’s leading and faithfulness to meet our needs wherever He may lead us. A stationary existence is the fate of those following the dictates of religious institutions which define the kingdoms of men. On the other hand, for those who are following His Presence (His leading via the glory cloud) there is a constant pursuit of Him, constant growth, constant onward and upward movement. Our faith needs to be grounded, not in men, institutions, creeds, rituals and doctrines but in the Creator of the Universe. Once in the Promised Land (in the new earth) the wanderings will cease. Fix your eyes and keep them on the goal of the Promised land!
The 42 segments of the Hebrew’s journey had both “good” and “bad” moments, which were all part of their spiritual growth. Even during the periods of trials and judgements Yahweh extended mercy to them. Trials which can appear to be “bad” events in our journey can have a positive result if we align ourselves with Yahweh’s purpose of purifying us and conforming us to His image -- “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 - Read verse 29)
Sometimes we may “fail” at certain junctures of our spiritual journey. This is where teshuvah (“repentance”) comes into play. Through repentance (teshuvah) an area of our life can become sanctified and we can rise to even greater spiritual heights than if we had not gone through this experience. Keeping His commandments, brings life to us and blessing. John 14:23-24
At Sinai they received the Torah which was given for this very reason to be a mirror we can all look into, which will expose sin as breaking His commandments. James said, “But he who looks into the perfect Torah of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” (James Ya’acov 1:25)
Our Personal Exodus If we think in personal terms, these 42 stages can be said to mirror our own lives as we journey from our own personal “exodus from Egypt” toward our destination, which would be the spiritual counterpart of the Land of Israel. The physical, mental and emotional trials that we pass through in life arise out of conflicts between the desires of the flesh and of the mind which are in conflict with His Word, the Torah. Our journey takes us from bondage and slavery to these desires centred in the things of this world, through the wilderness where we reap the resulting judgement upon our carnal nature until we learn to die to our self nature, submit to Him and trust His Word to bring us into the “promised land” with all its blessings.
As the people progressed along the 42 legs of their journey, things did not necessarily get any “easier” for them. As they went forward, there were less and less “overt miracles” and more effort was required on their part. Note that the Torah tells us (in the “Shema” – Deuteronomy 6:5), “And you shall love Yahweh your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources.” The Shema can also be seen as “going from easiest to hardest.” First we love God emotionally, which can come with little effort. Then we seek Him out in study and prayer, which takes some labor on our part. Finally we “put it on the line” by showing our love for Him is more important that material possessions and other things in this life and He becomes our all in all.
The Apportionment of the Land Upon nearing the Land of Israel, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, plus a portion of Mannasah, indicated a desire to settle apart from the other tribes, outside the Land of Israel proper. In writing down the borders of the land, the boundary is drawn along the Jordan river, even though the two and a half tribes obtained permission to dwell on the other side of the Jordan, the boundary was not extended to include them. Later, when Israel went into exile, these same tribes were the first to be taken into captivity (I Chronicles 5:26). We are an easy target for the enemy when we are outside the boundaries of what He has set for us, even though it may be ‘permitted’. There is no protection afforded outside the defined boundaries and outside the place where His Presence dwells.
“ And you shall take of each tribe one prince to apportion the land” -- i.e. one prince from each tribe (Targum Johnathan 34: 17) “These are names of the men who will take possession of the land for you,” (lachem):The word “lachem” here means, on your behalf. Each and every prince was a trustee for his tribe, and would divide the portion of his tribe to families and to individual men, and would select for each and every one an appropriate portion. The princes made the allotments as if the members of their tribes had made them their representatives -- i.e. “they will apportion to you,” meaning that they would take possession “for you”, that is, on your behalf, and in your place. The word “lachem” is used here as in, “Yahweh will do battle on your behalf.” (34: 18)
The boundaries outlined by Moshe here take in the mountains of Lebanon, Damascus and Bashan, which is the present-day Golan Heights on the northern side. The sea of Galilee is included in this and a little below it along the Yarmuk river which comes into the Jordan on the south-east side of the sea of Galilee. The eastern boundary is the area east of the Jordan as far south as the Jabbok river near Jericho. The southern border runs from the Dead Sea up to the ascent of Akrabbim, through the wilderness of Zin and south of Kadesh-Barnea. The western boundary is the Mediterranean Sea. The land was decreed to them by Yahweh in His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but did not come to fulfillment until those nations were deserving of judgement and were no longer entitled to the land because of their sins. Yahweh is just even in dealing with the sinful. See Genesis 15:16
In Ezekiel 5:5 and 38:12, it says in the Hebrew that Yerushalayim is the navel of the earth, i.e. the center of the earth from which He will rule - “Yahweh will roar from Tziyon, and utter his voice from Yerushalayim” (Amos 1: 2).
Israel has never fully occupied the whole geographical area they were given. Yahweh warned them that if they didn’t do as He said and drive the inhabitants out of the land, then they would be a pain and a snare and would continually harass them. “But if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, it will be that the residue whom you have spared looking at you with an evil eye will surround you as shields (terisin) on your sides, and afflict you in the land wherein you dwell; and it shall be that as I had thought to do to them I will do to you. “ (Targum Johnathan) Their failure to do this caused them to reap the consequences and become corrupted and come under Yahweh’s judgement. Light and darkness cannot dwell together. 2 Corinthians 14-18
Entering the Land “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan to the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you, and you shall destroy all their temples, all their molten images shall you destroy, and all their high places shall you demolish” Numbers/Bamidbar: 33: 51-52 Moshe is told to enter the land of Canaan and drive out the people already living there so they don’t corrupt & influence the people of Israel to whom He has given the land.
Then they must destroy their ‘temples’ as the Targum Onkelos renders it, “their houses of bowing,” because they would cover the ground with a floor of marble stones, so as to prostrate themselves upon them with outstretched arms and legs, to their images. The term above for images is ‘maskit’; a cast-metal-idol - Thus, the term is maseikhah — molten (cast) image, derived from (nasakh), meaning “to pour,” including pouring of metal into a cast of an image. It therefore refer to masks or moulds cast as representations of images. It could appear that these images were cast into the flooring of their ‘temples’.
In a pagan society we are influenced in our daily lives by the world around us. Whether work, TV, radio, friends, family or neighbors, or even the culture we live in and the government, influence our everyday lives. The mould of idolatry is wrought into the fabric of life in an secular nation. The sanctity of the nation of Israel could only be preserved by cleansing it of all corrupting influences. Rashi comments on 33: 55 - Those of them whom you leave shall be... “ a cause of harm for you - As pins which pierce your eyes”; and ‘as thorn-hedges’ - “an enclosure of thorns, which covers you, to close off and confine you, without any who can go out or come in.” Obviously sources of grief and pain which cause obstacles and restrictions to godly living.
Levitical Cities The Levitical cities were given to the priests. but remained the property of the tribe in which they were placed. Their apportionment did not make them self-sufficient, they were still dependant upon the generosity of the tribes amongst which they lived to meet their needs and they in turn served the communities in which they lived by instructing them and meeting their spiritual needs. By living together in one locality they were able to strengthen one another and keep their spiritual traditions intact, and yet be a sanctifying influence in the area of Israel in which they were placed. Rabbinic tradition says that the Levitical cities ceased to exist after the fall of the Second Temple in 70 AD.
The Cities of Refuge The punishment of exile was meted out to one who is guilty of inadvertent manslaughter. The Torah requires that such an individual flee to a city of refuge and remain there during the lifetime of the High Priest. The murderer is safe from the victim’s avenger only if he remains in the city of refuge. All who had sinned (murdered someone) unintentionally could flee there and find a safe haven until the wheels of justice could properly turn and the court mete out justice (35:9) . The gates of these cities of refuge were perpetually open and never were closed to anyone for any reason. All who were in trouble and distressed could find rest there.
But if a person murders another person intentionally, or with malicious intent, they are a murderer and are to be executed by the victims nearest relative. The judges and elders were to receive no ‘ransom’ (kophar; related verbal noun to kipur - atone) for the one who committed such a deed - either to save his life or to allow him to return home. (35.31)
Unavenged blood defiles the land (35:33-34). How much more so the blood of innocent, murdered pre-born babies? If the land cannot be cleansed by the blood of him who shed innocent blood then, how is the land redeemed now? The defilement of the land brings a curse and subsequent judgement. Modern methods of imprisonment do not cleanse the land from the defilement of blood-guilt. Although having an appearance of mercy upon the offender, they do not execute just judgement and retribution.
The Provision for the Manslayer and the Judgement of the Murderer The laws for determining murder from unintentional manslaughter.
- The slayer’s intention determines whether he is guilty
- No ransom is to be accepted for his guilt
- The verdict is determined by a legal court and not by the avenger
- The murderer is executed by the nearest of kin to the deceased, after a legal trial (the Sanhedrin)
But for the involuntary manslayer, he is confined to the city of refuge until the High Priest dies. Fleeing to a city of refuge was not an escape from justice. It was a place of refuge from the “blood avenger” which in the culture of the time had the legal right to “redeem” the life of his next of kin and avenge the death of his relative. The manslayer was to await trial in the city of refuge and not escape the law. The situation of an “unintentional” killing has to be judged by cross-examination and witnesses to determine the motive, both for the good of the accused and for the justice of the avenger.
Re death of High Priest and murderer The Targum Johnathan holds the High Priest responsible for manslaughter occurring in the land due to either his prayers not being effectual on Yom Kippur, or his negligence to cover it in prayer. Milgrom says that, “As the high priest atones for Israel’s sins through the cultic service in his lifetime, so he atones for homicide through his death. Since the blood of the slain, although spilled accidentally, cannot be avenged through the death of the slayer, it is ransomed through the death of the high priest.” (JPS op. cit. p.294)
The life of the High Priest was one of offering his life sacrificially to atone for the sin of the people and so also in his death his life was an atonement for the life of the one slain. In this he was a type of our Great High Priest, Yeshua the Messiah. With the death of the High Priest, atonement was made for the life of the slain and the man-slayer was absolved of guilt.
“Whosoever kills a man, according to the word of witnesses fit to give testimony against him, the avenger of blood, or the house of judgment (Beit Din), shall put him to death. “ (Targum Johnathan) The Beit Din was the Body of elders that presided over matters of judgement. It was to this that Yeshua referred in Matthew 18:17 in regard to members of the congregation who refused the counsel of witnesses regarding their sin.
Moshe’s Legacy to Israel But now as Moshe is writing his final words, he is drawing to a finality the revelation of the Law/Torah to men in written form. This is the instruction manual in order to learn how to approach Yahweh in all of His holiness and to be able to live in an acceptable manner to Him. In written form it was a set of instructions to follow which required the right heart attitude to fulfil it in the right spirit, so that it would not be just an outward form of acting the right way.
Because the written Word can become just the “letter of the law” and in itself cannot impart life, Yahweh gave the promise of another covenant where this ‘law’ would be written in the hearts of men so that it would come forth from the heart as a living reality, from their own motivation and within their own personality (2 Corinthians 3: 6; Romans 7: 6). For that reason Yeshua came and lived the Torah, He was the expression - the manifestation of all that the Father is, the complete and perfect expression of the standard of His nature in human form. He fulfilled the law/torah by supplying the living reality to the written form. He is the Living Word and His Spirit is imparted to those who by faith come to Him to live the Torah by His empowerment.
Yeshua was a second “Adam”, initiating a second breed of “man” and all those who receive His life come into this new order of mankind. Of course we know that no person who has descended from Adam with his fallen nature can ever fulfill the Law perfectly, but that does not mean that the Law should be done away with. Yahweh has instituted spiritual laws in His Creation that are very much like the natural laws that keep the Creation from devolving into chaos, simple principles like gravitational forces, basic mathematics, laws of entropy and other physical laws reinforce the notion that there is a Creator who through omniscient wisdom and omnipotent power put order in the universe. In a like manner, the principle of reaping what one sows demonstrates most vividly the need for mankind to follow Yahweh’s instruction manual for living (Torah - the scriptures) the life we have been given on this earth, through the empowering of His Spirit.
“Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God,Yahweh is one! You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind themas a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Devarim/Deuteronomy6:4-9).
We need to be like the examples we have in Moshe, Caleb, Paul and John who spent their entire lives pressing forward for the mark of the high calling in the living Messiah of Israel. Those who are not totally committed to their walk with the Messiah are going to be shortchanged when it comes to their reception with Yeshua at the end of the age. There are really only two greetings that will be received by those who are seeking to serve the Living Savior. The first is the one that all who know Him want to hear. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew25:21).
However, we do know that a number of people who are involved in religious activity will have another word spoken to them that is one that you would not ever want to hear coming from the Holy One of Israel. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,'will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven. Many will say to Me on that day,'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who are working lawlessness'” (Matthew7:21-23). Lawlessness is not being subject to His Law - the Torah.
These are sobering words that come from the mouth of the Messiah Himself. He also said. “Whoever then shall break one of these commandments,the least, and shall teach others to do so, he shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew5:19).
We each have a choice everyday of our lives. Are we going to be like Caleb and press on to the mark and not let the giants of our world intimidate us? Are we going to allow people we know to move us away from doing what the Scriptures tell us to do? Or will we receive that “well done, good and faithful servant”.