For the week of June 2, 2018 / 19 Sivan 5778
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 8:1-12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (English: 2:10 – 4:7)
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At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out. (B’midbar/Numbers 9:23)
There are so many misconceptions about the nature of God in the Old Testament. So much so that from the early days of what became Christianity, there have been attempts to separate New Covenant faith from its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. Most typical is the angry vs. the loving God as if Moses and Yeshua were representing two completely different deities. While few Bible believers would make such an explicit claim, this misrepresentation of Holy Scripture has saturated the minds of many, creating a default suspicion towards the older Testament.
One of the areas that tends to be misrepresented is what I call the relational dynamic. There’s a tendency to overstate the contrast between the times before and after the coming of the Messiah regarding how people personally related to God. There is a contrast for sure. God’s heart for Israel was to dwell among them. This was what the ceremonial aspects of Torah were all about. In a sense God’s presence was located within the inner sanctum of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and later the Temple. Yet, at the same time, he was not fully accessible to the masses. This was designed to vividly illustrate to the people their alienation from God in the hope that they would be ready for the time when this alienation would be resolved through the Messiah.
However, it wasn’t as if their distanced condition necessarily implied lack of meaningful relationship to God. Not only was the unconditional covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a clear statement of God’s ongoing commitment to Israel, acting as a firm foundation in spite of their condition, he revealed himself and his ways to the people through Moses. But doesn’t this also emphasize their alienation from God? Yes and no. Yes, God did anticipate a time when his communication with his people would be more personal and direct, but no, in that whether direct or not, God truly and personally revealed himself to them albeit through an intermediary.
Interestingly Moses’ intermediate role in the time prior to the Messiah was not absolute. Take the phenomenon of the cloud in this week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion). If Moses was an absolute intermediary, he would be the exclusive receptor of God’s revelation, who then would relay his intentions to the people. While he did fulfill that role to a great extent, the cloud was something that everyone would see. The people didn’t have to wait for Moses to give the word as to when they were to break camp and where their next destination would be. The whole nation would be witnesses to God’s direct leading.
That it was never God’s intention to speak through Moses exclusively is demonstrated all through the Hebrew Scriptures as we see God appearing and speaking to all sorts of people. David, for example, who loved God’s written Word, didn’t believe for a minute that knowing his Creator and Master was wrapped up only within Scripture as he lived out a vibrant intimacy with him. The Scripture taught him that there was a relational dynamic.
This relational dynamic, so clearly attested to by the Hebrew Bible, is amplified under the New Covenant. We recently observed the harvest festival of Shavuot (English: Weeks, aka Pentecost), the anniversary of the fulfillment of the words of the Hebrew prophet Joel, who predicted a far more intimate and general awareness of God’s presence among his people (see Acts 2:1-21; compare Joel 3:1-5 [English: 2:28-32]).
Sadly, many believers have been misled to believe that with the completion of the whole Bible, God is less present with us than even in Moses’ day. They assert that we are to rely solely on the objective testimony of the ancients as the way to know the God of Israel. We speak of “personal relationship” with God and reject anyone who claims to know him in ways reflective of Scripture.
It doesn’t help that some who make such relational claims are misguided due to their rejecting of God’s Word. As the Spirit illumines Scripture, Scripture enables us to discern the Spirit. Unless we keep within the Bible’s parameters, we have no way of knowing the difference between God’s direction and that of our own thoughts and feelings.
It’s only when we keep within the parameters of Scripture we learn that while God has provided general directions for every aspect of life, the only way to truly and effectively live out his directions is by personally relying on him. It’s not as if God speaks only in generalities, leaving it up to us to figure out life’s details. Rather, he wants us to rely on him as he teaches us to intimately follow him day-by-day, moment-by-moment.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version