Light from the Sidra

Beha'alotcha ('When you set up')

Torah: Numbers 8:1-12:16. Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 (10)-4:7

Be careful what you wish for

Eminem has a song called ‘Be Careful What You Wish For,’ in which he reflects on the consequences of fame and fortune:

So be careful what you wish for
‘Cause you just might get it
And if you get it then you just might not know
What to do wit’ it, ‘cause it might just
Come back on you ten-fold.

In Numbers 11, the people of Israel wished for meat. They got it, and it came back on them ten-fold.

A year after being set free from Egypt, the people kept Pesach, which served as a reminder of God’s goodness and power. They then began to complain because they were weary of eating manna each day. They longed for the days in Egypt when they had onions, leeks, cucumbers and garlic; all of it tasty stuff but none of it filling.

According to the commandment in Deuteronomy 24:5, newly married men were to spend the first year of marriage with their wives before they went to war. God took Israel as his bride and stayed with his people for a year at Sinai. When the cloud of his presence rose to move on, the people cried, ‘Rise up, O LORD, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee’ (Num 10:25, JPS Translation). Israel’s divine husband was going to war on behalf of his people.

In spite of the evidences of the power and faithfulness of God, the people were dissatisfied; and dissatisfaction with God and his provision shows a lack of faith and trust. Israel should have been content with the daily supernatural provision of manna. They were soon to arrive in a land flowing with milk and honey where they could eat whatever they wanted; but they wanted meat. The people wished for meat and it came back on them ten-fold.

I don’t know how I would have acted if I had been among the Israelites. I hope I would have been content with the manna but understanding why people grumble against God is not to approve the murmuring. We are all guilty of unbelief in one way or another.

Over the centuries, Jewish people have (quite rightly) wished for the promised Messiah but time and again they have backed the wrong horse; each time with disastrous results. Shimon Bar-Kokhba, the imperious military dictator who led the Jewish revolt against Rome between 132 and 135 C.E was hailed as Messiah by no less a figure than Rabbi Akiva. Bar-Kokhba relied on his own powers and, according to Jewish sources, when he went into battle he asked God to ‘neither assist nor discourage us.’ His supremely self-confident war against Rome ended in tears.

In the seventeenth century many Jewish people, including leading rabbis and prominent community leaders were caught up in the messianic fervour that surrounded the messianic pretender Shabbetai Zvi who, when threatened with death, converted to Islam.  

In almost every century since the time of the second temple there have been false messiahs, and their effect on the Jewish community has been devastating. Messianic ‘Rabbi’ Glen Harris points out that the discovery that these men were not who they claimed to be resulted in widespread disappointment and division. People were left in despair, having invested their hopes, their energies, and in some cases, their worldly possessions, in these men.

‘Another effect of false messiahs,’ says Harris, ‘was that it left the largely Roman Catholic leaders of Europe, as well as the Islamic leaders of the Middle East, feeling smug and disdainful toward the Jewish people. As a result, anti-Jewish legislation became more common and severe through much of the world. Perhaps saddest of all is that many Jewish leaders over the years have all but abandoned hope in the Biblical promise of the Messiah, preferring not to risk further division and decimation in the Jewish community should another false messiah arise.’

Glen Harris makes the observation that these would-be messiahs and the movements they started had certain things in common:

These were ambitious individuals who were accountable to no one.

Rather than allowing the Scriptures to be their guide, people allowed circumstances to dictate their expectations.

Lack of knowledge of the Scriptures, especially those prophecies concerning the Messiah, coupled with looking to extra-biblical sources for authority, (for example, the Zohar), allowed people to be more readily deceived.

The emphasis on personal, subjective, emotional experiences, as over the unchanging word of God.

Esoteric ‘knowledge’ allegedly available only to an elite group, served as an enticement to join the movements. Furthermore, considerable pressure was put on people to either ‘get with the program’ or else risk missing out on God, and be labelled as ‘unspiritual.’

The fixing of dates for Messiah's coming was characteristic of some of these movements, as was the belief that our efforts can hasten His coming.

Most significantly, these (and other) false messiahs were able to draw and deceive people who had already rejected Jesus as the Messiah. When we shun the truth, we become vulnerable to a lie.

Jewish people have lost their lives and livelihoods following pseudo-messiahs. Before you wish for the Messiah, the true manna from heaven, be sure you know what you are wishing for or those wishes will come back on you ten-fold.

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