We finish the book of Vayiqra (Leviticus) and enter into a new book of the Torah. And as we turn the page we must also recognize a shift in purpose. We were led out of Egypt in the book of Sh’mot (Exodus). God redeemed and purchased a people for Himself, led us out of our old lives of slavery to Pharaoh, and brought us to the place where He would reveal His will for us. He betroths Himself to us at Mt Sinai and delivers His proposal and vows to His bride, making clear His intentions and His expectations in the new covenant relationship. He begins to introduce us to His ways, His standards, His life, His family rules, what relationship with the King and the King’s subjects looks like to Him.
He sets up a place to dwell among us and in the book of Vayiqra we continue to hear His Word. He gives instruction for worship. He gives instruction for the community, the individual, daily life. He speaks, we listen. He trains, we change. We become overwhelmed by the vast difference of His wisdom in comparison to the wisdom of Egypt, the wisdom of our past lives. We realize that when He says, “Ani Yehovah” (I am the LORD), it means that we are slaves and subjects of a new Master. In the process of our salvation from death, we have come under the ownership of the Giver of Life. We are not our own but now belong to the one who loves us, our Creator. And as we sit in the awe-inspiring scene at Mt Sinai the Holy Spirit of God cleanses our minds by the washing with water through His Word, challenging, overturning, and erasing the philosophies, ideologies, logic and immoral compass of the old world we had been brought up in. His Words are truth and become the meter by which all of life’s circumstances must be measured. Our bodies have been set free and our minds have been washed. We have received God’s salvation and have now heard His instruction. What’s the next step? Put it into practice. This is the theme of the book of Bemidbar (Numbers): life in the wilderness.
So why is it called the book of “Numbers”? Already in Exodus 38 the people have been counted. Is there a need to count them a month later? Has there been any major change? Does the God of the Universe not know how many are in Israel? In each tribe? It has been suggested that the purpose of the census was not simply to provide a headcount of the nation, because the text doesn’t say “they registered”, but rather “they bore themselves”, and this “by their clans, by their father’s houses, by number of names”. It is as if each man stepped forward declaring who he was, and who the Almighty had made Him and predestined him to be. He is a son of this father, of this clan, of this tribe of this people of Israel whom Yehovah has redeemed from Egypt according to the promise of His Word given to Avraham, to Yitzchaq and to Ya’aqov. He is no longer a nameless slave of Egypt. He is no longer forced to serve in the old world’s system or in bondage to its ruler. He has been bought, freed of slavery, washed clean, and trained in righteousness. He is a man of God, a new creation, “the old has passed away, behold, the new has been born”!
Which of us can relate? Who knows firsthand what I’m describing? Who else has experienced that moment of newness in the Lord? The Torah illustrates a process that each follower walks through. The story of the children of Israel in Egypt and following is the outline of the story of our own spiritual journeys. We were all slaves to a foreign ruler, suffering daily in our souls under his heavy hand of bondage. We were lost, hopeless, helpless, and dying. We cried out to the God of heaven and He heard our cries. He sent a Redeemer to lead us out, and lead us out He surely did. The enemy was confronted, judged and conquered. By the covering of the Lamb’s blood over us, we were purchased from the defeated one and led away, turning our backs to the lives that once plagued us.
We embarked on a new journey, each morning waking to something fresh, seeing the world a different way… thoughts, dreams and aspirations now revolving around things of which were never before a concern. We were brought to the Bible, a mountainous book from which God’s very Words pour forth, and we read. We read, read, and read, our infant hearts contented to be in His arms, feel His heartbeat, and be fed His manna. What once tasted like dirt now tastes like honey. What we once refused to swallow we now crave with voracious appetite as if our tongues had never tasted nutrition before. The Father’s bread absorbed into our beings and we began to change day by day as we fed on everything that proceeds from the mouth of Yehovah. We become what we have eaten. Foods we once reveled in now taste rancid. The very thought of consuming them is nauseating. We become hypersensitive, allergic to the bitter fruit of Egypt. The bread of God’s Word has trained our palate to recognize the difference between what is good and what is not, what is righteousness and what is sin.
Then Abba tells us to get up, stand, and walk. It is time to put all the nutrition we have absorbed into movement of our feet and we begin to walk in the sustenance He has given. But there is a long journey ahead of us. He has called us to trod through a hot and dry desert for many, many days on our way to the Promised Land. He doesn’t guarantee ease on our journey. On the contrary, He promises difficulty, temptation, and persecution. Will we continue in the Word we have consumed or will we look elsewhere for food? Will we persevere in God’s instructions or will we kick back and sleep? Will we follow Him or wander after another? Will we draw near to Him or draw near to something else? These are the challenges we will face. But He has given us all we need for life and Godliness. We have been fed His Word, the trail map which secures our path and warns us of danger. And to light our map we have been given the Holy Spirit, central in our camp as our trail guide. This is what God expects from His faithful wasteland-walking-worshippers: to proceed according to His Truth being illuminated by His Spirit as we walk this life one step at a time, in the wilderness.