Light from the Sidra


Numbers 1:1 - 4:20

In the centre of the camp of Israel stood the tabernacle. In the inner circle - around the tabernacle of the congregation on the east side were stationed Moses, Aaron and the priests; on the north side were the 3,200 sons of Merari; on the west side were the 2,630 sons of Gershon; on the south side were the 2,750 sons of Kohath. In the outer circle the tribe of Judah camped on the east side; the tribe of Dan on the north; the tribe of Ephraim on the west, and the tribe of Reuben on the south side. To the three sons of Levi and their families was committed the service of the tabernacle, and to each of the divisions of the Levites clear instructions were given regarding the transportation of the tabernacle from place to place.

In the midst of this multitude of 603,550 souls God dwelt. They were his people. He communicated with them and guided them. His Presence, his Word, his commandments were most real. God, set apart his people to himself, separating them from other nations in order to train and sanctify them, “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy”.

After God had given to Israel his Torah, an inheritance and bestowed on them abundant blessings, wasn’t it reasonable to expect that all would go well and that this ideal situation of a people living in the shadow of the Almighty - a people fulfilling the commandments of God in their daily life - that Israel would be an example to the nations of the world. It was like the Garden of Eden again. Israel, dwelling with God, was being given the opportunity to succeed where Adam failed. But, like the first man, Israel also blew it.

In the Haftarah, Hosea 2, God vividly illustrates his word to Israel through the life of the prophet himself. Israel is likened to an unfaithful wife. Though Hosea’s wife cheated on him many times, the prophet still loved her and made every effort to win her heart again and make her a faithful bride. Likewise, God’s love for Israel is faithful, strong and true:

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt (Hosea 2:14,15).

This prophecy tells us three things:

There is meaning and in the history of Israel that it is not the outcome of blind chance or bitter mysterious fate. God is at work in the history of the people of Israel: “I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness.

There is a purpose and a goal to God’s action: “…and speak comfort to her".

God will bring Israel out of this “wilderness”: "…and I will give her her vineyards from there".

When did God bring Israel to the wilderness a second time? The language is obviously symbolic, and it is in that sense that we must understand the word “wilderness”. If we take the “wilderness” to mean the Assyrian or the Babylonian captivity, although after the Babylonian exile idolatry the people were cured of idolatry in its worst pagan forms, the nation again had full political independence and never obtained again the blessings God had promised them. The Persians, the Greeks, the Syrians and the Romans ruled over them. Finally, Israel went into the “wilderness” of the Diaspora for nearly 2000 years.

Here - as with many other “problem” passages in the Hebrew Scriptures - the New Testament Scriptures shed light. Without the New Testament, we cannot rightly understand the Hebrew prophets. If we want to know what the prophecy of Hosea really means we should listen to the words of Jesus as he approached Jerusalem for the last time:

Now as [Jesus] drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation' (Luke 19:41-44).

God visited his people in the person of Jesus the Messiah, his last messenger. But Israel did not understand, and went out to the bitter Diaspora of two thousand years. In Jesus, Israel as a nation departed from God and went into the wilderness. In Jesus, Israel will once again return to her divine husband God and be reconciled to God. The prophet Hosea confirmed this also:

Afterward [at the end of the Diaspora] the children of Israel shall return, and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days (Hosea 3:5).

“David their king” is none other than the Messiah. In God and in his Messiah, Israel shall be saved. Your personal salvation is in Jesus and in no other.

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